MIAMI, Nov 20, 2003 (AFP) – Anti-globalization protesters clashed with police here Thursday, as trade ministers of countries seeking to join a sweeping hemispheric trade deal announced they reached an accord one day ahead of schedule.
Ministers from every nation in the hemisphere except Cuba met here to discuss plans to implement the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement, which would create the world’s largest free trade zone.
US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim meanwhile announced an early end to the talks, after officials agreed on a “realistic” deal that scales back the original plan.
Just hours earlier an estimated 25,000 protesters, mostly belonging to mainstream US labor unions, marched and raised their fists against the FTAA, which they say will result in environmental abuses and a loss of jobs.
The union march was peaceful, but by the end of the day at least 76 people were arrested, police said. Protesters said more than 100 had been arrested.
Riot police clad in heavy body armor swung clubs, hurled flash grenades and sprayed tear gas at unruly protesters before and the large union march.
A phalanx of police officers, standing arm to arm in rows sometimes four deep, kept the protesters far from the swank seaside hotel where the ministers met. Hundreds more police waited on side streets as reinforcements.
There were also police on horseback, on bicycles, in helicopters, in patrol boats and on bicycles. Police even brought in an armored vehicle.
Many protesters were upset at the show of force.
“If we had this much force in Iraq, things would be different,” said Glenn Ball, a Korean War veteran at the protest.
“This is like we’re being attacked by another country.”
Trouble began when riot police declared an early protest meeting an unlawful assembly and pushed reluctant protesters several blocks away from the barricades surrounding the hotel where the ministers met.
The protesters resisted and one hurled a makeshift smoke bomb at police.
The crowd was cleared “to make way for the legitimate, permitted protest,” according to a police statement, referring to the early afternoon rally organized by the AFL-CIO a labor union umbrella group.
John Peck, who traveled with a group of 50 protesters from the northern state of Wisconsin, said the FTAA would finish off family farms in the United States.
“There are more prisoners than farmers in the United States,” said Peck, who marched in a full-body cow costume.
“Food is a basic human right, it shouldn’t be a commodity.”
Another man rode a large tricycle with a large picture of President George W. Bush, which grasped wads of cash and asked: “What is wrong with greed?”
“I’m a patriot,” said the man, who gave his name as Paul Revere.
“We’re standing against tyranny.”
“Human freedom, animal rights — one story, one fight!” chanted about 100 members of an environmental group dressed up in dolphin costumes.
After the union march, radical protestors fired slingshots at police and set dumpsters ablaze. Police responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas. “This is exactly what we trained for,” Police Chief John Timoney said as he toured the area on a bicycle.
“For months, police and the mayor have whipped up fear about this protest,” complained protester Bill Dobbs. “There is an atmosphere of fear.”
The overwhelming police presence in the downtown area helps prevent more people from joining the protests, Dobbs said. Many of the main thoroughfares were blocked and traffic diverted.
According to police, two officers suffered minor injuries. Police gave no further details, but a news report said one of the officers had been injured when he slipped.
The city is playing a delicate balancing act, since Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas want the FTAA’s future headquarters to be built here.
Trade officials at the event agreed on a size and scope for the FTAA, scaling back the ambitious original proposals to something that could win broad accord.
“These are important steps forward but very important work lies ahead,” said Zoellick. “We’re moving into an intensive phase.”
The United States agreed in 1994 with countries from Canada down to Chile — minus Cuba — to form the FTAA, which would forge a 13-trillion-dollar megamarket of 800 million people, the largest free-trade area in the world.