Saturday, April 19, 2008

Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) Meetings Monday in New Orleans

Three Amigos Summit
Manuel Pérez Rocha and Sarah Anderson | April 15, 2008

Editor: Emily Schwartz Greco
Foreign Policy In Focus

President George W. Bush will soon host what has become an annual “Three Amigos Summit.” The leaders of Mexico, the United States, and Canada will be gathering in New Orleans on April 21 and 22. What do you suppose is on the agenda? A rational response to immigration, perhaps? A thoughtful renegotiation of the unpopular North American Free Trade Agreement? Lessons from Canada’s affordable medicines program?

No. No. And no. Rather than putting their heads together around pressing issues such as these, the three leaders will be advancing a so-called Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). And while that may sound well and good, this initiative, begun in 2005, is unlikely to produce either security or prosperity. That’s because the partnership is only with big business.

The chief executives of Wal-Mart, Chevron, and 28 other large corporations are in on the closed-door negotiations, while members of Congress, journalists, and ordinary citizens are excluded. And the secrecy is not just around the presidential summits, but also the meetings of about 20 SPP working groups that carry on negotiations over the course of the year.

What’s on the table? Not much is public, but we do know that the executive powers of the three countries are hammering out regulatory changes that they claim do not require legislative approval. And given who’s in the room, it’s a safe bet that these changes will favor narrow corporate interests over the public good.

The official corporate advisory body, called the North American Competitive Council (NACC), made 51 proposals to the SPP negotiators last year on issues as varied as taxation and patent rights. The NACC later boasted that “all three of our governments have committed themselves to taking action on many of our recommendations.”

Bad on Process and Substance
In essence, the SPP represents the privatization of policymaking. And so it’s not surprising that on top of the outrageously anti-democratic process, there are also strong reasons to be concerned about the substance of SPP decisions. Here are just a few:

First, at a time when the Democratic presidential candidates have kicked up a long overdue debate over NAFTA, the SPP would actually expand this flawed policy. Even though the lifting of trade and investment barriers under the trade pact failed to create the promised good, stable jobs, the SPP is further chipping away at remaining economic regulations. For example, at the last SPP summit, the three leaders announced a weakening of NAFTA’s “rules of origin” to allow products with a lower level of national content to receive preferential tariff treatment. This will undermine domestic industries by making trade in products from third countries like China even more profitable.

Second, the SPP could exacerbate tensions over energy resources and deepen our dependence on fossil fuels. Under the guise of a “North American integrated energy market,” there is evidence that the U.S. government and corporations are aiming to gain greater control over its neighbors’ resources. One SPP agreement, for example, reflects the corporate advisors’ recommendations to promote energy privatization in Mexico – this in spite of a massive citizens’ movement in that country, which has fought long and hard to prevent their nation’s oil industry from being handed over to global corporations. In Canada, progressive activists are up in arms over an SPP report that envisioned a fivefold increase in environmentally destructive oil production from tar sands, with most of the increase to be exported to the United States.

Third, the SPP talks are aimed at expanding the militarized U.S. security perimeter to all of North America, with disturbing implications for civil liberties. The three countries have vowed to join forces against not only external but also “internal” threats, and Mexico and Canada have already agreed to share vast amounts of information with the U.S. government, including the fingerprints of refugees and asylum seekers. The Bush administration is also offering Mexico a multi-billion-dollar military aid package under the Merida Initiative (also known as Plan Mexico). While the new equipment is supposedly to combat drug cartels, many organizations have expressed concerns that it may also end up being used against political dissidents and immigrants.

Progressive vs. Conservative Critiques
Although the SPP has been the target of strong criticism from progressive groups in Canada and Mexico, right-wing anti-immigrant forces have dominated the discourse in the United States. And while there is unity among critics of all political stripes when it comes to denouncing the SPP’s secretive process, there are vast differences on substance.

Xenophobic groups like the Minutemen and the John Birch Society fear that the three governments are secretly plotting to erase U.S. borders and surrender its sovereignty through some sort of merger a la the European Union. In reality, the SPP vision is nearly the polar opposite of many of the founding pillars of the EU:

The EU includes political institutions, including the European Parliament, which represents all the member countries’ citizens. As stated above, SPP negotiators are only interested in hearing the perspectives of big business.
The EU has tackled inequalities directly by transferring massive funds from richer countries to poorer countries and regions. As a result, once-poor countries like Ireland, Spain, and Portugal have become strong trading partners for the rest of the Union. By contrast, SPP negotiators are perpetuating the false assumption behind NAFTA that free markets alone will lift all boats. The aid being offered is to boost Mexico’s military power, not to reduce inequalities.
The EU enforces strong social and environmental standards that help ensure economic benefits are broadly shared and support sustainable development. The SPP negotiators are doing nothing to fix the extremely weak NAFTA side agreements on labor and the environment that have allowed corporations to continue to abuse workers and communities, particularly in Mexico, with impunity.
Thanks to their efforts to narrow economic gaps, the EU has been able to have an internal “open borders” policy without destabilizing migration flows. Contrary to the anti-immigrant paranoia, the SPP negotiators are not contemplating any loosening of borders, even as a long-term goal. Instead, they aim to facilitate transit only of so-called “legitimate people,” while expanding border surveillance infrastructure to keep out other migrants. While the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolized the coming together of east and west Europe, the increasingly fortified wall between the United States and Mexico is a harsh sign of North America’s deep divisions.
Of course, it is important not to over-romanticize the European Union. They have their own xenophobia problems, with anti-immigrant political parties on the rise in several countries. Moreover, Europe’s trade policies towards developing countries are about as bad as those of the United States, and even within the EU, progressive forces are battling efforts to erode social protections.

However, the EU’s internal integration model still offers some important lessons for our part of the world. And with both Democratic Presidential candidates promising to renegotiate NAFTA, this is an important moment for looking at alternative approaches.

In March, four broad-based citizens’ networks from all three countries, the Alliance for Responsible Trade (United States), Common Frontiers (Canada), the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade, and the Quebec Network on Hemispheric Integration produced a detailed set of proposals for NAFTA’s renegotiation. Like the EU, this new NAFTA would require strong enforcement of labor rights and environmental laws. And rather than boosting military aid, it would encourage greater cooperation between our three countries to create stable livelihoods for family farmers, as well as for the small and medium businesses that provide most of our region’s jobs.

If they’re really serious about security and prosperity, the “Three Amigos” would be discussing these types of alternatives. Instead, they are building a fortress North America in which large corporations (but not ordinary citizens) have even more power.

Manuel Pérez Rocha is an Associate Fellow and Sarah Anderson is the Global Economy Project Director at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. They are both Foreign Policy In Focus contributors.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hitler's Lasting Gift: Shedding the Torch

Shedding Light on the Torch
by Dave Zirin

The journey of the Olympic torch was supposed to be a 58-day celebration of the Beijing Olympics. Through 21 countries and across 85,000 miles, the flame was meant to spotlight the way 21st century China was ready to claim its place as modern economic superpower.

Instead, the journey has been a public relations apocalypse, and an obstacle course for unsuspecting athletes and dignitaries, confronted by an international gauntlet of agitators. In France, police alongside Chinese security officers had to use tear gas to keep protesters at bay and officials had to extinguish the torch five separate times. In London, 37 people were arrested trying to impede the torch. In San Francisco last Wednesday, thousands turned out to demonstrate, which led to a bizarre situation where the torchbearers ran a few yards, disappeared into a warehouse, and then reappeared on a city bus. This isn't the esteemed expedition of the torch. This is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles go to the Olympics.

China has blamed the protests on "a few Tibetan separatists." That would be news to the protester Charles Altekruse, who as a member of the U.S. Olympic rowing team, was forced to sit out the 1980 Moscow Games because of the U.S. boycott. "Today, my voice is the voice for thousands of people whose voices cannot be heard," said Altekruse, who lives not in Lhasa, but Berkeley.

China's recent crackdown on Tibet has opened a view on a host of abuses throughout the Chinese mainland, as well as the complicity of the International Olympic Committee and the West embedded in every abuse: the 2 million people displaced for Olympic facilities, the violation of labor standards so Western nations have an endless army of cheap labor, mass jailing of dissidents who dare to complain, and the environmental degradation of the country.

But the protests have been also aimed at the IOC and their efforts to shamelessly promote China's titanic economy. Juliana Barbassa of the Associated Press could not have been clearer writing, "The torch's global journey was supposed to highlight China's growing economic and political power."

IOC president Jacques Rogge lamented the protests, saying that the journey of the torch was supposed to be "a Journey of Harmony, bringing the message of peace to the people of different nationalities, cultures and creeds." Would that it were.

The first torch run was actually the brainchild of Dr. Carl Diem, the organizer of Adolf Hitler's 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He convinced Hitler's propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, that 3,422 young Aryan runners should carry burning torches along the 3,422 km route from the Temple of Hera on Mount Olympus to the stadium in Berlin. The event would be captured by the regime's filmmaking prodigy, Leni Riefenstahl, and broadcast over radio.

In fact, Rogge's dream that the torch be a symbol of "peace, harmony and global unity" is reminiscent of Hitler's own words in 1936. "Sporting chivalrous contest," Hitler proclaimed before the torch's inaugural lighting, "helps knit the bonds of peace between nations. Therefore, may the Olympic flame never expire."

As Chris Bowlby wrote for BBC News, " was planned with immense care by the Nazi leadership to project the image of the Third Reich as a modern, economically dynamic state with growing international influence."

China today, with the IOC's backing, wanted the torch to travel through the nations of Western Europe and the United States, as well as Tibet, as a way to spread the gospel of China's global reach. In 1936, Diem also planned the route with political considerations in mind. The torch was carried exclusively through European areas where the Third Reich wanted to extend its reach.

When the flame made its way through Vienna, it was accompanied by mammoth pro-Nazi demonstrations. Two years later, Austria would be annexed.

Today, without question, there are people with dubious motives calling for a boycott of the Summer Games. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has hedged on attending even though Britain's Olympic Committee has already laid down the law that its athletes are forbidden from any political acts on Chinese soil. The reptilian Sen. Hillary Clinton has said President Bush should boycott, even though she and her husband in the 1990s fought to make China a part of the World Trade Organization, and repeatedly granted China Most Favored Nation trade status. Barack Obama just joined Clinton in the "me too" chorus to see who can blame China for the ecoomic maladies facing the U.S. Republican Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan lamented in a commentary that President Bush and the Republican Party is "coddl[ing] Communist China."

None of these critics existed before people started protesting. And none of them will refrain from doing business with China in the future.

Protesters have held a light to the present hypocrisy of the Olympic torch. In expressing concern about the San Francisco protests, USOC President Peter Ueberroth said, "The only concern is our reputation as a country." Perhaps, as this debacle runs its course, Ueberroth should be more concerned with the reputation of the International Olympic Committee and the quadrennial orgy of sporting nationalism and corporate greed.

[Dave Zirin is the author of "Welcome to the Terrordome:" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by emailing Contact him at Comment on this article at]