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Millions say "no" in vote on FTAA

By Héctor Reyes | September 27, 2002 | Page 5

CLOSE TO 10 million Brazilians said "no" to the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) in an unofficial referendum, the results of which were announced last week.

The FTAA is designed to extend the pro-business policies of the North American Free Trade Agreement to every country of the Western Hemisphere except Cuba. Multinational corporations, especially from the U.S., would gain new powers from the elimination of trade regulations and the wholesale privatization of utilities and social services under the FTAA.

Governments and business leaders across Latin America have gone along with the pro-corporate agreement because of the advantages they would gain--and under pressure from Washington. But workers, peasants and the poor know that they would be the losers under the FTAA's free-market "reforms"--and have been stepping up the fight against Washington's "neoliberal" agenda for several years now.

In Brazil, religious, union and political groups organized this month's referendum to highlight the gap between the popular rejection of free-trade policies and the government's embrace of the FTAA. The powerful CUT trade union federation joined forces with the National Conference of Archbishops and the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST).

Many months of marches and other actions culminated in a 150,000-strong demonstration against the FTAA in São Paulo on the last day of the vote on September 7--under the slogan "Sovereignty is not negotiable."

Ninety eight percent of voters rejected the FTAA--and just under 96 percent also agreed that the government should end participation in further FTAA negotiations. Another question on the referendum asked whether the Brazilian government should allow the U.S. military to take over the Alcántara base in the state of Maranhão. Nearly 99 percent of voters said no.

The referendum comes only weeks before Brazil's presidential election, where Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, candidate of the left-wing Workers' Party (PT) is ahead in public opinion polls.

But while critical of the FTAA, Lula has refused to reject it outright--and he denounced the referendum. "The PT is a party that is a few days short of becoming the government and can't go on playing the plebiscite game," Lula said.

Despite his increasingly moderate tone, if Lula wins, it will be an expression of the rising struggle against neoliberalism in Brazil. Workers across the country will have increased expectations after a PT victory. If Lula believes otherwise, he will have to respond to the likes of the rank and file in the CUT and the MST.

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