Reprinted from Beyond Summit Hopping, from Root Force: Demolishing Colonialism at its Foundation.
In the immediate aftermath of the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, the US movement against corporate globalization seemed energized and unstoppable. This aura of invincibility soon evaporated, however, when governments and corporations responded by moving their summits to remote locations, setting up fortress-like defenses and contracting massive numbers of heavily-armed police to brutally repel any protest.
Without summit protests as a viable option, much of the energy around anti-globalization organizing dissipated. In this, our movement committed a strategic error, backing off just when we were strongest.
The forces of corporate globalization are still on the defensive in many parts of the world, where farmers, labor organizers and other social movements have risen up to repel them. Here in the US, we can put a similar squeeze on corporations’ ability to strengthen their control over people’s lives around the world.
The key is the recognition that without certain critical infrastructure, all the free trade agreements in the world are merely so much useless paper.
What Is Infrastructure?
The word “infrastructure” describes the physical basis of an economy — the transportation, electrical and communications networks required for the extraction and movement of resources. Specific examples of infrastructure include highways, railways, ports, dams, mines, oil and gas pipelines, power plants, power lines and telecommunications cables. Until this groundwork is laid, industrial production is simply impossible.
Why Globalization Needs Infrastructure
Most simply, a free trade agreement is useless without a way to actually move the goods being traded. This may seem like a simple or even foolish point to make — would governments be signing free trade treaties in the first place if they didn’t have a way to move their products?
In fact, they have already done so. Existing infrastructure in the Americas is simply insufficient for the massive trade volume anticipated from new free trade agreements, increased resource extraction and ever-increasing consumption. That’s why expanding “international trade infrastructure” is one of the top priorities for business and political leaders throughout the hemisphere.
The best-known example is a megaproject called the Plan Puebla Panamá (PPP), introduced in 2001. Originally, the PPP included a variety of highways, ports, dams and other projects throughout southern Mexico and Central America. Widespread popular resistance, however, forced the region’s governments to backtrack on their rhetoric. The most controversial projects, including all dams, were officially removed from the plan. But this was a change on paper only, as none of the “removed” projects actually lost their funding or government endorsement. In 2003, Mexican officials were instructed to stop making public statements about the PPP, and the projects continue in relative secrecy.
In South America, every country is involved in the South American Regional Infrastructure Integration Initiative (IIRSA), nearly identical to the PPP in concept and design. In North America, infrastructure initiatives like Atlantica, the CANAMEX Corridor and the Corridors of the Future Program aim to patch up the gaps in that region’s far more extensive infrastructure.
Throughout the Americas, similar projects are under way, although not necessarily under the umbrella of a megaproject like the PPP or Corridors of the Future. Yet no matter how individual projects are classified, they are all part of an explicitly stated plan to integrate the Americas into one massive transportation, electrical and communications network. When taken together, these projects will provide the infrastructure necessary for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
A Weakness of the System
This lack of infrastructure is a major weakness of the global economic system, and the government and business leaders of the continent know it. It’s time we recognized the same fact and adjusted our resistance strategies accordingly.
We can do this. There is a long history of communities around the world shutting down planned infrastructure projects — from the airport that was never built in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico, to the decade in which virtually no new roads were built in the UK.
Stop these projects from being built, and the whole global economy will be hit by a resource shortage. In a very real sense, by fighting infrastructure we can take direct action against corporate globalization at one of its weakest points.