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For immediate release:
1 May 2003
Nobel Peace laureate warns churches against Free Trade Area of the Americas
Cf. Press Updates,
, of 30 and 29 April 2003
Cf. Press Release,
, of 24 April 2003
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Economic integration being pushed in Latin America by the United States is like a bear hug: it is better to keep your distance.
The image sums up what Latin American church representatives heard at a "Globalising the fullness of life" consultation in Buenos Aires this week. Speakers from different countries in Latin America agreed that the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), scheduled for implementation in 2005, will increase exclusion and poverty in the region.
According to 1980 Nobel Peace Laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, "The FTAA represents a clear and concrete annexation of Latin America by the United States." It is an example of the "globalised totalitarianism that the US is attempting to impose on the entire world" through commercial agreements, militarisation and the so-called "single thought".
Pérez Esquivel stated that "the FTAA will benefit the transnational companies and not the people of Latin America," and would lead to "greater poverty and exclusion" and the "death of local culture" in the region.
The Nobel laureate warned that while it is pushing the FTAA, the US is stepping up its military presence in the region. Its strategy has been to set up military bases in countries like Ecuador, Colombia, and along the border shared by Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, and then carry out joint manoeuvres with national armies.
Pérez Esquivel also warned that drinking water is one of the resources that Washington seeks to control in the region, and suggested developing "alternative proposals" to the FTAA rather than simply following "a policy of outright rejection". Churches should be "alert to their role of raising awareness" and participate in this process, he said.
He challenged participants to "develop their creativity" and their "critical thought" so as to shape a "strategy of prevention" towards the FTAA. He referred to the referendum on the FTAA held by the Roman Catholic Church in Brazil. "Churches should bear witness. They cannot be indifferent to these issues," he said.
Jim Hodgson of Kairos Canada warned that "more trade does not necessarily translate into greater prosperity. There are signs everywhere that free trade agreements have taken us to places we did not want to go."
He emphasised that Canada and Mexico now live with a "unilateral and interventionist" neighbour. However, "one positive result not foreseen by those who designed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been the generation of new alliances crossing traditional boundaries".
In Canada these alliances include churches, unions, women's, indigenous non-governmental organisations and environmental activists' groups. "Canadian churches are openly opposed to the FTAA. We are seeking alternatives," Hodgson concluded.
Gabriela Rangel of the Mexican Action on Free Trade Network denounced commercial integration plans, such as Puebla Panama Plan, which "exclude us and bring more poverty for our regions. We have already lost too much with the Free Trade Agreement. Mexico is an important example of what should not happen," she warned.
Shefali Sharma of the Information For Trade project warned participants that when countries "sign agreements without knowing what they are signing, they are actually giving global business a blank cheque".
For Sharma, churches should oppose the upcoming negotiations on the FTAA slated to take place in Cancun, Mexico and should be more active, joining organisations that are already working on these issues.
Convened by the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) and co-sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC), the consultation will end today, May 1.
Approximately 100 representatives participated, mostly from Latin America and the Caribbean but also from Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and the Pacific.
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Juan Michel,+41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.