2005 – Free Trade of Americas buried in Mar de Plata

In March 2005, President Chavez of Venezuela declared the Free Trade of Americas dead and buried at a Summit of the Americas in Mar de Plata, Argentina. This was no mean feat. The world’s largest free trade area and perhaps the greatest corporate offensive in modern history had been defeated in an unprecedented continental civil society campaign.

The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA or ALCA in Spanish) was conceived at the Summit of the Americas held in Miami, USA, in December 1994 and was to be an extension of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

As in any trade deal, the draft texts were not available to the public, but as they started to be leaked it was clear that the project threatened to restrict public control over a range of sensitive public issues, from food security and sovereignty to public access to water and basic services; and from access to medicines to (scientific) knowledge itself.

Throughout Latin America, a range of civil society organizations formed coalitions against ALCA made up of indigenous movements, small farmers, trade unions, students, women, small businesses and progressive NGOs. They then coordinated continentally through the Hemispheric Social Alliance which helped establish a common language and agenda that united all the national campaigns.

These campaigns came together in massive Peoples Summits, which coincided with rounds of FTAA negotiations. Along with resistance, the campaign also articulated an alternative proposal for integration based on achieving equitable and sustainable development for all. This was encapsulated in the "Alternative for the Americas", an alternative proposal to FTAA whose fundamental principles were democracy and participation; sovereignty and social wellbeing; equity and reducing inequalities; and sustainability.

By the early 2000s, this continental campaign coincided with the rising backlash against neoliberalism and the rise of leftist governments in the region who rose in part with the promise to end ALCA. When presidents from across the hemisphere eventually gathered for the 5th Summit of the Americas in Argentina in 2005, everyone knew it was the end of the FTAA.  The social movements, also gathered in Mar de Plata for the parallel Peoples Summit, had won a major victory and celebrations took over the streets of the city together with the local population.

Beyond defeating a corporate trade deal, the defeat of FTAA also opened up proposals for alternative visions of integration. The Bolivian government proposed a Peoples’ Trade Treaty that was taken up within the Bolivarian bloc of countries known as ALBA that proposed solidarity and complementarity rather than competition as the basis for integration. A number of fledgling proposals prioritized trade to benefit small producers, brought Cuban doctors on exchange schemes, and set up a virtual regional currency, the Sucre.

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Bolivians demonstrate against FTAA in Mar de Plata. Photo source: Nick Buxton