Latin America Conference 2017 - Free Trade Imperialism and Resistance!

War on Want joined a packed out UK Latin America Conference 2017 for a day of inspirational activist solidarity with Latin America - against the backdrop of Donald Trump, a resurgent Latin American right and a new push for corporate trade deals from the European Union and the UK.

Activists, politicians, academics, journalists, trade unionists, lawyers and artists were among the many people converging on the TUC's Congress Hall on Saturday December 2, where film director Ken Loach opened the conference.

Director and activist Ken Loach opens the 2017 Latin America Conference - Adelante!

Mark Weisbrot of the US-based think tank, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told the packed meeting that there was no comparable event in Europe, or even in the USA.

Mark Weisbrot of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research speaks to a packed Congress Hall

Throughout the day, there were a huge number of workshops and film screenings covering a range of countries and relevant issues for the region.

War on Want co-hosted a panel at the conference alongside the Argentina Solidarity Campaign: The WTO Summit, free trade imperialism and resistance in Latin America. The conference came at the end of a week of active solidarity with the region, during which War on Want brought activists from across the world to protest the Mines and Money Conference.

Panel (L-R): Gabriel Rodriguez, Angela Roberts (chair - Unison), Mark Dearn, Alicia Castro, Camila Mendez, Seb Munoz (War on Want)

War on Want senior trade campaigner Mark Dearn spoke at the panel alongside Camila Mendez, a Colombian land and human rights defender visiting the UK with War on Want, former Argentinian MP and ambassador to Venezuela and the UK (2012 - 2016), Alicia Castro, and Gabriel Rodriguez of the International Transport Workers' Federation and the Argentina Solidarity Campaign. A *free* podcast of the panel is available to listen to here.

The panel came at the end of a week in which the Argentine government shocked many, including the WTO itself, by barring activists from across the world from attending the conference. The Argentina Solidarity Campaign and Global Justice Now have pulled together a petition to the Argetine Ambassador to the UK condemning the decision and calling for it to be reversed.

War on Want senior campaigner Mark Dearn holds up the petition to the Argentine Ambassador to the UK

War on Want speakers highlighted how the policies of 'free trade imperialism' which marked the approach of 19th century Great Britain still operate today to ensure unlimited access to Southern country natural resources, while also bringing in neoliberal trade policy demands we saw under TTIP of deregulation, the privatization of public services, and rights for investors under the dystopian ISDS 'corporate court' system. This trade agenda is prominent in Latin America, with the EU a key cheerleader: the majority of EU foreign investment is in Latin America, which is also the most targeted global region for ISDS cases. And as documents obtained this month under freedom of information laws show, the UK is already pursuing a similar agenda, championing the interests of natural resource companies in order to ensure British corporations dominate in the region.

Camila Mendez speaks to the packed room about the experiences of Cajamarca, Colombia.

However, it was Camila Mendez who gave the session's key input, explaining how trade policy directly results in on-the-ground struggles for grassroots communities in Latin America. Camila highlighted the front line struggle of the communities  in Cajamarca, Colombia, where they have sucessfully resisted a mining project run by South-African company Anglo Gold Ashanti, previously listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE). In Colombia, land and environmental defenders face death for daring to speak out for community rights in the face of corporate-owned natural resource projects. 

The panel clearly demonstrated that the battle for trade justice cannot be separated from the fight against corporate power and working in solidarity with movements around the world. Adelante!

 

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