It’s one thing to hold forth on how the suppression of dissent marches hand in hand with free market capitalism. It’s quite another to have the idea thrown in your face by secret agents invading your house in the ‘burbs’.

That is what happened to me back in July 1996, while I was an organizer for a forum and protest rally against a meeting of Asia/Pacific Trade Ministers in Christchurch. It was probably the most embarrassing, botched ‘security intelligence’ operation in the history of New Zealand/Aotearoa. The skitterish NZSIS (the local state security heavies) were forced to make an unceremonious run for it when they were accidentally found out. Five days later, police raided the house again, this time looking for ‘bomb-making equipment’. They found nothing. The smell of a government dirty-tricks campaign hung heavy in the air.

After a farcical official ‘inquiry’, I sued the Government. New Zealand’s Court of Appeal ruled that it was an illegal break-in. One judge declared that courts ‘would not be awestruck by the mantra of national security’. New security intelligence legislation passed in 1996 had already extended the definition of ‘national security’ to include New Zealand’s economic and international well-being – carte blanche to keep tabs on those critical of the prevailing state orthodoxy. Soon after, the Government changed the law to expand NZSIS search powers. Since 9/11 New Zealand’s security state has been further expanded.

The trouble with normal is it always gets worse,’ sings Bruce Cockburn. And the War on Terror is the new cloak of impunity protecting governments from their human rights critics and chilling dissent of many kinds. For ‘free traders’ in particular, the 9/11 attacks came at an opportune time: neoliberal institutions like the IMF, World Bank and WTO were under sustained siege worldwide from social movements for their support of a destructive development model and their lack of democracy. On 24 September 2001 US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick set the tone in a speech that expanded the post-9/11 McCarthyism to global justice activists: ‘Terrorists hate the ideas America has championed around the world. It is inevitable that people will wonder if there are intellectual connections with others who have turned to violence to attack international finance, globalization and the United States.’

Activists beware! The hard face of state power in Bogotá.

Photo: B Heger / Exile Images

Roots of repression

It’s an old game – expanding the powers of state police, security and intelligence agencies. Well before 9/11 the FBI was pressuring countries to adopt its requirements for surveillance of electronic communications. Governments shared intelligence databases of activists to stop people at borders prior to major international summits. But with 9/11 as pretext, the powers of surveillance, detention and arrest have been expanded with an utter contempt for the democratic rights and values which governments – from Washington to Pretoria – claim to uphold. Some definitions of ‘terrorist’ are so broad that they can be stretched to include anything from strikes to land occupations.

In 2002 Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pronounced: ‘The War on Terrorism does not distinguish between ordinary terrorists and those espousing a political ideology.’ She clearly threatened trade unions – ‘those who terrorize factories that provide jobs’. She went on to smear progressive movements in the Philippines as‘terrorists and criminals hiding behind the veil of human rights advocacies or other seemingly deceptively legitimate political advocacies’. Elmer Labog, Secretary-General of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) trade union centre, responded: ‘Arroyo is bringing back to life the ghosts of Martial Law.’

Whether it’s Cold War reds under the bed, or anarchists or anti-globalization activists, or a mindset that views every Muslim as a potential terrorist, the ‘enemy’ may change but the song remains the same, only sung more loudly. Surveillance and repression against dissenters and those communities constructed as ‘other’ have always propped up the prevailing state religion. It comes with the territory. The police mindset and operational culture equates challenges to prevailing orthodoxies as criminal activity. The militarization of protests and public spaces with a growing ‘less-than-lethal’ armoury of chemical agents and stun guns is magnified in the post-9/11 world.

After a brutal police assault on a non-violent antiwar protest in Oakland, California, Mike Van Winkle of the state-sponsored California Anti-Terrorist Information Center proclaimed: ‘If you have a group protesting a war where the cause that’s being fought against is international terrorism... You can almost argue that a protest against such a war is a terrorist act.’ It’s worth noting that millions of dollars in funding for the brutal security crackdowns at the November 2003 Miami FTAA summit and for the 2004 G8 summit in Georgia came from a US Congress Iraq appropriations bill.

Chile’s Government, meanwhile, has revised an old 1984 anti-terror law dating from the brutal Pinochet era and used it against Mapuche activists – indigenous peoples resisting not only forestry corporations’ occupation of their ancestral lands but also the plantation monoculture of pine and eucalyptus for export that they seek to introduce. Under this ‘revised’ law, charges can be brought by anyone, the accused can be held without trial for months, and anonymous witnesses and secret evidence can be introduced at trial. The minimum sentence for terrorism is 10 years. Mapuche activists have been charged with terrorism for allegedly burning areas of plantation forest, logging trucks and equipment. Arson – a crime against property, not life, liberty or physical integrity – is defined as a terrorist crime. Some are already serving jail terms. A recent high-profile case was thrown out but the state has already appealed.

Indigenous targets

New Zealand/Aotearoa has a history of break-ins, wiretaps and surveillance of indigenous activists. Several years ago, Maori lawyer/activist Annette Sykes discovered her phones had been tapped and a location-tracing device placed in her car. In November 2004 claims about the NZSIS ‘Operation Leaf’, which spied on a range of Maori organizations and individuals, hit the headlines and are now subject to an inquiry.

A 2003 Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) report claimed that: ‘Canada is confronted by domestic terrorism issues related to aboriginal rights, white supremacists, sovereignty, animal rights, the environment and anti-globalization.’ Native land occupations, forestry and fishing disputes have been met with massive police and military force, time and time again. Gustafsen Lake, Kanehsatake, Burnt Church, the September 2002 raids on indigenous activists on Vancouver Island by INSET (the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team) – the list goes on and on.

Detention without charge. Roundups. Disappearances. Security certificates. A climate of fear based on ignorance and suspicion. Are we back in Pinochet’s Chile? Marcos’s Manila? Or in the modern-day US and Canada? The detention of immigrants, immigration restrictions, deportations, low-intensity warfare against many communities of colour and the anti-Muslim flavour of it all – again the roots go back long before 11 September 2001. To campaign effectively against the erosion of ‘civil liberties’ we must acknowledge that, for many communities, such rights have always been tenuous at best. Subhash Kateel, an organizer with the New York-based Families for Freedom, points out: ‘It is important for people to understand that what is happening is based on the development of apartheid through immigration policies that distinguish citizens from both legal and illegal noncitizens.’

Democracy. Freedom. Tell that to the 24 mainly Pakistani students arrested, detained and deported under unsubstantiated terrorism allegations in Toronto in 2003. Or to Montrealer Adil Charkaoui, jailed, like several other Muslim men, on secret CSIS evidence. Or to Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian detained in the US on a stopover and deported – not to Canada, but to Syria, where he was jailed and tortured for a year.

Many in the global justice movement in the North have expressed outrage about new anti-terror legislation and the criminalization of dissent. Others are concerned at the effects of the post-9/11 chill. Fear of direct action and being ‘too critical’ is in the air. But movements which have hitherto paid little attention to immigration injustices and the criminalization of indigenous resistance are now taking notice. New opportunities have opened up to link campaigns against the racialization of immigration and security policies with those against neoliberalism and militarism.

We must rise to the challenge of building alliances with communities which have long been on the frontlines of struggles for justice – and which are easy targets in any state crackdown.

Aziz Choudry is an activist and writer from New Zealand/Aotearoa currently based in Montreal, Canada.

The bilateral bypass

A web of bilateral free trade and investment agreements – deals between two individual nations – is spreading quietly and quickly across the planet, with provisions that often go far beyond existing World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.

Even before the collapse of the 2003 WTO talks in Cancun, the US had aggressively advanced its plans to sign bilateral free-trade and investment agreements with countries in Central and Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and Australasia.

Now – as the direction and pace of WTO talks remains uncertain – other governments committed to neoliberal policies are turning to bilateral trade and investment agreements that get faster, deeper, more comprehensive free trade and investment commitments than is possible in a divided WTO. As this is occurring, peoples’ movements in a number of countries are mobilizing to fight them.

Agricultural liberalization – a hot potato at the WTO – is a flashpoint in two recent bilateral trade deals in Asia. In February, after months of nationwide mobilizations of farmers, Korea’s National Assembly finally ratified a free trade agreement (FTA) with Chile. In waves of protests, farmers clashed with riot police over an agreement which they see would lead to their livelihoods being destroyed by a flood of cheaper Chilean produce benefiting only transnational agribusiness. Korean farmers’ organizations set up protest camps and held night vigils outside the National Assembly as pro-farmer members of the Assembly staged an occupation of the parliamentary speaker’s office. (The Korea-Chile FTA also covers investment, services, government procurement, intellectual property rights and competition policy.) Thailand’s Prime Minister, media and telecommunications multimillionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, is meanwhile pushing a trade policy with a strong emphasis on bilateral FTAs. Besides a proposed agreement with the US, Thailand has signed FTAs with Australia and Bahrain, and is negotiating several others. With the removal of many agricultural tariffs as the first phase of a comprehensive FTA with China took effect, a flood of cheap Chinese fruits and vegetables threatens to ruin many Thai farmers in the rural north, and has fuelled popular discontent about other bilateral agreements.

Opposition is also mounting against the New Zealand Government’s pursuit of bilateral trade and investment deals. A treaty with Singapore opened up New Zealand’s liberalized service sectors even further than its WTO services agreement (GATS) commitments had done. Critics noted that in the first year of the treaty, New Zealand/Aotearoa’s trade deficit with Singapore had ballooned from NZ $26 million to $215 million.

Several governments – mainly in the global South – are effectively being sued by corporations under obscure bilateral investment treaties. Pakistan currently faces three investor-state dispute claims totalling around one billion dollars, involving Swiss company SGS, Italian construction firm Impregilo, and Turkish company Bayinder. The definitions of ‘investment’ and other terms in the agreements that Pakistan signed are very broad and give corporations ample opportunity to claim against a frighteningly wide range of actions or omissions by the Government and its agencies. Ordinary people will shoulder these costs: costs that will increase their countries’ indebtedness to international financial institutions, while locking out their countries’ access to foreign aid and loans if they fail to comply.


An Evergreen Island

This independently produced documentary about the South Pacific island of Bougainville tells a rare but hugely encouraging story. For all those who believe that it is impossible to live without the products of transnationals, this film will serve as a challenge. And for all who believe it is possible, it’s an inspiration. In 1972 Australian mining company Conzinc Rio Tinto (CRA) began commercial production from a huge copper-ore deposit it had located in Bougainville’s Panguna valley. After 17 years of petitions and lobbying for a fair deal from CRA, the people of Bougainville forced the mine to close. To pressure the people into reopening the mine, Bougainville was blockaded by Papua New Guinea. The nine-year blockade — ultimately unsuccessful — kept away food, medical supplies, fuel and humanitarian assistance from the island. *An Evergreen Island* shows how Bougainvilleans used ingenious alternatives to survive without these essentials and rebuild their communities. For instance, we see fermented coconut oil being used to run generators and vehicles. A salvaged truck gearbox helps create hydroelectric power from a river. Nails are made from cyclone fences. Without medical supplies and health professionals, traditional bush medicine undergoes a revival. It’s ‘mekim na savvy’ — learning by doing. There are no blueprints for building alternatives to the global free market based on community values and self-determination. But this documentary suggests that community values and self-determination are vital components of the process. If we could harness just some of the Bougainvilleans’ courage, resourcefulness and vision we would be well on the way to a brighter future.

Distributed by *Video Education Australasia* (VEA), 111A Mitchell St, Bendigo, Victoria 3550, Australia.

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