A few thousand of us maybe. No more. The crowd snakes through Cancun, a neo-liberal paradise lost. Of the 600,000 people who live here fully two-thirds are transient laborers. Like a large proportion of the world’s population they exist in the twilight zone of mobile capital, industrial tourism and ecological catastrophe.
At the WTO fortification; a fence ten foot high reinforced by a matrix of steel and concrete a crowd assembles. Behind the fence, thousands of cops. The farmers electrify the mood. The Mexican campensinos push a table displaying a collection of diverse corn strains, alter-like, and are lead by one who carries a basket of kernels on his back. They say that the transgenic agenda of the WTO will mean the end of all this.
From Korea come 200 small farmers and trades unionists. This group knows how to demonstrate. The contingent provides its own free jazz accompaniment; clanging cymbals and the thud of deep drums provide the rhythm for the march with banners, costumes and deadly seriousness. They make directly for the front and attack the fence, their position announced earlier as, “What fence?”
As the fence begins to rock back and forth, the crowd takes heart. A few of the Koreans climb on top hanging banners and leading the chants of their comrades below. Kyong Hae Lee leads. If there is confusion among the assembled; are we here to take the fence down? Are we here to fight? To go through..” Kyong has an answer the fence must come down. A sign hangs from his neck, “WTO Kills Farmers”. He is leading the chant in English “Dismantle the WTO, conditions.” and thousands respond.
Lee turns away from us, towards the police, the WTO and the corporate media functionaries who cower among them. His right hand is raised; he plunges a knife into his heart and falls backward from the fence into the waiting arms of his astonished comrades. A scrap breaks out as militants are forced to beat back the sickening throng of photographers and journos who crowd around the body. A path opens quickly through the crowd allowing Lee to be carried to a waiting ambulance. The mood alters. The Korean contingent who have carried an ornate paper and wood construction symbolizing the death of the WTO, reassemble. They raise the prop above their heads and run at the fence, smashing into it. This gesture is repeated three times before they set it alight sending the crowd into a frenzy of rage and unity.
All week long hundreds of hours have been invested in meetings to determine what exactly we would try to achieve here. All of this obsessive planning becomes moot as the crowd joins Kyung Hae Lee and his compatriots in an unscripted but singular objective; to destroy the fence. A fence that excludes not just the farmers present here but 3.5 million Korean farmers and countless others being strangled by the policies of the WTO. The closest that these thousands of Mexican and Korean campesinos can get to the architects of their doom is seven kilometers. Seven kilometers of smooth concrete highway edged by luxury hotels full of elites from every corner of the world. Seven kilometers of luxury hotels, wet t-shirts, cheap labor, liberal investment régimes and Martha Stewart. This week they are guarded by a mercenary force of tens of thousands and they have come to Cancun to map out the continued imposition of the cash nexus over every aspect of our lives. Some peoples dreams are our nightmares.
The closest that Kyung Hae Lee could get to deliver his message was this spot seven kilometers from the source of his despair, so it was here that he came to die.
The Koreans are very hardcore and plenty join in. The fence is assaulted along the line. Over to one side the campesinos are hard at work. Meanwhile at another spot 20 meters away the Korean block are making steady progress. Scattered groups of Mexican radicals are figuring out how best to dismantle the edifice, backed up by squads of stone throwing fighters who support the engineering brigades. This is the anti-globalization movement, mixed, intuitive, and highly effective
As the WTO burns, banners hung along the fence are set alight. At two points the fence begins to buckle as the second wave of militants appears from behind. The Koreans split up, some accompanying Lee, in critical condition, to the hospital, while the rest continue to destroy the barricade. A breach is created within a few minutes and quickly the fence is peeled back. The police reinforce the breach and are kept at bay by disciplined gangs of stone throwers and street fighters. Along the 200-meter line the fence continues to be overturned and dismantled, yet the police don’t make a move. Their only attempt to charge the crowd is quickly beaten back under a shower of stones, fists, and appropriated police batons.
Kyong Hae Lee who made the ultimate sacrifice here was leader of a small farmers union, he was 54 years old, the father of three daughters and a militant revolutionary. He is not the first Korean farmer to take his own life in protest and desperation at the policies of the WTO, just the latest. In the evening we tried to figure out what had happened. We tore down the fence, we beat police and found a way to fight against these pricks here in this neoliberal nightmare zone called Cancun. The Koreans stayed overnight at the junction where Lee died, many others joined them. Trying to explain their tactics to us one of them described it thus, ‘we have specialists here’.
WRITERS BLOCK is a collective of reporters in Cancun. They can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org