By the time news that negotiations inside the WTO had imploded in the face of an open and unified insurrection by delegates of the global south, the party was in full swing. Members of the resistance Peasants from South Africa, Thailand, Central America and Korea with a large crowd of global justice activists still high from the success of the previous day’s ‘grande manifestation’, danced around the fountain. At kilometer zero, the spot where Lee Kyung Have fell by his own hand just a few days earlier, ecstatic celebration mixed with memorial, an American hippie drummer joined the Korean percussionists. Mexican campesinos sported Korean headbands and a handsome schoolteacher from Seoul stood slightly apart from the joyous crowd in dark sunglasses and an embroidered ladies indigenous blouse.
With tears in his eyes, the president of Via Campesino recounted the words of Lee’s daughter when he presented her with a bouquet earlier in the day. “My father is not dead,” she said. “He lives in the heart of farmers all over the world”. As people gathered around the memorial that had grown up at the junction, Cancunensas brought their children forward to light candles at the memorial, passing vehicles honked their horns in support, and in some of the weeks most surreal images truckloads of Policia Federal gave the thumbs up as local cops tied white flags to the antennas of their cars.
The previous day, thousands of resisters descended on the newly fortified security barrier near kilometer zero. Like the initial structure, this fortification was pulverized by the collective action of the demonstration. A couple of hundred women first massed along the fence and set about it with heavy bolt cutters. Mountains of wire were cut free and discarded by supporters as the women went into the 10 foot deep no mans land, thousands of riot police pressing at the other side. Bolts and chains which locked the wall together disappeared in a Fordist destruction line, the chains worn around the necks of the African women as trophies.
During the gradual escalation of militant activity, Media Benjamin, CEO of Global Exchange, a San Francisco crafts importer and travel agency, was spotted on the outskirts of the demonstration. Obviously sensing an opportunity to increase her product visibility, she, like many other NGO boosters, crawled out from amongst the WTO delegates to rub elbows with the resistance. Nowhere to be seen at the second assault was the liberal mouthpiece and parliamentarian, Tom Haydan who outdid the rightwing media in his assessment that the movement was split by a mythical debate over `violence’ as a tactic. Nothing could be further from the truth. The notorious black block, the same ones who keep Hayden awake at night, displayed a sophisticated and mature reading of the situation. They worked closely with the women at the front in securing the barricade from nutcases and provocateurs ensuring the success of the day.
Next up, the Koreans. They had spent the morning weaving rope into long plaits. These were brought forward and attached to the top of the barricade. The throng lined up, took the three lines in hand and began to pull in time with the Korean chants of a work gang. During an incredible three hours the barricade was destroyed and removed from the road by the steady collective action of the crowd. It took several turns and minor adjustments to tear the wall asunder. At one point, when it was about to tear into two parts for the first time, several journalists and photographers were gathered inside the collapsing structure. Warnings to vacate were given and the work teams paused, breaking the tempo of the operation. Nevertheless, as the steel caved towards the crowd 2 photographers went arse over tit inside as it rolled. Fortunately the work gangs were attentive enough that the signal went quickly along the line and these people were saved from grave injury.
The atmosphere was otherworldly as the mammoth structure began to buckle and sway, the realization began pass through those assembled that this thing was really coming down. The crowd was silent as the drummers accompanied the heaves of those on the ropes and the barricade disintegrated. It was quickly moved from the road onto the median where youths mounted it for a better view of the front line, now a small open space between the riot cops, a throng of cameras, the Koreans and the women of the movement of the global south.
In an unorthodox but tactically genius move, the crowd, flying high on this tremendous group achievement, which was ready to storm, to riot, to do almost anything- instead sat down. There was a ceremony and moment of silence for comrade Lee and then the electrifying news that not only had a group of Korean companeros made it into the convention center, but the group of 21 developing nations had signed a document refusing the proposals of the U.S.A and E.U. We are winning.
For days militants had infiltrated the “zona hoteleria” and caused mayhem, blocking traffic, confronting delegates and being chased around by a bewildered army of private security, conscripts and military policemen. In one of the weeks more comical actions, a `reclaim the beach’ party was reported on breathlessly by network correspondents as a demonstration. Video footage showed bathers bobbing, and waving while fifty odd security guards stood sweating on the sand scratching their heads. Due obviously to orders not to sully the image of the WTO with arrests or blood these spontaneous demos would routinely end in a negotiated deal whereby the police would provide air conditioned coaches back to kilometer zero and parties at the Korean encampment. This is the real Cancun.
On Sunday night at the fiesta around the memorial to Lee the mood was triumphant. People from around the world celebrated the death of the WTO and the life of Kyung Hae Lee. His death had crystallized something very important. As one Campesino woman put it, he has given us a great gift; he has reminded us that the policies of the WTO are a matter of life and death.