Arrival in Cancun… meeting U.S. policy... making connections…
security becomes more intense
By: Br. David Andrews
Brother Andrews is active throughout
the U.S., spearheading the NCRLC in its advocacy of
sustainable farming, social justice for rural people,
earth stewardship and policy issues relative to farming
Monday, Sept 8: Hello from Cancun.
We arrived today for our WTO sojourn, safe and sound
and legal despite last-minute travel excitement.
I was fortunate on Sunday to have been in Washington,
D.C., at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception where
NCRLC was given the Mnsgr. George Higgins Labor Award.
This was wonderful motivation for coming to Mexico to
work for justice and fairness, especially for farmers
and agricultural workers.
Bob Gronski (NCRLC Rural Life Policy Coordinator) and
I are in a hotel outside the zone of the WTO, amidst
the ordinary people of Cancun. We began our networking
with a visit to John Dittrich of the American Corn Growers.
We agreed to help him distribute a new study on the
U.S. grain trade, authored by Darryl Ray from the University
of Tennessee. We touched base with four delegates from
the National Farmers Union (NFU) who hail from Colorado,
North Dakota, and Wisconsin.
Tuesday, Sept. 9: In a briefing from
Vandana Shiva, Andrew Kimbrell, and Patrick Mooney on
biotechnology, we learned that the U.S. and Europe are
in some agreement on biotechnology protocols. They are
pressuring the most vulnerable nations in the global
south to go along.
A big issue is the U.S.-led push to have the proposed
WTO agreements trump the UN biodiversity protocol, which
comes into effect this Thursday -- Sept. 11. The U.S.
position seems to be that trade trumps the environment,
the welfare of people, the defense of nature.
We also met delegates from the Center of Concern, who
had been briefed by the Third World Network representatives.
We learned that the U.S. is using its top negotiators
to get these nations to accept all of the U.S. positions.
This makes it appear unlikely that proposals that are
socially concerned, environmentally sound, economically
fair will survive this WTO round. They face the full
force of the U.S. brought to bear on the hold-out counties,
especially those of Africa and Latin America. The U.S.
is saying get on board or watch out!
Wednesday, Sept. 10 (morning): Tuesday
was a busy day of meetings, finding our way, catching
up with friends from the various food, farm, faith networks.
Bob Gronski and I managed to catch up with Father Randy
(Redemptorist from Maine) and Quenton (excuse my lack
of last names) an African-American farmer from Macon,
Both are here with the Rural Coalition/Coalition Rural,
an organization that works for justice, especially for
minority farmers in the U.S. and Mexico. Also we had
dinner with Andrew Bartlett of the Presbyterian Hunger
Rural Coalition, the Presbyterian Hunger Program, and
NCRLC are all members of an ecumenical organization
called Agricultural Missions. AM provides community
development grants to small farmers around the world.
They also arrange tours of third-world farmers in the
Our conversation was an opportunity to find out where
"ad hoc" meetings are taking place on food
sovereignty and environmental issues. We figured out
where people are staying so we can be in contact.
Tuesday was a day of getting acclimated.
Today, Wednesday, the level of security is much higher
with police, troops, and check points all along the
way. We had no trouble getting through though to begin
our full day of attending presentations from the NGO
community on food sovereignty, food security, agricultural
trade. We hope to catch up today with friends from Maryknoll
in Mexico, the National Family Farm Coalition, and from
other farm organizations.
Don't forget to say a prayer for fair and just trade.
-- Brother Dave Andrews, CSC
People’s groups gather…defending
food sovereignty…U.S. statements…prayer
By: Robert Gronski
Gronski works with projects and
policy issues, including efforts to develop a “water
ethic” in the face of a global shortage fresh
Tuesday, Sept 9 (evening): Today
(Tuesday) was our first full day in Cancun. After we
got our WTO accreditation passes, we went to nearby
hotel which served as the official NGO (non-governmental
organizations) communications center. Participants can
collect information, find cold water or coffee, meet
friends, and log on to the Web on dozens of open-access
computers. The room was also air conditioned, which
refreshed us after the 90 F, 90 percent humidity weather
We attended a biotechnology briefing moderated by Vandana
Shiva, the well-known Indian farmer organizer and GMO
opponent. Others there were Andrew Kimbrell of the International
Center for Technology Assessment, Pat Mooney of the
Canadian ETC Group, and Caroline Lucas, a Green Member
of the European Parliament.
They were calling for an international sign-on for
an amicus brief in response to the U.S. administration’s
suit against the European Union. The U.S. is trying
to force the lifting of the EU moratorium on genetically
modified food varieties. The suit was brought at the
WTO level, so it was only fitting that NGO groups organize
at this Cancun ministerial meeting to fight back.
The brief includes this call: Given the abundance of
alternatives, the risks that GM crops pose to the environment
and human health, the existing U.N. Biosafety Protocol,
scientific uncertainty on GMO impact, and the lack of
any socio-economic advantages, we declare that this
use of the WTO dispute settlement system for imposing
GM food on the world is totally illegitimate. We also
declare our support for the right of all citizens to
choose safe food, and the duty of governments to protect
the health of their people and their environments by
refusing GM food.
The National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC)
will sign on to this brief, and will post directions
for others to sign on at its Web site next week.
Br. Dave and I attended the first briefing of the office
of the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick. These
are being set up for the benefit of American NGOs, providing
both highlights of Zoellick’s meetings, announcements
and time for questions from the audience.
Zoellick apparently has been busy since Sunday, meeting
late into the evening with various country representatives.
President Bush has been busy calling national leaders
on the telephone, particularly Brazil, India, Pakistan
and South Africa. Some NGOs believed this might have
been an arm-twisting tactic, but the USTR spokesman
said the President was “simply staying engaged”
in a process that had much to offer to the developing
world. The process, we were told, was to a create “a
world that trades in freedom.”
In response to a question from the audience on the
demonstrable social benefits of WTO policies for poor
countries, the USTR answer was (predictably) all assurances
that indeed the U.S. is concerned about fair and equitable
Only 200 NGO representatives will be allowed inside
the official meetings. There was talk of a silent protest
Wednesday during the fine government speeches. The word
on the street, however, is that security would be tight
and such protests -- even a simple one like this --
would be stopped one way or another.
Br. Dave offered a blessing on our evening meal, and
asked for guidance in staying focused over the next
few days. We all said “amen” to that, even
as outside we knew that the tightening security presence
Truck loads of military personnel filled the streets
along with the buses of official delegates and NGO participants.
Metal fences and gates were being set up, and check
points would likely slow us down tomorrow. But the full
moon was rising over the Cancun lagoon, so we enjoyed
this pleasant moment and ended the day in peace.
-- Robert Gronski