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April 22, 2008

People's Summit Responds to "Three Amigos" Agenda

NEW ORLEANS (April 22, 2008) - The "Three Amigos" of North America showed once more that they will ignore the growing clamor to renegotiate NAFTA and will continue to push our countries in the same direction through the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). With the fourth Summit shrouded in more secrecy, the People's Summit gathered to build knowledge and understanding of how what is being discussed inside impacts our daily lives.

Over 30 local, national and international organizations and networks hosted the New Orleans People's Summit: Our Response to NAFTA Expansion April 20-22 in New Orleans, LA with participation from groups based in New Orleans, other parts of the U.S., Mexico, Canada, and Quebec.

The SPP process is blatantly controlled by the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC) made up of the top 30 corporations CEO's in the three countries­--confirmed by President Calderón when he stated clearly that "this morning, the Business Leaders gave us a specific agenda to follow" and "we are here to support them".

President George Bush revealed his motives behind the SPP and holding his summit in New Orleans when he stated, "I chose New Orleans for our meetings with Mexico and Canada because I wanted to send a clear signal to the people of my country that New Orleans is open for business." New Orleans has been ravaged by the very profit schemes typically saved for export, while the basic social infrastructure of this city has been neglected.

"This is the most developed and advanced form of privatization for an entire city in the U.S. at the expense of people of color and indigenous people fighting for their right to return," said Cindy Wiesner of Grassroots Global Justice.

Participants of the Summit from outside New Orleans witnessed the utter failures of the federal and local government to respond to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and their failure in rebuilding the school system, addressing the housing crisis, providing affordable physical and mental health care, and creating fair working and living standards for all residents.

"I was shocked to learn that in New Orleans how prevalent racism was during and after the crisis" said David Kane with the Alliance for Responsible Trade.

"What we have experienced in New Orleans should be a warning to other communities in the U.S. of how far they will take these policies," said Mayaba Lebenthal of Critical Resistance New Orleans. "The result of investing in privatization, rather than holistic community rebuilding, has led to unsafe, substandard living conditions."

"This calamity was not a natural disaster but a manmade disaster" said Kimberley Richards a resident of the Gulf Region and organizer in New Orleans with the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond. "Whether we are home or in the Katrina/Rita Diaspora we are displaced and need the UN principles of displacement and human rights to be honored. The restoration process cannot be just about bricks and mortar but must restore the fabric of the community which is the culture and music of New Orleans."

Fundamental issues affecting the future of our societies are at stake under the SPP plan. "It is unacceptable that human security, energy policy, workers rights, and environmental standards, are left in the hands of Walmart, Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, Power Corp and the like, of our world", said Pierre-Yves Serinet, from the Quebec Network on Hemispheric Integration (RQIC), one of the four anti-free-trade coalitions in the region. "With the SPP, we are facing the privatization of policy making, tantamount to a Corporate Coup d'Etat, where deep changes are taking place, bypassing our democratic institutions, like parliaments and Congress", he added.

"Nancy Pelosi's blocking of U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement demonstrates why the Bush Administration is so determined to keep the SPP process outside of Congressional authority," said Tom Loudon of the Alliance for Responsible Trade. "Undermining democratic processes is the necessary ingredient to push these policies through."

"Silencing the people of New Orleans through forced removal and continued displacement of many pre-Katrina residents is also a reality," said Lebenthal. "This is done through military evacuation, destruction of public housing and limited affordable housing, privatization of public schools, and mass incineration."

In New Orleans about 2,500 arrests are made a month rather then reinvesting in the communities most hard hit by unfair local, national and international economic agreements, such as SPP and NAFTA.

Now we are exporting this policy as President Bush reaffirmed his commitment to the Plan Mexico (Merida Initiative), providing $500 million dollars in aid, primarily to Mexican military and police force to help fight the "war on drugs" in Mexico, modeled after the failed plan in Colombia.

Many people have not given up the fight however. Opposition gathered for a People's Summit, a convergence of over 35 organizations representing marginalized people to link the Gulf Coast struggle to the fight for the survival of communities in Mexico, Canada, Quebec, and the rest of the United States. The Summit hopes to strengthen and deepen a multi-national grassroots movement that can effectively address these trade and security policies.

"As social movements, we are advancing in defining how an alternative model of relations among peoples can foster the harmonious development of national societies founded on social justice and the equitable distribution of wealth", said Alejandro Villamar, from the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade (RMALC). "Many activities we held in New Orleans allowed us to begin to build a common project in North America," he concluded.


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