Cancun Dispatch, 8/26

A Model of Globalization


| August 2003


These are my daily reports from Cancun, written in haste and mostly very late at night. I think you'll see from the reports that I barely have time to bang them out, without editing or polishing. I'm not here at this action as a journalist, however, but as an organizer who is juggling a whole lot of plates, as are all of us here on the ground. I'll keep doing them as often and as long as I can, and if you read through them it should give you a sense of what it's like to help organize a large summit action. Resources are still needed to help bring students and to support the creative actions-details are on www.rantcollective.org.

CANCUN CITY, MEXICO -- Arriving last night to help organize the mobilization against the upcoming ministerial of the World Trade Organization, I'm struck by how Cancun City is, in its own way, a perfect example of the model of globalization we're fighting against. The city is crunched between the jungle and the sea, on the mainland just where the long, skinny, island of the hotel zone launches out into the blue bay. The island is cool and breezy, shaped like a 7, with Cancun City at the upper tip, the airport at the lower, and the conference center where the ministerial will take place at the jutting point. The city itself is hot and sticky, an open-air sauna where all the hotel workers live. There is nothing on the island but big hotels and a few malls and shops for the tourists, all on a gigantic scale, like Las Vegas with waves beyond the sand. There are glossy modern hotels and pseudo-Mayan temples and faux Colonial mansions and huge resorts hidden from the common view by gates and fences, where those who have the money can repose at their leisure while those who serve take the bus home each night to a simple palapa that probably has no flush toilet.

Six of us arrived together last night from northern California and met up with some of the rest of our team who had come from Texas. Part of our goal is to create an eco-camp for the encampments being planned for the thousands of campesinos and students who will soon arrive. We got in late in the evening, took a a taxi to the house occupied by the Puente de Cancun, a group of internationals here to help set up a media convergence and help network with others who are coming. Lisa and Juniper, our friends from Texas, had come in early and were at a meeting, so we went over to the house rented by the Comite de Bienvenidos, the local group arranging spaces and organizing forums. We all met up, went out, drank beer, and reconnected with others we'd met a few weeks ago who are also organizing. Hector is working with the youth and the cultural events and also with the Comite -- he is tall and lean and a great dancer. Last time we were here there was music every night at the Parque de Palapas, the central park of downtown Cancun with a stage covered by a tall, steep, thatched pyramid of a roof, and we danced salsa in the hot, sticky, midnight air. Cesar is working on networking with unions and doing outreach -- he is small and fiery. Agostin is a sandy-haired Argentine who seems to pick up a lot of the pieces. Anna and Otto are students from the group we met in Mexico City. Ramor from the Puente brought his beautiful baby out, and there were others who had just arrived and we all felt festive, though very tired. We gathered our stuff and piled into taxis and our rented car and went to the house we'd just managed to acquire, a big, lovely residence a bit far from the center of town but with lots of big rooms and a refrigerator and four bathrooms and even air conditioning! Since we are expecting another 30 or so of our closest friends to join us soon, we needed a big place and may even look for another to rent.

We wake up in the morning and eat breakfast and meet before four of us go out to the Casa de la Cultura to look at the site where we are expecting to have the encampments. It's a big complex surrounded by four or five soccer fields, all bare and blisteringly hot. Like most places in the tropics, the soil here is not very fertile -- all the fertility is locked in the biomass of trees and plants, but when they are removed the earth becomes a hard, alkaline plain. Around the edges of the fields, though, are lush patches of green, giant grasses, fine-leaved acacias with beautiful orange flowers, guava trees, and others I'm not familiar with. Leaving my own bioregion, where I know all the trees and most of the other plants, and coming to this exuberant jungle is like going to a wild party where you hardly know a soul.

We find lots of potential resources -- rock, plenty of material to cut for mulch, even broken tiles for mosaics. Workmen are busy pruning and cutting grass with their machetes and making piles of just what we need for compost and brush berms and other permaculture techniques. A man comes out of the main building and greets us amiably. 'Oh, you must be preparing for the event,' he says. When Erik explains to him what we're doing, he goes to talk to the workmen to ask them to leave the brush piles for us.

Then we all pile into the car and drive out to walk around the conference center before the security zone is established. The center is a huge, concrete building surrounded by huge, concrete buildings, giant restaurants, a shopping mall (where a couple of weeks ago I got a $3.50 single-dip cone of ice cream), and big hotels where we'd popped in on our earlier trip to sit at the bar while tourists got on stage and embarrassed themselves amid really bad music Now some of our group goes for a swim at the small public beach behind the giant hotels, while we sit and watch pelicans diving a few feet away from us. Two of them seem to be a mated pair who must have been ice dancers in a former life. They wheel and turn and dive in perfect unison, hitting the water with wings spread elegantly.