Is Cancún the Next Seattle?

As the World Trade Organization meets, activists launch a fair trade movement

| September / October 2003


In 1993, the resort city of Cancún, Mexico, fell prey to what has become one of the hottest trends in global capitalism: privatization. After years of failing to provide an adequate clean water supply for the city's burgeoning population, Cancún's city fathers hired a subsidiary of Enron to manage the city's water system. Untold problems and millions of pesos later, the city saw no choice but to take back control of its water system.

Cancún's story will likely be told regularly in September, when the city hosts the fifth ministerial gathering of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Founded in 1995 to set trade rules and settle disputes among its 146 member countries, the WTO has been a target of global justice activists from the start, including the historic "Battle for Seattle" in 1999. After 9/11, protests against corporate globalization all but died, but many activists hope the Cancún meeting will be the movement's chance to get back on track. In an ironic twist, some globalization critics may end up fighting to save the WTO.