Police Non-Violence a Break From the Past

| September 2003

The police at this ministerial in Cancun have been incredible about keeping protesters in their place and avoiding any type of scandal. Remarkably, the lack of police violence has probably been the most shocking thing to many activists here. In Seattle, in 1999, the WTO was clearly established as an organization so contrary to the interests of so many that protests, always passionate and often violent, would follow it to the ends of the earth.

Here in Cancun the police have used methods that have virtually shut down the ability of the large-scale protests in nearby Cancun City to have any direct contact with the delegates at the fifth ministerial. And unlike Seattle, the police here have done it with remarkable restraint.

Today was the last major march against the WTO in Cancun. Many of the same groups came together in what was a significantly smaller protest than the one on Monday, with upwards of three thousand people. Once again, the protesters met the barricade at kilometer 0 of the road to the hotel zone, roughly 8 kilometers from the convention center.

The barricade, made of three layers of ten-foot fences and cement blocks, was rapidly torn apart with ropes, wire cutters, and battering rams fashioned from shopping carts. Once the protesters faced the police everyone quieted down for speeches. Amazingly, everyone sat down to listen to announcements by the South Koreans. 'We have come here to oppose the WTO... we pulled down this fence together...' They offered flowers for Kyung-hae Lee, the leader who killed himself on Wednesday, and burnt an effigy representing the WTO.

These symbolic actions, however, are all that is necessary. There is no hope of getting through the barricades and making it all the way to the convention center. It would take two or three hours just to walk there, not even counting the fact that there are a further dozen barricades the police could fall back on in that distance. Thus, just as the death of the South Korean farmer was a symbolic act, so too have the protests been forced to become largely symbolic.

The thousands that came to the wall of police here today were dressed ready for battle. Most had gas masks, bandanas, and some form of goggles. Many had gloved hands for throwing gas canisters back at the police. Most everyone had some sort of message against the WTO on their shirt or hat. The police, for their part, were dressed in full riot gear and as immovable and ready for violence as the activists.