Globalization has been a major course for the economic growth of the world economies especially the developing countries that have benefited immensely from the transfer of technology, capital flow from developed countries and market integration. However, the issue of globalization has raised a lot of resistance especially from the developing countries who claim of being shortchanged by the developed countries. One major globalization resistance, which sparked the start of anti-globalization revolution, involves the Zapatista global movement following the passing of trade agreement in 1994.
Several globalization movements have since then followed including the World Trade organization (WTO) protest in Seattle in 1999 and Cancun in 2003 where people were campaigning against free trade. These movements have been at the center of media scrutiny and the coverage/portrayal they receive is often biased as the main issues underlying the protests are not clearly reported. As shah (2001) notes, mainstream media concentrated on the violent aspects of the event including labeling the protestors as anti-trade yet they were protesting against the unfairness in the trade agreement. Both the developing and developed nations had different perspectives on the issue of free trade and how it affected their economies, and since the developing countries realized that the main agendas were not comprehensively resolved and addressed, protests followed leading to the failure of the meeting to reach an agreement. Subsequent meetings have always had such kinds of protests which have won support from various Non-Governmental Organizations and nations that feel aggrieved by the free trade issue.
This paper will discuss the issue of resistance to globalization since the Zapatista rebellion and in particular the protests during the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999. In addition, the paper will discuss the media portrayal of the global movement, the organization of the protests including the participants and the reasons for protests, the reaction from other sectors and the challenges faced in this rebellion.
The rise of Anti-globalization
The emergence of globalization was meant to provide enormous benefits to the world as whole especially in relation to liberalization of trade, political and market integration and global industrialization among others. However, these benefits of globalization have turned to be pipe dream considering the various shortcomings that have plagued globalization especially in terms of free trade with the rich or developed countries reaping more benefits in expense of the third world and poor people. The resistance on globalization may be viewed as pertaining to complex and ambiguous strive that may be reactive or progressive based on a multiplicity of forces. Since the cold war and putting the Zapatista rebellion aside, the recent global resistance movements may be seen as a campaign to restore the society’s values through addressing issues of political democracy, environmental sustainability, equality and social justice.
Although the movements that have been witnessed in the last one decade may be seen to have concentrated on anti-corporate globalization rebellion and social justice movement, some other issues like terror war (following invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan), capitalism and imperialism and rebellion against dominance of transnational organizations in the global economy have been also witnessed. For instance, according to Harris (2003) in the article ‘popular resistance to globalization and neo-liberalism in Latin America,’ resistance to globalization has been on the rise in scale and intensity. The regime in Latin America especially Mexico reacted to resistance of globalization by firstly using tactical measures which suppress or reduce the resistance, and secondly by strategies of managing the insurgence and rise of resistance (LaRosa & Mora, 2007 p.305). The “Battle for Seattle” has been the basis of the global movements in the current millennium with the protestors viewing the policies made by the major institutions such as the WTO, World Bank, IMF and the G8 group as unjust and undermining the rights of some world economies thus sparking protests every time a high profile world meeting takes place.
The Zapatista rebellion
Chiapas is a Mexican state in the south of Mexico and the Zapatistas have been involved in a revolutionary resistance in the Mexican country to oppose trade agreements in North America. The group Zapatista Army of Liberalism (EZLN) is an army revolution that declared war against the Mexican state, marking the beginning of revolution since the cold war (Weinberg, 2004). The rebellion rose in 1st January1994 when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) started being effective. They operated in the Lucandon jungle and acted as militia against the Mexican government. The protest was due to the involvement of Mexico in the NAFTA treaty, which they believed it would contribute to more poverty and hence the gap between the poor and rich would increase especially for the people of Chiapas.
They also protested on the natural resources in Chiapas which they believed should be left to autonomous control by the natives of the area. The struggles of the Zapatistas in the land were pronounced against anti-globalization slogans which made the country engage in several battles. The Zapatistas argue that globalization and liberalization just make the poor become poorer especially in Mexico and all over the world. The NAFTA for example will allow cheap mass produced products from America flood the Mexican markets, cause the removal of subsidies in Mexico, and have impacts of reduced income among individuals which translates to poor living standards for the persons involved. Although the media has portrayed the Zapatistas as protesting against the internal governance of Mexico, the truth is that they have been fighting an anti-globalization war against injustice to the minority especially following the displacement of the native Indians from their land to pave way for agribusiness and other development projects.
The Zapatistas have three central objectives which are democracy, freedom and justice. Direct participation and consensus building is the ideology of democracy, self determination and autonomy are the virtues in freedom, while justice both socially and economically enhances respect of culture and life values (Graham, n.d.). The Chiapas had supported the ruling party, the Revolutionary Institutional Party, than other States but their survival was threatened by the same Mexican government they had supported all along.
Three factors favored the Zapatista movement; the presence of the church which identified social problems led by the then catholic bishop Samuel Ruiz, who initiated liberalism in terms of theology; the civil society which included the non governmental organizations and unions of the community; and the confidence political dawn of the people of Chiapas. This action by the Zapatista was the genesis of the protests witnessed in 1999 Seattle WTO meeting.
The WTO protests in Seattle in 1999
One of the major protests that have remained to dog the world up to today is the 1999 WTO summit in Seattle where protesters hijacked the meeting citing unfairness in the way the issues were being addressed. Indeed, according to Vidal (1999), the talks stalled just before the conclusion of the meeting after the poor countries (African, Caribbean and Latin American) protested heavily against the marginalization they received from the rich nations especially on matters concerning agricultural subsidies and free markets. Moreover, the way the talks were handled left a lot to be desired since from the start, the rich nations were enforcing consensus without even agreement, poor countries were excluded from the discussions related to the environment and the abusive/insulting language used by some of the speakers as well as the speed at which issues were rushed without proper debate yet they had a lot of bearing to the poor countries. For instance, Vidal (1999) views that the issues of concern that included environment, cultural and social issues were either simplified to the economic interests or even discarded altogether sparking protests from the environmentalists and labor groups. Despite these flaws, the median played a role in the breakdown of the talks through the negative coverage they had placed even before the talks began.
The media portrayal of the protests
Like it has always been in all major global negotiations, the media failed to live to its billing by representing biased coverage of the occurrence of the talks thus denying the audience the benefit of understanding the reality of the matter in the talks. According to media advisory (1999), the media shifted their attention to the protestors’ violence and police hurling tear gas canisters to the protestors and in the process labeling them as anti-trade activists. All the headlines concentrated on the protest and violent part of the talks without covering the outcomes of the talks themselves and also failing to address the reasons behind the protests, and to some extent generalizing allegations that were misleading as can be read from the comment of one reporter, Deborah Wang, in ABC News (cited in Media Advisory, 1999) thus; they were fighting for the issues of 60’s involving corporations that are exploiting workers, effects of agribusiness to peasant farmers, mining companies displacing people from land and WTO failure to address trade issues. Most of other media reporters were equally lost in their coverage as they only talked of the police behavior in countering the protests through use of grenades, rubber bullets and pepper spray. It is only the independent media that was objective enough to cover the WTO discussions.
The internet media was particularly instrumental in coverage of these happenings. While the mainstream media was skewed towards the negative part of the WTO talks, the internet was more unbiased as it presented both sides of the talks including the violent protests, the police brutality, the peaceful demonstrations, the WTO discussions and comments by the witnesses. It is through the internet also the recruitment of protestors and the organization of the protests were done. Moreover, the technological advancement has led made it easier for both anti-globalization campaigners and leftists to push their political goals with a possibility of wider coverage (kellner, 2003).
The other role of the internet media was to enable the right-wing and the reactionary forces to promote their political agendas where discussions and interactions led to formations of allies aimed at forcing the talks towards their point of interest. Despite the medial wishing to be objective in its reporting, the fact is that, it is part of the multinational corporations that were pushing for retention of the corporate led free trade and thus it had to portray the protestors as the enemies of WTO as a way of protecting their interest (Shah, 2001).
Organization of the global movements
The globalization resistance movements have become a common phenomenon in all global meetings and especially where discussion pitying the developed and poor countries is concerned. Protestors are made up of various interested bodies including the poor countries (mainly the African, Caribbean, Latin American and pacific), the religious bodies, non-governmental organizations, labor rights activists, environmental activists and human right representatives. In the Seattle revolution, these groups teamed up to organize one of the worst rebellions ever. The intension of the protest was not to be violet since majority of the groups had their agenda set on rejecting the corporate led free trade and fairer trade practices; however, a section of the groups had other motives and it’s the one that caused violence through looting and engaging the police in battle and thus diverting the focus of the media.
The unions and civil rights groups have been actively involved in such protests, for instance, in Seattle, they led workers along the streets to create awareness that the existing free trade system was undermining the interests of the workers and destroying jobs across the world. The students were also protesting with an aim to create awareness on various international issues. On the other hand, the environmentalists were campaigning against the exploitation and degradation of the environment by the so called multinationals. This is echoed by George (1999) who questions on the means to regulate trade on toxic waste as well as the issue of poor countries exporting food items yet they suffer from poverty and food shortage or use of timber yet forest cover is diminishing.
Key issues addressed
Unlike portrayed by the media that the resistance was anti-trade, most of the protestors were in agreement that fair liberalization of trade was beneficial not only to the rich nations but also to the poor nations but the current form of free trade that was more corporate oriented was unfair and unjust to the poor nations. In actual sense, globalization has aided economic growth in the developing nations and promoted peace through diplomatic integration. However, the institution of rules and regulations in international trade, the corporate influence in composition of free trade and the lack of general goodwill in election of WTO secretariat leads to asymmetrical flow of benefits from the international trade in a structure that is more of neoliberalism that favors the developed nations in expense of developing nations (Mittelman, 2000, p. 137).
The anti-globalization groups are to some extent campaigning against the US dominance especially the dominance of the dollar global markets where its is viewed that its homogeneity will make the US have an added advantage above other nations that go in to trade with the US. The evidence is great when linked with the currency used by the Bretton Wood institutions and the currency used in trading of crude oil which historians claim was a US brokerage to win powers (Appelbaum, & Robinson, 2005 p.48).
The form of labor laws in place in the international trade were more aligned to offer protectionism to the developed world while the labor standards that were to be enforced through trade sanction were deemed to be counterproductive to the developing nations given that the third world countries have no power to compete with the rich countries. Such policies are seen as a means to foster imperialism and capitalism where the US stands to benefit.
The poor nations won the support of various NGOs and other activists groups following the realization that the WTO has more or less concentrated in building ally to the powerful nations to institute laws that favor corporate globalization thus creating tension to the poor nations who tend to forge a rebellion to the ideology of corporate expansion. Most of the reasons for resistance lied on the view that the new globalization is more profit oriented than humanistic with issues such as the rights of the households’ economies in the global economy structures, discriminative nature of the global market and the quality of life status in the global society. Activists’ agendas and aims are the ending of corporate personhood, breaking of free markets and the ending economic privatizations by organizations like World Bank, IMF and WTO. The opposition to the activists is based on abuse of globalization and neo-liberalism which does not regard ethics (Kelly, 2000 p.147). Moreover, activists claim that developed nations aim at exploiting developing nations through imbalanced trade, especially through agricultural products where there is heavy subsidization in developing countries as compared to those from the developed nations which are more preferred in the markets, leading to unfair trade. The activists have a negative attitude towards the World Economic Forum (WEF), Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and the Trans Atlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) and other institutions that tend to adopt or support the agreements.
Challenges faced in the resistance
Although the protestors have received a wide backing from civil and human rights groups as well as religious, NGOs, educational institutions and the environmentalists, there have been various obstacles to their success. The major handle has been the lack of financial backing considering that the major enforcers of the free trade rules are the powerful capitalists with the backing of the newly industrialized nations whose main motive is to protect their investment and political interests in the global market.
Bad governance and poor policies of developing countries have been the major challenge to the success of the resistance. Without power and finances to implement their agendas, they remain toothless in their endeavors to push for fairness. The leaders of the poor nations go into these treaties with prior knowledge of such adverse effects; hence the economies are being ruined due to selfish individuals. The anti-globalization movements have no authority against any sovereign nation hence they have limited powers to act incase such agreements are signed. However, although it is not possible to create a perfect policy to suit globalization, better terms of trade should be enhanced at all times (Ronfeldt & Center, 1998 p.90).
The resistance to globalization is a positive course given that all nations are equally endowed. The establishment of a level playing ground in the internationalization of trade is as important to the developing countries just as it is beneficial to the developed. The various protests that have dogged all the major global conventions including the WTO have always have a clear message that unfairness in globalization will not only ruin the living standards on the poor nations, but will create alienation especially where the corporations are allowed to take control of the global trade, with environmental and human rights abuse being perpetrated. Moreover, the mainstream media has been one of the most undoing perpetrators of discriminative trade agreements not only through their biased coverage, but also due to the fact that they have vested interest as they are part of the multinational conglomerates that have been actively involved in the push for the free retention of the corporate globalization.