Wednesday, October 10, 2007



"Empty streets with concrete barriers, high fences and riot squad officers, snipers in buildings and helicopters..." Anti-APEC activist September 07.

In September this year, Australian Prime Minister John Howard hosted the 2007 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) in Sydney - the biggest meeting of world leaders ever held in this country.

APEC brought together thousands of ministerial delegates, corporate executives and government leaders of 21 Pacific Rim nations. It also drew the ire of tens of thousands of Australians who are concerned for their welfare and the rights of those exploited by rapacious global Capitalist systems.

Activist groups and individuals travelled from across the country to participate in the actions against APEC, with Sydney placed into lock-down. Thousands of police lined the city streets during the conference, harassing those who dared display dissent to the exclusive meeting of capitalists.

Activists used APEC to express concern over many of the member countries' behaviour - in particular the US-led war on Iraq, and China's ongoing litany of blatant human rights abuses.

Staged at the taxpayers' expense, APEC is a massive logistical and security event, requiring some 25,000 room-nights at hotels for leaders, delegates and media personnel. Nevertheless, participation at APEC meetings is restricted to senior government officials, corporate big-wigs and the leaders of "member economies."

The APEC nations, know as "Member Economies", include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, New Zealand, Singapore, Korea, Thailand, United States, China, Hong Kong, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Peru, Russia and Vietnam.

Ostensibly, APEC is a gang of Pacific Rim economies working in virtual secret to bolster and increase economic prosperity and political collusion in the region. But APEC meetings have zero input from the people their leaders are supposed to represent - although corporate giants, including energy giants such as BHP, Rio Tinto, Chevron and Woodside - were all in on the uber-capitalist talk-fest.

The security side of APEC was a brutal and farcical display of concrete, steel, uniforms, guns and batons - with over-the-top media statements promoting outright fear and insecurity. The Australian Government spent over $300 million on security alone to host the forum, with Sydneysiders forced into lockdown mode for over a week. Dozens of police check-points dotted a five kilometre-long concrete and steel wall - excluding the general public from the CBD.

Severe newfound police-state powers resulted in "restricted" and "declared" zones, with a list of some 30 banned "violent protesters" drawn up by NSW government forces. Snipers crept about on rooftops and the Opera House was out of bounds. Tens of thousands of people were disrupted: all for a meeting of 21 government leaders with no suggestion of any terrorist threat.

During the anti-APEC street actions, some 20,000 activists converged to speak out against the invasion and occupation of Iraq and called for Australian troops to return home. Demonstrators gathered to oppose the sale of uranium and the development of a nuclear industry in Australia. They called for the closure of the secretive US Pine Gap spy base, the repeal of Howard's WorkChoices anti-union legislation and for the defeat of the Liberal coalition Government in the upcoming Federal election.

Many protesters raised climate change, democratic rights, "Cage Bush, not Sydney", and refugee rights amongst other human rights issues. Some groups protested against specific government leaders such as the Philippines, Burma and Chile, where trade union and human rights are abused. Police and security were accused of brutality and heavy-handedness, on one occasion removing their badges before assaulting peaceful demonstrators.

Despite John Howard's posturing that climate change would be on the agenda, the APEC's environmental emphasis instead focused on toxic and expensive Nuclear Power - and the mythical "Clean Coal". However, neither Nuclear nor Coal can be considered real solutions to the planet's ongoing environmental crisis. But for the APEC leaders, it was a perfect opportunity to push dirty Australian coal and amp up the uranium export industries through APEC's Energy Working Group.

During a week of overt political and corporate blustering, Australia signed off on a $45 billion gas deal with China, (with Australian mining giant Woodside benefiting) as well as a billion-dollar uranium deal with Russia.

Always a sycophant "deputy sheriff" to the United States, Howard announced Australia's commitment to the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) - a US-led project designed to push nuclear energy worldwide. Australia also signed up to another Defence treaty with the US - giving the US military industry greater access to Australian markets and further integrating Australia's military/security forces with the US.

APEC states its primary objective is to "promote trade and investment liberalisation in the Asia-Pacific Region", thereby assisting economic growth and prosperity. However, it is broadly known that these "neo-con" policies result in further theft of the poor, in order to keep the wealthy elite happy. Corporate interests cannot increase quality of life and prosperity for ordinary working people - who inevitably face attacks on wages and working conditions, especially in developing countries.

Established to foster "free trade" in the region, APEC merely allows corporate bosses and their political representatives to push the neo-conservative policies of privatisation and corporate control.

At its very base, APEC's model of rampant corporate globalisation, shuts out the ordinary citizen, puts the legal rights of corporations above those of people - and enables wholesale environmental degradation.

Indeed, 21st Century capitalism has no real solutions to the problems of global poverty or environmental destruction. Capitalism, at its very core, relies on the desecration of hard-won human rights, it encourages and subsidises the perpetuation of human greed and allows the very ecosystems we inhabit to be damaged beyond repair.

APEC, and other global meetings like it, only exist to exacerbate these perpetual problems.

by elliot K - October 2007

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