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Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting

 

 

The security for the CHOGM is tight for

the opening day which activists have declared to it shut down on the

opening day the 6th of October 2001.In the initial reports,  2000 Federal

and state police and 1600 soldiers will be deployed . Queenslands state

Labour Government said the police will NOT carry guns (in response to

killing of an activist in Genoa, Italy ) but  the soldiers will . About

10,000 ten thousands activists from Australia and around the world are

expected to join the great event. Further report will be coming soon.

All 44 foreign leaders  including the Queen of UK will bring their own

security guards plus Interpol , CIA , Commonwealth Intelligence .( Not

surprisingly, They will be allowed to carry weapons!!! )

 

 

Protesting or blockading at CHOGM?

 

Progressive activists have been told since May 1 that stopping CHOGM is

next. There are two strongly competing views about how to protest at CHOGM -

shut it down, or make it a forum for protest. There are many reasons put up

for protesting at CHOGM, using either tactic. Already, some activists have

Started to switch off CHOGM.

 

I also argue that the call to blockade and shut down CHOGM has come from

Just a few organizations, not by consultation, but by declaration. This is

not the way to develop the dynamic of popular protest that made such an

impact at S11 against the World Economic Forum. It is likely to demobilise

and reduce the numbers that will be involved at CHOGM.

 

What are the politics and crucial issues behind this rather bewildering

barrage of arguments and demands around CHOGM?

 

CHOGM is a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government. The Commonwealth

is a body of 54 nations, all but one from the former British Empire, but

also including since 1995 Mozambique, a former Portuguese African colony,

because of its historic ties with the anti-apartheid struggle. Commonwealth

countries have a population of 1.7 billion, or 30% of the world

population.

 

The Commonwealth is the latest evolution of what was the British Empire. It

started as the British Commonwealth of Nations after the Imperial Conference

of Westminster in 1926. After national liberation movements successfully

fought for de-colonisation, which started in India in 1947, the gBritishh

was dropped in 1949 and republics like India welcomed. In 1971, the

Singapore Declaration spelt out the Commonwealth commitment to improving

human rights and seeking racial and economic justice. In 1991, the Harare

Declaration spelt out more clearly that democracy and human rights are the

basis for Commonwealth membership. However, it was in the Harare Declaration

that the language of the neo-liberal TNC agenda started to emerge in the

Commonwealth, in parallel with other international institutions influenced

by Thatcherism and Reaganism (the Washington Consensus).

 

The Commonwealth is best understood as something like the United Nations on

a smaller scale. It has broad, even amorphous goals, works on the principle

of consultation and consensus, and has open processes with non-government

organization involvement. The Commonwealth has no military force, or

coercive power apart from suspension and expulsion.

 

The Commonwealth stays together because Britain wants to maintain its

economic, political and cultural influence in a post-Empire context, and

because the non-Anglo member nations want the economic support they can

obtain from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Commonwealth is

a north-south dialogue in motion - hence its continual name changes and the

continuing review of its relevance at every CHOGM. Because it is a

north-south dialogue where the northern member nations want it to

continue, the southern member states have bargaining power. This is a

major reason why the issues of human rights, democracy and development

dominate its activities.

 

The Commonwealth suspends or expels nations which have military coups and

non-democratic forms of government. Cases in point are Apartheid South

Africa, Ian Smith Rhodesia, Nigeria under the generals, Fiji after its

coups and currently, and Pakistan after its recent military coup. Robert

Mugabefs Zimbabwe is now a focus of Commonwealth concern.

 

This is in sharp contrast to the World Economic Forum, which is an

Organization of the top 1000 transnationals corporations (TNCs); or the WTO,

which is an organization of governments focused on neo-liberal free trade

and investment; or the IMF which as an international finance agency

dominated by the US Treasury Department to impose TNC interests on

vulnerable states; or the World Bank, which is a loan agency for

infrastructure projects, run by the US Treasury Department also to promote

TNC objectives; or the G8, which is the heads of government of the eight

richest nations who meet to coordinate economic policy in the interests of

the TNCs of their nations. The WEF, the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank and the

G8 promote the interests of TNCs in expanding profits, and pay no attention

to human rights or democracy. The CHOGM Business Forum is a meeting of TNCs,

much like the WEF, and is a proper target for concerted anti-corporate

globalisation protests.

 

The stop CHOGM case

 

Those arguing to blockade the Brisbane CHOGM meeting rest their case on two

points:

 

a) CHOGM is the British Empire in another name, and we must repudiate its

legacy of dispossession of indigenous people in Australia and all over the

world. It is illegitimate and must be shut down.

 

b) CHOGM is the same as the WEF, WTO, IMF / World Bank or the G8. It is

there to promote the neo-liberal free trade and investment agenda against

human rights, democracy and genuine development. At the Brisbane CHOGM,

there will be a caucus of governments to force nations to vote for expansion

of the General Agreement on Trade in Services at the WTO November

Ministerial Meeting in Qatar, and to vote for a new general negotiating

round - the development Round - with an expanded agenda compared to the

Uruguay Round completed in 1994. Therefore it must be shut down.

 

Protest but no blockade

 

On the first point, CHOGM is far removed from the British Empire, and only

exists because the former colonies see a value in it. Yes, it is a vestige

of the British Empire, but so is the Australian Constitution and the

Constitutions of all the Australian state governments. But the people

proposing to shut down CHOGM for this reason - the British Empire connection

- do not propose to shut down the Queensland Parliament or any parliament in

Australia. Why not? Because it is manifest today that these parliaments are

based on a democratic vote. The Commonwealth applies the same democratic

test to its member states. Indigenous rights are abused in Australia, and in

many of the Commonwealth member states - and the CHOGM is the perfect place

to protest about these abuses. So why shut it down and deny this

international forum as a place to communicate this legitimate protest?

 

It is only in democratic forums that arguments for human rights and genuine

development have got any chance to be advanced. TNCs do not support

democratic forums which may regulate or constrain their freedom for the

broader social and environmental good. But we should.

 

On the second point, CHOGM has no standing in the WTO, the WEF, or the IMF /

World Bank or the G8. Britain and Canada are the only two Commonwealth

members that are members of the G8. Decisions made at CHOGM have no direct

bearing on these other forums. Nations which may vote for a resolution on a

corporate globalisation issue at CHOGM cannot be bound to vote the same way

at Qatar. It is highly unlikely that CHOGM will go to the detail of GATS.

 

However, the general corporate globalisation case will be pushed by the

desperate pro-TNC forces at CHOGM. That is a good reason to protest against

corporate globalisation at CHOGM and to support those member nations which

want to maintain their opposition to a new round in the WTO, and extended

agendas for GATS, the Agreement on Agriculture, and the Agreement on

Intellectual Property Rights. But to try to shut down CHOGM would be to try

to suppress this vital debate.

 

It would be much better to raise these issues forcefully in protests in

Brisbane during CHOGM to support the member nations which also oppose any

further power going to the TNCs. Any clear division of opinion (no

consensus) on these corporate globalisation issues at CHOGM will be a

victory for people everywhere, and we should do our best to make it possible

for opposition to the neo-liberal agenda to be expressed. Therefore, the

shut it down approach is self-defeating.

 

There are other reasons to object to the call to shut it down. The

broader progressive movement and beyond us, the public, have had no chance

to discuss together the best approach to CHOGM, and so the shut it down

approach is going to divide the protest movement, and tend to isolate the

shut it down group who will look like a self-appointed vanguard. It

worked at S11; it worked to a lesser extent at M1 - another corporate

target, but it is not likely to work at CHOGM - not a corporate target.

 

There are important issues to raise at CHOGM that will be on the agenda -

democracy in Fiji after the Speight coup. The Commonwealth needs to be much

more forceful in its support for a return to the Constitution in Fiji, and

protests outside about this issue should be supported.

 

Nigeria is back in the fold at the Commonwealth, but human rights abuses in

the Ogoni country and elsewhere in the oil fields continue. Protests about

this issue should be made at CHOGM.

 

In Zimbabwe, President Mugabe is waging a war against his own people to hold

onto power. Opposition democratic forces, known as the Movement for

Democratic Change, want to raise their issues at CHOGM, and should be

assisted to do so. The Commonwealth has been very slow to criticise Mugabe

until now.

 

In Papua New Guinea, the police recently shot students protesting against

the IMF / World Bank program to privatise everything and to open up custom

land for sale. The Howard government strongly supports that program. This

issue must be raised on the streets at CHOGM.

 

John Howard claims there are no human rights abuses in Australia, despite

the local and international criticism of mandatory sentencing, his denial of

the Stolen Generations, his Wik amendments to Native Title, his cuts to

funding for Aboriginal programs, his abuse of the human rights of asylum

seekers, his coddling of One Nation. The Howard government should be exposed

before the whole world at CHOGM. This opportunity would be denied by the

shut it down tactic.

 

All these arguments are about the politics of the competing approaches to

protests at CHOGM. They may be answered by claims that both the shut it

down and the protest approaches can go ahead together. This may be

what happens, but if so, it will be because of a lack of genuine dialogue

among the protesters, and it will undo the movements which want to protest

at CHOGM but not deny the heads of government the right to meet.

 

Firstly, this will happen because the mainstream media, dominated by

neo-liberal interests, will focus on the division among the protesters and

work to advance their ideological campaign against the global protest

movement. In the CHOGM case, they will have plenty of poor country

representatives saying that they want to meet and that their right is being

denied, thus echoing George Bush, Peter Costello and others who say the

protesters are selfish people denying the benefits of globalisation to the

poor of the world.

 

Second, the security deployed at CHOGM to stop a blockade will also stop any

protests in the vicinity of the CHOGM events at South Brisbane. This will

make headlines, no doubt, but not about the central issues. Nor will it win

the sympathy of the public and grow the broad movement against the TNC

agenda.

 

Peter Murphy

 

SEARCH Foundation, Sydney

 

July 25, 2001

 

 

 

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