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Police State 

In Miami, the battle was the story

The morning of Thursday, November 20, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz was standing quietly near a golf cart on Biscayne Boulevard, one of the prettiest stretches of asphalt in a city that is among the poorest in the nation. With his coiffed hair and pressed Cuban shirt, he was a picture of casual elegance. At one point, he leaned over and lit a cigarette, cupping the lighter against a breeze strong enough to billow his shirt but not near enough to cool down the army of cops spread up and down this block.

And they were everywhere, the police. They were on towers, scanning the growing crowd along Biscayne. They were in the air, circling the skies in helicopters. They were on boats, plying the waters of Biscayne Bay. They were lined up at a dozen intersections in downtown Miami, standing shoulder to shoulder, their eyes covered with Plexiglas shields, their legs with shin guards, their torsos with body armor.

Some stood at water cannons, some held high-voltage stun guns, a few carried rifles loaded with plastic bullets. Most wielded batons. All told, something like 2,600 cops, their overtime and outfits paid for with $8.5 million from the federal government, stood ready for battle, ready to protect the property and citizenry of Miami from those who would disrupt the Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting going on inside the Intercontinental Hotel, a hundred yards south from where Diaz stood smoking his cigarette.

On Tuesday, he had boasted to the Miami Herald that the deployment "should be a model for homeland defense." Now, just minutes after I'd asked him how he thought things were going so far, some protesters spied him.

"That's the mayor of Miami," one said. A TV camera crew swept in, and within seconds six microphones were in Diaz's face. But he couldn't hear the questions, because the marchers had closed in. "Fuck your police state!" yelled one protester. "What's your cut, Mr. Mayor?" shouted another.

Diaz moved to a black Expedition nearby and climbed in. They drove off and disappeared around a corner. His departure was convenient. Within minutes, not 100 feet from where he'd been standing, Diaz's model for homeland defense drew first blood on the sunny streets of Miami.

Two days earlier, Brian Holland, Natalie Foster and I had made the 10-hour trip from Atlanta. Foster was representing the Sierra Club, where she works as an associate regional representative in the Appalachian region. At 24, Foster is just two years out of college but discusses the arcana of political policy like a young (but liberal) Mary Matalin. A tireless networker, Foster is a true extrovert -- the type who leaves a party having met everyone in the room.

Like Foster, Holland also seems older than his years. A 22-year-old senior at the University of Georgia, Holland's critique of free trade agreements contains references to Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. And like Foster, Holland knows how to stay on message, crystallizing his arguments in pithy terms. On the ride to Miami, we spoke at length about the FTAA, a portion of which is intended to increase foreign investment in Latin American nations.

"If you depend on multinational corporations for investment," Holland said, "then you have to attract them. So you'll suppress any labor movements. So 34 nations will be competing for the investment and the country with the worst labor standards will win."

In fact, the elements of the Free Trade Area of the Americas proposal are so complex they defy soundbites, and yet the mainstream press continues to boil down an entire school of thought's objections into a single sentence, such as what appeared in a New York Times magazine profile of a protester that ran a few Sundays ago. According to critics, the story said, the FTAA is a "corporate land grab created by a nondemocratic institution that is stamping out indigenous culture and threatening the environment as it goes."

Such simplistic explanations, while correct in essence, frustrate activists like Foster and Holland, who point to the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994 as evidence that a similar agreement such as the FTAA -- stretched over North and South America, except for Cuba -- will further widen the gulf between the hemisphere's haves and have-nots.

As it turned out, on the very day we were driving to Miami, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an independent Washington think tank, released a report that concluded NAFTA has been a disappointment. In the US, NAFTA has had a "minuscule" effect on jobs, the report concluded. But Mexico revealed far less ambiguity. There, manufacturing jobs went up by 500,000, but 1.3 million agricultural jobs were lost. What's more, real wages in Mexico are actually lower than when NAFTA took effect.

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