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c o m m e n t a r
Monterrey Goes Global
Activists inside and outside the landmark,
UN-sponsored International Conference on Financing for Development struggled mightily to get policymakers to listen to their demands, as Mexico’s Sultan of the North was converted in the latest stop on the Global Express.
by John Ross | March 26, 2002
The rusting skeleton of what was once Latin America’s flagship steel
mill looms tall against a spotless sky. In another time, La Fundidora
was the symbol of Nuevo Leon state’s capital, Monterrey. Mining, hot steel,
and the north-south rail lines made this powerhouse northern city Mexico’s
industrial and financial titan.
In the spring of 2002, more than a decade after the federal government
shuttered La Fundidora , the 12,000 workers who once toiled in its
blast furnaces are ghosts of the city’s proletarian past, and the site
has been remade into an exclusive enclave featuring the shiny new Monterrey
International Business Center (Cintermex) and a giant Holiday Inn.
Fittingly for critics, it was upon this icon of neoliberal transformation
that nearly 60 heads of state, their entourages and delegations, and a
plethora of NGOs converged March 18 through 22 for the landmark, UN-sponsored
International Conference on Financing for Development, a magna-conclave
that put Mexico and President Vicente Fox squarely in the global spotlight.
The Mexican summit was convened to ratify the Monterrey Consensus, an
agreement reportedly crafted by Mexico’s former President Ernesto Zedillo
and Goldman-Sachs’ Robert Rubin, then rubber-stamped by representatives
of 189 UN member states–despite criticism that it had been imposed from
The document reaffirms goals set at the UN Millennium Summit to raise
living standards for at least half of the world’s extreme poor by 2015.
Its beneficiaries would be some of the 1.2 billion destitute citizens
of the planet, the one-fifth of the population who survive on a dollar
or less a day–the price of a cup of coffee at Cintermex.
The Monterrey gathering was also the latest stop on the Global Express,
and only the second such event since the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New
York and Washington, DC. The World Economic Forum in New York in late
January was the first.
Globalphobics Provide Street Theater
The Monterrey conference came nearly a year after tear gas-saturated
protests at the Quebec Summit of the Americas, six months after the deadly
meeting in Genoa, Italy, of the Group of Eight rich nations, and just
two months in advance of the G-8’s next huddle, set for June in the far-off
Canadian Rockies. It also unfolded on the heels of massive anti-globalization
mobilizations in Barcelona, Spain, at the European Union spring summit.
Conceived by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to involve international
lenders in the UN agenda, but reared by Zedillo, a booster of the neoliberal
globalization model, the Monterrey forum could not help but draw those
whom the ex-president is credited with baptizing globalphobics.
The city is cosmopolitan if conservative, dominated by a score of families
tied together by their blood and fortunes and doing business as the Monterrey
Group, Mexico’s most powerful financial and industrial juggernaut. The
metropolis, nicknamed the Sultan of the North, prides itself on its modernity,
symbolized by sparkling skyscrapers, and its traditions, personified by
roast goat, the local delicacy that packs the tourists into restaurants
such as El Rey de la Cabra , (The King of the Goat).
This may explain why on the first morning of the Monterrey summit, when
a couple dozen farmers from nearby Mina showed up at the Cintermex with
two dead goats they claimed had been poisoned by toxics escaping from
a hazardous waste confinement site, the city fathers (there are no mothers)
were particularly offended. "There is a plot by the globalphobics
to stain the image of our city" declared Mayor Jesús Cantu,
The campesinos’ toxic goats were the first in a serial pageant of anti-globalization
vaudeville that so terrorized some locals that they abandoned Monterrey
for early spring vacations, even as 10,000 federal, state, and local military
and police were moving into the city to counter the globalphobics’ threat.
For weeks, Televisa, the senior partner in Mexico’s two-headed TV monopoly,
which accorded World Cup-sized coverage to the Monterrey events, had flashed
nightly file film filled with skinheads and ski masks, burning cars, and
spooky music, to properly panic the populous.
Next up on the protest parade were farmers from San Salvador Atenco in
Mexico state, whose ancestral lands are being expropriated for a new Mexico
City airport. The furious campesinos brandished machetes, noisily clanged
them together, and scraped them irritatingly along the sidewalks, just
to jangle urban nerves.
One march featured mini-skirted feminists protesting both the position
of woman at the bottom of the development ladder and the ban on the abbreviated
attire imposed upon municipal employees by Cantu, a member of Fox’s right-wing
National Action Party.
Members of El Barzon , the national debtors’ union, tossed bread
crumbs at the U.S. Consulate to lampoon Washington’s stingy contributions
to relieving world poverty.
The now-traditional Black Bloc, organized to honor the memory of Carlo
Giuliani, killed by Genoa police during last summer’s resistance, encamped
in city parks in classic anarcho-punk repose, and terrified regiomontanos
(Monterrey residents) with their bomb-spattered banners and pogo-jumping
Small Showing Outside, Small Impact Inside
A mass march scheduled to mark the anniversary March 18 of expropriation
of Mexico’s oil industry from foreign owners, however, ended up drawing
no more than 10,000–a pale shadow of the hundreds of thousands who had
filled the streets of Barcelona, Spain, just two days earlier.
The lean showing was partly attributable to the big scare build-up and
heavy security. In addition, memories were fresh of the first Mexican
anti-globalization outing at the Cancun World Economic Forum roadshow
in February 2001, when protesters were beaten bloody under orders from
the federal police.
But the fear factor was not the only root of the limp turnout in Monterrey.
"The United Nations is just not the World Bank; people still have
illusions about the UN," observed Louis Webber of France-Attac ,
one of the few European globalization fighters to come to Monterrey.
Organized labor, for one, failed to target globalization at the UN forum.
Instead, it spent its wad in Barcelona, where union participation swelled
mass protest to a half million antiglobalization marchers.
And what definitely depleted the antiglobalization ranks in the streets
of Monterrey was the absence of the allies in the NGO community who normally
might have been pounding the pavement but this time were inside at the
conference, trying to make their voices heard.
Labeling themselves critics of globalization rather than outright globalphobics,
NGO representatives allowed themselves to be lured into the Cintermex
with government promises that they would at last have a say in the proceedings.
Inspired by the World Social Forum in January in Porto Alegre, Brazil,
they convened under the rubric of "Another World Is Possible,"
and conducted marathon strategy sessions.
They responded to Fox’s offer of "a plural and inclusive forum,"
one which he ballyhooed as "a peoples’ Bretton Woods," adding,
"We want all voices, all countries, all organizations, and institutions
to be heard in Monterrey."
The Fox inclusion clause was orchestrated by Mexican Foreign Minister
Jorge Castañeda, who readily conceded that the blanket invite was
designed to undercut outside protest.
Hundreds of NGOs were assembled for a pre-summit Global Forum on Financing
for Sustainable Development with Equity, lavishly financed by the UN and
the Mexican government in the Coca Cola auditorium at La Fundidora
But their pleas to modify the Monterrey Consensus to include specific
goals and dates fell on the usual deaf ears. Excluded from participation
in plenary sessions, NGO delegates who took part in strategy sessions
were not even a formidable number. And by the second day of the summit,
they had taped up their mouths to protest the silencing and marched through
the halls of the Cintermex complex, to the obvious displeasure of UN and
"The problem with Monterrey is that our voices are heard but not
listened to," complained one NGO delegate from Zambia who spoke on
condition of anonymity.
Being inside has become an increasing dilemma for the NGOs at global
forums that have extended that courtesy. Globalphobics were split at the
Prague 2000 World Bank meeting, when Vaclav Havel invited civil society
inside in a foiled effort to mitigate street violence. Anti-globalization
forces again divided on the issue at climate talks at The Hague later
"We cannot allow the same engine of greed that gave us Enron and
Argentina to drive the engine of sustainable development in Latin America,"
argued Joy Kennedy of the Canadian Council of Churches, blasting the free
market model reinforced by the Monterrey Consensus.
Staying inside only "legitimized the scandal," Kennedy admitted.
But, like many NGO representatives, she was not ready to abandon the premises.
"The poor of Latin America are being sacrificed here in Monterrey.
Someone has to stay and try and stop it," she said.
John Ross is a veteran Mexico reporter and author of The War against
Oblivion–Zapatista Chronicles .
Declaration "Another World is Possible" | Pronunciamiento
Social de Monterrey "Otro mundo es posible" (Spanish only)
NGO Global Forum
| Foro Global (bilingual)
on Financing for Development | Conferencia Internacional Finanzas
para el Desarrollo (bilingual)
the Financing for Development Summit | Global Policy Forum (English)
de Monterrey" | Americas Program, March 14, 2002 http://www.americaspolicy.org/commentary/2002/sp_0203monterrey.html
para el desarrollo: nueva oportunidad para la justicia?" | Americas
Program, Feb. 13, 2002
Published by the Americas
Program at the Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC). ©2002. All
John Ross, "Monterrey Goes Global," Americas Program Commentary
(Silver City, NM: Interhemispheric Resource Center, March 26, 2002).