Before Mexico hosted the 5th Ministerial Conference, the debates at the center of the World Trade Organization (WTO) sparked little interest in Mexico or in Latin America in general. Although the WTO already exercised great power over the economic and social life of countries in other regions, it was relatively unknown in this region.
The reason for this was that NAFTA—the bilateral trade agreement between developed and developing countries that served as a worldwide pilot project—dictated the terms of Mexico’s insertion into the globalization process. From the perspective of Mexican sectors that had already lost ground under NAFTA, the WTO’s decisions had little impact.
All of this changed in the days of preparation, organization, demonstrations, meetings, analysis, and protests leading up to the WTO meeting in September 2003. In particular, the participation of smallholder farmers all over the world provided Mexican activists, NGOs, and union members with a new perspective for waging their own battles. Through testimonies about the impact of the WTO in their countries and their multiple ways of resisting the trade offensive, Mexico came to realize that the multilateral organization was the global stage for the same process of advancing trade liberalization that they had been confronting in NAFTA.
Mexican social organizations awakened to new realities and shared struggles at the Campesino Forum at the WTO, attended by farmers’ organizations from throughout the world. They and the rest of the world were stunned by the suicide of the Korean farmers’ leader Lee Kyoung Hae during a demonstration in Cancun against the WTO. Many representatives came to realize the importance of the global resistance against the WTO and the necessity to ally themselves with other countries.
The conversion of thousands of Mexican campesinos to the struggle against the WTO; the global work of Via Campesina; the unity with sectors of workers, women, and young people; the analysis and criticism done by NGOs; and the arrogance of the United States and the European Union—all combined to push developing countries to reject the WTO draft presented at the meeting and break off negotiations.