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15 September 1999

The APEC Meeting: Property Rights Over Human Rights Again

By Saul Landau

I just returned from New Zealand, the host of the APEC and anti-APEC conferences over last week. Until Indonesian army thugs started their violent cleansing in East Timor, New Zealand wits had called the Asian Pacific economic cooperation group All Politicians Enjoy Cocktails.

New Zealanders face serious trade issues like a $1.7 billion imbalance of imports over exports. This is an ongoing trend, reflecting its weak position in the APECking order. New Zealand also suffers from growing unemployment. The privatization policies of successive free trade governments have converted treasures like its railroad into speculating object by Wisconsin companies.

Many Kiwis chaffed at the overachieving nature of its government's security measures. One said: "Our government spent $50 million on so-called security, has closed highways, inconveniencing our citizens, blocked off city streets near downtown, screwing the merchants and ordered helicopters to hover 24 hours a day, keeping Auckland's population awake and annoyed. Just to protect the world's leading trade nerds from no one so they could exchange banalities about the evil nature of tariffs and the wonders of transnational corporate business!"

In addition, the government flew in police from all over New Zealand, thus giving criminals a virtual open house. The otherwise dull meetings, filled with euphemisms like free trade brings peace and cliches like democratic countries that belong to trading blocks don't make war or commit genocide, turned into a serious embarrassment for open market promoters. Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and the host of Asian and Latin American Clinton lights churned out self-justifying press releases while the Indonesian military gangsters murdered East Timorese and looted and burned Dili, its capital.

Outside the APEC meeting areas, demonstrators marched, held banners and chanted. Human rights over property rights. The TV ran showed Indonesian military thugs violently cleansing in East Timor.

How did Indonesia's massacre and deport policy in East Timor differ from the Serbian government's acts in Kosovo, a demonstrator asked me. Well, I said, Indonesian human rights violators are ours. The CIA helped topple Indonesia's elected government in 1965 and the Pentagon has provided ongoing training there to promote democratic values. That's the difference."

Some APEC delegates couldn't see the relationship of human rights issues to trade. "How does a little violence in East Timor relate to China's entry into the World Trade Organization?" a Thai delegate wondered. APEC's 21 members account for 45% of world trade. They generate $16 trillion in output. The handful of multinational corporations who dominate this economic sphere shrug off glitches like Indonesia's "excesses" in East Timor.

The demonstrators chanted "human rights over property rights," while the delegates inside became ever more convinced that property rights are human rights. Indeed, their agenda was to promote policies that facilitate international trade between giant corporations and remove from the agenda old fashioned notions of human rights. That's the essence of the APEC summit.

Polls show the ruling National Party fading badly as elections near. New Zealanders have had enough free trade policies.