The Human Tragedy Of The WTO
By Jane Kelsey In Cancun - WTO Bulletin #5
10 September 2003
The human tragedy of the World Trade Organisation’s approach to food and agriculture were brought home today with the
apparent suicide of 56-year old Korean farmer Lee Kyong Hae during a mass protest of indigenous peoples and peasant
farmers in the city of Cancun.
The march, timed for the opening day of the fifth ministerial meeting of the WTO, was the culmination of a forum of
peasant farmers and indigenous peoples from through the Americas, alongside the international peasant movement Via
Campesina. Their goal was to educate, debate and develop alternatives to the WTO’s free trade model of agriculture, and
to make their presence felt among the leaders who claim the right to make such rules on their behalf.
Their key demand was the removal of policies about food from the grip of the WTO and the right of self-determination for
indigenous peoples, small farmers and democratic governments over food security to ensure that agricultural policies
meet their people’s basic needs.
The protest of around 5000 people was located in the township of Cancun. The march became a rally when it was confronted
by barricades that were erected at the entry point to the Hotel Zone, some 10 kilometres from the conference venue.
An initial skirmish saw several parts of the metal barrier torn down. Police reinforcements arrived, preventing any
large scale breach from occurring. Some rocks were thrown by both sides. An initially tense stand off calmed down. Some
campesina returned to participate in the remaining forums. Others maintained a presence at the broken barriers, making
impassioned speeches against the WTO.