Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Headlines, Human Rights, North America

No Aloha for APEC

Honolulu, Hawai'i, U.S. , Nov 15 2011 (IPS) - As U.S. President Barack Obama sought to make headway on the first significant free trade agreement since NAFTA, a week of demonstrations protested the move.

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit kicked off on Nov. 8 and ran through Nov. 13.

Numerous actions have been protesting the APEC summit. And not only here in Honolulu.

The summit brought together 21 Pacific Rim economies. Currently, the United States is seeking to pave the way for a free trade agreement of the Asia Pacific region.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement to liberalise the economies of the Asia-Pacific region, is its first incarnation. Signed in 2005 and implemented in 2006, the TPP includes Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore.

Australia, Malaysia, Peru, United States and Vietnam are negotiating to join.

On Friday, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced interest in joining.

Memories of the 1997 meltdown in Southeast Asia

In response to Prime Minister Noda’s decision, 6,000 protestors demonstrated against the TPP in Tokyo.

Joining the TPP would deeply impact farmers, particularly rice and wheat farmers, since a free trade agreement would erase the tariffs on imported grains, allowing Australia, the United States and Vietnam to import cheaper grain.

The 1997 Asian financial crisis is seared into the minds of farmers of the region. Countries most affected were Indonesia, South Korea and Thailand, as well as Japan, Laos, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

As the economies of these countries melted down, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) offered loans. These funds were typically tied to neoliberal realignments of economy. Abolishing tariffs on imports forms one part of such an economic integration.

Under this system, local farmers would not be able to compete with cheap imported grain.

Thus, the current free trade agreements under discussion are already meeting with strong resistance throughout the region.

De-Occupy Honolulu

In solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and “with the people of occupied lands everywhere”, the Occupy Honolulu movement has been underway since Oct. 8.

Reflecting local politics, the first general assembly kicked off with a heated discussion about the very name of the movement: occupy? (in solidarity with Wall Street); de-occupy? (to reflect local positions on sovereignty rights); or re-occupy?

Occupy Honolulu established an encampment in Thomas Park to settle in overnight on Nov. 5. Eight people were arrested. Since then, Occupy Honolulu has re-occupied the park.

The Honolulu Police Department has threatened to evict them, arguing that the park closes at 10:00 p.m. and the protestors do not have the right to stay beyond that time.

Insisting on their first amendment rights, the encampment continues to occupy Thomas Park in downtown Honolulu.

Megan Brooker with De-Occupy Honolulu said on Nov. 13 that “20 to 25 people stayed on last night. We are joining the march this afternoon and then heading back to the encampment, which is in Thomas Park across from the Honolulu Academy of Arts, where an APEC related event will take place tonight. So we plan to protest that and camp out.”

APEC attendees had been invited to a cultural reception at the Honolulu Academy of Arts to take place that evening.

Iolani Palace

On Monday, 22 people calling themselves “Aupuni O Ko Hawaii Pae Aina” (Hawaiian Kingdom Government) were arrested at a sovereignty rights protest at Iolani Palace.

On Sunday evening, the Native Hawaiian group had locked the gates surrounding the palace grounds and occupied the area.

Iolani Palace is the only royal palace used as an official residence by a reigning monarch. It served in this capacity until the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1893.

On Monday, after the group was arrested, Governor Neil Abercrombie announced that the Iolani Palace would be closed during the APEC summit, as a security precaution, and would reopen on Tuesday, Nov. 15.

The decision was made without consulting the Iolani Palace managers. Many are not pleased.

Kippen de Alba Chu, executive director of Iolani Palace, said the palace “had to issue apologies to the delegations of China, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, Taiwan and the U.S. Department of Commerce, all of whom had planned special visits to the historical site for high-ranking officials.”

As Lorenz Gonschor, Ph.D. student in Department of Political Science at UHM, focusing on Hawaiian history, put it, “precisely the closure of the palace would have provided the ideal security conditions for a tour by high-ranking delegates. The palace is one of the most important sites documenting the history and annexation of Hawai’i.”

Many of the countries that are members of APEC previously had diplomatic relations with the independent nation and royalty of Hawai’i, and underscored this history explicitly in their request to be able to visit the Iolani Palace.

Whose security?

The summit’s kickoff on Nov. 8 was greeted by a demonstration of around 100 people that proceeded from the Old Stadium Park to the Convention Center.

The demonstration protested the killing of 23-year-old local resident Kollin Eldert by State Department special agent Christopher Deedy, who was part of a special task force brought into Honolulu by to provide security.

The fatal shooting took place Sunday, Nov. 6, the weekend before the APEC summit kicked off.

Deedy has been put on administrative leave and is scheduled to face trial after APEC concludes on Nov. 17.

Human rights

In conjunction with a march Sunday, members of the Vietnamese- American community in Hawai’i gathered to raise public awareness of human rights violations in Vietnam.

In particular, they seek the repeal or revision of article 88, which prohibits “writings against the Socialist state”. The protestors argue that it is “frequently used to arrest and detain peaceful bloggers and democracy activists”.

They also demand revision of article 79, which prohibits “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.” Being charged with violating article 79 is punishable with death.

Street Heat

Saturday afternoon, over 200 demonstrators marched against APEC. Hundreds marched 1.5 miles to the Hale Koa Hotel, where heads of state were due to arrive for dinner.

The protesters yelled “we are the 99 percent,” and “No Aloha APEC,” as secret service officers and police stood by and videotaped the action.

Signs read “Robin Hood was right” and “I need a bail out.”

The action proceeded peacefully. After about 20 to 30 minutes of cheering, dancing and chanting at the chain link fence that barricaded the Hale Koa Hotel, the demonstrators continued to Old Stadium Park and to the Occupy Honolulu encampment at Thomas Park.

*Tina Gerhardt is an independent journalist and academic who covers international summits and climate negotiations, climate policy, and related direct actions.

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