Apr. 16  2024
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Cancun WTO Summit: A New Victim of Capitalism

Kyung-Hae Lee, you will be remembered forever, as is Emiliano Zapata and our other revolutionary leaders who have inspired generations of activists. Tears and determination are the molten lava of a volcano that is erupting in the streets of Cancun.

Source  :  BASE21

by Christian / Base21 Media Activists

Lee Kyeong-hae had written about his plight, but few had read his words. He had protested about the way he and other peasant farmers were being bullied out of business, but felt he was being ignored.
Thursday Lee finally got the World Trade Organization to focus on the ruinous policies that have left farmers in his native South Korea on the brink of disaster, but it took his death - by his own hand - to turn global attention his way.

His suicide on Wednesday during a farmer's day march shocked everyone gathered in Cancun for the WTO conference. Lee had been at the head of a delegation of more than 300 Korean farmers and trade unionists marching towards the conference center. The Koreans, disciplined and all wearing white t-shirts, “Stop WTO” written on it) and grey jackets, were chanting "No to WTO".

When the march reached the checkpoint that separates the luxury hotel zone where the official delegates of the world capitalist super powers stay from Cancun town the Koreans tried to pull the fence down. In the melee, Lee, without telling anyone or making a speech, pulled out a knife and plunged it into his heart. The cry went up for a doctor. After about 10 minutes, the crowd parted and he was carried out by six men.
An insight into what drove Lee Kyeong-hae to take his own life may be found in an article he wrote last month for the Korean AgroFood magazine.

"I am 56, a farmer from South Korea who has strived to solve our problems ... but who has mostly failed like many other farm leaders elsewhere," he said.

"Soon after the Uruguay round of the GATT (now the WTO) was signed in 1992 [opening Korean markets to rich countries and allowing the dumping of rice and other foods] we farmers realized that our destinies were out of our hands. We could do nothing but watch our lovely rural communities being destroyed. To make myself be brave, I searched for the real reasons for this."

Lee concluded that WTO policies had led directly to the impoverishment of hundreds of millions of small farmers worldwide and in February this year he set up a one-man protest, living in a tent outside the WTO offices in Geneva with banners reading "WTO Kills".

"I am crying out my words to you that have boiled so long in my body," he said. "It is a fact that since the WTO agreement, we have never been paid our production costs. Sometimes prices dropped to a quarter of what they used to be. How would your emotional reaction be if your salary dropped suddenly to a half without knowing clearly the reason?"

Many Korean farmers, said Lee, had left for the urban slums. Others had accumulated huge debts. "Once I ran to a house where a farmer abandoned his life by drinking a toxic chemical because of his uncontrollable debts. I could do nothing but listen to the howling of his wife. If you were me, how would you feel?"

Like many others in poorer countries newly opened to free trade, Lee rejected the WTO mantra that the world's peasant farmers could trade their way out of trouble. They were not able to compete with rich-country subsidies, and needed protection, he said.

"Earning money by trade is not the way [small farmers want] to secure food. My warning goes to all citizens that uncontrolled multinational corporations and a small number of big WTO members' officials are leading to an undesirable globalization of inhumane, environment-distorting, farmer-killing and undemocratic [policies]. It should be stopped immediately, otherwise the false logic of neo-liberalism will perish the diversity of global agriculture and [bring] disaster to all."

South Korean farmers, well organized in unions, promised in Cancun during a funeral ceremony reminding the dead of Lee, but also hundred thousands of other farmers all over the world as “a direct result of capitalist dumping price policy”, that they “never will give up their struggle against capitalism”. “But only in unity with a world wide anti-capitalist movement we will get the possibility to win”, they ended.

“ ‘Kyung-Hae Lee, your words are etched in every heart and soul that gathered outside the hospital where you lay. The farmers around the world are rallying: ‘One more time we flatly and emphatically demand that the WTO takes the Agricultural Agreement (AoA) out of its agenda. We do not want one more death. We do not want people to continue to die of hunger; we do not want our land to die. WE DO NOT WANT ONE MORE DEATH.’ They are proposing that the negotiations at the convention center be suspended out of respect for the deceased.

‘Kyung-Hae Lee and every farmer who traveled this long distance to come to Cancun to express outrage and be heard--you havebeen heard. The grief at the sacrifice made by Kyung-Hae Lee and his family has reinvigorated the determination to wipe out the corporate regime of the WTO. No words can describe the look on the faces of the students, campesinas, the poor, and others who sat with lit candles outside the hospital. Trying to understand why the trade pushers push starvation for our food producers. This movement is grieving. But is even more determined.

Kyung-Hae Lee, you will be remembered forever, as is Emiliano Zapata and our other revolutionary leaders who have inspired generations of activists. Tears and determination are the molten lava of a volcano that is erupting in the streets of Cancun. Your obituary will read, ‘We are all Kyung-Hae Lee’ ”, Anuradha Mittal, a prominent member of foodfirst wrote in a contribution after the dead of Lee Kyeong-hae.

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BASE21 News Desk

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