UPDATED 9/13/11 9 a.m.
Government and business leaders in Honolulu and Hawaii have been busy preparing to roll out the red carpet for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings this fall.
After all, the APEC summit, which will be held Nov. 7-13, will bring the leaders of 21 Asia-Pacific nations for a series of meetings and related events.
The host is President Barack Obama, and security will be on high alert. All told, the APEC summit could bring some 20,000 government and business leaders, their family and friends and 2,000 journalists.
APEC’s international spotlight, however, is also attracting groups who oppose APEC and what they perceive to be its agenda to promote corporate and military interests at the expense of local economies, homeless people, labor, the environment and indigenous populations.
That is not the kind of public face APEC supporters want to present to the world — that is, a place between East and West for business as well as leisure.
A leaflet being distributed by anti-APEC groups in the islands is titled “APEC Sucks.”
The leaflet is produced by World Can’t Wait Hawaii, the local chapter of a national organization that formed in 2005 “to halt and reverse the terrible program of war, repression and theocracy that was initiated by the Bush/Cheney regime and the ongoing crimes that continue to this day.”
Side one of the leaflet states:
Using “free trade” as a codeword, APEC proposes policies that give imperialist powers and multinational corporations the “right” to go into oppressed countries and take out whatever they want, with as few restrictions as possible.
In addition to spending money on upgrading facilities, the leaflet states that the City and County of Honolulu has budgeted tens of millions of dollars for security.
“All this is happening when austerity measures are hitting people hard,” the leaflet states. “Social services cut. Unions busted. Salaries slashed. The city’s infrastructure broken.”
Side two of the leaflet details how APEC’s economic models have led to “record corporate profits” and “resulted in enormous social and environmental costs for the majority of the population.”
Carolyn Hadfield, a member of World Can’t Wait Hawaii, said the group has not decided how many demonstrations to hold. But the top of its list includes the Nov. 12 reception and dinner for APEC leaders at the Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki.
“APEC uses words like ‘cooperation’ and ‘sustainability’ that have a soft, fuzzy feeling, and eyes glaze over when people hear talk of ‘trade relations’ and ‘lifting tariffs,'” Hadfield told Civil Beat. “That doesn’t hit people emotionally. But when people become more familiar with what APEC is really about — neoliberalism — they change their mind.”
Hadfield said she is “totally disgusted” by the beautification efforts being conducted on behalf of the APEC meeting, which she said includes the repaving of sidewalks, the dredging of sand to expand beaches and the relocation of 205 palm trees to be planted along Nimitz Highway.
“Social services need this money,” she said. “The big rationalization is that this will help tourism, but I don’t think it will bring that much money or an uptick in tourism — and in any case it would be at the high end of tourists.”
World Can’t Wait Hawaii has been holding community forums to get the word out on APEC. In addition to protests, film showings and forums are planned.
Past annual APEC meetings, which rotate between member nations, have attracted protests, including in Yokohama, Japan, in 2010, Lima, Peru, in 2008, Sydney, Australia, in 2007 and Busan, South Korea, in 2005. Singapore — a nation known for severe fines for spitting out chewing gum — clamped down on protest laws for the 2009 meeting.
There are protest songs like “APEC Really Sucks,” too, which can be downloaded.
Here’s an excerpt:
APEC says it’s a friend to all, but if you’re poor you’ll take the fall.
APEC says child labour is fine, 2 bucks a day on the production line.
They’re a friendly bunch like Ziang Zemin. He likes to play tanks at Tiannamen.
Internet reports indicate that most APEC protests have been peaceful. Such was not the case, though, for the 1997 summit in Vancouver, Canada.
“I was personally involved in anti-APEC in Vancouver, and it was very spirited and large,” said Nandita Sharma, who works with an art-environment-anarchist group called Eating in Public, which was founded by Sharma and UH Manoa Art Professor Gaye Chan in 2003. “It was very violent from the perspective of the state. The police used pepper spray and tear gas on protestors, who were basically standing on the road — this in a supposedly liberal democratic nation like Canada. We saw that as a precursor to Seattle in 1999.”
Sharma is referring to the powerful protests that erupted over the World Trade Organization meeting that year. She speculates that Honolulu was chosen for the 2011 meeting because of its relative isolation — something APEC officials say is not the case.
Eating In Public has downloads of anti-APEC literature, T-shirts and signs on its website. Like World Can’t Wait, it believes that APEC’s mission favors corporate profit over social good.
UPDATE But Eating In Public plans no protests.1
Meanwhile, another group, Moana Nui, plans a conference set for Nov. 9-11 in Honolulu.
The conference — titled “The Pacific Peoples, Their Lands and Economies” — is being organized by scholars, community and political activists and Hawaiian and Pacific Islander cultural practitioners, and was intentionally scheduled to coincide with APEC.
The shadow summit, according to Moani Nui, “is intended to provide a voice and possible direction for the economies of Pacific Islands in the era of powerful transnational corporations, global industrial expansion and global climate change.”
UH Manoa Hawaiian Studies Professor Jonathan Osorio, who is part of the Moana Nui conference, told Civil Beat, “APEC is a sovereignty issue. It is a sovereignty issue not just for Hawaii and our unique sovereignty issues with the United States. This for all Pacific Islanders, and the reason is APEC as an institution seeking to facilitate the growth of capital and trade and involvement between the U.S. and Asia.”
Osorio continued: “To the extent that APEC has anything at all to do with Pacific Islanders in general, it tends to try to facilitate investment in island economies. Our belief is that Pacific Islanders are better off strengthening traditions and subsistence modes of economic development than essentially succumbing to large-scale investments that often lead to transfer ownership of lands and resources out of native hands.”
Hawaii’s history of protest has been mixed, ranging from large labor union strikes and Native Hawaiian unity marches to smaller groups opposing foreign wars and militarization of the islands.
Following the Seattle WTO fiasco in 1999, Hawaii braced for a similar outcome for a meeting of the Asian Development Bank in 2001 at the Hawaii Convention Center. That turned out to be a peaceful gathering, with ADB leaders meeting directly with demonstrators.
While security will be intense for APEC, including use of street cameras, the creation of a “demonstration zone” — the identification of a specific protest site that has become a common practice at large, controversial events like political party conventions — is not planned.
“In Hawaii in particular, we he have a history of diversity of opinions,” said Tim Johns, vice chair of the APEC Hawaii Host Committee. “From the host committee standpoint, we see value in that diversity and we think that people should have their opportunity to share their views. Nothing we would do would prevent that from happening.”
Responding to allegations that Honolulu was selected to host APEC because of its relative isolation, Johns noted that Honolulu was a finalist along with San Francisco and Los Angeles. While foreign leaders may find it easier to fly into Honolulu because of secure military bases like Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, he said he did not recall safety factoring into Honolulu’s bid.
“The president made the decision,” he said. “With everything we have been hearing from the White House and Department of State — that we are a society that values diversity of opinion and free speech — I don’t think they would have chosen a location with the purpose to stifle that.”