War on terror methods for Miami anti-globalization protests

Thousands of anti-globalization demonstrators are expected in Miami, Florida this weekend to participate in a series of protests against a meeting of trade ministers from throughout the western hemisphere, gathered to prepare the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). The officials from 34 countries—the entire hemisphere with the exception of Cuba—will meet November 17-21.

The Bush administration and local authorities in Miami are treating the anti-globalization protests as though they were a military engagement. Thousands of police are being mobilized, and the $8.5 million cost of the heavy police presence was included in the $87 billion supplemental appropriation passed by Congress last week to fund the occupation of Iraq.

Most of the money will go for overtime pay for police from Miami-Dade County and several adjoining cities. A total of 2,500 police will be deployed over a 50-square-block area in the city’s downtown, surrounding the Hotel Inter-Continental, where the trade ministers will be meeting. Police have stockpiled bicycles, riot helmets, water cannon and long lengths of eight-foot-high security fencing. A temporary jail has been set up in Liberty City, the impoverished neighborhood near downtown that was the scene of rioting over police brutality two decades ago.

The city center of Miami will be under siege-like conditions. Dozens of businesses have already decided to close for the entire week. Federal courthouses will be closed for the week and all criminal and civil jury trials have been canceled at Miami-Dade Circuit Court. Many public schools will close or relocate classes, including Miami Dade College, and cruise lines are removing ships from the port.

Protest organizers have already complained of police harassment. Three anti-globalization activists were arrested November 11 on suspicion of burglary, as they walked near the warehouse where papier-mâché figures and other demonstration paraphernalia are being assembled. A spokesman for the protest organizers said their “crime” was to be walking with backpacks on Veterans Day.

The largest demonstration is expected to take place on Thursday, November 20, a march organized by the AFL-CIO. Smaller actions are scheduled on a daily basis, beginning the weekend before the ministers begin their meeting to discuss expanding the existing NAFTA structure to include all of North, Central and South America.

One of the most ominous preparations for repression is the decision by Miami Police Chief John Timoney to have media reporters “embedded” in police squads. These will include the bicycle squads which will serve as a mobile strike force, as well as Coast Guard units and the regular police patrols around the Inter-Continental Hotel.

Journalists will be required to bring riot helmets and gas masks and be responsible for their own safety. Each reporter will be required to sign a release form and agree not to report on tactical details of the police operations, such as the number of officers in a unit or the number of units participating in a particular sweep.

Timoney invited the Associated Press, NBC, Reuters, the Miami Herald, CNN, Fox and several TV stations to embed reporters, according to a report by Associated Press, which has not yet agreed to the proposal, pending release of a final draft of the rules that embedded reporters will have to follow.

“Embedding” journalists in Miami brings home to the domestic police front the methods of media manipulation practiced during the invasion of Iraq, when reporters were embedded with US military units to insure a steady flow of pro-war media coverage.

Timoney said that he was drawing on both the military example and his own experience as police commissioner in Philadelphia during the 2000 Republican National Convention, when police carried out a brutal crackdown on demonstrators opposed to the right-wing policies of Republican nominee George W. Bush.

He detailed the advantages of embedded coverage from the standpoint of the authorities. “This is not the case of a camera crew or reporter showing up just as something is breaking,” he told AP. “It’s not just a snapshot. You get the whole before, during and after. You get a clearer picture and a better story. I think we win in the long run.”

Significantly, although the AP ran a dispatch on the embedding plan on November 10, there has been no notice taken in the national media, let alone any protest over plans to use military-style methods to direct the press coverage of a legal domestic political protest.

Miami Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler indicated that there was no objection on principle to embedding. The practice, “in no way makes us allies of law enforcement,” he told AP. “Rather than being the allies, we are the monitors of law enforcement authorities.”

Like the plan for embedding reporters, the decision to fund the police operations in Miami out of the Iraq war spending bill has enormous symbolic significance. The Bush administration looks upon the repression of domestic dissent as part and parcel of its global “war on terror,” in which it reserves the right to use military violence against any and all opponents of the policies of American imperialism.