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Lucia Newman: Free trade agreement is priority for Summit of Americas

Lucia Newman  

Lucia Newman is CNN's Havana bureau chief. She is reporting on the Summit of the Americas from Quebec.

Q: What is on the agenda for the Summit of the Americas?

Newman: On the very top of the agenda is trying to put together the conditions for a hemispheric free trade agreement, a treaty among the 34 nations of Latin America and the Caribbean--every country in the region, except Cuba, which has been excluded. The idea is to have a free trade zone that will extend all the way from Alaska to the very tip of South America, bringing together some 800,000,000 people in the free trade market—the largest market of this kind in the whole world.

Hemisphere of influence
Images from Quebec City

Q: Demonstrators have already staged protests. What are Canadian officials doing to secure the Summit and control any other possible protests?

Newman: Many of the shops and businesses in the old quarter of Quebec have been boarded up and a force of some 6,000 riot police trained especially for demonstrations are on hand, ready to move in at a moment's notice if the demonstrations get out of hand. There are tens of thousands of people here, mainly young people, students from all over the country and in fact from Latin America, as well, have come to Quebec to protest against what they say are the evil effects of globalization.

There are many, many different organized groups. This kind of summit brings together groups that normally don't see very much eye-to-eye—everything from labor to left-leaning groups and students who for different reasons are against the free trade agreement. Labor, especially in North America, believes that this will take away jobs from Americans and Canadians. They believe that this will hurt the environment and that many of the American businesses will move to south of the border where labor is much cheaper, and this will be to their detriment. Other people in the region say that this is simply an agreement that is going to favor big business and the multi-national companies and that it really hurts the average human being, that it's business before humanity.

Q: This will be the third Summit of the Americas. How will this years' differ from the last two?

Newman: The first one took place in Miami in 1994, and there was one in Santiago, Chile in 1998. And now this is the third one, but this is the one where the region has to get down to business if they are really going to come up with a free trade agreement that can be in place by December 2005. Also, they are introducing a motion, apparently, into the talks that would make it a prerequisite for all countries to be democracies to participate in the free trade agreement. And this is supposed to guarantee that countries in the region will not stray, that attempts of military coups, for example, or of non-democratic practices such as the perpetual re-election of a president, don't take place.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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