- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

MIAMI (AP) — Hundreds of antiglobalization activists began several days of demonstrations yesterday as representatives of 34 Western Hemisphere nations started talks on creating the world’s largest free-trade bloc.

Aides to trade ministers were preparing for meetings scheduled to begin Thursday, when their bosses will try to create a framework for creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). A business forum starts today.

Details of yesterday’s meetings were not available to the public, said Richard Mills, spokesman for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.

Under police surveillance, about 100 demonstrators gathered at a workshop near downtown Miami, working on puppets, art, a water-recycling system and other projects to get across their antiglobalization message.

About 200 other people wearing bright-yellow shirts staged a colorful protest parade on the streets of Fort Lauderdale.

Rosalia Nolasco, from the southwestern Florida farming city of Immokalee, marched with her 7-year-old son, Heberto Garcia, to protest low salaries paid to farm workers.

“The people who pick the tomatoes and the chilies and the vegetables, their salaries are so low,” Mrs. Nolasco said. “I’m here all week because I believe in this.”

A man who identified himself only as Gecko, supplementing his yellow shirt with body piercings and multicolored hair, said he took time from his job as a massage therapist in San Francisco to voice his displeasure with the free-trade conference.

“The FTAA is essentially antidemocratic,” he said. “Capitalism is the most undemocratic institution in the world today.”

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) threatened a lawsuit against the city, accusing its police of harassing protesters.

Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, president of the ACLU of Miami, complained about enforcement of a new city ordinance that bans groups of demonstrators from carrying potential weapons such as glass bottles. She displayed photos of Miami football fans walking past police with beer bottles during a game on Saturday.

Miami police did not return calls seeking comment.

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