So we made it into Lima, Peru in the very very early hours of Saturday 19 November, just a couple hours after Obama, and a wee bit before Putin. The rest of their gang was already here – that’s the Asian Pacific Economic Community/Co-Operation (APEC2016 website), 21 countries bringing freedom, human rights & sustainability via, yes you guessed it, globalisation & free trade.
This event seems to have been virtually ignored beforehand by west European media, the BBC international website for example only mentioned Lima in days before the event in the context of a huge fire with fatalities at the seafront shopping mall & complex at LarcoMar, in the middle class & touristic area of Miraflores.
But for Peru, APEC was a big event – ‘the eyes of the world are upon us‘ was a typical mainstream view (see La Republica’s coverage in Spanish). And nothing was going to spoil the party – a 3 day public holiday was declared for many workers from the 18th, with helpful hints of where people could go away from Lima. A typical summit venue exclusion zone was created, other areas cleaned up, and enormous numbers of police/army/security were stationed around the city – on major roads from the airport to the summit area, on Avenidas La Marina & Javier Prado for example, every junction was guarded & traffic strictly controlled. (ironically for us this was useful as it made Lima’s notoriously crazy roads & public forms of transport just that bit less crazy to negotiate!)
Of course APEC2016 was not just a 2 day leaders summit on the 18/19 November. Before during & after were parallel meetings for different government departments, the IMF & friends, and global corporations. Indeed Facebook’s Zuckerberg even addressed the leaders summit. Obviously 99.99% of Peruvians weren’t invited, even though it was all about freedom, human rights & sustainability. Of course! Our foreign passports, ignorant tourist smiles & white privilege allowed us close to the main venue in almost deserted streets, but there was really nothing to see. We did read of some minor protests in the week before in Lima, not unconnected to APEC, but the general impression given by Peruvian media was of a nation as one united in going forwards, somewhere. Which may be true, just look at all the monuments erected & catholic churches built here to commemorate the Spanish colonial invasion, inquisition & subsequent genocide.
APEC2016 was Obama’s last foreign gig before the cowboy Trump takes over, and the impact of Trump hovered like a ghost in the hall. Will the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP, like TTIP) be agreed (Obama isn’t even putting it before Congress)? Will Trump dump TPP (Yes it seems he will) and cancel NAFTA? But perhaps more importantly, will the US’s dominant position be usurped by China if Trump goes isolationist? China is already a very big player, providing greater aid & investment in many Latin American countries than the US, and have alternatives to TPP in the pipeline – RCEP & FTAAP. But perhaps the biggest question Latin Americans should be asking is – is yet another foreign power going to be taking them to the cleaners in the coming decades, or is 500+ years of exploitation & genocide enough?
In other news…Machu Picchu, the ‘sacred’ Inca site & Peru’s no.1 tourist destination, was shut down by locals for 2 days in the week of APEC, who blocked rail links. They fear the ever greater commercialisation of the site, including a massive new museum in the area which will bring in more big tourist companies/hotels.