QUEBEC – Shops sprang back to life Sunday and tourists returned to cobblestone streets still littered with the debris of firebombs, rocks and bottles from two days of clashes between police and protesters that marred a summit of 34 Western Hemisphere leaders.
As the presidents and prime ministers left town, authorities took the padlocks off a 2.3-mile chain-link and concrete fence that had encircled the Summit of the Americas. Protesters had dubbed the barrier the “Wall of Shame” and complained that it prevented the public from having a voice in the summit’s main topic: Creating a free-trade area from the Arctic to Argentina.
The Quebec provincial security minister, Serge Menard, estimated the cost of providing security for the summit — the most extensive in Canada since World War II — exceeded $40 million.
About 400 people were arrested and scores more were injured, none seriously, in two days of confrontations, police said. On Saturday, more than 20,000 people marched peacefully to protests causes ranging from AIDS and poverty to capitalism and globalization.
An early morning rain and stiff wind Sunday cleansed the air of tear gas residue and businesses began reopening after shuttering their windows with plywood and sheet metal.
The final declaration of the 34 leaders emphasized their attention to issues raised by the demonstrators, who opposed the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA, that the leaders pledged to create by 2005. The leaders pledged to reduce extreme poverty in the hemisphere by half during the next 15 years, and concluded their declaration with words seemingly addressed to the activists:
“The Summits of the Americas exist to serve people. We must develop effective, practical and compassionate solutions for the problems that confront our societies. We do not fear globalization, nor are we blinded by its allure.”
Groups opposing free trade said such language amounted to lip service intended to divert attention from the free-trade agenda. The Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch called the summit a “no-news” photo opportunity.
Sierra Club President Robert Cox, who took part in Saturday’s peaceful march, said the increasing attention to issues raised by the protest movement showed its message was getting out.
“Before Quebec, few Americans knew about George Bush’s plans to create the FTAA,” Cox said in a statement. “After Quebec, millions know that the proposed FTAA imperils safeguards for the environment and working people in the United States and throughout the Americas.”
Out on the streets, most protesters seemed to agree.
“I think people misinterpret this as almost like a game. It’s not,” said Rich Gallagher, 21, who came from a New York state college to take part in the demonstrations.
Organizers built the security wall around the heart of the old city and deployed more than 6,000 police officers to prevent the activists from getting near the talks.
The measures mostly succeeded.
Friday night’s opening ceremony started more than an hour late after protesters tore down a section of the fence, causing officials to lock down summit venues and bathe the area in tear gas. A few meetings were delayed or canceled, but the rest of the summit was on schedule and the leaders completed their work.