lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Sep 16 07:01:38 MDT 2003
Field of tears
He took a patch of harsh mountain land and turned it into a thriving farm.
But when Korea was flooded with foreign imports he was ruined - and last
week, during the world trade talks, Lee Kyung-hae plunged a knife into his
heart. Jonathan Watts on one man's struggle against the system
Tuesday September 16, 2003
With sticks of incense and wreaths of white camomiles, the tenant farmers
of Jangsu come to pay their last respects to Lee Kyung-hae.
Although this is harvest time, they leave their paddy fields and orchards,
swap their peasant garb for smart black suits, and drift in to the
community hall that is now a makeshift shrine to the man who stabbed
himself in the heart last week in Cancun, Mexico, in protest against the
WTO's efforts to open agricultural trade.
While critics have dismissed him as a cranky extremist, here it is clear
that he was greatly loved and respected. The walls are decked in yellow and
white flowers sent from agricultural associations, Korean War veterans and
alumni groups of old school friends. Next to a 4ft-high photograph of the
dead man is a message of condolence from the prime minister and banners
reaffirming his campaign: "Lee Kyung-hae is our hero", "Stop WTO
agriculture negotiations which are killing millions of Korean farmers."
Outside this small farming town, few people are likely to have heard of the
56-year-old farmers' leader before last week. That changed in just a few
seconds last Wednesday. It was during the fiercest clashes between the
police and thousands of anti-globalisation demonstrators in Cancun. Lee was
among a group of about 150 Koreans in the frontline, trying to pull down
the security fences separating the protesters from the resort where the WTO
negotiations were in progress. Climbing to the top of the fence, Lee turned
to his compatriots and said: "Don't worry about me, just struggle your
hardest." He then stabbed himself in the chest with a knife. It pierced 4cm
into the left atrium of his heart.
When he died after several hours in a hospital, some protesters proclaimed
him a martyr. Outside the hospital where he died, sympathisers held
candlelit vigils. Below the security fence where he stabbed himself,
Italian activists splattered themselves with red paint and shouted the
slogan that Lee had made his own: "The WTO kills farmers." During
international solidarity rallies over the weekend, Cancun echoed with
thousands of voices, chanting: "We are all Lee, we are all Lee."
But who was Lee Kyung-hae, and why did he kill himself? In the aftermath of
the failed WTO negotiations, these questions are likely to absorb the
anti-globalisation activists who claim he was a martyr in their "victory",
the heavyweights of world trade, who would like the fiery Korean to be
dismissed as a nationalist showman with psychological problems, and the
family and friends who are mourning the man who died only weeks before he
was due to give away his daughter's hand in marriage.
Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org
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