Police acknowledge need for "flawless" work during Miami's hosting of trade ministerial meetings
By Susan Stabley
The Miami Police Department has begun security preparations for November's Eighth Americas Business Forum and the related Free Trade Area of the Americas ministerial meetings, which new Police Chief John Timoney called a "critically important" opportunity for the city.
"We are keenly aware, that for the city, we need to pull it off flawlessly," Chief Timoney said.
The Eighth Americas Business Forum, which will run three days during the week of Nov. 17, will be at the downtown Hyatt Regency Miami and the FTAA ministerial meeting Nov. 20 and 21 is heading for the nearby Inter-Continental Miami. Chief Timoney commented on the upcoming Fall Western Hemisphere trade accord deliberations events during a Brickell Area Association luncheon last week.
The ministerial meetings are expected to attract more than 5,000 people to Miami, not counting any who come to oppose free trade. Thousands of anti-globalization protesters may flock to Miami in a fashion similar to unruly demonstrations seen during a 1999 World Trade Organization gathering in Seattle and in 2000 during a meeting of the World Bank in Washington.
How many protestors will descend is unclear. Chief Timoney warns that Internet claims of opposition are not to be believed.
"The numbers remain to be seen," said Chief Timoney, who took over leadership of the city's police force this year.
Dozens of Internet sites are dedicated to FTAA, with many critics seeing it as a dangerous extension of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Terms of the Free Trade Area of the Americas treaty, set to eliminate quotas and tariffs, are now being worked out. The agreement would need to be signed by the 34 Western Hemisphere nations from Canada to Argentina, with the exception of Cuba, in 2005.
The Eighth Americas Business Forum is tied to the ministerial meetings that are part of ongoing negotiations of the Free Trade Area of the Americas by bringing together the trade ministers of each of 34 participating countries in discussions to decrease tariff barriers and open market access.
Pulling off a peaceful week of events is critical for the city, said Chief Timoney. The Miami area is vying for the secretariat - the permanent headquarters for trade federation business - against Atlanta; Puebla, Mexico; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; and Panama City, Panama.
Mr. Timoney said the point man for the police department's FTAA preparations is his second in command, deputy chief Frank Fernandez, who joined the force in 1985.
Mr. Fernandez said his department will exchange information with cities that have dealt with mass protesting from the organized anti-globalization groups.
Miami's new top police officer is no stranger to civil unrest. Chief Timoney, a former second-in command with the New York City Police, spent four years as Philadelphia's police chief, during which time he handled demonstrations outside the 2000 Republican National Convention where hundreds were arrested.
He said he's not worried about most of the "lawful, peaceful" protesters bearing "the proper permits" but about the handful of vandals prone to smashing in windows.
The challenge for local police during any FTAA demonstration, he said, is: how to handle that kind of protester without having televised images of a Miami cop "beating the daylights" out of a demonstrator.
Also key will be coordinating law enforcement from the 33 other police departments in the county, which will be called on to aid the Miami force. Many errors law enforcement made in managing mass protests in Seattle trade demonstrations, for example, were made by officers from outside police forces, he said.
"We will need assistance," Chief Timoney said. "But, we will be the only department in charge."