MONTERREY, Mexico -- Even as world leaders kicked off discussions on how to alleviate poverty a theme anti-globalization activists have pushed for years a motley crew of corn farmers, masked students and rebel supporters took to the streets denouncing the gathering as more of the same.
Finance, trade and foreign ministers exchanged ideas Monday on how to close the gap between rich and poor during the first day of the weeklong U.N. International Conference on Financing for Development in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey.
President Bush who arrives at the summit on Thursday last week pledged an additional $5 billion in aid to countries that demonstrate economic and political stability.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Alan Larson said the deal constituted "a new accountability for rich and poor nations alike."
Business leaders also participated in the meeting, promising to create what they called a global clearinghouse to help investors get fast, accurate information on the developing world.
Mexican President Vicente Fox said the summit "will succeed in achieving a true harmony, offering discussions that will allow small countries to have open and equal dialogue with larger nations."
"We are very proud of what our country is doing," Fox told the Mexican television network Televisa. "We've never had anything like this in Mexico and I think we are going to be a great host. We will provide an opportunity for deep reflection on a theme that is so important to everyone."
But while Fox and other leaders touted the summit as groundbreaking, hundreds of protesters outside chanted that it was "more of the same rubbish."
Coming from as far as Quebec, Canada, about 1,500 demonstrators marched through Monterrey. Police kept their distance and no arrests or violence were reported.
"They ought to be talking to the workers of various underdeveloped countries before they decide on a development plan," said protester Judy Ancel, director of the Kansas City-based Cross Border Network for Justice and Solidarity. "If they look at their record, they've been doing just the opposite."
Monday's demonstration drew protesters angry about everything from globalization to local land disputes. They carried signs reading "Go Home Yankees," and "Die Puppet Leaders."
Marches were planned throughout the week, but summit organizers predicted they would be peaceful.Activists also said they had no intentions of becoming violent, although some did not rule out the possibility.
A student wearing an Uncle Sam mask, who gave his name only as Marcos, said that if there is violence "it will be because the government has provoked it, not the protesters."
Because of eruptions of violence at other international conferences in recent years, Mexico sent 3,500 soldiers and police to Monterrey. Many ring the conference site, unarmed in the hot sun, in specially designed uniforms that resemble janitors' outfits.
At the summit, world leaders hope to build upon an agreement they have already pledged to sign that urges rich nations to give more money to poor countries and looks for ways to use existing funds more efficiently.
Critics say the agreement does not address the root causes of poverty. Cecilia Lopez called for a complete overhaul of the international financial system, and said the leaders were useless.
"We don't want to talk to them. Why bother? They just represent the ones who have caused the misery," said the 18-year-old masked protester. "We want to do away with capitalism."
- 101 Alliance for a Corporate-Free UN