Friday, November 14, 2003
FTAA: Downtown Miami Braces For Trade Talks, Protesters
The downtown Miami area will bustle with police, protesters, and trade officials at next week's free trade talks. But missing will be many of the business people, lawyers and students who usually fill the streets.
MIAMI -- Downtown businesses are bracing for thousands of protesters expected for the Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting where trade ministers from 34 nations, except Cuba, will debate creating the largest free trade area in the Western Hemisphere.
Some law firms will relocate or allow employees to work from home. Cruise lines will move their ships north to Port Everglades. Most courts will be closed or curtail operations. Police will close a number of downtown streets and restrict access to parts of downtown near the meeting.
Some business owners say they're not taking any chances.
"I put all my life into this store and I don't want anybody to destroy it overnight," said Avi Cohen, owner of Seaman's Sound Inc., an electronics store close to where protests will take place.
Cohen said he'll board up his windows early next week, and will close for the latter part of the week when the biggest demonstrations are expected. He and some friends also plan to sleep in the store all week to make sure there aren't any problems.
"I don't want to fight with anyone. I just want to make my living," he said. "I put too much into this store to have somebody burn it down in two minutes."
But protesters say they only have peaceful protest in mind, and encouraged businesses to stay open.
"They don't have anything to worry about from us," said Ron Judd, regional director of the AFL-CIO.
Police Chief John Timoney agreed, saying he thinks traffic will present the biggest problem. "Your personal safety is not at stake," he said.
The 150 stores, restaurants and outdoor cafes at Bayside Marketplace will remain open, even though they are right in the heart of where the protests will take place.
"They all need to eat, they all need to drink, they all need something to do when they're not out there protesting," Bayside spokesman Jim McMichael said.
McMichael said that Hialeah police, one of 40 law enforcement agencies working the meeting, will have a large force at Bayside 24 hours a day, all week.
"Of course there is concern ... we're trying to make the best of it with the business that we can make," he said. "These people need some downtime and they're going to be looking for somewhere to go."
The largest protests are expected Thursday and Friday, and those are the days many businesses will close. Miami Dade College will cancel classes those days, and the Miami-Dade County School Board is moving students from four schools downtown to other locations.
Federal courts downtown will be closed all week, and state courts downtown will suspend jury trials for the week, and will be closed on Thursday and Friday.
Some judges will be stationed at the Turner Guilford Knight county jail in west Miami-Dade to conduct bond hearings for protesters who may be arrested.
Bank of America will close early on Tuesday and remain closed until the following Monday, Nov. 24. About 300 employees will work out of alternate locations, but Bank of America ATMs will still work in the downtown area, spokeswoman Amanda Malcolm said.
About 60 staff members and lawyers for the law offices of Broad and Cassel will work out of Fort Lauderdale offices or from home.
"We're just concerned about the difficulty of doing business in downtown Miami," said Mike Segal, managing partner of the law firm's Miami branch. "No clients are going to want to come down there, that's for sure."
Some businesses are defiantly choosing to remain open.
"We cannot cave into this," said Eileen Alvarez, owner of Cafe Con Leche, a coffee shop that opened in May. "I agree with what (the protesters) believe in. I just don't agree with how they deal with it."
Alvarez said that while she will remain open and will serve protesters, police and journalists, she's concerned about the loss of her regular customers for the week.
"I'm a small business owner," she said. "I don't know if I can survive." (AP)
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Free Trade Area of the Americas official site: http://www.ftaa-alca.org
Miami FTAA site: http://www.miamiftaa2003.com