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Bienvenido, protesters 

My introduction to the Free Trade Area of the Americas conference in Miami last week was helicopters hovering overhead, designating the militarized zone of downtown. When I walked there Wednesday night, I saw a ghost town, with boarded storefronts, deserted save for intrepid Billy Bragg fans and scores of police. It seems that the media and the government had worked Miamians into a panic.

Thursday downtown resembled a police state during a South American coup, with hundreds of black robo-cops, shields and batons at the ready, and particularly unfriendly. Concussion bombs reminded marchers that technology served their masters.

I found many police to be provocative. When I approached a police officer to ask about exiting an area, he shouted, "Get back!" and pointed his baton at me. When I was given permission to exit such a containment, another police officer yelled, "No!" One officer, bored and hanging out Friday morning with a group of colleagues, told me to watch out for a car behind me. He was crying wolf. Perhaps these cops could have arrested for incitement to riot.

I witnessed an arrest Thursday in which the police reacted aggressively. One demonstrator sat down in the line of people waiting to get into the authorized union protest. An officer called for assistance, and soon about seven officers were pointing tasers and clubs, while four pinned the demonstrator and another person who came to his aid. I got shoved for yelling, "Take it easy on him," while the kid's arms were wrenched behind his back.

Congress provided some of the funding for this operation in the $87 billion supplement for Iraq. One 82-year-old woman, a retired hospital worker, asked, "Why don't they build hospitals and take care of people?" as a SWAT team stomped by her group of seniors.

Perhaps this heavy and aggressive police presence not only allowed for live training for quelling internal unrest, but also distracted us all from the effects of these negotiations, generated by the elite of the 34 nations. It would be good if our country and the other nations would have an in-depth conversation as to what free trade might accomplish. Examining the effects of NAFTA would be a good start.

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