WASHINGTON — Thousands of mostly peaceful demonstrators kept office workers away from downtown Friday and caused moderate havoc in the city over the weekend, as attempts to blockade the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank were thwarted by a heavy police presence.
However, protests were allowed to continue throughout the city against a menu of issues ranging from the closure of a Gap contractor in El Salvador to funding for AIDS victims in the Third World. The most ruckus rally occurred Friday when about 500 people were arrested after minor incidents of property damage, the severest being two windows broken in a Citibank branch.
In front of Gap and Gap Kids stores Friday in the high-brow neighborhood of Georgetown, about 50 protesters were confined to the sidewalk by two dozen police wearing riot gear. The stores remained opened and empty during the 45-minute demonstration.
Rally organizers stood on a redwood stump, agitating against logging on property north of San Francisco owned by the Fisher family, which has controlling interest in the Gap. A worker from a Gap contractor in El Salvador, Raquel Salazar, took her turn on the stump to talk about a campaign, supported by the apparel union UNITE, to reopen a Gap contractor in El Salvador accused of shuttering because workers organized. About a dozen protesters then stripped to their underwear, chanting “We’d rather wear nothing than wear Gap.”
Putting her clothes back on, Italian Rita Del Curto, an international politics major at Georgetown University, said she was demonstrating against “multinational companies which systematically go to Third World countries and exploit workers.”
A Gap spokeswoman in San Francisco declined comment, saying the company’s commitment to social responsibility is spelled out on its Web page.
With the exception of a Gap store next to the IMF and World Bank that was boarded up and an Ann Taylor store on 13th Street closed on Friday, downtown merchants remained opened. However, downtown streets were vacant of pedestrians and potential shoppers.
On Friday, the World Bank seemed to offer demonstrators an olive branch when it issued a report concluding that rich countries should do more to support developing countries. As remedies, the bank urged the U.S., Canada and European Union nations to lower tariffs on textile and apparel imports and agricultural products to give impoverished countries a boost.
“Developing countries account for some 50 percent of world textile exports and 70 percent of world clothing exports,” the report said. “Several have developed a high dependence on these exports.”
The report criticized the slow pace of wealthy countries in phasing out quota on textiles and apparel imports, as stipulated in a World Trade Organization agreement to do so completely by 2005. In addition, the report noted how textile and apparel tariffs in all countries “far exceed” those on other manufactured products.
“In discussions with our [domestic] textile and apparel companies, they are willing to negotiate tariffs, but they also want to be able to enter other markets,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told reporters Friday.
Zoellick noted that billions of dollars in all imports from poor countries enter the U.S. duty free through preferential trade agreements and free trade pacts.