Protesters at next year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Honolulu may emerge peaceful and small in number, but comprehensive precautions are necessary for the meeting of President Barack Obama and 20 other heads of state. Authorities should follow the measures taken at the 2001 meeting of the Asian Development Bank and consult with free-speech advocates to ensure a successful event.
At the 59-member bank group’s meeting at the Hawaii Convention Center in 2001, up to 10 protesters at a time were allowed on the center’s grounds. A barricade was placed around the facility, and the protesters were peaceful outside in demonstrating for various causes.
Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, the head of the state Department of Defense, is confident that enough security is planned for the APEC meeting in November 2011. More than 5,500 Army and National Guard troops will be available to assist Honolulu police if necessary, but that is not likely.
Which is not to say the potential for violence is nonexistent. At the 2004 APEC conference in Santiago, Chilean police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of rock-throwing protesters demonstrating against the presence of then-President George W. Bush. Those taking part in a march carrying placards depicting Bush as a vampire, carrion-eating vulture, demon and ghost were estimated at 30,000 by protest organizers and 15,000 by police.
Nor are violent protests a thing of the past. As recently as June, Toronto police arrested more than 500 demonstrators to keep them from breaching a steel and concrete security fence surrounding a Group of 20 summit site. Black-clad youths had smashed windows and torched police cruisers during a rampage through the city.
Protest organizers in 2001 predicted 5,000 would show up to demonstrate at the bank conference in Honolulu, but police said only 500 showed up. The demonstration leaders gave a more generous estimate of 2,000.
Josh Cooper, one of the leaders of the 2001 protests, told the Star-Advertiser’s Gordon Y.K. Pang that he expects "strong representations of indigenous peoples, climate change campaigners, women’s rights activists and global justice advocates" to show up outside the APEC meeting.
Peaceful protests not only are tolerated but are embraced by America as a manifestation of freedom. The big question is how many potential protesters feel so strongly about issues that they will pay the airfare to let their opinions be shown by camera.
The meeting of world leaders is expected to bring 20,000 visitors into the state and receive worldwide media coverage. Orderly demonstrations surrounding the conference will serve as proof that Hawaii is an ideal host for international gatherings.