By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
For more than two decades, the inhumane, neocolonial practices of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund provoked angry protests in Third World countries, but few in the Western world took notice. Now, the anti-globalization movement is alive and well in the United States and is expected to have a thing or two to say when world business leaders, heads of state and leading economists meet this weekend in New York City. What follows is a six-point manifesto of what many of the demonstrators want. The list is based on the writings and statements of anti-globalists and contains the demands sought by the Mobilization for Global Justice, a coalition that promised to have 100,000 demonstrators outside the IMF meeting in Washington, D.C., last fall; the meeting was canceled in the aftermath of September 11.
Open the meetings to the public
It‘s no surprise that most people have no idea what really goes on at meetings of the World Trade Organization. Business is conducted in private. All 144 member states have a representative, and this select group decides 97 percent of world-trade matters, according to the WTO. Our guy is U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, who was appointed by President Bush. What exactly Zoellick does is a bit of a mystery because individual votes go unrecorded.
Though the WTO creates binding international treaties, U.S. citizens have no control over their representative. In fact, WTO members routinely make decisions without voting at all. At the 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle, developing nations criticized Clinton-appointed U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky for making major decisions in side-room deals among only the most powerful economies, cutting most nations out of the loop.
Njoki Njehu, the Kenya-born director of the U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice, which campaigns for reform of the IMF and World Bank, says the annual meetings of those organizations are just as bad. ”In 1998,“ she says, ”at the time of the debate on the Asian financial crisis, the U.S. Congress asked the U.S. executive director of the IMF to testify. She was asked how she made decisions using voice and vote. She said they make decisions by consensus. They asked her how many votes she had had since 1993, when she was appointed, and she said about a dozen! They had made hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions, but they never voted except for 12 times or so.“
Instead, it comes down to power politics behind closed doors. Strong economies muscling the weak. Deals. Few recorded votes. No transcripts are available, even to Congress. The minutes of the IMF meetings aren’t released for five years.
The latest lightning rod for protests is the World Economic Forum, which starts its five-day meeting in New York City on Thursday. The Forum isn‘t a quasi-government agency, and it makes no decisions affecting blocks of countries. But the 2,500 corporate, political, religious and academic leaders who will attend the sessions represent, to the anti-globalization crowd, everything that is wrong with mainstream thinking on almost any topic.
Forgive IMF and World Bank loans
During the global debt crisis of the early ’80s, developing nations turned to the World Bank and the IMF for help on a massive scale. It‘s impossible for these countries to ever repay their loans, but they are forced to try, often at the expense of their citizens. These agencies have the authority to order countries to make loan payments their top budget priority, above more immediate worries such as health care, education, even food payments. In the years 1998 and 1999, for instance, Cameroon’s government spent $401 million on its debt and just $88 million on health-care programs. In 2000, the G7 countries agreed to forgive $100 billion in debt around the world. Cameroon‘s payments dropped by $114 million. This allowed the central African nation to initiate an expensive new HIVAIDS plan.
The World Bank’s own studies of the 22 most heavily indebted poor countries shows that the limited debt cancellation in 2000 boosted health care, education, public hygiene and water projects. But it‘s not enough. Jubilee 2000, an international debt-relief program, sponsored an independent study of the IMF and World Bank finances and found that the joint institutions could forgive the poorest nations’ loans altogether and still survive. Recognizing this, President Bush announced plans last year to allow the two agencies to make a few grants rather than loans. But it‘s only a start.
Stop messing with the inner workings of other governments
The IMF and World Bank were set up to look like the good guys. They’ve been doling out money to impoverished nations since the 1950s, funding huge development projects like oil pipelines, dams, cattle ranges and nuclear reactors. But this is a feeding trough for corporations, which make huge profits and routinely place their projects in environmentally sensitive rain forests or on indigenous a reserves against the wishes of residents.
Plus, the checks came with strings attached.
To get the money, more than 100 countries have agreed to cut spending on government programs, including social welfare and medicine; privatize various public services; and be receptive to foreign investment. What‘s wrong with being receptive to foreign investment? Too often the companies are simply looking for cheap labor to exploit. All of these measures ended up hindering people’s access to everything from clean water to a decent doctor.