Debt Relief

Activists assemble for IMF/World Bank meetings

Activists have been converging on D.C. all week for a series of protests that culminate this weekend during meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Many of the protest this week against the IMF/World Bank have been organized by umbrella group 50 Years is Enough which calls for these multilateral lending institutions to cancel the debt payments owed them by the third world.

At a Thursday evening symposium entitled, “Resist Market Fundamentalism: Retirement Planning for the IMF & World Bank at 60,” activists from countries as diverse as Paraguay and Cambodia debated the economic, social and environmental ramifications of IMF/World Bank mandates. Amidst chants of “The IMF is the Devil,’ and posters reading, “It’s the Economic Model, Stupid” protesters began the first of two days of conferences being held at area churches, assemblages which will culminate in an official march this weekend to coincide with the IMF/World Bank convention.

50 Years considers IMF/World Bank policies detrimental to issues as far-ranging as gender equity and the environment, and specifically cites the IMF/World Bank with failing to recognize and help stem the spread of AIDS in Africa or assist in the economic recovery of third world nations.

The movement has gathered steam in recent years, perhaps climaxing in 1999 during a meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle when police responded to anti-globalization protests which turned violent. The pitched battles between protesters and police left widespread impressions of anarchy among these various protest groups, including IMF/World Bank activists.

Dennis Brutus, a University of Pittsburgh professor emeritus and long time participant in 50 Years’ demonstrations, including the Seattle rally, believes the 1999 incidents were unfairly depicted by the media and actually marked a watershed moment in 50 Years’ struggle to lessen the impact of IMF/World Bank development policies on struggling countries.

“November, 1999 was a real turning point for us,” said Brutus. “We halted the process of increasing exploitation. You had the IMF, the World Bank, Bill Gates, (Bill) Clinton, (French President Jacques) Chirac all coming together in Seattle, and the people in the streets said, ‘You are not going to write a global agenda.’ If they had accomplished all the things they wanted to (economically), things could be a lot worse now.”

Brutsus believes that if globalized, grassroots campaigns against the IMF/World Bank develop, they will find profound success in shaping policies they feel are most detrimental to struggling nations, policies which include forgiveness of third-world debt, greater flexibility in allowing poorer nations to partake in the the profits of a global economy, and greater endorsements of primary and secondary education.

According to Brutus, the tenacious protests against the IMF and the World Bank have gradually paid off, as their policies have begun to change to meet the demands of organizations such as 50 Years.

“The World Bank and the IMF have agreed to substantial improvements in some areas, such as odious debt, where as before they agreed to nothing,” he said. “We had a sustained attack on one issue in particular – Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) – a policy which they abandoned in response to our presence.”

SAPs, which encourage the privatization of national resources, have resurfaced in the form of PSRPs (Public Service Reform Programs), policies which stress the privatization of various industries, including banking. But “instead of them imposing SAPs on us,” he said, “they now invite us to participated in PSRP,” making the elimination of SAPs bittersweet and nonetheless damaging.

Fides Chale, founding member of the Tanzanian Gender Network Program and a 50 Years activist for gender equity issues, says that the policies of the World Bank, including encouragement of SAPs, result in external withdrawal of valuable resources from various nations with very little return from investors, creating ceaseless economic instability in many countries.

“Tanzania (for example) was forced by the World Bank to create a very conducive environment for investors,” she said. “External investors were also given a very large tax break, which meant they could come in and mine gold and diamonds, and pay very little in taxes. Those who mine gold take a big chunk, and they only leave three percent of their profits to the country. If you take a look at what they take from the county, it’s just not enough.”

Chale believes that in order to restore economic stability to third world nations, economic policies and the priorities of leadership must change.

“We elect leaders democratically, and instead of being accountable to us, they are accountable to the World Bank and the IMF,” she said. “We want (the IMF/World Bank) to stop what they are doing, stop the policies that really confuse us. We are struggling to see to it that governments are accountable to the people. They should be indebted to us, and not the IMF.”

Will Whitehorn, United Press International, April 24, 2004

Categories: Debt Relief, Odious Debts

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