Ottawa Citizen, April 22 2000, A15
A day after the protests in Washington D.C., a senior Canadian official at the International Monetary Fund told me and the groups of activists that I was with, that he was not quite sure why we had protested. He felt the demonstrations lacked a coherent message and therefore, the institutions, both the IMF and the World Bank, did not know what to make of the mobilization.
Granted, he could not see or hear the demonstrations from the top floors of the IMF. Protestors were kept far away by D.C. police. Bused in the wee hours, it was too dark for him to see the placards of the gathering crowds. The televisions showed only those protestors in contact with the Robocop–like policemen.
From the streets, in brilliant sunshine, the message of the demonstrators was loud and clear. No matter the medium, whether posters, banners, chants, puppets or songs, demonstrators in Washington D.C. were protesting the poverty, inequity and environmental degradation that the Bank and the Fund perpetuate. Despite the stated intentions of the institutions, the protesters decried their Hood Robin nature – taking from the poor to give to the rich. Although all countries are represented on the Boards of the Institutions, the G7 controls the majority of the votes.
Perhaps a Short Guide to the Placards would help the bewildered Governors of the Bank and the Fund and their staff.
Spank the Bank or More World, Less Bank
These posters refer to the failure of the World Bank to achieve its stated goal of eradicating poverty and protecting the environment. Instead, the Bank has poured hundreds of millions of dollars of public money into projects that have propped up dictatorships, displaced over 3 million people and devastated environments. The Bank argues it has changed, yet in a few months, the Board of the Bank will vote on a project to lend half a billion dollars to Exxon and Chevron for an oil and pipeline project in the corrupt and militarized countries of Chad and Cameroon. Human rights and environment groups, peasant organizations and trade unions in these countries have asked the Bank not to go ahead with this project until they can be sure that the project will bring peace and profits to the poor. The Bank has stated that it will bring the project for approval as soon as the oil companies are ready.
Adjust What? The IMF or I aM Fired
These refer to the economic reform packages that the IMF requests countries to implement, packages which have had no measurable results in increasing economic stability and performance and have worsened conditions for the poor, labour, and the environment. The impacts of IMF’s “one-size fits all” policy advice has been roundly condemned post the Asian financial crisis. The IMF advised high interest rates, reducing access to credit. As a result, businesses already short on cash due to uncontrolled capital flight (the IMF opposes controls on capital flows), went bankrupt. At the height of the post-crisis crisis, businesses were closing at a rate of 200 per day. The IMF bail-out went to primarily international banks, many based in the U.S. U.S. economist, Rudi Dornsbusch from MIT, when discussing IMF conditionality on the loans to Korea, post-crisis, put it bluntly, “Korea is now owned and operated by our Treasury – that’s the positive side of this crisis.” In Africa, the IMF structural adjustment policies have increased costs for health and education and lowered wages.
Break the Chains of Debt
Private creditors, awash in money after the oil boom in the 1970’s, pushed out money, often to dictators. The World Bank lent similarly. It has been estimated that in the early days, one-fifth of bank loans were used for weapons. World interest rates skyrocketed and here we are, twenty years later, and no solution has been found for the debt crisis of the poorest countries. Despite the international recognition that the debt of the poorest must be written-off for development to take place, the Bank and the Fund continue to use the debt crisis to lever policy change which most often benefits northern corporations. The most recent debt deal signed by the Bank and the Fund was to Honduras in late 1999. The IMF and the World Bank are making the privatization of the telephone system in Honduras a condition for its debt relief. In next-door Guatemala, a similar privatization process there last year cost thousands of workers their jobs, despite promises of job security, and pushed the cost of basic phone service out of reach of many. Public coin phones were replaced by machines requiring the use of cards costing a day's wages, making even these inaccessible to the poor. Other conditions for debt relief include the deregulation of petroleum prices the removal of subsidies for public transportation and the deregulation of mining sector to allow foreign investment.
The groups that I work for have been attending the Spring meetings to voice our concerns for five years now. Joined by 15,000 people finally, and yet, the Bank and the Fund staff and governors still don’t get it. Without fundamental reform, the main message of the demonstrations, protect the environment, eliminate poverty and redistribute wealth, will be replaced with “Hi ho, hi ho, the IMF and the World Bank have got to go”.
Pamela Foster is Coordinator of the Ottawa-based Halifax Initiative, a coalition advocating for the fundamental reform of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund since 1994.
Press Responses : April 22, 2000
Ottawa Citizen, April 22 2000, A15