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THE MURDERING FUND
20th April 2000
The Washington DC protests against the International Monetary Fund/World Bank spring meetings were billed as Seattle II, and so of course SchNEWS' rovin' riot reporter decided to take another Anarchitours package holiday.
Anarchitours - "5 days of non-stop chanting, marching and police brutality, all in the idyllic setting of the USA's most deprived city: stimulate yourself with in depth discussions of global monetary policy, explore the charming teargas clogged alleys of the 'capital of the world' before relaxing with a luke-warm bowl of lentil stew in the luxury of a crumbling squat; or perhaps simply get stuck round the back of the White House in a turtle costume, cop a face full of pepper spray and spend the next week being beaten up in police custody.......".
In the week before the DC's finest practiced their legendary intimidation tactics - heavy police presence, circling helicopters, arresting 600 people at an anti-Gap demonstration, motorbike charging a critical mass bike ride, closing down the direct action convergence centre for 'fire violations' and confiscating bikes, puppets, pipe-bomb making equipment and home-made pepper spray ingredients. The last two turned out to be, er, a propane cooking stove, gasoline and spices, but you can't be too careful these days, especially in Bill Clinton's back yard.
Despite the heavy policing, and the obvious media headlines ('blood-stained terrorists that trashed Seattle vow to burn DC to the ground and slaughter everyone in it' etc), this was not a re-run of November 30th (SchNEWS 240). Although shed loads of activists, gutted that they missed all the fun in Seattle, turned up for the festivities and sports shops sold out of goggles as everyone geared up for chemical warfare, there were no massive battles or Seattle-style rampages.
Washington DC is designed for riot control, having seen more protests than the South African embassy. Despite this, and the fact that the Seattle shut down has been closely analysed by every police force in the world, some bright spark decided to repeat the exact same plan - affinity groups forming clusters and committing to shut down 'pie-slice' sections of the city.
Oddly enough this meant that when everyone dragged themselves out of their soggy sleeeping bags at some ungodly hour of the morning and headed down to IMF headquaters in Foggy Bottom, they found shit loads of rozzers waiting for them behind barricades two blocks away from their target.
As the police had kindly shut down the city for them, the protesters concentrated on what they do best: dancing, chanting, singing god-awful hippy songs and arguing about whether kicking in McDonald's counts as violence. There were a few scuffles, and the odd gassing, but few succeeded in their goal of getting nicked. The next day was more serious. As the World Bank's Development Committee met inside a 100 block exclusion zone, a column of protesters managed to penetrate the perimeter. When riot cops blocked them in and ordered them to turn around, they insisted (!) that the police arrest them. Rather reluctantly the police agreed, and so several hundred protestors walked up in pairs and got on the jail busses!
The poor old bureaucrats and politicians of the IMF and World Bank just can't understand why nobody loves them, despite enforcing poverty, exploitation and environmental vandalism around the world for over fifty years. James Wolfensohn, head of the bank that helps maintain the debt stranglehold that kills 15-20 million people a year, confessed to being 'nonplussed' that anyone should want to protest against his admirable efforts to ensure that rich creditors get their money back five times over, with a controlling stake in southern countries economies thrown in for good measure.
And Britain's own goodwill ambassador Gordon Brown pointed out that the protestors had nothing to complain about as the IMF's International Monetary and Financial Committee had spent 'almost the whole afternoon discussing poverty reduction.' So we can relax, because good old Gordon is 'determined to ensure that the benefits of globalization reach all countries.' So don't think you can hide.
However, not everyone is so keen to be reached by the 'benefits' of globalization. A few days before the power elite met in Washington, the leaders of the Group of 77 - representing the 133 poorest countries in the world, or 80% of Earth's population - got together in Havana to give their verdict on the joys of IMF and World Bank sponsored Structural Adjustment Programmes.
Funnily enough they didn't share Gordon's enthusiasm, nor were they impressed by Wolfensohn's commitment to reducing poverty: in fact, they were down right pissed off. "One day, humankind will be called to account: How come you never made no connection between growing poverty for the many and booming wealth for a few?" said Musa, Prime Minister of Belize. And Arthur Mbanefo of Nigeria, said "I, for one, support the demonstrators."
Structural Adjustment is as painful as it sounds: the heady cocktail of privatisation, deregulation, mass redundancies, and currency devaluation that the rich nations impose on poor countries has predictable consequences. As unemployment soars and prices double overnight as a result of devaluing the currency, guess what, people get one fuck of a lot poorer.
And seeing as 'fiscal prudence' also requires slashing social programmes, there's nothing to stop rural people being driven off their land and sliding into urban poverty. Because this means that wages are now more 'competetive' (ie lower), the country is now ready to be a home for export-geared sweatshop industries and cash crop cultivation, which provides the necessary hard currency to keep paying the interest on those loans that the World Bank gives them to tide them over the 'adjustment process'.
This cosy stitch-up, which can turn a food sufficient country like Somalia into a famine wracked, war torn mess in a few years flat, is known as the 'Washington Consensus,' and forms the basis for the expansion of the neo-liberal economic order we, er, all know and love.
But all over the world this 'consensus' is being challenged: Ken Livingstone, who once said the leaders of the IMF deserved to "die painfully in their beds" reckons that "The IMF and the World Bank are still appalling, and now the World Trade Organisation too. All over the world people die unnecessarily because of the international financial system."
For more info on how IMF/World Bank Structural Adjustment Programmes destroy local economies, ravage the environment, wipe out jobs, cause famine, and enrich a corrupt corporate elite, see Michel Chossudovsky's excellent book 'The Globalisation of Poverty' And if you want to know more about the world wide resistance to the corporate takeover of the world send a 40p SAE to SchNEWS for a copy of the excellent Peoples Global Action Bulletin 5. www.agp.org
For more on the Washington protests check out www.a16.org - www.indymedia.org www.indymedia.org The next big global days of actions:
FLOODED WITH DEBT
Mozambique is the 3rd most indebted country in the world, with debt repayments of £2 million a week. In 1991 the IMF demanded 'stuctural adjustment' saying Mozambique had to reduce its spending to suit debt repayments. The only cuts the struggling government could make were in social services.
What's this mean? Well, there's no chemicals left to develop the x-rays in hospital, there are no gloves left for the nurses in a country with an AIDS epidemic, the nurses scrape by on $60 per month when the national poverty line is $75, corruption is rife and doctors and teachers are quitting in droves.
The terrible floods have seen the IMF let Mozambique off most off its repayments this year. Kindness? Nah...they're going to stick it on to future repayments.
But don't trust yer cynical SchNEWS - here's the expert opinion: "The IMF likes to go about it's business without asking too many questions. In theory, the funds support democratic instutions in the nations it assists. In practice, it undermines the democratic process by imposing policies. Officially, of course, the IMF doesn't 'impose' anything, it negotiates the conditions for receiving aid. But all the power in the negotiations is on one side-the IMF-and the fund rarely allows time for consultations with parliaments or civil society.
"When the IMF decides to assist the country, it despatches economists. These economists frequently lack experience in the country; they are more likely to have first hand knowledge of its' five star hotels than of the villages that dot its' countryside. They work hard, but their task is impossible. In a period of days or, at most, weeks, they are charged with developing a program sensitive to the needs of the country. Needless to say, a little number crunching rarely provides adequate insights into the development strategy for an entire nation.
"Worse, the number crunching isn't always good. The models that IMF uses are frequently flawed or out of date. Critics accuse the institution of taking a cookie-cutter approach to economics and they are right. Country teams have been known to compose draught reports before visiting. I heard stories of one incident when team members copied large parts of the text for one countrys'report and transferred them wholesale to another. They might have got away with it, except the search and replace function on the word processor didn't work properly, leaving the original countrys' name in a few places."
And the expert? None other than one Joseph Stiglitz, former World Bank chief economist!! * For an in depth look at the IMF check out New Internationalist, 55 Rectory Rd, Oxford, OX4 1BW Tel 01865 728181 www.newint.org
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