Republican News · Thursday 20 September 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Protesters track IMF to Prague

BY SOLEDAD GALIANA

Some 20,000 representatives of global capital (world bankers, economists and financiers) are expected to converge in Prague from 21 September to attend the 55th annual summit of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Group. Delegates will meet to propose a scheme of further liberalisation of the world economy by defining new loan priorities and structural adjustment conditions.

 
The World Bank has become the means whereby the rich are empowered to steal the incomes of the poor
Not so long ago, the annual meeting of the IMF and the World Bank might have gone unnoticed by the general public, but that was before Seattle last year. The demonstrations at the World Trade Organisation meeting in November marked the starting point for a series of protests around the world, a sign of increasingly organised global resistance to the expanding power of global capital. The Prague summit is seen by campaigners as the next big opportunity to express demands for global justice.

Friends of the Earth International and debt relief advocates Jubilee 2000 are planning big demonstrations. After the failure of the G8 Summit to agree any new measures for debt cancellation, Jubilee 2000 has now turned its attention to the IMF and World Bank. These institutions have blocked debt cancellation and imposed economic conditions that have increased poverty. The demonstrators in Prague want to expose the injustice of the IMF and World Bank acting as judge, jury and plaintiff when it comes to debt cancellation and its impact on the lives of millions of impoverished people.

The Initiative Against Economic Globalisation (INPEG) is a loose coalition of various Czech environmental, human rights and autonomist/anarchist groups, organisations and individuals, has planned a series of campaigns that will culminate in ten days of activities starting on September 20. Non-violent demonstrations, information campaigns, and a Festival of Art and Resistance including a counter-summit, are the main planned resistance activities.

In Prague, officials are bracing themselves for the arrival of 50,000 anti-globalisation activists, who plan to turn the IMF and World Bank meeting into an upsetting fiasco. A masive 11,000 police, strengthened by a 5,000-strong back-up team of soldiers and special officers, will be drafted into the Czech capital. Rumour has reached the protesters that even the Czech Republic's borders will be closed in an attempt to stop ``undesirables'' from entering to disrupt the event.

Debt relief activists are ready to show their frustration at the failure of the G8 to deliver the promises they readily made in Cologne last year. By the time of the Summit in Okinawa, in February 2000, only nine countries out of a total of 41 (Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Honduras, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda) had begun to receive relief reduction on their debt repayments under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative agreed in Cologne in June 1999. To be eligible for the HIPC scheme, a country has to be eligible for concessional assistance from the IMF and World Bank, face an unsustainable debt burden, and be beyond available debt-relief mechanisms. Moreover, it must establish a track record of `reform' and `sound' policies through IMF- and World Bank-supported programs. Not one country has received actual debt cancellation.

At the end of the Okinawa summit, the G8 backtracked on the limited promises made at 1999's Cologne Summit, scaling down their target for countries reaching `decision point' in the debt relief initiative

The World Bank and IMF are not, as they pretend to be, the saviours of the world's poorest countries, but their most deadly enemies. Both institutions promulgate the same approach to development everywhere in the world, without taking into account essential differences between the countries. Their neoliberalist policies are full of references to ``privatisation'' and ``trade liberalisation''. Their actions and dictats, such as the IMF's Structural Adjustment Programmes, have brought about a new kind of colonisation and slavery. This allows Western governments to determine developing countries' economic and political realities, while enjoying free access to these countries' resources. The World Bank has become the means whereby the rich are empowered to steal the incomes of the poor. It claims to be defending the world from disasters. In truth, its purpose is to promote them.


The World Bank Group

Founded in 1944, the World Bank Group allocated US$15.3 billion in loans to its client countries in 1999 and is now working in more than 100 developing economies. The World Bank is owned by more than 180 member countries, whose views and interests are represented by a Board of Governors and a Washington-based Board of Directors. Every member government of the World Bank Group is represented at the Bank's headquarters in Washington, D.C. by an Executive Director. The five largest shareholders - France, Germany, Japan, Britain and the United States - each appoint an Executive Director, while the other member countries are represented by 19 Executive Directors, who are elected by groups of countries (or constituencies). The 24 Executive Directors normally meet twice a week to oversee the Bank's business, including approving loans and guarantees, new policies, the administrative budget, country assistance strategies, and borrowing and financial decisions.


The IMF

The IMF is an international organisation of 182 member states. Final negotiations for establishing the International Monetary Fund took place among the delegates of 44 nations gathered at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, USA, in July 1944. The IMF began operations in Washington, D.C. in May 1946. It then had 39 members.

The founding nations reasoned in 1944 that the IMF would function most efficiently and decisions would be made most responsibly by relating members' voting power directly to the amount of money they contribute to the institution through their quotas. Those who contribute most to the IMF are therefore given the strongest voice in determining its policies. Thus, the United States now has more than 265,000 votes, or about 18 percent of the total.


Uganda

Uganda is the first state to receive debt cancellation under the enhanced `Heavily Indebted Poor Countries' (HIPC) debt relief scheme agreed at the G8 Summit in Cologne more than a year ago. On 11 September, the Paris Club of 20 major creditor countries finally agreed to cancel $145 million of Uganda's debt; only Austria refused to agree this final step.

The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the African Development Bank will cancel another $511 million shortly - and all of the G8 industrialised countries are now cancelling 100% of the debt that Uganda owes directly to them. In total, about 42 per cent of Uganda's debt is being cancelled

Finance Minister Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile said the money released by the debt write-off would be channelled into providing safe drinking water, sanitation and better education for the poor.

However, even though Uganda will now get all the debt cancellation available under the HIPC scheme, it will still be paying creditors in the region of $50 million a year. Uganda's total debt in 1998 was $3.6 billion. Almost three quarters of its long-term debt is owed to the international financial institutions.


Haiti

Haiti hopes that six months from now it will have recovered millions of dollars embezzled by the former dictator Jean-Claude ``Baby Doc'' Duvalier and secreted in Swiss banks. It may also launch a prosecution against him in France, where he lives in exile.

The leader of the poorest country in the Americas, President René Préval, is more alarmed by the sums his country must pour out to repay loans. On June 2000, Préval signed a petition calling on international creditors to annul the country's swelling $1.2bn (800m) debt. Haiti is not among the countries to receive debt cancellation under the HIPC initiative.

The traffic in boat people heading for Miami is reviving - a clear indication of declining living standards. In May this year, ten Haitian policemen disguised as missionaries hijacked a local ferry. The catamaran and its 121 passengers was found adrift in American waters after the fuel ran out. ``We didn't steal the boat,'' explained one policeman. ``We stole the destination.''


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