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2000-04-10

Thousands in Washington Kick Off IMF-World Bank Protests, Demanding Debt Relief for Poor Countries

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As the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund prepare next week to hold their spring meetings, thousands of activists rallied yesterday in Washington, DC, to demand debt relief for the world’s poorest countries. [includes rush transcript]

The rally, sponsored by the faith-based organization Jubilee 2000, was aimed at pressuring the US Congress to approve $210 million to fund an initiative that would cut the debts of the world’s poorest nations.

It ended with the formation of a "human chain" around Congress, symbolizing the chains of debt.

Yesterday’s event kicked off a series of planned protests surrounding the IMF and World Bank’s meetings this week. This Wednesday, union leaders are planning a massive rally on Congress to oppose permanent trade relations with China. And next Sunday and Monday, thousands of people will attempt to close down the IMF-World Bank.

Tape:

  • John Sweeney, AFL-CIO president who just returned from an international trade union meeting in Durban, South Africa.
  • Trevor Ngwame, from the Jubilee 2000 South Africa Campaign.
  • Salome Mayone, Mozambican Member of Parliament. Hundreds were killed and an estimated one million people displaced after floods ravaged the Southern African country earlier this year.
  • Ricardo Navarro, head of Friends of the Earth International and winner of Goldman Environmental Prize.

Related links:

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, as protesters prepare to shut down the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank next Sunday and Monday, when finance ministers from around the world will converge in Washington, thousands of activists rallied yesterday in Washington to demand debt relief for the world’s poorest countries.

The rally, sponsored by the faith-based organization Jubilee 2000, was aimed at pressuring the Congress to approve $210 million to fund an initiative that would cut the debts of the world’s poorest nations. It ended with the formation of a human chain around Congress, symbolizing the chains of debt.

Yesterday’s event kicked off the series of planned protests. On Wednesday, union leaders are planning a massive rally on Congress to oppose permanent trade relations with China and China entering the World Trade Organization.

John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO, who just returned from the International Trade Union Meeting in Durban, South Africa, was one of those who spoke.

JOHN SWEENEY: Brothers and sisters, it’s my privilege to come before you today and bring a message from the forty million men and women and children living in union households all across the United States. Our message is clear: today’s unions and the working families of America want debt relief, and we want debt relief now.

It is also my privilege to bring you news from the World Congress of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, which met last week in Durban, South Africa, from which I returned yesterday. The ICFTU member unions, from 145 countries, voted unanimously to call for a far-reaching solution to the crushing burden of debt borne by developing countries. The news from Durban is clear: the ICFTU and indeed the working families of the world demand debt relief, and we demand debt relief now.

In South Africa, just as in Seattle, it was painfully clear from the stories I heard over and over again that we are bound by conscience and conviction to move on debt relief with great speed.

In Mozambique, one out of four children dies before reaching the age of five. One out of four young children dies because of infectious diseases that can be controlled. But the government of Mozambique is spending twice as much on servicing international debt as it spends on health and education combined.

In Ethiopia more than 100,000 children die every year from diarrhea that can be treated and prevented, but the government of Ethiopia is spending four times as much on debt payments as its public budget for healthcare.

In Uganda, where one in five children also dies from a treatable, preventable disease before age five, the government is spending seventeen dollars per person on repaying its debt, while spending only three dollars per person on health care.

If nothing else, the debt burden of developing countries is killing hundreds of thousands of children every year. And that’s why, my sisters and brothers, we can’t wait until next year or the next year, and that’s why we are united, united in our mission and committed to the goal of debt relief now.

But sadly, the crushing burden of worldwide debt is doing even more than killing children. It’s also killing the hopes and the dreams of working families from Managua to Milwaukee, from Karachi to Kansas City. High debt levels force developing countries to lower labor standards and wages in order to attract corporate investment. That means American workers must compete for jobs with other workers in other countries who are making ten cents an hour. It pits worker against worker and nation against nation in a race to the bottom. And it’s a race we must stop with debt relief now!

Brothers and sisters, I believe if we work hard enough and march long enough and press our elected officials hard enough, we can persuade the United States government and our Congress to support worldwide debt relief for countries that are committed to democratic reforms and core workers’ rights. The amount of money it would cost this country is an incredibly small portion of our budget. Yet the amount of help and leadership it would provide would be unbelievably large.

But debt relief alone won’t make the global economy work for working families. Rich countries, especially the United States, must provide more funds to poor countries for economic development. We must make sure the money goes to creating more jobs, providing better healthcare, raising more food and building more schools — and not to building more palaces or buying more tanks.

Technologically advanced countries, especially the United States, must provide more assistance to developing nations, while insisting that the governments that receive our assistance respect basic human rights and workers’ rights in their fields and in their factories.

And progressive, politically powerful countries, most especially the United States, must insist that international financial institutions, like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, stop pressuring countries to reform their economies in the wrong direction, and instead reform themselves.

As I told the delegates in Durban, South Africa, we must demand a world economy that allows nations to follow different paths to development, even as it enforces standards and core values common to us all. Together, people of faith and conscience can rescue the world economy from those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Together, we can build a world where children stretch their minds in classrooms, instead of straining their backs in factories, a world where every man and woman can live and work in dignity, where markets lift us up instead of driving us down. That world begins with debt relief. Debt relief now! Thank you, and God bless you all.

AMY GOODMAN: John Sweeney, the President of the AFL-CIO, speaking yesterday to thousands of protesters in Washington, D.C. on a very windy day with snow in the morning, to say the least, unseasonal.

When we come back, we’ll be hearing from a South African speaker, as well as from a woman from Mozambique. And in our last segment, we’ll hear the story of a young basketball player, high school, in San Antonio, Texas, who after elbowing a rival player on the court, was charged with aggravated assault and sits in a jail, facing five years in prison.

You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!. We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers. Again, we continue with yesterday’s major rally against the debt, calling for cancellation of the debt for poor countries. Thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C., and among those who spoke was Trevor Ngwane, who is with Jubilee 2000, South Africa campaign.

TREVOR NGWANE: Viva Jubilee 2000! Viva!

CROWD: Viva!

TREVOR NGWANE: Viva Jubilee 2000! Viva!

CROWD: Viva!

TREVOR NGWANE: Away with the debt! Away!

CROWD: Away!

TREVOR NGWANE: Down with structural adjustment! Down!

CROWD: Down!

TREVOR NGWANE: I also want to thank the people of America, the people of Bolivia, the people of Latin America, all those people who were with us when we were fighting against apartheid. Today, we have destroyed apartheid. Today, I can stand here, talk freely, not scared of going back home. Thank you!

But my message today is that our job is not finished. Apartheid is dead, but economic exploitation and injustice continues. The government of the ANC, the "new boy on the block," has decided to join the "big guys" and is now following neoliberal economic policies. South Africa is being used as a launching pad to perpetrate neoliberal policies in Africa. This is why you are here. We want your support. We had wanted Mandela to lead the struggle against the debt. He has not done so. Away with the debt! Away!

CROWD: Away!

TREVOR NGWANE: Now, yesterday, as Jubilee 2000, we were appealing, asking for forgiveness, saying "World Bank, IMF, forgive us our sins. Please don’t make us pay the debt." But now we have moved. We are now demanding the cancellation of the debt. But moreover, we are beginning to ask the question, "Who owes what to whom?"

The problems of Africa, the problems of Mozambique, of Kenya, the problems of Latin America, started centuries ago. They started with slavery, they started with colonialism, they started with apartheid. Those people, we don’t owe them anything! They owe us a life! They destroyed our countries! They took our brothers and sisters, put them on slave ships, brought them here! Now, they are knifing us back at home in Africa. Away with the debt! Away!

CROWD: Away!

TREVOR NGWANE: Now, we are saying here, because we know the World Bank and the IMF, this is their capital city. We in South Africa are launching a campaign to boycott World Bank bonds, because we want to stop the World Bank from spreading its neoliberal economic policies. We are calling for your support in this campaign to boycott the bonds, which are issued by the World Bank. Away with buying World Bank bonds! Away!

CROWD: Away!

TREVOR NGWANE: We are saying to American companies, those companies who joined us when we were fighting apartheid and disinvested: now the time has come to disinvest from the World Bank. Stop buying World Bank bonds! Stop!

CROWD: Stop!

TREVOR NGWANE: Down with structural adjustment! Down!

CROWD: Down!

TREVOR NGWANE: The other thing, comrades, is that it is no use to only call for the cancellation of debt, when the World Bank and IMF continue to feed us the medicine of neoliberal structural adjustment policies. Those policies are killing our people. Already in South Africa, clinics, hospitals, schools are being closed down, because the World Bank and the IMF are saying, "You are spending too much money on the poor." Already, our water, our roads is being privatized because of the policies of the World Bank and the IMF. So let us join hands now and unite in struggle across the globe in our battle against the World Bank. Away with the World Bank! Away!

CROWD: Away!

TREVOR NGWANE: Away with the apartheid debt! Away!

CROWD: Away!

TREVOR NGWANE: Today, in South Africa, in our budget, our government is spending 48 billion rands servicing the debt. But you know where this debt comes from? This is the money which was borrowed by apartheid to buy guns and bullets to kill us. Today, we are being made to pay twice for apartheid. We paid for apartheid with our blood, we paid with our lives. Today, we are paying the debts of apartheid. Away with the apartheid debt! Away!

CROWD: Away!

TREVOR NGWANE: This is the situation faced by our brothers in Mozambique. You all know that in Mozambique we had floods. A lot of things were destroyed in Mozambique. But the World Bank is saying they’re going to lend Mozambique more money to help them. How can you lend Mozambique more money to get them out of a crisis? Already, Mozambique is paying $1 million every week to service the debt. Away with making Mozambique get a loan to get out of the flood! Away!

CROWD: Away!

TREVOR NGWANE: The last thing I want to say is in Bolivia, yesterday, in Bolivia martial law was declared. Our comrades are in jail. The country’s up in arms, because the people are against privatization. We must stand united against what is happening in Bolivia. Thank you very much. Away with the World Bank! Away!

CROWD: Away!

TREVOR NGWANE: Viva Jubilee 2000! Viva!

CROWD: Viva!

TREVOR NGWANE: Forward with the struggle against neoliberal economics! Forward!

CROWD: Forward!

TREVOR NGWANE: Thank you!

AMY GOODMAN: Trevor Ngwane, from the Jubilee 2000 South Africa campaign, speaking on a very windy and snowy day yesterday in Washington, D.C. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!.

As we move now to another speaker at the rally of thousands calling for cancellation of the debt to the poorest countries of the world, Salome Moiané, Mozambican member of parliament. Hundreds killed and an estimated one million people displaced after floods ravaged the South African country earlier this year.

SALOME MOIANÉ: Before the natural disaster that we had in Mozambique in February of this year, we were already among one of the poorest countries in the world. Out of 1,000 children born, 240 die before reaching five years of life. We also have a very little [inaudible] rate, that is 45%. And more or less 40% of our population can’t read or write. What means, among other things, that more than 70% of our population is living in absolute poverty.

Mozambique has, since 1989, carrying out what we call structural adjustments on the framework of IMF, as well as the World Bank. The main goal of this program has been cutting inflation and creating a balance between imports and exports in the country. The program however, has not managed to establish a link between economic goals as well as the reduction of absolute poverty. Most of the Mozambicans, as I said, nearly 70%, are living in absolute poverty, and it’s this majority of people living in the countryside that were the most victim of floods.

I would like to go again to the problem of debt. Since the Mozambican Debt Group was founded, we have appealed for a total cancellation of our debts. And that money should be used for long-term development within social areas, particularly education and health, so that’s why the signal that is here is very clear for us. So say with us: Cancel the debt now!

CROWD: Cancel the debt now!

SALOME MOIANÉ: Cancel the debt now!

CROWD: Cancel the debt now!

SALOME MOIANÉ: Dear friends, this appeal becomes even more urgent today after the massive destruction of the floods and the Cyclone Eline that affected thousands in Mozambique.

The Mozambican Debt Group believes that emergency aid and funds needed for long-term development should at no point compete with each other. It isn’t acceptable that foreign funds that were allocated to finance long-term development projects has been used to resolve emergency situation. Those are two very different. This creates [inaudible] of economic backlash.

The same situation occurs with national funds, because the government has to shift priorities in the public budget from long-term development for emergency assistance. We estimate that we will need between $207 and $430 million to recuperate from the floods.

Just to give some example, because of the problem of the floods, the health sector will need great resources during the next months to avoid the outbreak of malaria, as well as cholera, that are already killing our children at home. Many health buses and hospitals have been destroyed. The cost for reconstruction of this area will be $20 million. That is the same amount of money that we need for year for just primary healthcare for our people.

Dear friends, although there has been a response of the international community and from multilateral institutions to our appeal for a total debt cancellation, we are very disappointed, because the decision made by the Paris Club and the World Bank. The World Bank decided to give Mozambique a one-year moratorium on the debt service. It doesn’t mean that the debt was cancelled. And it doesn’t mean, either, that the interest rates are not to be paid. The Paris Club response was similar. We reiterate our appeal for the total cancellation of our external debt.

Allow me to add, dear friends, that in this moment in Mozambique, there are two problems. It’s our appeal to cancel the total debt of our country. Secondly, at the same time, to help us save lives, to help us rebuild Mozambique, to help us reintegrate our population and also bringing a better future for our children at home. Thank you very much, and we thank your solidarity. Thanks. Long live solidarity!

AMY GOODMAN: Salome Moiané, she is a Mozambican member of parliament, speaking in Washington, D.C. yesterday at the rally sponsored by Jubilee 2000, where thousands gathered to call for the cancellation of the debt.

And finally we go to Ricardo Navarro, head of Friends of the Earth International, from El Salvador, and winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

RICARDO NAVARRO: Brothers and sisters, it is really nice to be here. It is nice to see that a lot of people are united for one cause: to cancel the debt. Now, we are in the year of the jubileum. According to the Biblical tradition, in that year we have to compensate for all the things that have gone wrong.

There are several things that are wrong now with our society, starting with poverty. Half of the people in the world don’t have enough to eat. Half of the people in the world don’t have access to safe water, most of them in the southern hemisphere. And those things have to stop.

In Africa, Asia and Latin America, poverty generates violence. All the debt that cannot be paid also generates the destruction of the environment.

Here, I represent Friends of the Earth International. We have to remember that the World Bank and the IMF, they have also supported criminal regimes in the third world. They also share the criminal responsibility. They supported Pinochet. They supported the criminal governments in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, many African countries, also Asia. Criminal people should be punished.

I was reading that some people here in Washington were worried about the violence that we may cause here. We are peaceful people. We are for the welfare of the people. We are for defending the environment. They should worry for the violence that the World Bank is generating and has generated throughout the world.

Many countries in the southern hemisphere are very vulnerable. We are destroying our resources to pay the debt. What happens when a Hurricane Mitch comes to Central America? 12,000 people were killed. What happened in Venezuela last December? 15,000 people were killed. What happened in Mozambique a few weeks ago? A million people affected. All that, why? Because all of our resources had to be put to pay the debt.

To pay the debt is a crime! What the World Bank and the IMF want to do is a crime! And we should not allow this crime to happen!

AMY GOODMAN: Ricardo Navarro, head of Friends of the Earth International, from El Salvador, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, the Nobel equivalent for environmental activists, speaking yesterday at a protest of thousands in Washington, D.C., the beginning of a week period of activities, protests and rallies, culminating next week on Sunday with the attempt of protesters coming from around the country and the world to close down the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund, and Monday to close down the annual meeting of the World Bank. Democracy Now! will bring you the issues and the people who are in Washington for these protests throughout the week.

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