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2009-04-01

As Obama Arrives in London for G20, Tens of Thousands Gather to Protest in the Streets

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Walden Bello, senior analyst of Focus on the Global South and professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines.

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President Obama is in London today ahead of the G20 summit, where world leaders are gathering to discuss the global economic crisis. Tens of thousands of protesters from around the world are gathering in London to demonstrate against the G20 talks and call for economic justice and environmental accountability. Several large demonstrations directed at the failed banking and financial sectors are expected today, April 1st, which some protest organizers are calling "Financial Fools Day." We speak with Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama is in London today ahead of the G20 summit, where world leaders are gathering to discuss the global economic crisis. It marks Obama’s first trip to Europe since taking office.

At a joint news conference in London with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Obama stressed the severity of the economic downturn.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: All of us here in London have the responsibility to act with a sense of urgency, and every nation that will be participating has been affected by a crisis that has cost us so much in terms of jobs, savings and the economic security of our citizens. So make no mistake, we are facing the most severe economic crisis since World War II, and the global economy is now so fundamentally interconnected that we can only meet this challenge together. We can’t create jobs at home if we’re not doing our part to support strong and stable markets around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: While President Obama urged G20 nations to work together on solving the crisis, rifts have already begun to emerge. Earlier, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said France and Germany are not happy with the current draft of the G20 agreement and that he would walk away from the summit if it failed to meet his demands. At today’s press conference, Obama said the nature of the crisis demands an integrated response.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I know that the G20 nations are appropriately pursuing their own approaches. And as Gordon indicated, we’re not going to agree on every point. I came here to put forward our ideas, but I also came here to listen, not to lecture.

    Having said that, we must not miss an opportunity to lead, to confront a crisis that knows no borders. We have a responsibility to coordinate our actions and to focus on common ground, not on our occasional differences. So, in the days ahead, I believe we will move forward with a sense of common purpose.

    We have to do what’s necessary to restore growth and to pursue the reforms that can stabilize our financial system well into the future. We have to reject protectionism and accelerate our efforts to support emerging markets. And we have to put in place a structure that can sustain our cooperation in the months and years ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: Tens of thousands of protesters from around the world are gathering in London to demonstrate against the economic downturn and the G20 summit. Thousands of British police have been patrolling the streets since demonstrations for economic justice and environmental accountability began over the weekend. Five people were arrested under anti-terrorism laws in southern England on Monday.

Several large demonstrations directed at the failed banking and financial sectors are also expected today, April 1st, which some protest organizers are calling "Financial Fools Day." The London police have reportedly warned bankers to, quote, "dress down" or skip work altogether to avoid being targeted by protesters.

Michael Rainsbro of the anti-globalization group G20 Meltdown described one of the day’s expected actions.

    MICHAEL RAINSBRO: We’re be — doing a carnival street party at the Bank of England. And because the anti-globalization movement has been for carnivals, and it’s time for parties, we thought that would be the best thing to do. But we’re adapting it to this kind of a mood, because people are very angry, and we’ve seen it on the four horses of the Apocalypse. We’re saying, by going to the Bank of England, that the Bank of England has been presiding over AIG-style bonuses for years and years and years, and it’s not just a simple problem, that we need to see large-scale structural change in our economy if we’re going to, you know, make it forward in this economic crisis and in this ecological crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: Groups calling attention to the climate crisis and the role of G20 countries in continuing to profit from polluting the environment are gathering for twenty-four hours of mass direct action. Kevin Smith is a spokesperson for Climate Camp, which is organizing the action.

    KEVIN SMITH: It’s going to be twenty-four hours in Bishop’s Gate, outside the European Climate Exchange, where we’re going to be highlighting the fact that the things the G20 leaders have on the table aren’t going to deal with the problem of climate change. In fact, in the context of something like carbon trading, which we’re really focusing on, it’s things much, much worse.

AMY GOODMAN: For some analysis on why so many people are protesting the G20, what’s expected to happen at the summit, I’m joined now by Walden Bello, senior analyst at Focus on the Global South, professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines. He argued recently the United Nations, and not a group of the world’s twenty richest countries, should decide the fate of the global economy. Walden Bello joins us now from Manila.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

WALDEN BELLO: Hey, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the G20. Can you start off, Walden, by explaining exactly who the G20 are? What’s the history of this grouping?

WALDEN BELLO: OK. Well, first of all, thanks, Amy, for having me on.

The G20 is a creation of the G7 club of rich countries. And the idea in 1998, 1999 was, you know, for this so-called larger body to come up with a proposal to create a new global financial architecture because of the Asian financial crisis. And I think the relevant point here is that the G20 has never been recognized globally as a representative body, and secondly, that it totally failed to really come up with any sort of recommendations for, you know, controlling capital flow so that they wouldn’t create the same sort of financial crisis that they did in Asia. And they just bought into the private sector and the private banks’ mantra of self-regulation. So — and the point right now is that this body, which excludes 172 other countries, is definitely not seen as, you know, a legitimate body to be the one to come up with a solution to the global crisis. And the point that I made here was that it’s trying so hard to be exclusive at a time when any kind of this approach to this current crisis would necessitate, you know, as inclusive an approach as possible through a legitimate umbrella. And the only umbrella at this point that would enjoy a great degree of legitimacy would be the United Nations and a special session of the United Nations.

But, you know, so I think what’s happening in London is really a lot of show. They’re trying to do in one day what, you know, an earlier memorable conference that set up the postwar multilateral order, the Bretton Woods meeting, took twenty-one days to do. And I think that the nations that are coming there, the governments that are coming there, are really, really in a bind, because they don’t really know what’s going to work. So, you know, this is the kind of uncertainty, this is the kind of fright that they’re trying to hide by putting on a show of seeming coordination.

So that’s — and, of course, I think people are very, very upset, because what has happened so far has been so much paying attention to, you know, saving the banks, bailing out the banks. And I think that with the big bank bailouts and the bonuses that have been going to bank executives, I think there’s just a lot of popular anger throughout the world, you know, that the responses of the G20 — you know, that they focus mainly on how do you bail out the current financial system. And, in fact, that’s in fact what the focus is at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: Walden Bello, I’ve just come from Seattle. And, of course, they’re coming up on the tenth anniversary of the Battle of Seattle. It was interesting to speak to the former police chief, Norm Stamper, who today feels that he was wrong in how he dealt with the protesters and, when he describes their goals now, sounds like one of the protesters themselves. What about what people were saying then in Seattle, protesting the World Trade Organization, and what people, the tens of thousands of people that are in the streets now of London, are demanding of G20?

WALDEN BELLO: Well, you know, I mean, I think there’s a direct hereditary line between Seattle and London, because what we were saying in Seattle then is that globalization, you know, this process of trade liberalization leading to more and more integrated global economies and the removal of restraints and barriers to the flow of finance capital, that this was going to bring about, you know, disaster. And we’ve just seen — you know, heard President Obama basically say that economies have become so interlocked, you know, that countries basically are going down together. And this has been what the Seattle protesters and the London protesters have been warning all along, that globalization, corporate-driven globalization, was in fact leading to a situation whereby when the economic boom would stop and the decline would occur, that countries that had their markets so tightly integrated would basically spiral down together. And this is, in fact, what is happening right now.

So, between London and Seattle, I think there is a very direct line of a movement, which — the global justice movement, that basically we’ve been trying to get heard for ten years, but — since Seattle, and even before that, but this was a movement, a popular movement, whose warnings were not heard or ignored, and because of that, we now have this crisis of globalization brought about principally by one trade, the liberalization of trade, and also the absolute lack of regulation of finance capital.

AMY GOODMAN: And the calls to include climate change in the G20 agenda?

WALDEN BELLO: Well, I mean, you know, there is some nod to the climate issue in the G20 agenda. But, you know, basically I think what they’re really, really focusing on at this point is the financial crisis. And this was something that we had a debate on in the Hague, you know, about ten days ago, and I was debating the head of the European Commission on Finance, in which basically he was saying, you know, that “Let’s worry about big issues like climate change later on. We just need now to fix up the financial system.” And basically, what we were saying is that, no, I mean, the short term and the long term, the way you fix things up now must also bring in the long term, which is, you know, dealing with climate change. And this is a very basic difference between the governments assembled there and the people’s movement.

And basically, what people are saying at this point is enough of the separation between short term and long term, enough of the separation between finance and the ecology. People are basically saying that they’re looking for fundamental integrated solutions at this point. And the G20 governments are not giving that, because they really are not capable of giving that at this point in time. You know, this is really, you know, because — mainly because I think their analysis is really so limited. They’re basically thinking that, oh — you know, they’re basically limited to two things. One is stimulus, stimulus, stimulus. And secondly, it’s some sort of light financial regulation so that things are not too deregulated. And that’s the kind of very narrow gauge kind of solutions that they’re bringing to this massive crisis that has financial, trade, ecological and governance dimensions. So, you see, if you leave it up to a small body of governments like this to come up with a solution, you’re really going to — you’re really going to have solutions that are very narrow and that are very [inaudible] —-

AMY GOODMAN: Walden Bello, we’re going to have to leave it there. I thank you very much for being with us, senior analyst at Focus on the Global South, professor of sociology -—

WALDEN BELLO: OK, Amy. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: — at the University of the Philippines. Thanks for joining us from Manila.

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