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2009-07-08

World Leaders, Protesters Gather in Italy for G8; Global Financial Crisis & Climate Change Top Agenda

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Loretta Napoleoni, Italian economist and the author of Rogue Economics: Capitalism’s New Reality.

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President Obama arrived in Italy from Moscow this morning, where leaders from eight of the world’s richest nations are gathering in the town of L’Aquila for the annual Group of Eight summit. The three-day meeting is expected see high-level talks on the global economic crisis, climate change, food security and Iran. Protesters are also gathering for the G8. We speak with Loretta Napoleoni, author of Rogue Economics: Capitalism’s New Reality. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama arrived in Italy from Moscow this morning, where leaders from eight of the world’s richest nations are gathering in the town of L’Aquila for the annual Group of Eight summit. The three-day meeting is expected see high-level talks on the global economic crisis, climate change, food security and Iran.

The G8, comprising Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States, will also be widened to include discussions with representatives of other countries, including India, Brazil and nations from Africa. Hu Jintao, China’s president, has canceled plans to attend the summit, instead flying back to Beijing amidst continuing unrest in China’s western province of Xinjiang.

A heavy security presence is surrounding a converted police barracks where the talks will take place, with some 15,000 police officers and soldiers deployed in L’Aquila and nearby Rome. On Tuesday, police in Rome said they had arrested thirty-six protesters after a confrontation with riot police. The last G8 meeting in Italy in 2001 was marred by police abuse with protesters being beaten, strip-searched, denied food, phone calls or access to consulates while detained.

Despite the police presence, protesters are continuing to gather, with more than a hundred Greenpeace activists from around the world occupying four coal-fired power stations across Italy to demand action on climate change. The first item on the summit agenda, however, will be the global financial crisis, where discussion will center on how to avoid a repeat of the credit crunch.

For more, I am joined by Italian economist Loretta Napoleoni, author of Rogue Economics: Capitalism’s New Reality, joining us from Democracy Now! video stream.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Loretta. Why don’t you start off by talking about what the G8 is taking on and what you think should happen?

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Yes. Hi, Amy.

Well, the G8 is a gathering of, as you said, world leaders. It was meant to be an informal meeting, but through the years it’s changed dramatically, and today it’s very much a sort of, you know, photocopy of what the United Nations should be. In L’Aquila, at the moment, there are thirty-nine representatives of different countries, so you can imagine how that can be an informal gathering.

Now, the main make key points that will be discussed today are, you know, the reform of the international economic and financial system. There is a proposal on the table from the Italian finance minister, which is twelve points, which can be described as sort of empty boxes. One of the points, for example, is the reform of the offshore facilities in order to prevent offshore facilities from doing not only money laundering, but also helping, you know, i-finance to rob the population that puts money in banks. However, this kind of proposal is very vague. So what we will see is possibly an agreement about, you know, a few of these points.

For sure, one of the points that will be agreed is going to be the fight against protectionism, to prevent a degeneration of the crisis as it happened in 1929, because people pursued protectionist policies. What is now going to be agreed, unfortunately, I think, is a sort of outline of concrete reforms. For example, abolition of all the offshore facilities, abolition of the secrecy in the banking relationship between bankers and clients.

All of these issues, which are the core of the current crisis, will not be resolved. And this is also because the G8 does not have the structure or the power to resolve these kind of problems. It is, as I said before, a simple, informal gathering meetings, although it has been transformed into this massive kind of event by the various leaders, in particular by Silvio Berlusconi.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking both — in Italy, they’re talking both about the economy and the issue of global warming. And you have these major protests, for example, by Greenpeace, occupying coal plants. Can you talk about the connection between the two?

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Well, all the G8 focus on certain kind of topics. The topics of this G8 is not only the financial crisis, but it’s also global warming. Now, this is not the first time that they are discussing global warming. It’s been on the agenda in several of the past G8s.

Now, this year, in particular the Italians, the no-global movement in Italy is very strong; therefore, they decided to link up with other organizations. Greenpeace is one of those.

What the police and what Silvio Berlusconi is trying to do is trying to marginalize this kind of protest. We remember, you know, in Genoa, that was the first major anti-global protest against the G8, in general, when it was, of course, hosting the G8. The protesters were able to link up. So the various groups that were moving around the city were able to link up together, and therefore they paralyzed the city.

Now, that was a tremendous impact, not only on the members of the G8, but also on, you know, the world opinion; that put on the agenda of the world opinion the no-global movement. Is this globalization something good or bad for us? You know, this is when the whole debate started.

So, what they’re trying to do in Italy at the moment is to avoid a repeat of this kind of situation, and this is why they are trying to prevent the various groups for, you know, uniting together. Unfortunately, so far, you know, they are succeeding. And I doubt, to be honest, I doubt that the leaders of the G8 actually are aware of how big these demonstrations are, because they are completely isolated from the rest of the country.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of poverty and hunger, famine in Africa? How will the G8 deal with this and how should they?

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Well, this is quite an interesting topic, because there has been a widespread polemics in — during this week about the role that Italy has played in Africa. Now, in 2005, at the G8 of Gleneagles, which was hosted by Tony Blair, all the countries agreed to double their aid to Africa. So far, only Japan and Canada have honored this agreement. Italy, in reality, has diminished the amount of money that’s gone to Africa. Therefore, the British government has accused the Italians not to respect these kind of agreement, and therefore I also ask, what is the role of the Italians in the G8, if what is decided is then not pursued. Silvio Berlusconi has actually apologized. He said that, in reality, it was a mistake to agree to this kind of aid, because Italy is not able to do that.

So that has fueled widespread demonstration in Italy from groups which are supporting the aid to third world countries and also from groups that are supporting a much equitable commercial, economic and financial relationship between, you know, the powerful countries and developing countries.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama heads to Ghana, after the G8 summit with his family. How is President Obama perceived in Italy?

LORETTA NAPOLEONI: Well, President Obama is extremely popular in Italy. So his presence at the G8 is softening, I think, a bit of the hostility that there is towards the G8 and also, you know, the symbolic element of this kind of organization. People are trying to appeal to Obama, in the hope that Obama will be able to mediate between them and, of course, the leaders, but also that Obama will be able to pursue their interests.

And I just want to mention something that is happening at the moment on the back of L’Aquila. There is a hill. In this hill, the population has written in big, big letters on the grass, you know, “Yes, we camp,” taking the slogan of Obama during the presidential election and changing it, because, in reality, there are 25,000 people, which are the victims of the earthquake, who are still living in tents. The promise that was made three months ago by Silvio Berlusconi that the city would be reconstructed, that people will be put in housing by the time the G8 is taking place, actually, did not materialize. What Obama has said as soon as he has arrived, in a press conference, he said that the US is willing to help for the reconstruction and also to grant scholarship for people. The university will not be able in September to start the courses again. And that has been very, very positively accepted by the population.

AMY GOODMAN: Loretta Napoleoni, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Italian economist, author of the book Rogue Economics: Capitalism’s New Reality.

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