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Occupy G8: Peoples’ Summit Confronts World Leaders at Camp David, Urging Action on Poverty, Hunger

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World leaders are convening at the heavily guarded Camp David in Maryland today for the G8 summit. Leading nonprofits such as Save the Children and Oxfam are urging G8 leaders to live up to a 2009 pledge of $22 billion towards food security in developing nations of which only a quarter has been met. Activists are also urging G8 leaders to build on their previous commitments and partner with developing countries to urgently tackle hunger. We’re joined by Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, and Dr. Margaret Flowers, a physician and organizer with the Occupy G8 Peoples’ Summit. [includes rush transcript]

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: World leaders are convening at the heavily guarded Camp David in Maryland today for the G8 summit. The G8 comprises eight world leaders who meet face to face annually at a summit that has become a focus of media attention and protest action. The focus of this year’s summit will be the European economic crisis. But other topics on the agenda include the conflict in Syria, nuclear nonproliferation and global food security. President Obama will kick off the weekend with a speech in Washington outlining his plans for helping developing countries. He’s expected to promote private sector investments rather than public sector solutions.

The G8’s new food security initiative is facing some criticism because it includes no financial pledges. Leading nonprofits, such as Save the Children and Oxfam, are urging G8 leaders to live up to their promise of three years ago to donate $22 billion toward food security in developing nations. By the G8’s own accounting, it has only delivered a quarter of that amount. This year activists are calling on the leaders of the eight richest countries to build on their previous commitments and partner with developing countries to urgently tackle hunger.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two guests. From Baltimore, Maryland, Dr. Margaret Flowers is with us. She helped organize the Occupy G8 People’s Summit. She’s a pediatrician, single-payer advocate, co-director of, and organizer of Occupy Washington, D.C. And in Washington, D.C., we’re joined by Raymond Offenheiser. He is president of Oxfam America.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Raymond Offenheiser, let’s begin with you. First of all, I bet most people in this country don’t even know what the G8 countries are, and then, well, talk about the significance of this meeting that was, in a surprise to many, moved from Chicago, where it was to preceed the NATO summit this weekend, to the isolated Camp David.

RAYMOND OFFENHEISER: Well, the G8 countries are the most industrialized or wealthiest countries in the world and comprised mostly of Europe, United States, Canada, Australia and a number of major European economies. And they have been convening for a number of years around a variety of strategic issues of the sort that you just mentioned. And as you indicated, for organizations like Save the Children and Oxfam, top of mind is the global food crisis, which started in 2009 and which is a centerpiece of the events this morning. The President will be making a major speech to launch the summit this morning at 10:00.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Raymond Offenheiser, what about this pledge that was made back in 2009 of $22 billion to address food security? How much of it has actually been delivered, and what are you calling for?

RAYMOND OFFENHEISER: Well, the country—President Obama, in Italy, in the L’Aquila summit of 2009, exercised bold leadership in calling upon the G8 at that particular time to actually confront the major challenge of the global food crisis. And I think it’s important for your listeners and viewers to remember that, at that particular time, food prices had spiked some 300 percent in various countries around the world. There were riots in 38 countries. There was real questions about whether certain governments were going to survive that political instability. There was a recognition that food stocks were exhausted, and there was a real need to invest in agriculture. And the President stepped forward and really said we need a bold commitment from the G8 to really move an agenda forward. He put money on the table. Others committed up to $22 billion, with the idea there would be $7 billion spent over the next three years.

I think the question now really for this summit is, will that commitment at those levels of funding continue for the next three years to 2015, or will there be—in the face of all the fiscal crisis around the world, will the ambition be lower than that? And I guess our concern is really, will the ambition going into this summit be commensurate with the scale of the problem, which hasn’t gone away, and in some ways, you could say, is worsening with the emergence of a major food crisis in West Africa in the Sahelian region.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan and I were talking before the show about just who these the G8 countries are: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United States and Britain. Dr. Margaret Flowers, why have you organized this Occupy G8 People’s Summit outside?

DR. MARGARET FLOWERS: We feel it’s important to educate people about the role that the G8 plays. They actually formed in 1975 as the G6, following a 1974 United Nations declaration calling for a new international economic path that created avenues for countries to regulate multinational corporations within their borders, allowed them to determine their economic situation without undue influence, military influence, or other pressure on them from outside countries. And in response to that, these wealthy nations wanted to circumvent these calls for a more inclusive and democratic economic process and have really dominated the economic policies of the world. We want people to know that there are other solutions that are actual true solutions to the crises that we are facing, but those solutions are not being talked about by the G8 leaders.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr. Flowers, you’re a pediatrician, and you’ve been a guest on Democracy Now! many times in the past, talking about—advocating for single-payer health insurance. But now you have broadened out considerably in terms of the issue of the G8 summit. Why is that?

DR. MARGARET FLOWERS: Well, to be honest, if we want to create a healthy population in our country and around the world, we have to address the underlying issue of wealth inequality that’s driving so many of our health issues. When people don’t have a job with a living wage, when they aren’t treated with respect in their jobs, when they don’t have education, a home to live in, access to healthy food and clean water, all of these things are connected, and all of us who advocate on these different issues of single-issue advocacy are not able to confront the concentrated wealth that controls our political process and that corporate media message. And so, if we want to create a healthy population, we have to address all these issues. And if we want to be able to address any of them, we need to work together effectively to create a mass movement that calls for real change and put forth real solutions to the problems that we’re facing.

AMY GOODMAN: Raymond Offenheiser, I know you’re about to head off to President Obama’s address, but I was wondering if you can link what’s happening in Europe, the economic crises, the austerity measures that are being imposed on a number of countries, and what’s happening here in this country, with the issue of hunger and poverty around the world?

RAYMOND OFFENHEISER: Well, I think the most direct implication for the developing countries is—are the members of the G8—are they going—do they see investment in foreign aid to address some of these major crises happening in Africa, Asia and Latin America around the food issue and so forth? Are they going to—do they have the money now, or do they have the political will to provide the money to meet the commitments that they have? As we can see, going into the summit, the events in Greece, I think, have heightened concerns about the stability of the European economy. And I think, in some ways, that becomes more of a centerpiece of what people want to talk about, but they tend to forget the fact that the larger conversation at the last summit, or in the summit in L’Aquila, Italy, was, we’ve got to deal with this food crisis. It’s the issue that is of worldwide importance. We have a broken global food system, and the security of entire nations depend on this.

So I think the real issue here is, is there going to be the political will to bring the resources and fulfill the promises of L’Aquila in 2009, continue that for a 10-year period, so we can address the major structural issues that were discovered in 2009 with adequate resources, political will and appropriate policy responses? And I think, to the point that Dr. Flowers was making, this is all a part of a package of an economic model that is, I think, privileging growth, which is important in the generation of jobs, and the importance of a private sector role, but at the same time we need to—it needs to be inclusive growth that reaches out to small farmers, women, and prioritizes issues of health, food security and environment.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Raymond Offenheiser, even with the existing U.S. aid, I think the food aid of the United States represents about half of all the food aid in the world, but there are all of these strings attached that actually raise the cost of this aid. For instance, all U.S. aid must be purchased from the United States, and also it must be carried on U.S. ships, which obviously raises the overall cost of that aid. Are you advocating any kind of efficiencies to reduce these overhead costs that actually assure that much of the aid doesn’t really get to the people in need?

RAYMOND OFFENHEISER: Absolutely. Oxfam has been advocating for probably the last six or seven years for reform of our food aid system. Basically it’s a very inefficient system. It’s dominated by an iron triangle of the Farm Bureau, shippers, millers and not-for-profit organizations that receive monetized food aid through that system. It’s been around for quite a number of years. But as you say, a lot of the money, probably some 50 percent at a minimum, is going to the shippers and to the farmers of the United States. So, for the American taxpayer, we’re getting a lot less food to the people that need it than we would if we actually bought that food locally. So, the reform agenda that Oxfam and others have been pushing really promotes the idea that the U.S. government leadership or the head of USAID be given the flexibility to be buying a lot more of that food locally, spending the taxpayers’ dollar more wisely. And one would think, in the time of fiscal austerity, this would be something that would be top of mind, but there’s a lot of special interests in Washington who want to keep the status quo, sustain this inefficient system, and in effect not deliver real value for the taxpayer.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Margaret Flowers, with the G8 summit protest and the move of the summit from Chicago to the isolated and heavily guarded Camp David retreat, how will your protests take effect, and what are you planning during those protests?

DR. MARGARET FLOWERS: There are actually two days of protests going on. Today we’re going to be focused on our people’s summit, where we do talk about real solutions to the crises that we’re facing. Importantly, we’ll be talking about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. You know, when you talk about secrecy, this is something that’s being negotiated in secret. It’s kind of the new code word for “free trade,” is now these partnerships, and we want fair trade, not free trade. Tomorrow there will be groups—and actually today and tomorrow there will be groups in Camp David, in Thurmont, Maryland, where Camp David is, holding signs for visibility. And then tomorrow, there will be an all-day event in Frederick that families are invited to—again, education about who are the G8, what’s going on, what are the policies that they’re putting forth, how does that contrast with what we really require, because, as Raymond said, global wealth is increasing, but we’re not seeing that distributed to the people around the world or being used to meet our human needs. It’s primarily going to the top, and we need to democratize the economy to reduce the wealth inequality globally.

AMY GOODMAN: Does Occupy G8 People’s Summit and the protests organized outside take credit for the move from Chicago to Camp David? I mean, we are — Democracy Now! will be broadcasting from Chicago on Monday. We’ll be covering the NATO protests all weekend. Chicago was going to be the site of both mass protests, until they suddenly pulled the G8 out.

DR. MARGARET FLOWERS: Right, and I’ll be in Chicago, as well. I’m leaving Saturday afternoon to go there. I think it was some of the pressure of knowing that there were a number of groups coming to Chicago to highlight and expose what the G8 does that caused them to retreat to a more secretive and protected location. We really decided that we would organize something in response to that, that if they were coming to a different location, we needed to continue to have some sort of a response and presence and visibility there.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Ray Offenheiser, the issue in this country, especially the Republicans, but a number of Democrats, as well, saying the answer lies in the private sector—how does that work when it comes to helping people around the world in trying to deal with poverty and hunger?

RAYMOND OFFENHEISER: Well, certainly there’s a role for the private sector. And I think maybe one of the important things to understand about one of the major initiatives that will be announced this morning in the President’s speech is a new alliance for food security and nutrition, that will be—it’s going to be a centerpiece of the administration’s presentation. I think, from our point of view, there is a role for the private sector. But private sector is not only large corporations, it’s also small enterprises, and you might also say even small women farmers are part of the private sector.

One of the concerns I think a lot of civil society actors have, from—that are here, present in Washington, and that we’re working with all over the world is, is the private sector going to be replacing investment in public sector institutions, state institutions, as a centerpiece of this L’Aquila initiative going forward, or will there be an appropriate balance struck between investing in the public sector institutions in these countries that are really reaching small farmers and women that are at the heart of the solution of the global food crisis, or are we going to shift to a large, corporate-based private sector initiative with the idea that that may be the panacea?

Our view is—and Oxfam works with private sector firms both here domestically and internationally on a variety of different initiatives. We work with Swiss Re in Ethiopia on a small farmer insurance program. We work here in the United States with other companies that are trying to actually work with farm worker groups and so forth. So it’s not about an either-or proposition, it’s a both-and. I guess what we’re looking for in the meeting is a strong, continuing commitment to investment in public sector institutions that are—whose purpose is actually to reach small farmers and women with the complement—on appropriate complement balance with private sector participation, broadly defined, with a real focus on pro-poor solutions at the heart of it, ensuring that poor people are going to be included and that we’re going to be addressing the needs of the one billion in the world who are poorly nourished in the world today.

So I think the challenge coming out of the summit, as we see it, is, will the President and will the G8 members recommit to the L’Aquila principles, replenish the trust fund for food security at the World Bank that was a centerpiece of that initiative, fund the African programs that were requested and delivered by African nations? Only six out of some 38 or 30 were actually funded over the last several years. That’s an inadequate number. And will we see an appropriate balance between the public and private sector investments going forward, and not a shift from a public sector investment plan to one that’s really dominated by private sector interests?

AMY GOODMAN: Raymond Offenheiser, I want to thank you for being with us, president of Oxfam America, as well as Dr. Margaret Flowers, pediatrician and organizer of the Occupy G8 People’s Summit outside of Camp David. The protests will then shift to Chicago, which is—much of it beginning to be closed down, central Chicago, as the NATO summit gears up for Sunday and Monday. And Democracy Now! will be broadcasting from Chicago on Monday. I hope all will tune in.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’re going to Miami to speak with the head of the NAACP, as hundreds of documents and audio recordings have come out in the death of Trayvon Martin. Stay with us.

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