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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Protesting Globalization

Air Date: Week of

Activists are planning another mass protest to highlight the issues of globalization which captured public attention during protests at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. This time the targets are the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Living On Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports.


TOOMEY This is Living on Earth. I'm Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: And I'm Steve Curwood.

(Booming, amidst cheers)

CURWOOD: Seattle, Washington, December 1999. The usually sleepy negotiations of the World Trade Organization are suddenly the target of mass protests. As the media chronicled the Battle in Seattle, demonstrators succeeded in focusing attention on the influence of international corporate interests in the lives of ordinary people. But the WTO is not alone in setting the agenda of the global economy. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund also play major roles. The IMF and World Bank are getting ready for their April meeting in Washington, DC. Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports on how all parties involved are preparing for the upcoming event.

(Milling crowd)

WOMAN: May we have your attention, please? May we have your attention, please?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: On a rainy night in Washington, almost 70 people are packed into a meeting of the Mobilization for Global Justice. Some are radical leftists. Some are members of church groups. There's a woman eating peanut butter, a man in a beret, and a monk in an orange turban. It's an eclectic group with a common goal: to draw attention to the policies of The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund at their upcoming joint meeting.

MAN 1: How many of you think we're going to shake the pillars of power on April sixteenth?

MAN 2: Yeah.

(Shouts and hollers)

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: For these activists, The World Bank and the IMF are the twin towers of globalization. They see the organizations finance harmful development projects around the world and, along with the World Trade Organization, set economic rules which benefit transnational corporations at the expense of citizens and the environment. Soren Ambrose of the IMF World Bank watchdog group Fifty Years is Enough is helping organize a week-long series of demonstrations, which will culminate in a mass protest.

AMBROSE: The message that we're sending out in April, the message that we sent out in Seattle, is that the people who are affected by these economic rules will not accept these rules being made solely in the interests of an economic model that says that if we have profits on the high end, they will trickle down to the rest of the population.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Criticism of The World Bank and the IMF as promoters of unjust, unsustainable development isn't new. But it has gained new volume since protesters shut down the meeting of the WTO in December. And the outcry has been heard inside the walls of the two organizations.

DAWSON: There is certainly, if one thinks about what happened in Seattle, there is this sort of primal scream against globalization.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Tom Dawson is the director of external relations at the IMF. He doesn't deny there are good reasons to be skeptical of the rapid spread of the global economy. But he says institutions like the IMF can actually help ease the strain.

DAWSON: There are, certainly in the globalization process, losers. And one of the goals of governments and of institutions is to try to ease the burden on those who are, in one fashion or another, either disadvantaged or left behind by globalization. But it certainly remains our belief that development and that growth do provide much better opportunities than an approach that basically tries to turn back the clock.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The IMF and The World Bank have made nods toward their critics, but they still fund a lot of big-ticket development project, which critics say often devastate the environment and local communities. One current hot topic is World Bank support for an oil pipeline in the African countries of Chad and Cameroon. Detractors say it's a risky project in a region whose environment has already been harmed by IMF policies. And Andrea Durbin of the group Friends of the Earth says top-down projects like an oil pipeline don't help ordinary residents.

DURBIN: There are other ways of doing that, such as investing in the social sector, investing in health and education, investing in programs that are directly going to benefit the poor people in those countries. The reality of it is that the biggest beneficiary of this project will be Exxon.

GEORGIEVIA: The reality of life is, this is what these people depend on to get incomes that would allow them to get out of really desperate poverty.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Kristalina Georgievia is The World Bank's environmental director. She says the pipeline will probably be built with or without World Bank money. But if the bank doesn't get involved, she says government corruption in Chad and Cameroon could lead to a total disregard for the environment. For Ms. Georgievia, the pipeline case represents a common development challenge.

GEORGIEVIA: Development is a very complex process so, of course, it is always difficult to say what is right, what is wrong. And actually from World Bank point of view, we do appreciate that we have an external audience that watches the Bank and comes hard on the Bank if we do something wrong.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Ms. Georgievia is holding monthly meetings with environmental advocates. And she says her staff is developing a strategy to make environmental concerns fit better into the bank's overall mission to reduce poverty. This spirit of conciliation is also taking hold at the IMF. It's offering to engage activists in the weeks before the demonstrations. External relations director Tom Dawson hopes that might keep the streets calmer than they were in Seattle.

DAWSON: We've indicated to organizers of some of the events that if they would like to have Fund participants speak to the groups, we are happy to oblige them. Certainly to the extent that a lack of a dialogue with the WTO may have been seen as being part of the problem, we don't want to have that accusation made toward us.

(Traffic amidst bird song)

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: In a park across from The World Bank and IMF buildings, David Hunter of the Center for International Environmental Law isn't particularly moved by the organizations' efforts to placate environmentalists. He says The World Bank, at least, hasn't really changed.

HUNTER: At the core of the bank's lending, the projects are anti-environmental, they're anti-sustainable. There are a few peripheral, interesting projects in renewable energies or in this or in that; but at the core, the bank is still not integrating and mainstreaming environmental concerns.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Protesters will gather here in a couple of weeks. Few think that global financial institutions are going to disappear, or that the process of globalization itself can be ruled back. But many do hope that they're part of a movement that will change the priorities of the global economy. Organizers are expecting up to 10,000 people to turn out on April 16th. No one's predicting protests on the scale of Seattle, but the D.C. police aren't letting down their guard. They say they have an experienced civil disobedience unit, and they're confident they can keep this demonstration from getting out of hand. For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum in Washington, D.C.



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