Thousands Protest: Prague and Dozens of US Cities
BETWEEN THE LINES Q&A
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For release Sept. 29, 2000
Thousands Protest World Bank-IMF in Prague and Dozens of U.S. Cities
* A global coalition of social justice activists continues to pressure the international financial institutions to end structural adjustment and privatization policies which they say harm the world's poorest and most vulnerable people.
Economists and representatives of hundreds of nations gathered in Prague for the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Sept. 21-28. But those traveling to this year's summit in the Czech Republic were greeted by major demonstrations against the policies of the financial institution founded shortly after World War II.
The actions in Prague follow major demonstrations against the World Trade Organization in Seattle last winter and an earlier mass protest against the World Bank in Washington D.C. in April. In addition to legal protest and non-violent civil disobedience, organizers held a "countersummit" on development policy, numerous workshops and a cultural festival. While more than 10,000 were deployed in Prague to prevent disruption of the event, Czech President Vaclav Havel, who has himself leveled criticism at the World Bank, convened a meeting between protest leaders and World Bank/IMF officials at the presidential palace.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Soren Ambrose, policy analyst with the 50 Years is Enough Network, who discusses the World Bank-IMF policies that have provoked growing criticism and the new coalitions that have targeted the bank in Prague and elsewhere.
Soren Ambrose: The protesters are concerned with the structural adjustment programs imposed for some 20 years by the IMF in the lead, and also by the World Bank to the point where over half the World Bank's loans now have structural adjustment conditions attached. Those conditions are basically the neoliberal, free trade, market reform formula where they have countries lay off employees and reorient their economies for export production, build sweatshops, allow in multinational corporations and not coincidentally, reduce subsidies in health and education spending for the most vulnerable people in the population.
It's been a formula for disaster for countries that were already, in many cases, on the brink. So, people have been very upset about structural adjustment programs for a long time. Now, with increased attention in North American and Europe on the effects of the World Trade Organization and many people getting a wider view of what's happening in the rest of the world, attention has turned more and more to the World Bank and IMF.
Between The Lines: Why don't you tell us how the coalition of groups have developed and grown since massive demonstrations in Seattle last winter against the World Trade Organization.
Soren Ambrose: Well, we've seen increasing participation from folks in the U.S. who haven't previously been focused on international issues. People who are concerned about things like welfare reform -- seeing the commonalties between the situation that they have in the U.S. -- and because of the publicity that we've gotten with Seattle and the events in Washington, the same kinds of circumstances growing out of the same economic corporate globalization agenda that has been imposed on people in the southern countries.
Probably the biggest news about the way the coalitions have grown in the United States is that labor unions have increasingly come on board. Seattle was notable, not quite a year ago with the WTO meetings, for having a combination of direct action activists in the street, along with a more conventional labor union rally and march. It was the combination of those two things that made Seattle so noteworthy both in terms of its size and the diversity of the crowd that was there.
There was a lot of skepticism at the time of Seattle that this coalition would stick together. Just a few months ago, there was an article announcing that the coalition that had come together in Seattle was fizzling out. In fact, we did stick together for the April 16th actions in Washington, D.C.
What we're going to see in September beyond the actions in Prague, are many solidarity actions in the United States. Most people in the U.S. who are interested in these issues, who are active in these demonstrations, who are reaching out to new constituencies, are foregoing the trip to Prague in order to organize in their own communities. So there are actions in 57 cities in the U.S., most of them with a strong labor component.
Between The Lines: What can we expect to happen in Prague during the demonstrations there? The Czech Republic's police force is on alert. Is the goal to shut down the meeting as it was in Seattle?
Soren Ambrose: The official word that I'm seeing on the various Internet communications is that they're not calling for a shutdown. I think that this is a very deliberate, very wise choice on the part of the Prague organizers, partially because of the disposition of the Czech authorities, which I saw when I was there for the May Day demonstrations. The Czech police -- as bad as the ones that we saw in Philadelphia and Los Angeles this summer -- really don't stand on niceties at all.
While the Czech organizers are used to dealing with this kind of problem, there was concern about inviting people from southern countries of various backgrounds from around the world to Prague and then having a melee. But there will be vigorous protest in the street.
Between The Lines: The World Bank and International Monetary Fund, as you said before, are under a lot of scrutiny they hadn't had before. I just read, as I'm sure you did, that the Bank is expected to sign some documents in Prague that will offer debt relief to some of the poorest nations in the world. Maybe you could give us your assessment of that offer, and do you think that's a result of the pressure being applied now by groups all over the world?
Soren Ambrose: Well, I'm certain that it is a result of the pressure mounted over the last several years by the Jubilee 2000 campaign over a longer period by debt campaigners including the 50 years is Enough Network, and specifically over the last year by the campaign seen in Seattle and Washington.
But the problem is that what they're offering is nothing more than rhetoric. It's just a matter of them offering another much vaunted improvement to programs that are already so flawed as to be worthless. As an article in the New York Times quite startlingly revealed, Treasury Department officials themselves have said this is window dressing to try to suck the air out of the demonstrations in Prague.
To learn how you can act locally, contact the Network by calling (202) IMF-BANK or visit their Web site at www.50years.org
To view independent coverage of the Prague protests, visit the Independent Media Center's Prague Web site at: http://prague.indymedia.org
Scott Harris is WPKN Radio's public affairs director and executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending Sept. 29, 2000.
To listen to this interview in RealAudio visit our Web site at http://www.btlonline.org. To find this interview in our archives and other related interviews, see http://www.wpkn.org/wpkn/news/btl092900.html http://www.wpkn.org/wpkn/news/gopconvention.html
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