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Published on Saturday, April 29, 2000 in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Here's What The IMF/World Bank Protests
Are All About
by Larry Weiss
 
In an April 18 editorial, the Star Tribune asks what was the point of the April 16-17 International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank protests in Washington? Carefully echoing the spin dished out by the agencies' public relations departments, the editorial derides the protesters as naively unaware that the IMF and World Bank are already focused on poverty reduction

The editorial board's erroneous smugness seems to come from ignoring voluminous evidence of the negative on-the-ground results of IMF/WB structural adjustment programs. It may have been exacerbated by the failure of the Star Tribune's news pages to enlighten them on the issue.

Structural adjustment programs require poor countries to impose harsh austerity measures on their populations and to turn their economies into sweatshop-based export platforms. Failure to do so can result in a cutoff of international credit -- a catastrophe scenario for their economies. More than 90 countries have suffered structural adjustment.

Despite nearly two decades of protest against these policies in dozens of countries -- frequently reaching the level of full-scale rioting in cities of the global south -- the Star Tribune has virtually never printed the phrase "structural adjustment." When the paper does report on the more sensational reactions to these policies, it routinely fails to connect the reaction to the cause.

Recently the Star Tribune carried two articles about intense civil unrest in Bolivia. They accurately ascribed the cause to a steep hike in water rates. But they failed to mention that the increase -- which pushed water costs to 20 percent or more of total income for many residents -- was the result of one of those World Bank "poverty reduction" programs that the editorial board gushed over.

This particular piece of poverty reduction entailed forcing Bolivia to sell the Cochabamba city water system to a subsidiary of California-based Bechtel Corp. The company, guaranteed a 16 percent rate of profit, immediately doubled to tripled water rates. The World Bank mandated that none of its funds could be used to hold down the price hike, even for the poorest (www.americas.org -- click on Bolivian Water War).

The paper also failed to report the statement of Arthur Mbanefo, Nigeria's ambassador to the United Nations and chairman of the G-77 group of the world's poorest countries, that "I, for one, support the demonstrators. Many countries have rejected the results of various policy initiatives of the World Bank and IMF. We are very supportive of demonstrations that could forcefully handle those concerns."

Even if the editorial board could not find condemnation of structural adjustment by those most affected in its own paper's news pages, however, there are many other sources it could have tapped. Doug Hellinger, for example, is executive director of the Washington-based nonprofit Development GAP. His group is the U.S. partner in a network of nongovernmental organizations working in 12 African, Latin American and Asian countries documenting IMF/WB effects.

Hellinger testified on the issue at the Treasury Department last October. "A review recently completed by the Development GAP of data from a number of official and academic sources on a total of 83 Third World countries that have received substantial IMF financing during the past 20 years supports what people living around the world under IMF-financed programs already know firsthand. In most of the countries studied, unemployment increased, real wages fell, income distribution became more unequal, poverty rose, food production per capita declined, external debt grew, and social expenditures were cut. . . ."

The Jubilee 2000 Coalition (www.jubilee2000uk.org/index.html) -- comprising hundreds of faith-based and other organizations in more than 40 countries -- puts it more starkly, noting that 7 million children die each year as a result of the debt crisis. This is Jubilee 2000's lens for viewing IMF/WB structural adjustment programs because external debt is the lever the IMF and World Bank use to require nations to accept structural adjustment. A 1992 UNICEF report looking at the first 10 years of structural adjustment attributed the millions of unnecessary child deaths directly to structural adjustment.

These are just a few examples of the many global networks that have experienced, studied, and reported on the impacts of World Bank and IMF policies. They eloquently testify that IMF and World Bank structural adjustment policies increase poverty, destroy communities and damage the environment, despite the hype about poverty reduction and development. Somehow the Star Tribune's editorial board missed this wealth of readily available information. Luckily, the protesters in Washington did not.

The point of the protests was clear to millions of people around the world. The real question is why the Star Tribune tried so hard to deny the obvious.

-- Larry Weiss, Minneapolis. Project coordinator, Resource Center of the Americas.

Copyright 2000 Star Tribune.

###

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