Boycott Hits World Bank Where It Hurts
SAN FRANCISCO– Following Berkeley and Oakland, CA, San Francisco recently became the third US city to pass a resolution agreeing not to invest in World Bank bonds. Similar initiatives are being pressed in Sacramento, Boulder, CO, and Madison, WI. The Communications Workers of America, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, and several socially responsible investment firms have also signed on. Students across the US and Canada are mobilizing on campuses.
According to the Center for Economic Justice, which is promoting the boycott, the World Bank gets 80 percent of its money from bond sales, often purchased by local governments. Getting local governments to pass the resolution sends a powerful message, the center says.
Writing from Oakland, organizers Rosalyn Fay and Laura Livoti explain that conservative officials there responded to the argument that the boycott poses no financial risk. "We are not asking them to divest from any World Bank bonds they might hold," they explain. "We are only asking that they pledge not to buy any in the future."
It also helps to mention the US House appropriations bill calling on the Bank to eliminate one of its harshest structural adjustment requirements — user fees in education and health facilities. While US children can attend primary and secondary school for free, for example, the World Bank often requires poor children in the Global South to pay tuition, resulting in the under-education of girls. For more information or sample boycott resolutions, contact the Center for Economic Justice, 1830 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20009; (202) 299-0020; or visit www.worldbankboycott.org.
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Ivorian Uprising Sends General Packing
ABIDJAN– After decades of enduring corrupt or incompetent military dictators — from Zaire’s Mobutu and Nigeria’s Sani Abacha to Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Ghana’s Jerry Rawling — Africans may be learning how nonviolent civilians can overpower guns. The breakthrough (of a sort) came in the Ivory Coast, where General Robert Guei was literally chased out of office in October by people who poured into the streets. Like the more famous Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia, Guei initially refused to accept his election loss to an opposition leader.
When Guei dismissed the Electoral Commission and ordered his Interior Minister to declare him the winner, opponents marched on the presidential palace and made a run for the state TV and radio stations. Eventually, the military chief, who came to power in a December 1999 coup, fled the capital by helicopter.
Peace isn’t certain, however, since new president Laurent Gbagbo still must reach an accord with Allassane Ouattara. The former Prime Minister was disqualified from running for president in 1999 on the basis of spurious charges that he wasn’t a "full Ivorian citizen." Latent xenophobia has potential to seed a civil war.
There’s also potential for religious strife. Ouattara’s backers are mainly Muslim, while Ghagbo draws support from Christians and animists. In the meantime, a popular uprising shows that Europe isn’t the only place where people power can trump a tyrant.
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Gulf War Embargo Soils Iraq Water
BAGHDAD — A declassified US intelligence document shows the US military targeted Iraq’s water system with full knowledge of the terrible consequences to civilians, a clear violation of international law. The document predicts contamination problems in Iraq. "Failing to secure supplies will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population," it states, and "this could lead to increased incidents, if not epidemics, of disease and certain pure-water dependent industries becoming incapacitated."
According to Article 54 of the UN Geneva Convention, "It is prohibited to attack, destroy or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population," including water.
During the Gulf War, US forces attacked and destroyed 31 municipal water and sewage facilities, pouring sewage into the Tigris River. In Basra province, the sewage system collapsed. Water purification plants were incapacitated.
The problem is compounded by the UN embargo, which prevents import of water purification materials. Despite increasing epidemics of hepatitis, cholera and polio, the UN embargo has prevented the restoration of Iraq’s water system.
An estimated 200,000 Iraqis have died from drinking contaminated water. Iraq’s Health Ministry says that more than 10,000 people died in July 2000 alone due to embargo related diseases, including 7,457 children.
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Militias Thrive as Aid Groups Dither
DILI — Despite repeated promises, Indonesia has yet to disarm the military-supported militias that control refugee camps in West Timor. More than 100,000 East Timorese have been confined in the camps since 1999, with little food or medical care.
After the murder of aid workers in September, most international agencies withdrew. Since then, the militias have cemented their position. Few refugees are returning to East Timor, and supplies are running low.
"The US administration must heighten pressure on Indonesia to comply with their promised disarmament campaign," argues John M. Miller, who works with the East Timor Action Network (ETAN). "The most effective way to ensure compliance is to put conditions on disbursement of donor funds."
According to ETAN, such conditions should include verified disarmament and disbanding of militia groups, arrest of militia leaders, guaranteed safety for humanitarian workers, and the right of refugees to choose between returning or settling in Indonesia without fear or intimidation.
The Consultative Group on Indonesia, which includes the World Bank, IMF, both the Asian and Islamic Development Banks, plus donors like the US, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Germany, France, Spain, New Zealand, and Australia, has pledged $5.3 billion in aid. The US and World Bank say aid might be held up if the militias aren’t stopped. But so far neither has acted. To learn more, go to www.etan.org.
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Commitment Gap in EU Defense
LONDON — Unless Europe musters a credible independent military force, NATO could dominate continental security well into the future. "European leaders speak of a European defense capacity but have not voted the funds to finance it," argues John Chipman, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which recently released a blistering report on the international military balance.
The west’s three permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, Britain, and France — account for 80 percent of the world’s weapons sales. Yet they appear incapable of mounting effective peacekeeping operations, the report notes. "The UN continues to overreach, approving ambitious mandates and deploying inadequately supported forces in volatile situations," adds Chipman.
NATO countries in Europe are also having difficult handling what looks like an increasingly lengthy commitment in Kosovo. "Even those with all-professional forces are finding they are over-committed in Europe and beyond."
Britain and France have invested considerable political and diplomatic capital in setting up a joint EU military force, which would conduct peacekeeping operations without the US or NATO. In December, France wants to cap its stint as EU president at the European summit with a firm commitment to create a credible rapid-reaction force with at least 60,000 troops. The IISS report says it’s doubtful the Europeans can realize this ambition.
Meanwhile, 100,000 people were killed as a direct result of armed conflicts in the last year, 60 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
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A Small Step for Hawai’ian Rights
WASHINGTON, DC – Hawai’ian Natives, who filed a federal lawsuit to regain their stolen land in 1998, received some good news this September when the US Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved a bill granting federal recognition of "government-to-government" relations. If passed, the legislation would confer status similar to the relationships enjoyed by 556 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes.
Some Natives, especially secession proponents, oppose the move, saying it would insert federal authority too far into sovereignty issues and threaten their state and federal benefits. Hawai’ian Congresswoman Patsy Mink has declined to support the House version of the bill, preferring that it include a referendum among Hawai’ians on what form of self-governance they want before pursing federal recognition.
The legislation emerged after the US Supreme Court struck down the state’s Hawai’ians-only restriction for voting in Office of Hawai’ian Affairs elections, calling it unconstitutional racial discrimination. Hawai’ian leaders fear that could become the basis for future court decisions dismantling more than 180 federal and state programs benefiting Hawai’ians.
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Sri Lankan Monks Fight for Religion
COLOMBO — Although Buddhism teaches non-violence, compassion and tolerance, Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka engaged in both political and violent attacks to overthrow President Chandrika Kumaratunge in recent parliamentary elections. Hundreds of monks united in August 2000 to defeat the Peoples Alliance government, accused of attempting to create Tamil Eelam, an independent federal state demanded by minority Tamil separatists.
The Buddhist monks are opposed to an independent island state. Like most Sri Lankans, the monks believe it should be preserved for all communities in the country.
Tamils, who are mostly Hindu, are Sri Lanka’s major ethnic and linguistic group. The Buddhist monks are Sinhala speaking and fewer in number. Many Buddhists object to the involvement of the monks in politics, feeling this has divided and debased the sangha (monkhood).
Two of Buddhism’s most sacred items reside in Sri Lanka. One is a branch of the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment; the other is the Temple of the Tooth, reportedly containing one of the Buddha’s teeth. Both sites have been damaged by the Tamil Tiger, the separatist guerrilla group.
Among Buddhist monks, religion and politics have merged to create a sense of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism, a contrast to the Buddha’s teachings of tolerance and non-violence.
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India’s Supremes Fast Track Mega-Dam
DELHI – India’s giant Sardar Sarovar dam, regarded as a symbol of environmental, political and cultural calamity, has been given the go-ahead by India’s Supreme Court. The project has been blocked since 1994, when environmentalists lodged a case against the authorities. But now the Court has swept aside objections, saying the dam should be completed as quickly as possible.
The Narmada People’s Movement (NBA), which sprang up to oppose this and dozens of other big dams being built along the Narmada River, is the most formidable nonviolent movement since Gandhi spearheaded India’s struggle for independence. NBA leader Medha Patkar says the court’s action won’t end the fight. "The people have no option," she explains. "What will they do when they are evicted and they are not offered alternative land?"
The scheme to turn the Narmada into a series of reservoirs, bringing water and electricity to drought-prone regions, was conceived in 1948. It has all the hallmarks of the massive projects of that era. In 1993, the World Bank withdrew funding for the Sardar Sarovar after a fierce opposition campaign. The project’s key weakness is its failure to provide acceptable rehabilitation and resettlement for those whose land is inundated. More than 60 per cent of people displaced by various mega-dams are either tribal or members of the "scheduled castes," formerly known as "untouchables."
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Cuba’s Medical Aid Is Winning Converts
HAVANA – Until recently, Honduras was one of the few countries left that had no diplomatic ties with Cuba. But that changed in 1998, when 108 Cuban doctors provided humanitarian aid after Hurricane Mitch. Now the main street in Tegucigalpa has been renamed "Cuba Solidarity Street," and other Latin American countries are welcoming Cuban medical assistance with open arms.
The Latin American Medical School, launched by Fidel Castro last year, is part of a long-term plan to showcase Cuba as a medical power. It’s the first university campus in the world totally dedicated to free medical scholarships for the developing world and poor students from wealthy countries. Although US critics scoff at the idea, Cuba recently announced that the school will also be open to poor students from the US, with 500 places reserved for Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and other minorities.
Black Congressman Bernie Thomson of Mississippi, representing one of the poorest districts in the US, has embraced the offer. Challenging Washington, Cuba has offered to send doctors to Thomson’s state.
Although many Cubans lack medicines and the country’s hospitals depend on overseas donations, the government claims the campaign draws from the country’s strengths, including 66,000 doctors, an outstanding primary health care system, and new advances in vaccines, neurology, and other fields. For many Cubans, it’s also an act of global solidarity, one that may pose a challenge to free market domination of health care.