Global Notebook 5/98

World Bank Questions Washington Consensus

LONDON – Many of the tough conditions imposed on poor, debt-ridden countries by international financial institutions have been challenged by the World Bank’s own chief economist. In a little-noticed January speech, Joseph Stiglitz charged that policies such as trade liberalization, deregulation, and privatization are "sometimes misguided" and "neglect fundamental issues."

Stiglitz criticized what he described as the Washington Consensus, which holds that private markets will produce efficient allocations and growth if government gets out of the way. "I do not believe in blanket statements like, Ă”Government is worse than markets’," he said. "I have argued that government has an important role in responding to market failures, which are a general feature of any economy." He also attacked the IMF’s obsession with inflation control, criticized policies that create unemployment in the name of efficiency, and argued that budget deficits are acceptable if they involve wise spending.

To replace these flawed approaches, he calls for a Post-Washington Consensus that emphasizes increased living standards, improved health and education, equitable development, and "a greater degree of humility, the frank acknowledgment that we do not have all the answers." If the US had adhered to the current consensus, he notes, the recent expansion of the US economy "would have been thwarted."

Stiglitz’s criticisms are part of a growing war within the World Bank. Although Bank President James Wolfensohn and others want radical changes, officials close to the IMF and those dealing with Africa are resisting.

Meanwhile, a movement led by the London-based Jubilee 2000 Coalition is campaigning to cancel the excessive debt owed by the world’s poorest nations by the year 2000. The idea is based on the biblical concept of the Jubilee year, when slaves are freed and debts scrapped.


New Court to Target Tyrants

NEW YORK – Brutal rulers who violate human rights may soon have to consider a new consequence – being charged by a proposed International Criminal Court (ICC).

Modeled on the Nuremberg tribunals, the new court will likely be established after a June conference in Rome. More than 100 countries are expected to provide initial ratification.

The main issue to be resolved is whether the ICC should be allowed to independently initiate investigations and prosecute suspects. A compromise proposal under consideration would give permanent members of the UN Security Council the ability to veto. But that, warns Human Rights Watch counsel Richard Dicker, would make it an "ad hoc tribunal that can be turned on and off like a faucet to suit their economic and political needs."

Some of the ICC’s most ardent supporters are nations in Latin America and Africa that have seen how impunity can undermine the rule of law. But Britain has also broken ranks with other Security Council members, notably France and the US, and called for an independent court.


Burundi’s Proxy Targets

BUJUMBURA – Upon taking power in a July 1996 coup, Major Pierre Buyoya pledged to end ethnic conflict in Burundi. But since then, says the director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, "he has overseen a massive campaign of military violence against Burundi’s civilian population." In a new report, Proxy Targets: Civilians in the Civil War in Burundi, HRW describes the regime’s roundup of civilians, looting and burning of homes, and the killing of women, children, and elderly people who resist being moved into "regroupment camps."

The creation of these camps has seriously disrupted agricultural production, leading to chronic malnutrition. Thousands have died due to overcrowding and the absence of sanitation and medical treatment. Soldiers have summarily executed people accused of supporting rebel groups, engaged in rape, and instituted forced labor. HRW calls on the government to close the camps and let civilians return to their homes.

Since the current civil war began in 1993, it adds, Hutu rebel groups also have targeted civilians. "Any settlement must provide for investigation of abuses by all sides," says HRW’s Peter Takirambudde. "Otherwise, a lasting peace will not be possible." For more information: (212) 290-4700;


Helping Hand for Chiapas Farmers

CANTON, MA – In response to the December massacre in Acteal, Chiapas, the Boston-based fair trade coffee company Equal Exchange has created a fund to assist coffee farmers affected by the attack. According to a spokesperson for La Union Majomut, a 1200-member coffee coop, their processing plant has been occupied by the military and farmers fear violence if they complete the harvest.

Equal Exchange has worked with the coop for three years. Although Majomut currently can’t provide coffee, the US company has agreed to purchase its exports at the next harvest. In addition, it hopes to raise $10,000, by making its own contribution and encouraging its customers and partners to participate.

Access to land in Chiapas is a perpetual problem, with over 90 percent of coffee growers farming on an average of 11 acres, while 100 wealthy plantations control 220 acres each. "We feel it is critical for the US coffee community – both retailers and consumers – to come together and support these small farmers," says Equal Exchange President Jonathan Rosenthal. For more information, contact Eliza Brown at (781) 830-0303, x241.


TV Exposes Assassin School

SAN FRANCISCO – In March, Father Roy Bourgeois, who went from Vietnam War hero to anti-war activist, began his most recent prison sentence for protesting the long involvement of the School of the Americas (SOA) in human rights atrocities. But his work to abolish what’s become known as a "school of assassins" could be given a large boost by the release of a new documentary that began airing in April on public television stations.

Father Roy: Inside the School of Assassins examines both the history of the Fort Benning-based training center, whose curriculum has included instruction on torture, and the Maryknoll priest’s struggle to shut the school down. The explosive one-hour expose, directed by Robert Richter and narrated by Susan Sarandon, includes an interview with a US doctor who actually used human beings as torture "guinea pigs" at the school, and explores its numerous links to high-ranking human rights violators.

In 1996, the Pentagon released documents confirming the SOA’s use of training materials that condoned execution, abuse, and false imprisonment, finally refuting the charge that criticism was unwarranted and paranoid.

Initial airing of the documentary was slated to coincide with a White House rally and vigils at US embassies in Latin America. Contact your PBS affiliate for local play dates.


New Rights for Maquila Workers

MANAGUA – Female workers in Nicaragua have won a 10-point Code of Ethics from the government that will regulate labor relations and conditions for workers in the country’s free-trade zones. Signed in March by Labor Minister Wilfredo Navarro, the new code – the first of its kind in Central America – recognizes the demands of female maquila workers for equal pay, and protection from both discrimination because of pregnancy and abuse by factory owners.

Nicaragua’s maquila sector has been growing rapidly, from 1300 workers and $3 million in exports in 1992, the year when Las Mercedes free-trade zone was re-activated, to 15,000 workers and $200 million in exports last year. In the next five years, the government hopes to create up to 50,000 more free-trade zone jobs.

The code, ratified by the government and the country’s mostly Asian foreign companies, guarantees periodical medical examinations, training programs, and social security benefits, and prohibits hiring workers under 14 years old.

"The most difficult task will be to ensure that the companies abide by it," said union leader Sandra Ramos, coordinator of Maria Elena Cuadra, an organization for working and unemployed women. To this end, a monitoring group will be formed, and the Labor Ministry will be asked to inspect payroll sheets in order to ensure that maquila salaries match the code’s stipulations.


Black Farmers Go to Court

AUSTIN, TX – Claiming that they’ve lost over a million acres of land due to government racism, Black farmers have taken their fight for justice to the UN. "This is a national crisis," says John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, which recently asked the UN to investigate. "They’ve stolen our land. They’ve taken away our livelihood. Now they’re trying to take away our heritage."

For decades, charges of discrimination and unjust treatment have been ignored by the US Department of Agriculture. Frustrated, the farmers filed a class action lawsuit in March, asking government compensation for years of foot dragging, denial of loans, and unjust foreclosures. Unless the matter is settled through mediation, a trial will begin early next year. Eight mediations were conducted in February, but since then discussions have stopped.

The main sticking point is the government’s argument that claims presented prior to 1994 aren’t recoverable. That would rule out up to 85 percent. Meanwhile, says a lawyer for the farmers, "foreclosures are occurring while farmers are trying to get the issue resolved." An immediate moratorium on the sale of southern farm land has been requested.

Court-appointed mediator Michael Lewis calls the government statute of limitation claim "a real barrier," suggesting it could be "a smoke screen." And Rev. Joseph Lowery, chairman of the Black Leadership Forum, says his organization will approach groups like the NAACP and Urban League for support. "There is no more significant group of people than those who till the soil," he says.