World Bank Blinks, Then Blames Protesters
BARCELONA — The World Bank has a new tactic to deal with resistance: cancel a meeting and blame its critics. In May, Bank spokeswoman Caroline Antsey explained that the Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE), originally slated for Barcelona on June 25-27, wouldn’t be held, except possibly online.
"Despite our efforts to reach out to some of the groups planning demonstrations, and to include them in the conference, the intention of many of the groups … is not to join the debate or to contribute constructively to the discussion, but to disrupt it," she charged. "It is time to take a stand against this kind of threat to free discussion."
Claiming the Bank merely wanted to hold a gathering for academics on poverty reduction, Antsey compared protesters to book burners and those who undermine academic freedom. But the "debate" may proceed via the Internet, with discussions and papers posted on the conference web site.
"Poverty alleviation is not or has ever been the World Bank’s main agenda," responds Warcry, a US activist who planned to be in Barcelona. Others point to the irony of the Bank’s new spin. Activists are called a "threat to free discussion" when the Bank, IMF, and other international groups routinely meet behind closed doors. The best example may be the six-year FTAA negotiations, which might still be secret if not for the thousands who protested in Quebec City in April.
In reality, few cities want to be the next Quebec or Seattle. "The fact that the World Bank has canceled its meeting because of anticipated protest shows how successful this movement has been in terms of confronting these institutions," notes Warcry.
While the movement to stop corporate globalization won’t have the chance to confront the Bank on Spanish streets, it may still have an impact. "If they are going to meet online," predicts the activist, "we have plenty of people who are tech savvy enough to disrupt this meeting via hactivism."
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Pentagon Develops "People Zapper"
LONDON — The next time people try to disrupt a trade summit, they could face an energy beam weapon that stuns them with invisible microwaves. According to the UK’s Observer newspaper, British police have already expressed interest in the US Vehicle Mounted Active Denial System (VMADS), a "people zapper" radar dish mounted on the back of a tank or jeep.
"It’s part of this new political correctness on the battlefield," explains a Pentagon spokesperson. "The problem today in situations like Palestine is that you have adversaries mixing with innocent civilians. Forces now need a suite of weapons for different situations."
The Pentagon, which is testing the weapon on goats and humans, insists the beam causes no permanent damage, yet forces a crowd or enemy force to retreat. VMADS harnesses "directed energy beams" found in kitchen microwaves. The beams penetrate the skin, quickly heating the surface. This triggers a pain reaction. When the subject moves out of range, the pain stops.
Scientists have spent $40 million developing VMADS at the Air Force Research Laboratory in New Mexico. It’s the most sophisticated development to date in the search for the ultimate non-lethal weapon. Another is a "glue gun" that fires a web of resin from a gun-mounted aerosol. The resin hardens around targets, paralyzing them.
Jane’s Defense Weekly reports that the "non-lethal" nature of some weapons may "encourage military forces to use them directly against civilians and civilian targets."
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Sri Lankan Children Lost in Web of Danger
COLOMBO — Sri Lanka’s efforts to shed its reputation as a haven for pedophilic tourists could be jeopardized by another menace — child pornography on the Internet. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), about 600 Sri Lankan kids, all boys, are already involved and also may be suffering abuse.
Conservatively estimated, over 15,000 boys are used in the local sex trade. But Sri Lanka may also be emerging as the biggest producer of Internet child porn. Stopping such crimes isn’t a top priority, however, especially compared to fighting terrorism, smuggling, and drug-related gang warfare. It’s a huge challenge: The Internet lets people sidestep local laws, transferring images in an unregulated environment.
Local authorities basically depend on Western groups to police the Net. But a hopeful sign is growing interest in using the Extra Territorial Law, an international agreement designed to stop pedophiles from visiting foreign countries to exploit children. In 1993, Germany was the first to adopt it, followed by other European countries, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. As a result, a Dutchman and four Swiss nationals have been jailed.
Sri Lanka’s leading child protection group thinks the law — which covers child abuse, trafficking, prostitution, and forced labor — could also be effective in fighting Internet crime. But this won’t be easy. The roots of the problem are poverty and ignorance, and tourists aren’t the only threats.
Many pedophiles are businessmen and investors, says activist Sunil Gamage. "They are welcomed with open arms and made comfortable with many a concession." At the same time, poor parents of sexually abused boys often turn a blind eye, accepting whatever money is earned.
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Russia to Resist NATO Expansion
MOSCOW — Russia’s lower house of parliament, the Duma, has overwhelmingly approved a resolution against NATO’s eastward expansion, calling on President Vladimir Putin to step up resistance. It also proposed that the Duma delegation to NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly not participate in events held in countries seeking to join.
The Duma is concerned about NATO’s plans to admit Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, which could happen in 2002. The NATO Assembly was scheduled to meet in Lithuania this May. "This action should be considered as yet another step towards NATO by certain Baltic countries," the resolution said.
Duma members who travel to countries that are potential members will also "conduct active work to explain the negative consequences of the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization."
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Chavez Boosts China Ties
BEIJING — While visiting China in May, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issued a warning about the "law of the jungle" brought about by globalization, meanwhile praising efforts to expand economic ties between his country and China. "We cannot let others impose unreasonable decisions on us," he announced, charging that the process of globalization favors survival of the strongest at the expense of the weakest.
Relations between the two countries have improved since Chavez took office in l999. Last year, bilateral trade volume hit $351 million, up 86 percent over the previous year. In April, Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited Venezuela during his swing through the Americas.
While expressing serious reservations about the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), Chavez sounds eager to promote more trade and investment with the People’s Republic. Of course, he’s also looking for help with petroleum and natural gas exploration, as well as construction of ports, airports, and roads. China’s spin is that bilateral ties are growing, while both nations condemn US interference in their regions.
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Shooting Down the Debt Vultures
LIMA — The international campaign for debt relief has a new objective: US legislation to prevent rogue financial funds — known as vultures — from speculating with the debt of developing countries.
Peru recently fell victim to one such company, Elliot Associates, which bought $20 million in debt papers for $11 million in 1996. When the country tried to exchange them in order to restructure its debt, however, Elliot sued to recoup the entire face value. A US federal appeals court awarded the fund $58 million — the debt, plus court costs, fines, and interest.
Rogue funds commonly speculate in developing countries, buying debt papers at a discount. Since poor countries can’t afford first-rate lawyers, the vultures usually win subsequent lawsuits, sometimes getting three times their original investment. Such cases have been seen in Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Panama, Poland, Congo Kinshasa, and Turkmenistan.
Debt campaigners are seeking help from Sen. Hillary Clinton and other US lawmakers to prevent future abuses. With Peru facing a presidential election, they’re also lobbying local politicians for long-term solutions, including a debt audit and renegotiation. Russian and Japanese loans also may have been mishandled as part of the corruption scandal that led to the resignation of Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori.
"Jubilee 2000 is calling attention to the injustice of this situation," says Ismael Munoz, coordinator of Peru’s campaign. "As spending on health and education is reduced, what they’re doing is mortgaging the country’s human capital." In the long run, Jubilee groups in Peru and Britain urge the creation of an international arbitration forum "that protects debtors, using market rules."
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Will Regionalism Derail WTO Talks?
MADRID — Plans for a new round of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Qatar this November could hit an unanticipated roadblock. Even the head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a "rich man’s club" of 29 strong economies, foresees trouble. No, not protesters. Rather, it’s that regional trade deals are becoming more attractive to countries in search of wider markets.
"Can we be optimistic about a new round in the near future? I would like to be," said OECD Secretary-General Donald Johnston, a Canadian economist. "But I am more pessimistic than many others whom I listened to in Paris," he added, referring to a May meeting of OECD trade ministers. The shift toward regional trade pacts was also evident during recent trade talks in Quebec City.
Backed by the US, European Union, and Japan, WTO Director-General Mike Moore wants to wrap up a new agreement in principle by August, hoping to avoid the kind of disputes that marred the 1999 Seattle gathering. But some key developing countries — India, Malaysia, and Brazil — as well as smaller players in Africa, are resisting the drive. They insist that the problems with older accords be solved first.
One major concern is anti-dumping rules, which bigger countries, especially the US, reportedly use to block exports. There are also differences between the big powers. The EU and Japan, for example, want to include investment and competition policy in the agenda. Washington wants a more limited scope.
Speaking to an international airlines group in Madrid, Johnston said that "the next WTO round must be a development round," aimed at improving the lot of the world’s 1.2 billion people subsisting on less that one dollar a day.
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Private Airwaves Could Be Next
WASHINGTON, DC — Imagine a world in which global media conglomerates own all the airwaves and trade them as "private electronic real estate." According to author Jeremy Rifkin, that world is being seriously contemplated.
In February, 37 leading US economists signed a joint letter asking the Federal Communications Commission to let broadcasters lease spectrum they currently license from the government in secondary markets. It’s the "opening salvo in a radical plan to wrest control of the entire spectrum from governments around the world, and make the radio frequencies a private preserve of global media giants," warns Rifkin. "If they succeed, the nation state will have lost one of its last remaining vestiges of real power — the ability to regulate access to broadcast communications within its own geographic borders."
Several years ago, the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank with ties to former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich, issued a report calling for conversion of the electromagnetic spectrum to private property. Under the plan, broadcasters with existing licenses would be granted title to the spectrum they currently used and allowed to develop, sell, and trade it. Unused parts would subsequently be sold to commercial enterprises and reconstituted as private electronic real estate. The FCC would be abolished.
Congressional hearings were conducted, but the notion sounded a bit too ambitious — that is, until George W. Bush moved into the White House.
The new thinking, says Rifkin, is to begin with partial privatization, allowing licensees to sell and lease their spectrum in secondary markets. This would provide the foundation for a final move from government licensing to a future sell-off. Other nations would be encouraged to follow suit. If some balked at the idea of relinquishing control over their airwaves, trade sanctions could be imposed to force compliance.