New Internationalist

When will the world’s financial powers learn?

Last week I read reports that the powers that are, the World Bank and IMF, admit they may have been mistaken in their treatment of Greece. Their holier than thou, cracking the whip attitude, beating down an economy that was already in desperate straits is sickening. The harsh, belt tightening exercises demanded of Greece, could have been ‘a bit extreme’, our experts in the highest echelons of world high finance now feel. How magnanimous of them.

The Greeks, together with alternative economists on every continent, were telling them so, but they wouldn’t listen. Since their inception after the Second World War, the Bretton Woods twins have ridden roughshod over countries they could bully. Yet they are allowed to get away with it, time and again. It’s only the poor who suffer and their voices are stifled by their own corrupt governments eager to get loans from the Bank.

I first encountered opposition to the World Bank’s funding policies as a greenhorn journalist in the early eighties, when I covered a story in the erstwhile Bihar state, now Jharkhand. Adivasis were protecting their indigenous forests from a huge World Bank funded project designed to cut down ancient sal trees, adivasi sacred groves and other local ecosystems in order to grow teak forests for commercial purposes. Environmentalists will shudder, and even most Bank people will cringe in embarrassment, but, they were giving millions for commercial forests totally ignoring environmental concerns. Actually, enabling the Bihar government to cut down historic, old forests.

Mexico and India went through IMF and Bank conditionalities when they too, were forced to go cap in hand, begging for money, desperate because of a shambolic, crippled economy. I wrote a New Internationalist article about the conditions demanded by the Bank and IMF, imperiously imposed in the early 1990s. In those days, essential food prices shot up, leaving poor people starving, while price wars offering cheaper ice-creams, burgers and pizza, proliferated. The Indian economy is presumably still galloping, but how its affecting the poorest in the country is an entirely different question. Most corporate houses are laughing all the way to the bank. But malnutrition and hunger in our worst states hasn’t improved very much.

The economy must gallop to keep up with China, is the mantra in business circles. At what cost, no one wants to admit. In adivasi dominated states, people are being pushed off their lands, pauperized, beaten up, jailed and displaced because the mineral rights beneath their homes must be exploited for the economy to continue racing ahead. That entire communities are destroyed, their millenia old habitat wrenched from them with brutal paramilitary troops beating, killing and jailing innocent people who are merely fighting for the right to exist, is not an issue. Morality, justice, right and wrong is not a consideration when poor people are asked to sacrifice the little they hold on to, because someone in Delhi or their state capital, decrees progress is most important.

The scenario is repeated in Africa, South America and different parts of Asia. Australia, with its Mabo judgement, declaring that the rights of aboriginal people going back millennia, is paramount – it created history. It’s a judgement feared and hated by all who exploit aboriginal or indigenous people.

But Mabo has given activists around the world, a new lease of life, to fight for these rights when the future looks really bleak in the never ending battle against corporates grabbing land for mining rights. It’s a battle that continues. Perhaps some day, the spirits of the hundreds of millions of indigenous people who perished in the world’s largest, most glossed over genocide, will see justice for their descendants. And finally rest in peace. I see a very long, hard struggle ahead. But indigenous people have patience as an inbuilt trait. God knows, they’ve had centuries of practice

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  1. #1 Jonathan 09 Jun 13

    As this post makes clear ( the IMF has a history of mea culpas. It's clear that these 'mistakes' are in fact 'business as usual' and that the primary aim of IMF is to protect the interests of developed world nations and elite interests at the expense of the countries and populations they're meant to be 'helping'.

  2. #2 Ludwig Pesch 09 Jun 13

    Thanks a lot for summarizing these omissions and crimes so succinctly - all committed in the name of progress, as so often. The ’economy must gallop’ - a tall order indeed given the fact that it's the poor who carry the payload towards universal access to infinite consumer bliss; with ’only’ those doing the real work - indeed, feeding us - excluded from the benefits. If they even survive the ordeal to ask for the privilege.
    So hard to think of any change of minds that would force decision makers to change course, to acquire just that modicum of decency to even consider that others have legitimate demands too.
    Some shock therapy then?
    I just watched a flash mob video clip professionally made at great expense on behalf of a major Dutch bank (formerly public sector, and, after a wild free market gambling spree, itself in need of being helped out by taxpayers): ’Onze helden zijn terug!’ (’Our heroes are back’); the title refers to the often quoted, rather reckless ’VOC mentality’ and also to Rembrandt's painting The Night Watch. The clip was made on the occasion of re-opening the national Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam); see;feature=player_embedded.
    If somebody could enact in similar surroundings the fate of the most vulnerable, their homes, crops and even health if not life brutally snatched away for no legitimate reason whatsoever; under the eyes of governments entrusted with looking after their welfare - would it make a difference? Move onlookers' attention, even priories from ice creams and latest fashion? Back to basic human needs and solidarity? Or, would they (unlike seen in this charming act), call the police for shocking their kids for life thereby undermining their consumer confidence and values for life? Hard to tell ...

  3. #3 roopa 09 Jun 13

    I think until you’see’ the interconnectedness of the world, you will continue to think in this fragmented way that isolates and constantly builds walls.....ending up in WB and IMF type solutions to problems we have created. The solution will never come through a rational response to the issues, maybe we need little children to point to the facts of the matter, as in the Emperor is not wearing any clothes! God knows we don't like to look truth in the eye ourselves - it is too devastating in the changes it demands!

  4. #4 Anuradha krishna 12 Jun 13

    When will the world's financial powers learn? This is the plea( with more than just a hint of desperation) of all of us who work with indigenous communities.You have put into words so clearly what all of us feel and experience but are unable to express.

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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