- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2000

Starhawk, a self-proclaimed witch from San Francisco, is looking forward to a repeat performance here over the next week of the December demonstrations that hobbled the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle.
"Seattle was only a beginning. We have before us the task of building a global movement to overthrow corporate control and create a new economy based on fairness and justice, on a sound ecology and a healthy environment, one that protects human rights and serves freedom," said the founder of the Reclaiming Pagan witch group.
Starhawk is in Washington with thousands of other demonstrators, mostly from the left of the political spectrum including labor activists, anarchists, environmentalists, human rights activists, ecumenical groups, socialists, communists, students and a smattering of fringe groups from witches to pie-throwing radicals.
What binds these groups is a common hatred of large, international corporations and organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which are holding their annual spring meetings April 16 and 17. Their common goal is to radically change or abolish the organizations.
The agenda of the dozens of groups that have signed up with the "Mobilization for Global Justice" and "50 Years Is Enough" coalitions sponsoring the demonstrations is to capitalize on the momentum and publicity they created in Seattle and generate the same kind of publicity here for their causes.
Besides parades of sign carriers, musicians and dancers will troop through the streets. Many of the demonstrators have been training to commit acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. That includes blocking traffic around the IMF and World Bank buildings, State Department and White House, and thwarting officials trying to attend meetings there.
As in Seattle, such actions could land them in jail. The Metropolitan Police have been preparing for months for what they expect to be extensive confrontations.
"The World Bank and the IMF, along with the WTO, are the major organs of globalization, the economic system that allows corporations to evade responsibility to communities and workers by moving their operations around the globe," said Starhawk in a note to fans and recruits on her Web site (www.reclaiming.org).
"I can't stand by complacently and watch the destruction of our lands, the pollution of our waters, and the impoverishment of the earth's peoples without doing something about it. These ideals have gotten me in trouble before and are likely to do so again."
Starhawk is organizing a cluster of witches and holding teach-ins on nonviolence and "magical activism training." She is planning to conduct a witch "ritual" before the April 16 demonstration.
Other demonstrators have more modest goals with mainstream backing. Jubilee 2000/USA is pushing for deeper debt relief for poor nations than the $27 billion in debt forgiveness already planned by the IMF and World Bank. It wants to eradicate the debt of 52 poor countries totaling $350 billion by the end of the year.
The Jubilee coalition, whose goals have been endorsed by religious leaders from Pope John Paul II to the Rev. Billy Graham, helped push through legislation in Congress last year to forgive U.S. loans to poor countries. It sponsored a kickoff rally for the demonstrations on the Mall yesterday.

Debt forgiveness is key

Debt forgiveness is a central demand of the demonstrators and, as a result, is likely to be an important topic of discussion in Congress and at the IMF-World Bank meetings next week.
But while talk about expediting debt relief to poor nations will be the focus, efforts by protesters to block the annual meetings could be unproductive. Unlike the Seattle trade talks, where demonstrators derailed a new round of world trade negotiations, nothing major was expected to be accomplished at the April meetings.
World Bank President James Wolfensohn, in an effort to reach out to the demonstrators, last week praised the "enormous contribution" made by Jubilee 2000 in boosting support for the bank's debt-relief program, which came out of a Group of Eight meeting in Cologne last year. The G-8 includes the seven top industrial nations plus Russia.
"While we do not agree with every aspect of how to address this challenge, we salute the coalition for helping to bring this critical issue to the world's attention," he said.
The bank and IMF have working ties with the Jubilee group, but Mr. Wolfensohn's offer to meet with leaders of the protest's more radical coalitions was spurned last week.
"The mobilization is not asking for a seat at the table," said Soren Ambrose, policy analyst with the "50 Years Is Enough" coalition. "The mobilization is demanding fundamental change in the way these decisions are made, and expanding the table by one or two seats will not do that."
The "50 Years" coalition wants the agencies to forgive virtually all of the loans they have made without conditions, including those to countries like Russia and South Korea. It would be an unprecedented transfer of wealth from the United States and other rich, industrialized countries that provide backing for the loans.
The demands go well beyond the $1 billion in debt write-offs the Clinton administration has proposed as the U.S. contribution to a worldwide debt-forgiveness program. That proposal is awaiting action in Congress.
The demands also depart in important ways from the reform agenda for the IMF and World Bank laid out by Republican leaders in Congress.
Congressional Republicans say wholesale forgiveness of loans to countries that can repay them would rip off American taxpayers, who underwrite a large part of the loans.
Republicans have been pushing for more stringent terms on IMF loans to countries in financial distress including higher interest rates. And some have endorsed a recent recommendation by a congressionally appointed commission that borrowing countries be required to allow free entry and exit of foreign banks as a condition of getting loans.
Harsh conditions on loans and debt forgiveness are repugnant to many of the demonstrators, who see them as evidence of the imperialistic intentions of the IMF, the World Bank and the United States.
"Our main sticking point is to get debt relief, countries would have to commit to take this horrible cure. The whole point of getting rid of the debt is so countries aren't under the thumb of the IMF and World Bank," Mr. Ambrose said.
The coalition wants to go beyond total debt forgiveness and require the World Bank and IMF to make reparations for perceived damages they have caused the economy, culture and environment of indebted countries. The groups blame the banks as well as global corporations for most Third World problems.
"After 20 years of the IMF and World Bank implementing 'trickle down' policies in Latin America and Africa, what we've seen is increasing profits by multinational corporations, and the poor are getting poorer," Mr. Ambrose said.
"The global AIDS crisis is evidence of the devastation that corporate dominance wreaks on the world," said Kate Sorensen of Act Up Philadelphia, which is sending seven busloads of demonstrators next weekend.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican and a leading IMF-reform advocate in Congress, doesn't take issue so much with the demonstrators' reform ideas as with the broad opposition many of them have to corporations, world commerce and development, said spokeswoman Michelle Davis.
"There is this odd left-right coalition" in favor of reforms like abolishing the economic-austerity programs the IMF imposes on borrowers and forgiving the debt of countries that are too poor to repay it, she said.
"But while we can agree on some level about IMF reform, the motivations are completely the opposite," she said. "We agree that we don't want the IMF imposing austerity programs, but the people doing the protest don't want any trade or corporate domination. That's their motivation fear of big companies. Our motivator is fear of big government."
Mr. Armey said he believes the course set out by many of the demonstrators, stifling trade, would end up starving most Third World countries of the capital and economic ties they need to grow and develop, dooming them to even deeper poverty, she said.
"These groups seem to be coming here to basically rail against open economies. That is a very negative message that is anti-development in the Third World. Their ultimate goal is closing down world trade."

Rallying against free trade

The demonstrators' concerns will be highlighted at a rally in front of the White House April 16 being sponsored by the American Federation of Labor, the United Steelworkers and other labor and environmental groups.
At that rally and another on Capitol Hill Wednesday, the demonstrators will protest President Clinton's proposed trade agreement with China to usher the Asian economic giant into the World Trade Organization.
Most Republican leaders in Congress disagree with the demonstrators' views, though they expect a tough fight on the China issue since House Democrats are under strong pressure from their constituencies to oppose the agreement.
"We believe that if you open Chinese markets to American products, that's good for the Chinese people because they have greater access to freedom and technology," Ms. Davis said. "Commercial freedom is always a precursor to democracy."
Jeffrey Sachs, a Harvard University economics professor who served on the congressional commission, was sympathetic with the demonstrators' causes. But he too said they have a "profound misunderstanding" of the importance of world commerce in improving the lot of poor countries.
"I'm a very strong believer in the role of international trade as a major lever for economic development and global prosperity. To the extent there are those marching that are saying multinational trade is evil or destructive of poor countries, I would disagree."
But there are big areas of agreement between the protesters and the reformers on the commission, he said.
The panel unanimously voted to abolish the IMF's long-term loan programs, for example. "There was no confidence that they were doing a good job or that it was appropriate for them to be involved. Why is a Washington-based institution trying to run 70 countries around the world?" he said.
And the protesters are on the right track with their demand that the debts of the poorest countries be forgiven, he said.
"What are the richest countries in the world doing trying to collect debts that are unpayable from the poorest countries in the world?"
He agreed that the World Bank also should get out of the lending business and refocus its aid on eliminating the conditions of poverty in the poorest African nations. Currently much of the bank's loans are made to "middle-income" nations in Latin America and Asia.

Secrecy, elitism questioned

The IMF and World Bank have invited criticism because they operate secretly and are controlled by an elite political club, as became apparent last month when the White House and European leaders feuded over who should be chosen the next managing director of the IMF, Mr. Sachs said.
Mr. Clinton did not like the European Union's first candidate, saying he did not have sufficient stature to command worldwide respect. But he rejected a strong candidate put forward by Third World countries the IMF's deputy managing director, Stanley Fischer, a naturalized American.
Mr. Clinton said he was holding out for a German candidate. The post traditionally has been filled by a European, while the World Bank president traditionally has been an American.
The feud finally was resolved when the European Union fielded a second candidate more to Mr. Clinton's liking Horst Roehler, president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
"It was incredible. President Clinton said, 'OK, we accept your man,' and then it was done. Do you think anybody asked India?" Mr. Sachs said. "We saw with absolute clarity that this institution is run mainly by the United States and a few other rich countries. When push comes to shove, they decide for the rest of the world."
Many of the bureaucrats and finance officials that work at the IMF and World Bank seem oblivious to the impression this elitism makes on the public because "they feel so powerful," he said. "This blindness to reality is the biggest problem."
Despite the IMF's "high rhetoric" last year about alleviating poverty around the world, it approved a program for Nigeria that demanded five times more in debt service payments than the country was putting into public health to fight the AIDS epidemic and other serious problems, Mr. Sachs said.
"The realities of the poorest countries are dire. In general in this country we don't focus a lot of attention on that," he said. "The poorest countries don't have their problems addressed year after year and nobody raises an eyebrow. You hear the rhetoric about debt relief but no solutions."
But the protesters are putting the spotlight on these issues, and if they can get the public to notice, they will have accomplished something important, he said.
"I'm rooting for a big public turnout," Mr. Sachs said, adding that he doesn't expect the presence of fringe groups at the demonstrations to detract from the larger message of reform.
"I was in Seattle and got to watch this spectacle close up. By far the most damage any fringe element made was violence," he said. "If the violence can be avoided, the core groups will carry a more responsible message."

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