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Media, G-8 leaders ignored peaceful protests in Genoa


After working for the Jubilee 2000 debt cancellation campaign for three years, I recently had the chance to spend 10 days in Genoa, Italy, during the anti-corporate globalization protests at the G-8 summit, this time as a representative of the newly formed Global AIDS Alliance. In Genoa, I saw scenes of brutality and destruction that I will never forget -- both police and protester violence (see story on Page 14).

But there were also many scenes, which, sadly, did not make the news, including those of creative, positive parades and open debates. Tens of thousands of peaceful activists took part, including from Catholic groups like British-based CAFOD as well as Pax Christi. These groups gathered in front of Genoa’s San Antonio Church, under a brilliantly colored banner made up of over 1,200 squares of cloth, embroidered by people from all over Ireland, calling for debt cancellation for impoverished countries. There was also a group that had just bicycled to Genoa from Britain to call for deeper cancellation. Like myself, these activists came to Genoa to call for an economic order based on solidarity and hope, not on spiritually empty consumerism, elite decision-making and stifling inequality.

Of course, there is no denying that a small minority destroyed property and attacked the police, presenting a far different image. These are activities that cannot be justified. Equally unjustifiable, police and prison guards’ response was indiscriminate and disproportionate; their shocking brutality merits a full judicial investigation and on-going concern. But, let’s not allow the images of violence to distract us from a key challenge at hand here in the United States. When we consider globalization, the biggest challenge is still this: a pervasive indifference among everyday people about issues we can and must confront, including the crisis of AIDS, indebtedness and poverty in Africa and other regions. Our task -- one I believe people of faith are up to -- is to turn this indifference around, in our own hearts and in the hearts of our political leaders.

To meet this challenge we need to know the facts. First, the Genoa summit was described by President Bush as one centered on poverty issues. In fact, there was little new action on either relieving debt or providing Africa and other regions with the money needed for a comprehensive response to problems such as AIDS. The Global Fund initiated by Kofi Annan, which would gather and help distribute up to $10 billion every year to effectively address AIDS and other illnesses, is still falling desperately short. The United States has pledged $300 million over the next two years for the fund, but this is far below a fair contribution from the wealthiest nation on the planet. It is scandalous that for all his talk about moral values and compassion, President Bush has still not signaled whether he is willing to support pending measures in Congress that would increase this paltry amount, while over 5,000 Africans die daily of AIDS.

And, on the issue of debt relief for impoverished countries, many seem wrongly convinced this problem has been solved. It’s true that thanks to the support of citizen lobbyists around the world, including a great many U.S. Catholics, debts are being reduced. Yet, we know now that overall payments are only being reduced by 27 percent -- far from a vision of “Jubilee.” Many of these countries are still spending more on servicing debts than on fighting AIDS or educating children, which just does not make good sense. That’s why the Jubilee USA Network, the successor to the Jubilee 2000 debt campaign, is now calling for deeper cancellation and has developed an action plan to achieve that. For more information click on www.jubileeusa.org

To our great disappointment, all President Bush and the other leaders agreed on at Genoa was to keep implementing the current, inadequate debt relief program. CIDSE, an international network of 14 Catholic aid agencies, immediately accused the G-8 leaders of “misleading public opinion.”

“More and more people are questioning the legitimacy of the G-8 acting as an exclusive club, claiming rights over the global economy,” CIDSE noted, but “the G-8 leaders have chosen to maintain the status quo -- a status quo that keeps millions of people as the invisible slaves of the world economy.”

Clearly, on these issues of global poverty, debt and AIDS there is much we need to do. We can simply shake our heads when we see the recurring images of protest-related violence on the TV screen. Or we can roll up our sleeves and get to work challenging the policies of our government that are leading to such frustration. Start out by calling your members of Congress at their local offices to urge funding to stop global AIDS.

According to news reports, President Bush plans to speak out about the importance of values and character in the coming months. Let’s insist he and our representatives in Congress do more than that by truly exemplifying global solidarity, generosity and compassion.

David Bryden is communications director for the Global AIDS Alliance, which can be reached at [www.globalaidsalliance.org]

National Catholic Reporter, August 24, 2001 [corrected 09/07/2001]