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IMF, World Bank are targest again


The upcoming International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting in Washington is prompting sweeping security measures that include the proposed erection of 9-foot-high concrete and metal barricades in key sections of the capital. The scope of the security measures, expected to cost between $28 and $30 million, suggests the trepidation that plans for protests and demonstrations are causing.

For some religious groups active in the anti-globalization movement, the violence that has taken place at previous IMF-World Bank meetings and which marred this summer’s G-8 summit in Genoa (NCR, Aug. 24), is causing them to take a second look at participating in protests during the meeting Sept. 29 and 30. Few, however, are inclined to stay away, saying that to do so is to cede the arena to the forces of violence. Instead, religious groups are organizing events that will underscore their commitment to a nonviolent presence.

“I don’t believe we just withdraw and leave the turf to those who want to choose violence,” said School Sister of Notre Dame Joan Hart whose congregation voted in 1997 to make debt relief a priority. “I think we have to think of ways of distinguishing ourselves from the violence.”

In an effort to do so, the Religious Working Group on the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, a coalition of about 40 religious groups working for debt relief and greater democracy and transparency on the part of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, is sponsoring an ecumenical prayer service in Washington Sept. 29 followed by a candle-lit procession. The coalition is also sponsoring a rally Sept. 30 and a Fast For Justice and Life the week of Sept. 26-Oct 2, during which people are asked to fast for one day.

Carefully staged events

John Mateyko, mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for the interdenominational Witness for Peace, one of the groups within the Religious Working Group, said the group will join in the protests through “carefully staged” events it will direct.

“The religious community is organizing a series of activities that is entirely under the control of the religious community. That is new. As a result, there is much more institutional involvement of the religious community than has been the case before. We believe this year’s demonstrations will be much more like the face of America in typical communities across the United States,” said Mateyko.

A call to action written by Rabbi Arthur Waskow for the Working Group spells out why religious groups are coming together in prayer on Sept. 29 in Washington and invites people in the religious community to become involved in protesting “top-down globalization” either in their home congregations or through attendance at the protests in Washington.

The call to action, dubbed “Global Arrogance or Planetary Community?” criticizes the IMF and World Bank as “institutions of unaccountable power” that serve global corporations. The statement demands that the two financial institutions cancel the debts of poor nations and abandon their policy of structural adjustment, which “through privatization and high prices for the necessities of life embodies the destruction of public services and the idolatry of profit.”

Within the Religious Working Group, however, a variety of perspectives exist, from the incrementalists, who want to diminish the debt of poor countries, to those calling for its complete cancellation. But over the years members of the group have established common ground, lobbying for the cancellation of multilateral debt (debt owed the World Bank itself or to regional institutions) and changes in the structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and IMF that impose “user fees” on persons seeking education or health care in debt-ridden countries. The Religious Working Group has also sought to make the lending institutions more responsive to local needs in selecting projects to fund.

“We’re trying to get the bank and the funds to move their projects over to sustainable development, respectful of the environment and culturally sensitive,” said Fr. Seamus Finn, director of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Finn said it would be a mistake to identify the Religious Working Group as anti-globalization. “It’s anti the kind of globalization that we see thus far as the predominant model being promoted. The globalization engine up to now has been promoted by corporations seeking cheaper sources of labor or raw materials. They haven’t always been sensitive to the needs of the people impacted by that kind of globalization.”

But Finn acknowledged benefits to the globalization process.

“I think there are some real positives with globalization -- communication, information, sharing of resources, opportunities for people to foster and promote solidarity,” he said.

Since its establishment in the mid-1990s, the Religious Working Group has met regularly with World Bank and IMF officials. Judy Coode, communications coordinator at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, said that while some members in the Working Group may have their own perspective on the issue the group does not advocate the abolition of the IMF or World Bank.

“There’s a greater fear if they (the IMF and World Bank) were eliminated, what would take their place? They are supposed to be public institutions. The problem has been their lack of transparency,” Coode said. “They make decisions behind closed doors. They choose to side with corporations. They do not in our opinion work hard enough to alleviate poverty. There’s not enough participation by people on the ground in the decisions that effect their lives.”

Anti-globalization has impact

How many people will come to Washington to protest during the IMF-World Bank meetings is unclear, with estimates ranging from as few as 20,000 to as many as 100,000. What is clear is that the anti-globalization movement is having an impact, if only internal, on the activities of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which shortened its annual meeting from four days to two and has reduced the number of people who can attend the meetings.

“We said ‘No spouses’ this year. We’ve also expected delegations to reduce their numbers,” said William Murray, deputy chief of media at the IMF. While no limits have been placed on press -- “Basically it’s caveat emptor. They just have to fend for themselves,” said Murray -- the World Bank and IMF have decreased the number of visitors who can attend the meetings.

“This is the only event where the leaders of the poorest countries and the richest countries interact,” said Murray. “What the demonstrators are doing now is cutting down on the interaction between officials and the more effective and engaged nongovernmental organizations.”

Contrasting the Jubilee 2000 movement with the anti-globalization protests held over the past few years in Seattle, Prague and Genoa, Murray said, “You could point to the Jubilee movement as very constructive. Net, they had a positive influence in terms of helping us deliver on debt relief. This kind of demonstration is starting to go over the top.”

Murray called the barricades police plan to erect “absurd and also tragic. We’ve had Million Man marches. Washington has had a long tradition of civil disobedience, and we’ve had nothing along these lines.” Violence remains a concern for many within the religious community, however, who see a risk that they could be discredited by their participation in a movement that has come to be associated with violence.

“Religious groups are seeing that they can be co-opted, and so they need to make it clear that they are not part of the violent approach,” said Hart. “We have decided to stay away from any events or activities that would not clearly commit to nonviolence.” Finn said public protests still have a place.

“It seems to me that the protests are one piece of the way we think we’re giving testimonial witness to what we believe in,” Finn said. “We’re happy to meet with officials, but that doesn’t give everyone a chance to be involved. Public protests and proclamations is another way in which we think we can effectively carry out that mandate.”

Finn said the members of the Religious Working Group work out of their own religious traditions primarily. “We don’t pretend to be economists or investment advisers. Most of the members of the group have either members or colleagues who are working in different countries throughout the world and have a finger on the pulse of those places. We bring the rudder of human experience to the debate along with the depth of the teaching and learning people find in their respective religious traditions.”

Margot Patterson is NCR’s senior writer. Her e-mail address ismpatterson@natcath.org

Related Web sites

International Monetary Fund

Jubilee USA Network

Religious Working Group on the
World Bank and International Monetary Fund

World Bank

National Catholic Reporter, September 14, 2001