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WORLD: Call for Reparations to Indebted Countries

by Alejandro KirkInter Press Service
October 21st, 2002

The external debt of developing countries should not just be cancelled but the debtors compensated, civil society activists told a meeting of international officials, business leaders, scientists and non-governmental organizations members in Prague Saturday.

The globalization process led by corporations has ''privatized profits and nationalized debt,'' said Indian journalist and food security activist Anuradha Mittal. The issue now is not just cancellation of external debt, it is time for reparations to those victimized by neo-liberal economic policies, she said.

Other activists made a similar demand. ''Your reform does not include compensation for the damage done to hundreds of millions of lives,'' said Pakistani journalist and women's rights activist Najma Sadeque, looking straight at Eduardo Aninat, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The demand came at a meeting called by the Forum 2000 Foundation led by Czech President Vaclav Havel. The conference has brought together more than 40 leading officials, scholars and activists from all over the world. It aims to create a dialogue between divergent views that is otherwise missing.

Aninat, a former finance minister in Chile and a keynote speaker on the first day of the two-day conference 'Bridging Global Gaps' acknowledged that the IMF was ''imperfect'' but defended its record of reforming itself.

Aninat criticized NGOs for their ''impatience'' in achieving goals such as environmental protection and elimination of poverty. ''Yes, power is as it has been described here and yes, institutions are imperfect, but we have to move forward with this agenda (of economic growth) and not just deliver nice speeches,'' he said.

''Without growth we can do a lot of statements but in the medium term we will not achieve the purpose of improving living standards,'' he said.

Argentinean politician Mario Cafiero said that not long ago his country was the IMF's ''best student'' but that it is now becoming a pariah state. He accused the financial institutions of promoting corruption by providing easy loans to military dictators in the seventies and eighties.

''It is a dirty external debt which comes from a military dictatorship and was used not to finance investment and development, but capital flow,'' said Cafiero.

The IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO) were prime targets of activists and political scientists who warned of environmental and social catastrophe if the current system of trade and financial relations continues. The organizers hope that antagonistic positions can come a little closer together through workshops held after the first plenary.

Mark Sakady, a U.S. economist and advisor to the Global Compact initiative of the United Nations asked NGOs to keep up their passion but stop acting victimized. They should participate in a new ''global social contract'' in which all would learn to listen better to others.

That seemed easier said than done. ''There is an unbridgeable gap between the need of multinational corporations to increase profit and those of making the planet viable,'' said British scientist Edward Goldsmith.

People also seem not to understand that global warming ''is going to affect every aspect of our lives'' by increasing poverty, pushing millions of people out of their lands, unleashing deadly diseases and causing a loss of some 30 per cent of the world's agricultural land, Goldsmith said.

''Even if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, the planet will keep warming for another 150 years,'' he said.

U.S. economist Jeffrey Sachs said that more than the IMF or the World Bank, governments in rich countries, the U.S. in particular, are responsible for the imbalances and shortcomings of globalization. ''The current path is taking us to war and mass pandemic disease,'' he said.

'Bridging Global Gaps' was inaugurated Friday evening at the majestic Czech National Museum by President Havel and co-sponsor Yohei Sasakawa, a Japanese philanthropist and president of the Nippon Foundation.

Havel said that instead of big annual meetings as planned initially, Forum 2000 would initiate smaller gatherings to bring together those who must play a fundamental role in the survival of Earth.

Mats Karlsson, a Swedish economist and vice-president for global communications with the World Bank said he was tired of hearing again and again ''that things are not happening.'' He praised the ''new leaders'' of developing countries. Had any of them been invited to the conference, delegates ''would hear another story'' on economic growth and development, he said.

The moderator for the plenary, Czech professor Josef Jazab, hoped that Prague with its enlightened architecture and the humanistic spirit that had attempted to give ''socialism a human face'' 35 years ago would now exert a positive influence on the debate.

In August 1968, however, the ''Prague spring'' was crushed by Soviet tanks, sent by those who panicked at the prospect of uncontrolled civil forces taking charge of their lives.





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