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Globalization's Victims, Film Reveals Hidden Horrors of IMF/World Bank Policies
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Source: Common Dreams.

Note: Some of you in the SF Bay Area will be able to see this on KQED at 10 PM tonight. The program will NOT be aired on Silicon Valley's "ain't capitalism great" KTEH. Check the links below for other regions and times.


Published on Tuesday, August 21, 2001 in the East Valley & Scottsdale (AZ) Tribune Globalization's Victims
Film Reveals Hidden Horrors of IMF/World Bank Policies

by David L. Winkler

The award-winning documentary "Life and Debt," which airs tonight on KAET-TV (Channel 8) at 10:00 p.m. (check local airdates), gives viewers a glimpse of Jamaica that most American tourists never see. If you have ever wondered why millions of people throughout the world so fiercely oppose economic globalization, risking arrest, brutal interrogations, and being shot to death in the streets, then you must not miss this film. "Life and Debt" achieves what so many of my economics professors attempted in vain: it puts human faces on the monetary policies that are concocted by the wealthiest nations behind closed doors and carried out on the invisible poor and powerless throughout the world. If economics is a dreary discipline, it is only because there are so few filmmakers like Stephanie Black, and so few writers like Jamaica Kincaid, from whose book, "A Small Place," the film is adapted.

"Life and Debt" recently opened the 2001 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in New York to outstanding reviews. Its television premiere tonight on the PBS Network, as part of its "P.O.V" series of independent films, comes at a crucial time.

On September 29, government officials and bankers from around the world will descend on Washington, D.C. for the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. As many as 40,000 protestors are expected to greet them.

"The protests and demonstrations... will be of an intensity, scope and magnitude that we have never seen in this city," predicted Mayor Anthony Williams. Last year, the D.C. police arrested nearly 1300 people during the IMF/World Bank summit. This year's meetings have been scaled back to two days in response.

The IMF and World Bank were conceived at the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire. They were designed to prevent another global economic collapse like the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The original purpose of the IMF was to lend money to stabilize exchange rates, at a time when all currencies were fixed to the U.S. dollar. But in 1971, the Nixon administration ended fixed exchange rates, and the IMF needed a new mission.

During the 1980s, the IMF began protecting private banks and individuals from bad investments in developing countries. At the same time, it imposed "structural adjustment programs" (SAPs) on borrower nations. These austerity programs target the poor, cutting government spending on education and health care, reducing wages and subsidies, privatizing public assets, and causing huge dislocations in production and employment.

"The IMF has created a system of modern day colonialism that SAPs the poor to fatten the rich," according to Global Exchange ( Hence the dubious nicknames for the IMF such as the "Imelda Marcos Foundation," and "I. M. Fired."

The case of Jamaica, a British colony until 1962, illustrates how colonialism has reinvented itself. Michael Manley was elected Prime Minister in 1976 on a fiercely independent, non-IMF platform. "The Jamaican government will not accept anybody, anywhere in the world telling us what to do in our own country," Manley declared. "Above all, we are not for sale."

"Life and Debt" contrasts this inspiring oratory with Manley's somber reflections after being forced to accept IMF terms, and watching his people descend into poverty and despair at the hands of foreign powers. This hopeless downward spiral of debt has earned the IMF its reputation as a global loan shark.

In a speech at World Bank headquarters on July 17, President Bush proposed "that up to 50 percent of the funds provided by the development banks to the poorest countries be provided as grants [not loans] for education, health, nutrition, water supply, sanitation and other human needs." This would be an important step toward reform, provided that grants are not conditioned upon SAPs.

For an entertaining primer on the new colonialism, read the "Field Guide to the Global Economy," by Sarah Anderson and John Cavanagh. Details of next month's IMF/World Bank summit and protests are available from 50 Years is Enough (, and from the Mobilization for Global Justice (

David L. Winkler is a Valley resident. His email address is: [email protected].

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