It used to be that if there was one thing you could count in matters of international trade, it was the desperation of the poor. No matter how bad the deal, it was always better than nothing.
But all of a sudden, poor countries are busting up trade rounds, standing up to the International Monetary Fund, and turning down foreign investment. What’s going on? Is it possible that when you’ve lost enough, desperation turns into defiance?
Take the people of Esquel, a small city in Southern Argentina. A year ago, the U.S-Canadian gold mining company Meridian purchased Britain’s Bancote Holdings, which owned a gold deposit in Esquel estimated at (U.S.) $1-billion. The time seemed to be right to build a huge open pit mine: gold was selling high and Argentina, with its ravaged economy, was selling low.
The company informed the city of Esquel that it was about to be the lucky recipient of 400 mining jobs. It slapped together an Environmental Impact Assessment, assured the community that using 2700 kg of cyanide a day was no riskier than driving to work, and got ready to start digging.
On Monday, seven anti-privatization activists were arrested in Soweto for blocking the installation of prepaid water meters. The meters are a privatized answer to the fact that millions of poor South Africans cannot pay their water bills.
The new gadgets work like pay-as-you-go cell phones, only instead of having a dead phone when you run out of money, you have dead people, sickened by drinking cholera-infested water. On the same day South Africa's "water warriors" were locked up, Argentina's negotiations with the International Monetary Fund bogged down. The sticking point was rate hikes for privatized utility companies. In a country where 50 percent of the population is living in poverty, the IMF is demanding that multinational water and electricity companies be allowed to increase their rates by a staggering 30 percent.
At trade summits, debates about privatization can seem wonkish and abstract. On the ground, they are as clear and urgent as the right to survive.
The Marriot Hotel in Jakarta was still burning when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political and security affairs, explained the implications of the day’s attack.
“Those who criticize about human rights being breached must understand that all the bombing victims are more important than any human rights issue.”
In a sentence, we got the best summary yet of the philosophy underlying Bush’s so-called “war on terror.” Terrorism doesn’t just blow up buildings; it blasts every other issue off the political map. The spectre of terrorism, real and exaggerated, has become a shield of impunity, protecting governments around the world from scrutiny for their human rights abuses.
Many have argued that the war on terror is the United States government’s thinly veiled excuse for constructing a classic Empire, in the model of Rome or Britain. Two years into the crusade, it’s clear that this is a mistake: the Bush gang doesn’t have the stick-to-it-ness to successfully occupy one country, let alone a dozen.
What does it take to become a major news story in the summer of Arnold and Kobe, Ben and Jen?
A lot, as a group of young Philippine soldiers discovered recently. On July 27, 300 soldiers rigged a giant Manila shopping mall with C-4 explosives, accused one of Washington's closest allies of blowing up its own buildings to attract US military dollars — and still barely managed to make the international news.
That's our loss, because in the wake of the Marriott bombing in Jakarta and newly leaked intelligence reports claiming that the September 11 attacks were hatched in Manila, it looks like Southeast Asia is about to become the next major front in Washington's War on Terror.™
In sports, as in life, “security” trumps peace.
That’s what happened when the International Olympic Committee faced a choice between Pyeongchang, South Korea and Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Games.
South Korea pitched itself as the Peace Candidate: with the world in turmoil, bring the games to the very border of George Bush’s “Axis of Evil” and make a gesture of reconciliation.
Vancouver, on the other hand, sold itself as the Safety and Security Candidate: with the world in turmoil, hold the games somewhere you can be almost certain that nothing will happen. The Vancouver-Whistler Olympic bid presented the province of British Columbia as a model of harmonious, sustainable living, a place where everyone gets along: Native and non-Native, rural and urban, rich and poor.
Before the vote, IOC President Jacques Rogge tipped his hand by declaring South Korean’s peace theme to be “secondary” and telling the Los Angeles Times that his top priority was “the best possible security.”