Why I'm Going to Prague

Merrick, 20th September 2000ce

Tomorrow I'm going to Prague in the Czech Republic for the protests against the meeting there of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The IMF and World Bank were set up at the end of the Second World War, supposedly as a mechanism to assist poor countries, but the reality is - and seemingly was always intended to be - that these poorer countries are controlled by the rich countries.

The World Bank has been one of the big lenders of vast sums to poor nations, leaving the world with the present position of poor countries having unpayable national debts. Often, these loans were taken out by dodgy regimes who largely mis-spent and embezzled them, and the present populations and governments who are saddled with repayment saw nothing of the money. Whilst we may salve our consciences by thinking we give lots of aid to the Third World, we should realise that we largely created the poverty. Also realise the scale of the debts; for every pound we give in aid we receive nine pounds in debt payments.

And don't be fooled by things like the UK government's 'dropping' of Third World debts. Take a look at the conditions imposed on debtor countries. They're the same as the ones the World Bank uses (its euphemism is 'Structural Adjustment Programmes'). They insist on huge cuts in public spending (health care disappears, literacy rates plummet), selling off state-owned enterprises to the highest bidder (almost invariably corporations from the rich countries), and ending protection for local businesses against exploitation by foreign and trans-national corporations (so what money does get made is siphoned to the rich nations).

In the days of empire if we wanted to get rich at the expense of another country and its people we used to send soldiers over to colonise, and maintain a paramilitary police force. These days we force them to sell us their enterprises, so that we get all the profit with none of the responsibility. When our corporations impose changes the populace don't like, it's someone else's police force that do the dirty work. This is why the rich countries like dictators so much, because they are more ready to force our preferred methods onto their discontented people.

Remember the recent fighting in East Timor? I saw loads of news reports criticising the fact that the pro-Indonesian militias were armed by the Indonesian army. I saw no mention of the fact that, in turn, the Indonesian army were armed by the UK. The Indonesian officers organising the slaughter were trained in Hull, 70 miles from where I'm sitting. Like 'Structural Adjustment', wars are another way to get money and influence around the world. The five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council are responsible for 85 percent of arms sales on earth. That single fact proves they're not interested in 'Security' for the world, just for their influence.

Governments, and their masters the transnational corporations, are not benevolent. They are there to get power. One of the most effective forms of power is control by making a country dependent on the global money supply. And who controls that? The majority of shares in the World Bank are held by the seven richest countries. The situation is akin to 'democracy' 200 years ago when only wealthy male landowners had the vote.

They talk about economic conditions as if it were the weather or some other force we live with but cannot control or predict. Economics is the name given to planned systems invented by people. An economic system is one of many options, not a natural law. Don't be fooled into believing that it's out of peoples hands. It's not. It's in all our hands.

The gap between rich and poor countries is widening. This is deliberately caused by the rich people in charge of the rich nations. Like economics, justice and injustice are both human constructs. Justice won't happen automatically, it has to be actively created by people, people like you and me. The first step to creating fairness and justice is to know that it's possible. Then you go and fight that which perpetuates unfairness and injustice. I'm going to Prague.

'The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid dens of crime that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labour camps; in those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices by men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices'

C S Lewis