Environment Central to Protest of World Bank Meetings
By Roxanne Khamsi
WASHINGTON, DC, September 29, 2002 (ENS) - Dupont Circle was full to capacity this afternoon with several thousand people for a permitted rally protesting economic and environmental injustice, and the possibility of war in Iraq. The protest was part of a weekend of demonstrations timed to coincide with the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Passing the headquarters of many embassies along Massachusetts Avenue, protesters were watched by police and guards particularly in front of the embassies of Japan and Turkey. Chants of "Exxon, Mobile, BP, Shell, Take your war and go to hell," surged through the demonstrators, indicating their belief that any war in Iraq would be fought over oil supplies.
Several thousand people gathered Saturday by the Washington Monument to protest the policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Both institutions set conditions for loans and grants on projects that affect the environment.
Waving colorful banners and large puppets of world leaders, the demonstrators listened to speeches against current globalization strategies, as finance ministers from rich and developing countries met at the nearby IMF headquarters to discuss the institution's agenda for the next six months.
In contrast to the 649 arrests made during Friday's protests, police arrested only four individuals in connection with Saturday's activities.
At the rally a number of different activist groups voiced their objections to the practices of the World Bank and IMF. Many expressed their concern over the growing trend to restructure the distribution and use of natural resources, such as water.
Rudolf Amenga-Etego of the Ghana National Coalition Against the Privatization of Water came to the demonstration to raise awareness about the water situation that has arisen in his homeland.
"Between June 2001 and August 2002 there has been a 95 percent increase in water rates," he said. These rising prices carry life-threatening consequences for the people in Ghana who cannot afford to keep up with the costs.
Following a number of other speakers and music acts, Jen Krill of Rainforest Action Network took the main stage to protest the World Bank's intentions of allowing countries such as Indonesia, Bolivia and Brazil to pay off their debts by logging their forests.
"This fall the World Bank is releasing their new policy which is going to allow them to loan to countries to clear-cut tropical rainforests. World Bank lending for logging has been banned for 10 years. This fall it's going to begin." Krill said.
Liz Butler of Forest Ethics echoed Krill's concerns, adding that the problem reached beyond the meetings taking place at in the U.S. capitol this weekend.
"It's not just about the IMF and World Bank. It's about corporate globalization driving deforestation," she said.
Environmental groups were dissatisfied with recent attempts made by the World Bank and IMF to address their demands for more socially responsible approaches to money lending.
"What they're doing is changing a lot of words. They talk about the environment, but their policies support the same things as before," said Ricardo Navarro, chairman of Friends of the Earth International.
Toward the end of the speeches, attorney Ralph Nader, who was the Green Party candidate for President in the 2000 election, took the stage, drawing the crowd's attention and receiving many cheers of support.
"The struggle between civic values and corporate, commercial values is the main collision in the world today," said Nader, who blamed land erosion, water depletion and the expansion of acid rain on corporate technologies in his speech.
One group walked with a "living river" made of banners of blue gauze to raise awareness about water rights. Others chanted "Corporate greed has got to go!" and urged onlookers to join in the crowd.
The march ended at Farragut Square, where speeches and music continued. Police blockaded the edge of the park and prevented protestors from traveling any further.
Smaller groups of demonstrators managed to get past the police barrier and began gathering near the road exits of the IMF and World Bank headquarters as part of a "direct action quarantine," which aimed to prevent delegates from leaving the building.
Police confronted and moved some 20 protestors who had seated themselves in the street in order to prevent traffic movement, but the law enforcement officers did not arrest any of those individuals.
Several blocks away at about seven in the evening, police did arrest two men and two women after finding them with smoke bombs and coffee cans containing explosive components. The day's protests were otherwise peaceful and the heavy presence of law enforcement officials ensured that World Bank and IMF delegates were able to leave their meetings.