MEXICO: Poverty conference recycles broken promises

Issue 

BY ROHAN PEARCE

The United Nations-sponsored International Conference on Financing for Development — held in Monterrey, Mexico, on March 18-22 — produced a great deal of hot air, but little for the world's 1.2 billion people who live on less than US$1 a day.

The conference declaration (the "Monterrey Consensus") is full of rhetoric addressing the "challenges of financing development around the world, particularly in developing countries". It calls on "developed countries that have not already done so to work towards the objective of duty-free and quota-free access for all least developed countries' exports".

In place of proposals for action, the document merely "calls", "recognises" and "reaffirms". It restates that the target for "official development assistance" by First World countries to Third World countries should be 0.7% of "developed" countries' Gross National Product. That target was also reaffirmed at the Third United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries in 2001. So far, only five First World countries have met the target: Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. In 2000, development assistance from First World countries averaged just 0.22% of GNP.

The Monterrey conference was attended by heads of state from more than 50 countries, as well as representatives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and other international financial institutions. The Monterrey Consensus repeatedly refers to the need to implement the resolutions of the Doha round of the WTO (which was held in Qatar in November).

An International Business Forum was held in parallel with the poverty conference. There was also the "civil society-organised" (but Ford Foundation-financed) Global Forum, held in the Fundidora Auditorium, also known as the Coca Cola Auditorium. The auditorium was "re-baptised" as the Steel Auditorium (it is located on the site of a closed steel factory). The forum rejected the Monterrey Consensus, and demanded the cancellation of Third World debt and the introduction of a tax on international financial transactions (the Tobin tax).

Touted as a highlight of the conference was Washington's announcement that it would increase overseas aid from US$5 billion to US$15 billion by 2006. Just how tiny this is can be judged by comparing it to the latest annual US military budget of US$396 billion — more than 26 times larger.

Conditions attached to the US aid include that the recipients must "fight corruption" (that is elect the leaders the US wants or else), "uphold the rule of law" (read "rule of the corporate-rich") and "welcome foreign investment" (translation: let US corporations run rampant without restriction). US undersecretary of state Alan Larson said the strings attached to US aid represented "a new accountability for rich and poor nations alike".

Cuba's President Fidel Castro attended the summit on March 20-21, leaving before US President George Bush arrived the next day. Castro attacked international financial institutions such as the IMF and described the global economy as a gigantic casino. He said that the fact that the inhabitants of First World countries live an average 30 years longer than sub-Saharan Africans was genocide. Castro laid the blame for the plight of Third World countries on their history of plunder, pillage and colonisation by the imperialist countries.

While global "leaders" were engaging in empty rhetoric at the Monterrey conference, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers appeared before the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva to attack "the abominably low levels of assistance being provided by the richest countries to the most marginalised and vulnerable people in the world".

On the streets outside the conference, several thousand Mexican and international protesters were clear on what the conference was really about: they chanted "more of the same rubbish". In preparation for protests, the Mexican government mobilised 3500 soldiers and police.

The Monterrey poverty conference proved, once again, that the capitalist elite and their governments that dominate the world cannot be trusted to deliver relief from suffering for the majority of the world's population who live in poverty.

As one of the protesters told a journalist, "We don't want to talk to them. Why bother? They just represent the ones who have caused the misery... We want to do away with capitalism".

From Green Left Weekly, March 27, 2002.
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