Several groups from the anti-corporate globalisation movement are joining forces to drum up opposition to the nomination of Paul Wolfowitz, a neo-conservative Pentagon official close to Pres. George W. Bush, to the highest post in the World Bank.
The challenge is one of the toughest facing civil society groups since they managed to rally thousands of protesters in Seattle in 1999 against the policies of World Trade Organisation (WTO), actions that ushered in the birth of the so-called ”global justice movement”.
Arrayed in opposition to the World Bank and its sister institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the WTO, is a mosaic of labour, environmental, student and faith-based organisations, which over the past two days have vowed to step up their struggle against the nomination of Wolfowitz, currently the no. 2 official at the Pentagon.
These groups maintain that Wolfowitz’s fondness for unilateralism, militarism and U.S. hegemony make him a hugely controversial choice that threatens to take the World Bank, the world’s largest development agency, to a new low.
Wolfowitz has won the backing of many heavyweight politicians and officials in the United States, the most influential nation on the boards of the Washington-based financial institutions, which were set up by the Allied victors in World War II in 1946 to coordinate economic policies.
The U.S. alone has veto power on the board of the Bank, and has selected every president in the institution’s history.
The Mobilisation for Global Justice (MGJ), an organiser of numerous protests against international financial institutions and the governments that dominate them — notably within the Group of Seven most industrialised nations — says that Wolfowitz’s nomination makes their planned actions at the World Bank and IMF spring meetings on Apr. 16-17 ”even more important”.
”The MGJ urges everyone who cares about the economic fate of the world to be in Washington, DC on those dates,” the group said in a statement, in the first sign of a resuscitated movement that seemed to ebb following the Sep 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
”One silver lining here could facilitate bringing together the global antiwar activists’ movement, which is much broader, with the IFIs (international financial institutions) activists,” said one activist who wished to remain unidentified.
”This could have some cross-pollination and help unite the opposition to war with opposition to economic injustice issues. That is a political dynamic that is likely if Wolfowitz goes forward,” the source added.
Wolfowitz’s nomination is also being seen as a catalyst to bring together radical and moderate groups, who thought they should give the IFIS the benefit of the doubt, in opposition to the institutions.
”Over the past 20-plus years, Wolfowitz has supported and orchestrated U.S. military actions throughout the world,” said Althea Swett with MGJ. ”You cannot work to end poverty while advocating for increased militarisation and war.”
”Given Wolfowitz as the probable president of the Bank, the time is now more than ever to come to Washington to protest,” said Morrigan Phillips of the MGJ.
Critics of the World Bank and IMF say their demands traditionally included opening meetings to the media and the public, canceling all impoverished country debt, and ending policies that hinder people’s access to food, clean water, shelter, health care, education, and the right to organise.
Groups in the United States are also calling on citizens to contact their members of Congress and urge them to make their displeasure known about the nomination.
Many other international organisations have urged people to issue short press statements, appeal to parliamentarians or call finance ministers to protest the nomination.
Opponents to the controversial nomination are looking at a previous example when the United States opposed the nomination of Caio Koch-Weser, a European, for the IMF job in 2000. He eventually was replaced by Horst Koehler.
Louisa Morgantini, chair of the Development Committee of the European Parliament, has written on behalf of her Committee calling on European governments ”to open up the process to accept other candidates”.
”The President of the leading institution for global development finance and policy should have intimate knowledge of development issues, an excellent understanding for cross-cultural conflict resolution, a convinced standing in support of multilateralism, and a personal engagement for social equality and poverty eradication,” the letter said.
Civil society groups in Europe, Canada and other parts of the world are also joining in the protests.
The European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad), an anti-debt group based in Brussels, called on European governments to oppose this nomination and reject the current undemocratic election process.
”Wolfowitz, a key architect and implementer of the current U.S. foreign policy, is a very controversial choice borne of a deeply flawed process,” said the group in a sign-on letter.
”European governments, if they act collectively, represent the largest shareholder block in the Bank. You can take action to reject the current nominee and press for other candidates,” said Eurodad.
On Friday, the group said that more than 1,250 organisations and individuals signed up in protest in one single day.
”The massive and rapid response to this strongly-worded petition is a sample of the anger on this issue. It will increase pressure on European governments to take a firm stance and declare their positions,” said Alex Wilks, Eurodad coordinator.
A coalition of British NGOs has also called on the British government, the closest European government to the Bush administration, to oppose Wolfowitz.
In a letter sent to Prime Minister Tony Blair, the NGOs said that Wolfowitz was ”anathema to the needs of an institution which must act as a voice for the aspirations of all developing countries.”
In Canada, the Social Justice Committee (SJC) asked Prime Minister Paul Martin to oppose Wolfowitz and push for the democratisation of the World Bank presidency selection process.
Derek MacCuish, SJC coordinator, said the nomination would push the institution ”back to primitive Wild West lawlessness.”
And in the Muslim world, numerous newspaper editorials condemned the selection. The pan-Islamic Cairo-based outlet Islamonline.net headlined an article on the nomination: ”Bush’s War Fan Goes to the World Bank”.
Long-time Bank watchers are asking whether the Bush administration intends to convert the Bank into a grant-making institution, running down its resources and prestige. The Bank holds sway over many developing nations; it lent 20 billion dollars in 2004 alone for hundreds of projects.
”The nomination of Paul Wolfowitz is a reminder that Washington has traditionally viewed the World Bank as an extension of the U.S. Treasury Department’s international role, another tool in its foreign policy tool kit,” said Ian Vasquez of the Washington-based Cato Institute. IPS