Protests were peaceful at Spring IMF meetings
by Jo Freeman
Protests at the Spring 2005 meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were small, colorful and peaceful. Demonstrations at these meetings have become a regular event since 25,000 people descended on Washington in 2000 and tied up the city for days. [http://www.50years.org/photos/2005apr16/index.html] This year there were no arrests.
This year's demand was total cancellation of the debts of all poor countries. While many in the US government and those of the other rich countries already favor debt cancellation, there is disagreement on how much to cancel, which countries should be eligible, under what conditions and whether or not the lender institutions (e.g. IMF, Africa Development Bank) should have their losses reimbursed by the rich countries. Finance ministers meeting the weekend of April 16-17 did not reach consensus on this issue.
Mobilization for Global Justice, which formed for the 2000 protests, organized a week of activities this year, including two public demonstrations. [www.globalizethis.org]
Friday morning, April 15, about forty demonstrators, and almost as many press, met across the street from the Treasury Building where the G-7 were meeting "to issue a notice ... that the system they control is structurally unsound, and that they have 24 hours to cancel the debt and start building a structure that can truly eradicate poverty." CANCEL THE DEBT T-shirts were passed out by a man who identified himself as employed by the Nigerian government.
On Saturday about 400 people marched from a small park in front of the World Bank to Dupont Circle. The march was spirited, peaceful and well organized. The only conflict occured when four right-to-lifers raised their anti-abortion signs during the pre-march rally. Anti-IMF demonstrators surrounded them with chants until one police officer ordered the pro-lifers across the street. However, when the march started they slipped into the crowd and walked to Dupont Circle along with everyone else.
There the march was greeted by 55 National Park Police assigned to protect the park from the demonstrators while they listened to speakers and entertainers and picnicked on the grass. The DC police had delegated about 400 cops to protect the World Bank buildings in case protestors penetrated the jersey barriers, fences and checkpoints, but most were out of sight and only a dozen escorted the marchers in order to stop traffic along the way.
Inside these barriers press hung out in the basement of the IMF building where numerous press releases and reports were stacked on long tables. Across the street finance ministers and the heads of central banks met in the World Bank building. Regular press conferences gave reporters an opportunity to ask questions about the press releases and reports.
At one conference Sunday morning the topic was the Fast Track Initiative on Education [www.worldbank.org/education/efafti]. Outgoing World Bank President James Wolfensohn called education "The cutting edge issue" for reduction of poverty. Carin Jämtin, Sweden's Minister of International Development, said the focus this year is getting more girls into school. Of the 100 million children who don't go to primary school, 58 percent are girls. Research has shown that investing in girls' education pays off more than boys' education in increasing family income, decreasing family size and producing healthier children.