At least 23 countries in Asia, Africa, and the Americas experienced protests or civil unrest last year as a result of their governments' pursuit of policies backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, according to a report released this weekend.
Led by Argentina, where IMF-decreed austerity brought down an elected president last December, some 76 people were killed around the world in 77 episodes of unrest generated by IMF-backed policies, says the report from the London-based World Development Movement (WDM).
At least 30 people were killed in Argentina as a result of anti-government protests which ousted President Fernando de la Rua last December and two of his successors in January. Despite the toll, the IMF continues to demand sharp cuts in the new government's budget as the price for fresh loans - a major subject of this week's annual Bank-IMF Spring meetings in Washington where the new report was released.
"By undermining democracy and rolling back the state, developing country governments may be left powerless to act in the interests of their citizens," according to the report, 'States of Unrest II.' "Demonstrations, protests and strikes are a legitimate way for many people to let both their governments and the international community know that policies are not working - in some cases it is the only option left," the report states.
The first edition of the WDM report, released at the World Bank-IMF annual meetings in Prague in September 2000, showed that the mostly young, largely Western demonstrators who protested there were part of a much larger global movement that is demanding that the two Bretton Woods agencies abandon their "Structural Adjustment Programs" (SAPS) which critics say have actually deepened poverty and widened the gap between rich and poor.
It detailed 50 separate anti-IMF protests in 13 countries in the 10 months running up to the Prague meeting. A total of 10 people lost their lives and 300 more were injured in those demonstrations.
These policies can wreak havoc on national economies, and hit the poorest members of the population particularly hard. Government budget cuts, for example, have frequently fallen most heavily on social-service programs, although civil servants have also taken a share of the impact. In addition, privatization can result in massive layoffs and higher prices for basic services and utilities.
But poor governments are obliged to implement them anyway, because they are unlikely to be able to borrow money from private institutions unless the IMF and the Bank have given them a "Seal of Good Housekeeping."
Of the 23 countries covered in the new report, nearly three-quarters are implementing IMF-backed privatization programs, and over half of these have experienced demonstrations against the moves.
Roughly half of the 23 countries have experienced protests by civil service and other public-sector workers, including teachers, doctors, and police officers; while a third of the countries have seen demonstrations against the rising prices of basic goods and services resulting from the removal of public subsidies.
A third of the countries underwent protests that were explicitly directed against the Bank and the IMF, which often work in tandem in poor countries.
n addition to Argentina, the most serious protests--sometimes resulting in violent confrontations with police or the army--occurred in Ecuador, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, and Papua New Guinea.
But the report also documents protests and strikes in a number of other countries, including Angola, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador,Ghana, India, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, Pakistan, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
"Millions of desperately poor people around the world have been brave enough to protest against IMF policies: doctors, farmers, priests, teachers, trade unionists, and indigenous people," said the report's author, Mark Ellis-Jones.
"They have seen the IMF continue to undermine their national governments by forcing countries into a free market, one-size-fits-all blueprint of economic development," he added. "At a time when links are being made between poverty, disempowerment and terrorism this erosion of the democratic contract is downright dangerous."
- 194 World Financial Institutions