DeeDee Halleck on Wed, 19 Apr 2000 21:23:00 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] More on A16: Bolivian World Bank Consultant Speaks Out

For timely updates:

Global Justice is Not a "Nebulous Thing"

                          by Leon Galindo 1:38am Tue Apr 18 '00, Washington, D.C.

                           On Saturday, April 15 I was illegally arrested and
imprisoned for 23 hours, together
                           with hundreds of peaceful protesters and at least a dozen
innocent bystanders of
                           which I was one.

                           As a consultant to the World Bank, a citizen of a
developing country,
                           and a person who has committed his life to the work of
development I was
                           appalled by the conduct of the police and by the way the
“system” works. As a
                           consequence, I am now far more sympathetic with the
demands of the protesters
                           and just a tad more cynical about the “establishment.”

                           I was arrested with no explanation, no prior warning, and
for no legitimate reason. I
                           was standing close to the protesters because I disagreed
with much of what I had
                           heard them say in the media prior to coming to Washington
D.C.. I wanted to hear in
                           person what they had to say in order to decide for myself
whether their arguments
                           were reasonable or not and to summarize conclusions in a
note for the World Bank’s
                           daily internal newsletter. I was not the only one, Magali
Laguerre, a Haitian colleague
                           at the World Bank, had the same purposes and was also
arrested. So were several
                           tourists and local residents who were literally just
passing by.

                           I had been there for less than five minutes when the
police closed both sides of the
                           street and did not allow anyone to pass even though
nothing except a peaceful
                           march was taking place. No warning was given. No
explanation was made. When I
                           asked to pass or for an explanation on what was happening,

no response was
                           given. After an hour in which dozens of additional police
arrived, police started
                           handcuffing people one by one and marching them onto
school buses. Not one
                           protester was violent or in any way unreasonable.

                           My experience was similar to that of hundreds of others,
including women and many
                           teenagers. I was roughly handcuffed for over 17 hours (my
arms and shoulders are
                           still sore), repeatedly lied to, and denied an explanation

of any kind or access to a
                           telephone or to any means of informing my wife what was
happening until 5:00 am
                           the next day, 12 hours later. A demonstrator who had come
from Texas with his son
                           was not able to receive any information from the police on

the status of his teenage
                           son who had no money, no contacts in Washington D.C., and
who had done nothing
                           except protest peacefully. Several were looking for their
girlfriends and also were
                           not given any information, and Jim, a biologist with a
health problem, was
                           repeatedly told by police that they could do nothing to
help him retrieve his
                           medication. I could not help but think that it was through

illegitimate and unjust arrests
                           such as this one that the terrible nightmares of political

prisoners from around the
                           world had begun. I could not believe that this was
happening in the United States of
                           America. Contrary to declarations in the press today by
Chief Ramsey, I did not see
                           much professionalism among the police on the inside, where

there was no media to
                           ensure accountability. Instead, I witnessed harsh threats,

incompetence, and injustice,
                           very worrying to see in the police force of a democratic
and powerful nation.

                           Fortunately, we were in the United States, and it only
took 19 hours before a lawyer
                           appeared, and 5 more before a mock trial took place, and
so we did not “disappear”
                           as common people, similar to us, may have had this
occurred in a different country.
                           The way they handled us, it certainly felt like they could

do so if they chose to. I was
                           released after 23 hours on Sunday at 4:00 p.m. with no
charges, because it was
                           neither in the interest of the court nor in mine to keep
the record. For me, this open
                           letter is the record.

                           The group I was with was transported to three different
facilities, all heavily guarded.
                           The first was a detention center for mentally ill
patients. We spent three hours in an
                           overcrowded room in which it was so hot that it became
difficult to breathe and all
                           were sweating. Only when the more than 50 people in the
room started to really get
                           angry did they allow us to use the bathroom or have a
drink of water, some five to
                           six hours after being detained. In almost 24 hours the
only food provided was one
                           sandwich with baloney that was almost green.

                           For all practical purposes, the police proved to be the
greatest allies of the
                           protesters in this demonstration because they perfectly
proved the point the
                           protesters were trying to make in this march: poverty and
suppression of liberty go
                           hand in hand and lead to further social injustice. In my
own case, this first-hand
                           experience of American police and prisons was an
enlightening, life-changing event
                           that helped me to fully understand the sometimes
incoherently expressed, but
                           otherwise perfectly legitimate and profound arguments that

I now firmly believe the
                           majority of the protesters were out to make.

                           In this particular demonstration, protesters had centered
their diverse arguments on
                           the relationship between the “Prison-Industrial Complex”
and the Structural
                           Adjustment Programs enforced by the International Monetary

Fund and World Bank
                           in developing countries. As a passerby earlier in the day
I had scoffed—I know the
                           World Bank, respect its work enormously, and agree with
someone who said that
                           blaming the World Bank for causing world poverty is like
blaming the Red Cross for
                           beginning World Wars I and II. I did and still do believe
that many of the protesters
                           have not bothered to educate themselves on what these
institutions do. If they had
                           they would have greater respect for these institutions and

would perhaps even seek
                           ways to coordinate efforts with the World Bank to achieve
their goals, as many other
                           non-profit and other organizations already do.

                           On the other hand, after a day in prison listening to, and

speaking with a number of
                           the protesters, many of them highly educated and decent
people with coherent
                           arguments, I understood their point and it is a simple and

valid one. In essence, they
                           argue that too many powerful institutions and individuals,

both in the United States
                           and in developing countries, are ignoring the fundamental
principles and liberties that
                           are the sine qua non foundations for a free society and an

open economy. I agree,
                           especially after having been imprisoned and being subject
to the ruthlessness with
                           which people with power can treat those who have no power.

                           As Noble Laureate Amartya Sen recently argued in
Development as Freedom,
                           political freedom and economic development must go hand in

hand. As Joseph
                           Stiglitz and others have repeatedly pointed out, the World

Bank and particularly the
                           IMF and especially governments of their client countries
still have much to do be
                           more accountable to the common citizen. And as the
protesters in this march against
                           the “Prison-Industrial Complex” argue, and direct
experience this weekend
                           confirmed, there are institutions in the United States
that would like to believe they
                           are beyond accountability, beginning with the police force

which is supposed to
                           uphold and not repress freedom of expression. It is an
unfortunate day when the
                           image of great institutions is tarnished, especially when
their mission is precisely to
                           serve the public, reduce poverty, and build free and fair
societies. And yet the
                           World Bank, the IMF and the governments of both developed
and developing
                           nations are not helping their own cause or serving their
citizens when illegal arrests
                           take place, especially when it results from dissent of

                           I refer not only to the arrests that took place this
weekend but to others that take
                           place around the world all the time. I have witnessed
demonstrations since I was a
                           child in my own nation, Bolivia (where six people were
killed last week in
                           demonstrations). The IMF and World Bank are identified,
rightly or wrongly, as
                           symbols of global capitalism. As a consultant to the World

Bank and someone who
                           firmly believes in its mission and integrity, I believe it

is a big mistake to further
                           substantiate the claims of radicals who throw the World
Bank and IMF in the same
                           bag as the “Prison-Industrial Complex” and “greedy
corporations.” And yet that is
                           exactly what happened this weekend. By ignoring the
demonstrators, freezing
                           communication, and delegating intermediation to the police

the World Bank and the
                           IMF did not deal with difference of opinion, and this is
precisely, in my view, the
                           severest critique made by demonstrators. If this is how
they dealt with dissent in
                           Washington D.C., who is to argue that it is not possible
at least indirectly, that the
                           Bank and the IMF would turn a blind eye to similar tactics

used by governments and
                           their police forces in developing nations.

                           As things turned out, a few radicals that explicitly
advocated extreme positions set
                           the tone of the demonstrations. As a result, there are now

more people who are
                           convinced that the World Bank and IMF might in some way be

linked to injustice in
                           developing nations. Constructive alternatives, such as an
open forum in which
                           representatives of these groups could express their
concerns and in turn learn more
                           about the work of the IMF and the World Bank, would have
had the opposite effect,
                           nurturing allies for the war on poverty instead of
misinformed and disgruntled

                           The significance of this weekend’s events lie not so much
in whether one side or the
                           other is ultimately right in its arguments. Rather, it is
that there are people who have
                           legitimate concerns to share publicly, that these people
have to take to the streets in
                           order to be heard, and that for better or worse the image
and legitimacy of good
                           institutions were damaged.

                           If the World Bank, the IMF, and governments refuse to
listen to well-educated and
                           caring people who come all the way to their doorsteps, and

if street protests,
                           prisons, and the use of police force are the preferred
tools to avoid engaging in
                           dialogue, we are all headed down a dangerous path. The
protesters of course are
                           not all innocent or correct —among them there are clearly
ignorant, misinformed, and
                           downright dangerous types who do believe in violence and
do not respect or even
                           care about the rights that many of their fellow protesters

do believe in.

                           Nonetheless, as poorly expressed and incoherent as the
arguments of the
                           protesters may seem their fundamental cause is correct and

noble. And, it is
                           completely in tune with what thousands of people at the
World Bank and IMF work
                           hard for every day: ensuring that human beings everywhere
have the chance to live
                           a decent life.

                            To allow the police of any nation to intimidate and
suppress voices through
                           such illegal and totally stupid procedures as those used
in Washington D.C.
                           this weekend—methods that sometimes have far worse
consequences in
                           developing countries—is for these institutions, the United

States Police, the World
                           Bank, and the IMF, to agree or at least condone what a
U.S. Marshall screamed in
                           my ear as he violently slammed me into a wall when
reminded that he was violating
                           my fundamental rights: “Down here there is no democracy.
This place is a
                           dictatorship and I am God. If you open your mouth again I
will kick your ass
                           till you are sorry.”

                           To cite the front page of this weeks, The Economist, this
is a “testing time for the
                           world economy,” and unless the IMF, the World Bank, and
governments around the
                           world fully embrace the classical principles upon which
free societies are build and
                           which Amartya Sen reminds us of--political freedom and
economic development
                           must go hand in hand--old and “forgotten dangers ”will
come back to haunt us. After
                           being illegally arrested for 23 hours, handcuffed for 17
of those hours, and seriously
                           threatened and intimidated for a crime I had not
committed, I clearly understood what
                           the protesters are after. “Global justice” is not a
“nebulous thing”, as The Economists’
                           April 15th article on the protesters puts it. Very simply
stated, global justice is the call
                           for institutions and individuals worldwide to respect and
seriously uphold the basic
                           principles upon which free, civilized, humane, and
prosperous societies are built.

                           Leon Galindo

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