DECEMBER 1991 - VOLUME 12 - NUMBER 12
B E H I N D T H E L I N E S
Blocking the Banks
A coalition of Swiss non-governmental organizations, including labor, women's and church groups, as well as the Swiss Social Democratic party, has launched a campaign designed to force a national referendum vote on Switzerland's joining the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. In September 1991, the Swiss Parliament passed a bill to join the institutions.
Opponents of the parliamentary proposal have until January 13, 1992 to collect the 50,000 signatures needed to force a vote on the bill; the vote would most likely take place in May 1992. The coalition has set up 20 regional referendum committees to collect signatures and to hold public debates on the issue.
The referendum was proposed to oppose what the coalition describes as the undemocratic and exploitative policies of the IMF and the World Bank in indebted Third World nations, and the role that Swiss banks have played in the international debt crisis. The coalition is working to develop alternatives to Switzerland's joining the international lending institutions which would include measures to stem capital flight from the Third World to Switzerland and to promote global debt cancellation.
Coalition leader Peter Bosshard outlined the group's position on the organizations' lending policies in a letter to the managing director of the IMF and the president of the World Bank. He wrote, "Instead of furthering economic self-reliance, the IMF and the World Bank force the countries concerned to export their products to an already surfeited world market. Instead of supporting the expenditures for social welfare and for other public needs, great pressure is being applied upon these poor countries to pay all interests in due time.... The IMF and the World Bank are the most important instruments of an international financial policy which makes the poor people of the world poorer and the rich richer."
Family farmers blasted their enemies at the annual convention of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) by presenting them with "sour milk" awards. Winners of the awards were Kraft General Foods, the largest U.S. buyer of milk and retailer of processed cheese, and U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills.
"Kraft's practices and Carla Hill's trade programs are the main cause of domestic abuse suffered by American dairy farmers," said Iowa farmer Denise O'Brien in presenting the awards.
Kraft controls between 50 and 70 percent of the U.S. retail cheese market; its nearest competitor is one-tenth its size. According to NFFC, Kraft consistently engages in monopolistic practices such as price fixing and price gouging, undermining farm prices and opposing farm support programs. Kraft has been sued by the Federal Trade Commission for false advertising in claiming that each slice of its "singles" cheese contains the calcium equivalent of five ounces of milk. Farmers also accuse Kraft of being "a multinational corporate Scrooge," channelling only a minuscule portion of its profits back into rural communities.
Family farmers condemn Hills for her efforts to promote the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), an international trade agreement that could have devastating effects on the environment and consumer safety, as well as family farmers and sustainable agriculture [see "Trading Away the Family Farm: GATT and Agriculture," Multinational Monitor, November 1990]. Rino Aldrighetti, executive director of the NFFC, says that Hills, through GATT, "seeks to play family farmers of many nations off one another. The result is certain corporate profit but dubious social benefit."
Conoco Capitulates, But...
In a partial victory for environmental organizations and indigenous rights groups, Conoco pulled out of the Block 16 oil development project in the Ecuadoran Amazon on October 11, citing the possibility of better economic prospects elsewhere.
Environmentalists and the indigenous Huaorani people of Ecuador are still concerned about oil development, however, since the Dallas-based Maxus Company plans to continue the project as designed by Conoco [see "Of Oil and Exploitation in Ecuador," Multinational Monitor, January/February 1991].
The Maxus plan for development includes the building of 175 wells and 120 miles of primary access roads, according to Joe Carten, Amazon oil campaigner for the Rainforest Action Network. Carten says that oil development in Block 16 will "threaten the very survival of" all 1,800 members of the Huaorani tribe. Development will result in habitat loss, food loss, logging of Huaorani forests and the outbreak of disease, he contends. At least 100 tribe members will be directly affected by the development since they have hunting and gathering grounds and vegetable gardens in the Block 16 area. The new roads will also provide access into the area for developers, loggers and goldminers. Carten says environmentalists fear that "Maxus' plans for development will substantially compromise the ecological integrity of the Yasuni National Park," a 1.7-million-acre park which is "the largest tract of unspoiled rainforest in the world."
- Holley Knaus