Relieving poverty must be part of the fight against terrorism
Stabroek News
April 1, 2002

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Dear Editor,

Is the combination of terrorism and poverty the world's new axis of evil that must be defeated? It is a combination that is making for the most intriguing two-act play, with all sorts of players and no definite way of knowing how it all will end, whether a suspense thriller or a joy killer.

In one act, the American-led antiterrorism efforts, potentially interminable given the tenacity and resilience of the terrorists, understandably will cause the Bush Administration to increase its military spending to combat perceived and real threats to its sovereignty and superpower status worldwide. Meanwhile, the Administration's previous gamble with certain unilateral moves, usually associated with 'superpowerdom', may now be mixed with widening diplomatic consultations.

In another act, the world's poorest nations, facing worsening levels of poverty despite all the advancements in science and technology, understandably are calling for billions of dollars in increased aid and investment to combat the ravaging pains of poverty.

At last week's U.N. International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico, called to allow rich nations to focus on growing resentment in the developing world, President of the U.N. General Assembly, Han Seungsoo, said, "In the wake of September 11, we will forcefully demand that development, peace and security are inseparable," adding that the world's poorest nations are "the breeding ground for violence and despair."

The Bush Administration, in response, reportedly offered to increase its foreign aid by 50 percent over three years, beginning in 2004, raising development assistance to $15 billion, from the current $10 billion by 2006. But when compared with the hundreds of billions projected for military development, this is a mere pittance and it is one of the major ironic concerns of the poorest nations.

President Bush, who addressed the conference, also revealed his Administration's new foreign aid position by linking such aid to these poor nations' successful attempts at rooting out corruption and effecting serious political reform. He also expressed need for greater accountability between rich and poor nations.

This call for accountability is being seen as his response to the cries of the poorest nations of the world for reforms, particularly in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, institutions through which the rich nations funnel money to their poor counterparts.

Established 57 years ago to alleviate global socioeconomic sufferings and steady foreign currency systems, both the W.B and the I.M.F have failed to deliver on their goals, as the current level of world poverty indicates. But there is enough blame to go around for this poverty that threatens to spread, starting with these institutions' apparent lack of understanding of the diverse cultures - political, social, and economic - of the recipient nations, which often caused all kinds of preset conditions and requirements, drafted in Washington, to result in worsening situations in local economies. Haiti and Argentina are just two close-to-home examples.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics and one-time chief economist of the bank said, "The IMF is taken seriously in the advice it gives," indicating recipient nations usually follow through on the IMF's advice, and which then raise the questions: who are the advisors and how are they appointed? If they represent the donor countries and not the recipient countries, what mechanism, if any, is there for the recipient nations to get the donor nations to know that the W.B and I.M.F advice and policies are not working? Why wait until after 57 years and billions of dollars to finally accept that the WB and IMF need to be reformed? The rich nations obviously failed, too, for taking this long to respond with reforms in the WB and IMF.

But governments of recipient nations also have been blamed for embracing both policies and programmes that did not cater to true development, choosing rather to ensure they remained in office while corruption and mismanagement eroded the foundation on which development should have been built. The West also has to shoulder responsibility for turning a blind eye to corrupt governments simply because the alternative political parties capable of occupying office were socialist or communist oriented. Nevertheless, the need for reforms on both sides is understandable.

Now, whether these reforms, whatever their format, will reduce global poverty is left to be seen, but because poverty is now being linked by some to the emergence of terrorism and threats to peace and stability, a sense of urgency has to attend every major decision by multilateral financial lending institutions, rich nations and poor nations. Fighting for political freedom and economic justice is understandable, but lawless and chaotic fighting to overthrow a world system is unacceptable. There are enough institutions and laws in our world to change any system, including the American-led capitalist system, without resorting to lawlessness and mayhem. The questions are: where is the needed consensus? And who will bell the cat? Is it Europe?

That is why it is difficult for others to see any attachment between the terrorist campaign being unleashed against America by Arab extremists and poverty in their region, without first overcoming the fear that this really is a religious war to dethrone Judeo-Christian values and systems. Those oil-rich Arab nations make billions of dollars, more than enough to even lend or give poor nations, but is the accumulated wealth being evenly distributed among their own people, even as some governments spend billions on military hardware? If not, while poverty ravages their people, why don't the Arab militants confront their respective governments, rather than the United States, to effect reforms?

Yours faithfully,

Emile Mervin