MADRE Articles

Neoliberal Jihadist at the World Bank

Posted on: Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Keywords: Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Global Food Crisis, Women's Health, Peace Building

This spring, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz was forced to resign because of a scandal. Of course, the real scandal is the World Bank's flagrant violation of its own mission. Charged with fighting global poverty, the Bank has consistently pursued policies that worsen poverty and inequality, in order to further enrich big corporations based mainly in the US and Europe.

The World Bank demands that poor governments privatize water supplies, healthcare, and education, violating people's human rights to these critical resources. The Bank forces governments to abandon protections for small-scale farms, businesses, and industries, threatening millions of people's livelihoods and traditional ways of life. These neoliberal policies have had a detrimental impact on women, who are responsible for meeting the basic needs of most of the world's people, and who grow and produce most of the world's food.

In late May, George Bush exercised one of the unwritten prerogatives of US presidents and hand-picked the new head of the World Bank. He chose Robert Zoellick. Who is Zoellick and what will his presidency mean for women and families in the world's poorest countries?

  • Robert Zoellick is a hard-line neoconservative, a cheerleader for the Iraq War, and a devotee of neoliberal economics.
  • In the 1990s, Zoellick was part of the Project for a New American Century, which called on the US to invade Iraq and project its military power across the world.
  • Zoellick shares Bush's contempt for international cooperation and the rule of law. According to Zoellick, " agreements and institutions [are] means to achieve ends, not forms of political therapy".
  • As US Trade Representative during Bush's first term, Zoellick exploited the 9/11 attacks to push his free-trade agenda. His opportunistic "countering terror with trade" campaign portrayed corporate profiteering as a moral imperative and free trade as an antidote to terrorism and a matter of national security.
  • Zoellick vilified economic justice activists by equating anti-globalization protesters with the 9/11 attackers. He helped aim the expanded powers of US militarism at peaceful demonstrators in Miami, where a November 2003 protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas was broken up with tear gas and rubber bullets.
  • At the World Trade Organization meetings, Zoellick tried to bully governments of the Global South into accepting trade agreements that would bankrupt millions of farmers in their countries (most of them women). He prioritized pharmaceutical industry profits over the lives of millions of people by pushing for trade rules that increase the cost of lifesaving medicines to treat AIDS and other diseases that mainly threaten people in the poorest countries.

The one thing we can look forward to with Zoellick heading up the World Bank is clarity about the Bank's real role in the global economy. This is no development agency working to fight poverty, but an arm of the world's richest corporations and governments working to ensure their own interests, even if they trample human rights in the process.

During this period, MADRE will continue to work with our sister organizations to enhance women's capacities to formulate and demand progressive alternatives to World Bank policies.

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