Interviews

Four Women In Recife, Brazil

JosephaI live in this shed and I am just short of 2000 to pay it off. I am crippled in one leg. I am not lying. I am a hard-working woman. I work in different places. Nowadays, I live like this. My hope is that Lula [President of Brazil] sees me talking. God, whereever you are, help me! I only need 2000 to pay for this shed. I was sleeping in the street with my children. I am a hard worker, a fighter. If Lula were to win another time, I hope he would win a thousand times. He was so good to me and to all the people here.

VeraOur lives are always like this. We do not have work. We earn very little. That will continue as long as God wishes, and the “big people,” right? I get a subsidy for my children’s school fees, and my husband does odd jobs. I wash some clothes. I get a stipend of 350 Reals because I have two kids in school. But only until they reach 15, which they are now.

MariaAh, my life here is a blessing. You know why? When I came to live here I liked it a lot. Where I was before, I was suffering. Thank God, Jesus, and the president. God bless him, because he sends us a family stipend. That is something marvelous because a lot of people do not get their daily bread at home, right? Thank God, with his help, 10 reals from here, 5 from here, 20 from there, you add up and bring stuff into the house. With the mercy of Jesus, I sell “tapioca.” I am a tapioca maker, I do not look like one but I am, thanks to Jesus’s mercy. Tapioca is starch. The one with coconut is 1 Real, and the cheese with coconut is 1.50. It is delicious! People like coffee. I sell it to my customers and sit with them and chat. That way we lead our lives. I work from 4:30 until 10 at night. My customers come all in the afternoon. When (business) is slow I sell ten tapiocas or seven or two. Sometimes I do not sell any, and I return home.

MariaI do not get a school stipend because my daughter did not get in. We get a family stipend of 65 a month, which is based on the number of people you have at home. Thank God, it is already some help, right? When the family stipend ends it will be the end for all of us.

LeticiaIn order for my husband to buy her [the baby] milk, he spends all day in the hot sun. There are days he goes without food. He spends around 25 Reais a week to buy milk, diapers, medication, things for the house. The milk costs 5 Reais and the dough 5. And when we do not have enough, my father helps us. He will buy milk, dough.

VeraMy daughter, my son, my husband, and I live on my husband’s retirement plan of 350 Reaisa month. We used to live in the boss’s back yard. He gave us around 2,000 Reais to buy this place. So I bought it. My son is 20; he studies. My daughter, 24, also studies and she is part of the “Pro-Youth” program right now. We hope things will improve in the future. Mayors here make promises. We hope the president will help us get out of this place. That is what we are waiting for.

VeraWhen we do not have enough money, we eat couscous, which is the cheapest. When we have some extra money we eat bread. Bread and coffee. That is for breakfast. For lunch, we eat eggs, sausage. We only eat better quality meat on the weekends, on Sunday. I always save some money to buy meat on weekends. On weekdays, it is normal, sausage, eggs. For dinner, it is the same as in the morning. Sometimes couscous, sometimes bread. We cannot buy yams or manioc because they are expensive. We have a better breakfast only when he gets paid. The money we have is for everything: our food, medication for him, because he has a skin problem, to buy medicines and his antibiotics. We try to stretch it. There are days we sleep without eating. That is how we live until he is paid again. He cannot work with the problem he has. He is already 77 years old. His vision is already very poor. I stay home because there is no work. I only go to work when I get a cleaning job to do. Real work is hard to come by.

VeraI hope my kids have a good life, so they can help my husband and me in the future. We are the ones helping them, but not so they can use drugs in the future. Got it? They must be good people. I am hoping they will not go through what we are going through now, because it is not very good. They know that all I want for them is the best. I hope they will also share what they make with us if they live with us.

 



Eric Toussain
Author, Activist

Historical Exploitation

The neoliberal thesis sees the wealth attained by Europeans under adverse conditions as proof that they are the elect, according to the Protestant religion. It proves that they adopted a better economic system than any other. Eric Toussaint

What no one says is that the Dutch were truly savage in the way they exploited their Asian colonies or that their commercial success came from products they imported from Asia. This enabled Amsterdam to become the financial capital of the world before it was transferred to London in the 18th century. Financial centers determined the prices of raw materials from the South. Part of their power and wealth came from exploiting the South. Another part derived from exploiting their own people. This was notably true of the textile and ceramics industies, each of which the Dutch destroyed in Indonesia to construct their own. Dutch products were actually based on techniques copied in Indonesia, particularly Java. The Dutch industries exploited the Dutch people, who worked 12 to 14 hours a day.

The British followed the same pattern. At home, they deprived people of their land through the enclosure movement and then exploited them in urban factories. Abroad, they destroyed the Indian textile industry, which was clearly better than the British, and forbade the import of sheets and other manufactured products from the colonies. Then they copied Indian techniques, and exported cotton textiles to India and forced them upon the Indians. As Balzac wrote “Behind every great fortune lies a crime.” Genocide is the basis of the wealth of the businesses of the North. The wealth of the North, owes a debt to the South—historical, social, ecological, and cultural. The people of the South, as creditors of Northern wealth, are perfectly right to demand reparations. We should not speak of Northern generosity.

World Bank Mission: Not Fighting Poverty

Exploitation continues in the form of low export prices of raw materials from the South. Only 3% or 4% of the price of a cup of coffee in a supermarket goes to pay the producer.

Coffee produced in Kenya, Mexico, or Indonesia is sold to you by a chain of intermediaries. Even though the wealth is produced in the South, the profits are realized in the North, thereby perpetuating the domination of the North.

In my last book on the World Bank, The World Bank, permanent coup d’etat, and the hidden agenda of the Washington Consensus, I showed that the World Bank never had a mission to reduce poverty. Its mission has always been to open the economies of the South for the exports and investments of the economies of the North.

“The secret of great wealth with no obvious source is some forgotten crime, forgotten because it was done neatly.” (from Balzac’s novel, Le Père Goriot) I reveal in my book something you won’t find anywhere else. A World Bank report reveals an “original sin” as follows: In total contradiction of international law, when Kenya and other African countries became independent, they inherited the debt the UK, France, and Belgium contracted in colonizing Africa. Since the Versailles Treaty, debts contracted by colonial powers in colonizing a country cannot be passed on to the colony upon independence. The World Bank encouraged the new states to become more indebted, even though internal Bank documents revealed that the debt burden on the South was becoming unsustainable.

MacNamara became president of the World Bank in 1968, at the end of the Vietnam War. Putting a war leader in charge of an organization that is charged with fighting poverty is the wrong person for the job. He proposed to fight poverty within the World Bank ideology, but he also supported enormous energy projects that further increased the debt of the South, such as the Inga Dam on the lower Congo. He launched the Green Revolution, the development and use of new seed varieties, along with massive quantities of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, which industrialized agriculture. That brought about the dependence of peasants on products that were then monopolized by Monsanto, such as herbicides and transgenic seeds. It seems to have been premeditated.

When the inevitable debt crisis in the Third World arrived in 1982, the World Bank was surprised, and said “Sorry, but you have to adjust your economies.” Paul Volcker, head of the US Federal Reserve, had precipitated the debt crisis by raising interest rates by a factor of four. Many countries had variable interest rates, indexed to London and New York. When interest rates rose, they were strangled and defaulted on their loans. At the same time, in 1981, the price of raw materials (copper and nickel) and agricultural exports (coffee and tea) fell compared to the 1970s, along with petroleum prices, leaving the South more indebted.

The IMF and World Bank, which had created those conditions, began to impose “structural adjustments” on the economies of the Third World. As I show in my book, The World Bank , in its annual reports of 1979 to 1981, stated that the countries of the South managed their economies better than in the North, because in the North, there was an historic economic crisis. Ed.: Toussaint adds that the World Bank not only treated the illegal debt as legitimate, but also encouraged developing countries to take on more debt, to give up food security in order to concentrate on exports of a few tropical products, and to import grain from the North.

In 1983 and 1984, the World Bank changed its tune in its report and said, in effect, that the South had borrowed too much, that their economies were badly managed, and that they had to pay the price and make adjustments. Countries were first pushed into the debt trap, then the trap shut on them. People then began talking of globalization, which had a political dimension: the North aggresively seeking to retake control of the South.

In the 1960s and 1970s, there was progress in the South on many fronts. The nations of the South sought to create greater autonomy and greater solidarity and to implement a model of industrialization based on import substitution. Large industries were developed in Brazil, Argentina, and Asian countries. The UN created UNCTAD and adopted a resolution on the right of development. The nonaligned movement and socialist experiments (such as Cuba) brought about progress in education and health care. Many nations nationalized their resources.

Northern Domination, Southern Resistance

Nationalization was intolerable to the North, which is why structural adjustment in the 1980s forced privatization of petroleum enterprises, and put them in the hands of the majors. Fortunately, a few countries refused to privatize their oil companies. In others, such as Bolivia, governments are reclaiming control of their natural resources.

It seemed after twenty years of globalization that the World Bank, IMF, and WTO dominated everything. But a timid restoration of balance has begun. In some Latin American countries, they say they are going to break with the global system. On a planetary scale, we are in an extremely interesting period in which those who resist, including governments, are taking timid initiatives.

Those who dominate the world are once again reacting strongly to this, with bombardment, invasion, and subtle ways of issuing rules through bilateral treaties on investments via free trade agreements to codify rules that will imprison the South. It is key to see in the years to come if the governments of the South will cave in or if, under pressure from their own people, they will reject as invalid prior treaties and agreements because they do not respect their national sovereignty. We can only hope they replace those rules with ones that are collaborative and favorable to the economic development of the South and the satisfaction of basic human needs.

Ed.: Toussaint points out that the North has already begun to react militarily to changes, such as the US intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq.