part 12 (last one)

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Posted by Sadie from D006033.N1.Vanderbilt.Edu ( on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 at 0:52AM :

In Reply to: part 11 posted by Sadie from D006033.N1.Vanderbilt.Edu ( on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 at 0:51AM :

Outside the cities in Bolivia, the visitor still enters an unfamiliar world. What are those white flags hanging outside the houses? What does that graffito mean, NO A LA FLEXIBILIZCION? You need a local guide. Drive into the high country and you need a Quechua-speaking guide. In a small town at the base of the mountains, I ask around and find a kid who speaks Quechua and hire him. He’s a chubby teenager who makes himself comfortable, then tells me that his ambition is to study radio so that he can make educational programs for campesinos who don’t speak Spanish and don’t see newspapers or TV but listen faithfully to their radios. What are those white flags? Those are chicherias, unlicensed taverns selling chicha, a homemade corn beer. The flags mean they’re open for business. Chicha is the people’s brew – cheaper than canned beer, which comes from the German brewery. What is flexibilizacion? That was the law that took away labor rights, such as the forty-hour workweek. It was part of structural adjustment and was bitterly opposed by the unions, to no effect.

EVERYTHING FEELS CONTESTED. I ease my rented car through a herd of llamas and try to remember the story. The sale of llama meat, prohibited for centuries, was legalized only in 1994. What was it, besides the power of the big cattle ranchers, that kept llama meat, which is highly nutritious, off the market? “Discriminacion,” I am told, against the Indian herders. We pass a group of peasant women in beautiful, beribboned, handmade straw hats. Those hats, which are expensive, take months to make, and now they are disappearing, under an avalanche of cheap baseball caps from El Norte. The Indian women in the mountains farther to the west adopted the British bowler hat in the nineteenth century and made it jauntily their own. Somehow nothing similar seems likely to happen today. We come to a village with a brilliant, multicolored, woven flag hanging from a lamppost in the plaza. “That is the wiphala of these people.” The wiphala represents local pride, the organization of local peasants, vehemently distinct from the Bolivian state. It has also become a symbol of resistance to globalization. EVERYTHING FEELS CONTESTED.

We run low on gas and find ourselves negotiating with a campesino in his half-tilled potato field. It’s all in Quechua, but I gather he has a can of gas somewhere. He’s reluctant to part with is but finally agrees to sell it to us if we’ll give him a ride to town. I watch him put away his hoe. His wife comes to the door of their hut and studies me. I’ve always despised the social-service penchant for classifying hardy peasant self-sufficiency as “poverty.” It’s such an easy, condescending, incurious, vaguely missionary appropriation of great, unknown worlds of experience and knowledge. This is not a romanticism of peasant life. It’s respect. For the purposes of analysis and advocacy, of course, the “poverty” classification is useful. I’ve often been guilty of it myself. The young Quechua woman watches me, unsmiling, as I drive off with her husband down the mountain.

I later find myself at a big, commercial chicheria near a market town, sitting in the garden with a convivial group of local officials. It’s a sunny afternoon, and a raucous ranchera band plays inside a tile-floored dance hall. Pitchers of cool, earth-tasting chicha keep arriving at our table, accompanied by platters of mote – huge moist kernels of corn. Drinking chicha has its rituals. Four of us share a single drinking bowl, which we pass around, each carefully filling it for the next man. Before each drink, you pour a splash of chicha on the ground and then offer a toast to an Andean earth deity called Pachamama. The chicha buzz is mild, even after half a dozen pitchers.

A couple of my companions are older men. It turns out that they both fled Bolivia during the days of military dictatorship. One made the mistake of going to Chile, shortly before the military coup that overthrew Salvador Allende. Out of the frying pan, he said, shrugging. He ended up being held for weeks inside the National Stadium in Santiago. Not a nice place to be. We drink a round to civilian rule.

Kissinger, we agree, is a war criminal.

We drink a round to democracy.

Talk turns to the I.M.F., whose local representative, a U.S.-trained Israeli economist, is in all the papers. It seems he is giving valedictory interviews because his term is up. His parting message to Bolivia? First and foremost, it must solve the corruption problem. That must be done first. Thank you, Senor Kreis.

Seriously, someone asks me, do I think there is any hope for bringing democracy to the World Bank or the I.M.F.? Or, for that matter, to the U.N. and the W.T.O.? Shouldn’t the citizens of the world be electing representatives to these powerful institutions, so that they might be accountable to someone other than wealthy corporations and their allies in the rich countries? I can’t think of any reason why not. We drink a round to this brilliant idea. It is only later, back at my hotel – or maybe it’s back in New York – that I remember it is only people in countries like Bolivia who know or care what the World Bank or the I.M.F. do. In the West, most of us have other things to worry about.

William Finnegan is the author of “Cold New World.” This article elaborates on ideas in an essay that will appear in “The Fight Is for Democracy,” a collection of original essays by nine writers to be published by HarperCollins in September.

(1) The term was coined in 1989 by John Williamson, of the Institute for International Economics, to describe the conventional wisdom at the U.S. Treasury Department, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund on policy reforms that would aid development in Latin America. Williamson later expressed dismay at the “populist definition,” as he called it, of the term that had taken hold in public debate, where the Washington Consensus became synonymous with market fundamentalism, globally applied.

(2) The Fund is generally seen as more ideological than the Bank. Certainly that is the view of Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winner and former chief economist of the World Bank, whose “Globalization and Its Discontents” comprehensively trashes the Fund for its rigidity. “Decisions were made,” Stiglitz writes, “on the basis of what seemed a curious blend of ideology and bad economics, dogma that sometimes seemed to be thinly veiling special interests.”

(3) William Easterly, a senior Bank economist, tested the limits of that tolerance in 2001 when he published “The Elusive Quest for Growth,” a book that chronicled the failed development panaceas the Bank has promoted over the years. In a prologue, Easterly applauded the fact that his employer “encourages gadflies like me to exercise intellectual freedom.” In the preface to a paperback edition, published 2002, however, Easterly was obliged to revise this assessment. In truth, the Bank, he had learned, “encourages gadflies like me to find another job.”

(4) The F.T.A.A. even made it onto the Bush National Security Strategy’s wish list. Regional and bilateral trade pacts have recently bumped multilateral venues, notably the W.T.O., from the top of the administration’s trade priorities. Bilateral agreements with Jordan, Chile, and Singapore have already been reached. Morocco and Australia are among those next in line. W.T.O. trade rules are, by their global nature, more difficult to control than bilateral agreements with much smaller economies. Indeed, the U.S. has recently violated W.T.O. trade rules so consistently that the organization’s top officials have likened American trade unilateralism to Bush’s policy toward Iraq.

(5) It’s also being done by war planners. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Bush Administration’s plan to rebuild and administer a conquered Iraq relies not on the U.N. or other international-development agencies but on American private companies with deep Pentagon connections, such as Bechtel and Kellogg Brown & Root, which have been secretly bidding on contracts since February.

-- Sadie
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