Center for World Indigenous Studies
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WB Double Edged Sword?

Published: September 5, 2014, Author: Rÿser Rudolph C.

The World Bank is currently reviewing a draft policy statement updating its “safeguard policies” for a proposed environmental and social framework.

in 1982 the World Bank released its policy concerning indigenous peoples asserting that states’ governments seeking development loans that may have an affect on the interests and rights of indigenous peoples must demonstrate that each affected indigenous population must be first consulted.  This was a good side of the World Bank sword. On the other side, each state that did apply for a loan included population removal costs, tiny health clinic or an other “program” to “mitigate the adverse effects of a World Bank loan.” CWIS published its analysis of that “new policy” in 1982 essentially arguing that Fourth World nations had better watch out since World Bank money was likely to be used against them and to the interests of states’ governments and particularly transnational corporations. In the year of its release, many people, including indigenous peoples’ leaders applauded the World Bank’s progressive policy. We did not see it that way.  Within a few short years CWIS was actively pursuing the World Bank through efforts to get states’ governments to cut their financial transfer commitments so as to prevent the truly sinister and adverse effects of the World Bank policy on Fourth World nations.

Let it be understood, we have held the view that the World Bank could adopt and execute policies that have constructive and beneficial results for Fourth World peoples. But, it was also noted that the tendency of states’ governments to “interpret” the World Bank’s policies in the most favorable light to benefit the state and corporate development state interpretations received a great boost by the US Ronald Reagan’s government and the UK government’s Margaret Thatcher for neo-liberal economics (read: trickle down). In the thirty four years since these policies were put in place Fourth World peoples have seen the greatest levels of destructive development since European globalization of the 15th century.

And now the World Bank’s Executive Committee on Development Effectiveness (CODE) drafted and then released on 30 July 2014 a new draft policy statement.  Entitled “Setting Standards for Sustainable Development” the policy statement contains a greater level of neo-liberal ideology, but the language is shrouded in “illusory phrases devoid of little real content” according to Mark Kernan in his CounterPunch analysis. The WB Board of Directors’ Executive Committee on Development Effectiveness released its “Background Paper” entitled “Review and Update of the World Bank’s Safeguard Policies – proposed environmental and social framework.”

We agree with Mark Kernan’s CounterPunch analysis! His discussion of the “opt-out clause” built into the World Bank’s policy draft is the most obvious threat to the already challenged existence of Fourth World peoples. Who or what are “indigenous and tribal peoples” is a weakness that Kernan points to the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 as a shortcoming, which states and corporations can use to secure loans and inundate Fourth World nations through “sustainable development.” The options for enforced development by outsiders for Fourth World nations include population resettlement, conversion to capitalism, silent suffering or political or violent resistance.

Kernan accurately describes the prospective results of the draft policy if it is adopted in its present form:

“The protective protocols are lowering, instead, “Reform” and “growth”, the two great euphemistic shibboleths of neo-liberalism are back, but perhaps they never really went away. Given the banks’ history, and its history in the context of neo-colonialism, none of this should come as any surprise. And moreover, the implications of the initiative if implemented may well be as deadly as anything that has gone before.” (CounterPunch)

Fourth World nations must come to recognize the “double edged sword” that is World Bank policy (past, present and future) and can no longer sit on the sidelines allowing states and corporations define what is “development” and what is “sustainable.” Externally imposed “development” is all too frequently a disaster for Fourth World nations. Internally determined “development” follows the contours of the Fourth World nation itself, its political development and its cultural requirements. It is the latter understanding of “development” that has for more than 6000 years given successes for both human beings and life-giving environment. The so-called “free market economy” and “development for sustainability” are proven failures for long-term human survival and long-term environmental security, but these approaches are great for short-term financial gain.

The Center for World Indigenous Studies will work to support and urge Fourth World governments to take a proactive role in the World Bank policy review process in an effort to curb the adverse effects of World Bank environmental and social policies.

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