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CADTM South Asia meets in Colombo, Sri Lanka
by Stéphanie Jacquemont
17 December 2010

From 9 to 11 December 2010, a series of activities were attended by delegates of CADTM from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India and Belgium in Colombo. The monsoon, which usually prevails in this region from May to September, was invited to the party, presumably to remind the
importance of COP 16 discussions, which took place at the same time, thousands of miles away in Cancun, Mexico. In short, it rained 8 hours per day. A year after the workshop in Dhaka, it was an occasion to exchange experiences and highlight the commonalities that are likely to become issues for campaigns and the basis for united struggles. It was also an opportunity to review the work done in recent years and to explore the possibilities of common progress, both in individual countries and at a subcontinental level, in the fight against debt and structural adjustments.

The activities began on 9 and 10 December with the 4th CADTM South Asia Workshop on “Debt and International Financial Institutions”. Eric Toussaint and Stéphanie Jacquemont, delegates from Belgium presented a global analysis of the debt of the North and South and the IMF-World Bank in the new context created by the crisis that erupted in 2007-2008. Even if it is the mostly the debt in Europe which has made headlines recently, and also if the debts of developing countries are only a drop in the ocean of global private and public debt, it is no less a threat to these vulnerable countries which are dependent on the international situation. A rise in interest rates which are now historically low or falling commodity prices and the debt trap could close on them, as in 1982.

Presentations on Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan took this threats into account. B Skanthakumar See from the host organization, LST (Law and Society Trust), gave an overview of the debt situation of Sri Lanka, focusing on stand-by agreement signed with the IMF, whose stringent conditions were incorporated into the 2011 budget. This was indeed heartily welcomed by the financial world. Ajit Muricken of VAK/ CADTM India explained the consequences of the action of the World Bank in the country, which in 2010 was still the largest “beneficiary” of loans from the International Development Agency (IDA). Other delegates from India (Sudha Reddy, CS Lakshmanan and Jacob John), each in turn, highlighted the consequences of neoliberal policies in force in this country and the resistance posed by the populations concerned. The case of people in Chennai who are evicted from their homes to make way for real estate projects, or workers in export processing zones whose rights are systematically violated, privatization (with the introduction of the much lauded public-private partnerships) of the water supply in Karnataka, the Chenchu tribes in the state of Andhra Pradesh whose way of life and survival are threatened by mining projects; all evidences showed the logic of destruction and exploitation of men and women and of nature that underlies the neo-liberal ideology.

The next day, Abdul Khaliq of Pakistan strongly denounced both ’D’ that engulf much of the country’s tax revenues: Debt and Defence, he prefers to call, less euphemistically, the military budget. He also stressed the growing response of the campaign for debt relief in public opinion, the media and even the government, following the devastating floods of August-September. Rabbiya Bajwa, a lawyer, member of CADTM Pakistan, explained how she could get the Lahore Bar Association unanimously vote a resolution calling for the debt cancellation.

The discussions that accompanied the presentations addressed issues important to the region, such as the role of India and China, the possibility of a major crisis in China, increasing domestic debt of
developing countries, the role of foreign investment in the region, the immense climate and ecological debt accumulated by governments and Northern transnational and also their Southern counterparts against the people.

The morning concluded with a brainstorming session of two working groups that studied several issues: the importance of debt in different countries, the consequences of the actions of international
financial institutions and future strategies in the sub-continent and across the continent to raise awareness and mobilize prople on the issue of debt and structural adjustment. The rejection of privatization was discussed, among other topics, as the axis of a campaign that could bring together a large number of organizations and social movements in the region.

On the evening of December 10, Abdul Khaliq & Eric Toussaint gave a talk on “Neoliberal crisis or crisis of neoliberalism.” The speakers painted a picture of the failure of capitalism in its neoliberal
phase, while showing how, paradoxically, neoliberalism emerged stronger from the global crisis. Resistance, although stronger in some countries, particularly in Europe, have failed to defeat the
neo-liberal capitalism and the processes underway in some countries of Latin America (mainly Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela) can get stuck if they do not offer a more radical anti-capitalist answer to the systemic crisis that we are living in. The conclusion is known yet it is still necessary to reiterate: the popular mobilization and convergence of struggles remain, ultimately, the only weapons in the hands of activists fighting for social justice.

The activities of CADTM South Asia in Colombo were completed on Saturday morning, December 11 with an internal meeting of CADTM. A report of the World Assembly of the network held in Liège from December 22 to 24 was presented. Members present also took stock of the past year and outlined the upcoming projects: preparation and publication of a booklet with information on the debt of several countries in the region, regional campaign on the rejection of privatization, Urdu translation of the book 60 questions/60 answers about the debt, the IMF and World Bank, preparing a book on the after-flood in Pakistan, etc.. The delegates agreed to set up a regional coordination group, and decided to meet the next year, from 3 to 5 November 2011, in Pakistan.

Translated by Sushovan Dhar

Stéphanie Jacquemont