The sun was shining. Its hot rays reminded me of Egypt in early summer. But I was here in Porto Alegre at the beginning of February, 2002, in the capitol of Rio Grande do Sul, a province in the South of Brazil, and for me this was normally mid-winter.
I was sitting on a high platform and in front of me, in the huge auditorium stretched a sea of faces, men, women, and youth, their eyes shining like stars. Faces that were dark, or bronzed, or white, or red or yellow, five thousand of them filling up the auditorium, over following into the aisles and passengers, into every inch of space, standing or sitting or squatting.
They had come from every corner of the world, from North and South, east and West, from every city, town and village in brazil, carrying their coloured flags, their banners inscribed with the names and slogans of their organizations. Above this moving ocean of faces, fags, banners, songs and slogans floated a huge purple and white banner. On it was the slogan of the "World Social Forum" written in different languages "Another World is Possible", "Un Autre Monde est Possible", "Aqui Um Outro Mondo e possivel".
Voices kept rising in the air scanding out a powerful chorus in different languages:
-Down with Neo-colonialism
-Long Live the Unity of Peoples
-Fair Trade Not Aid
-We donít owe. We wonít pay
Amidst all the voices my ears catch the sound of Arabic words loud and clear shouted out in chorus. "Condemn Sharon" I look around and there the flag of Palestine red, white, green and black carried by men and women from Arab and other countries.
The platform on which I sit is that of the Tribunal on foreign debt. We are six judges, three women and three men. The President is a jurist from South Africa called "Domeza Siebaga".
The other judges are "Dimitrio Valentini" from Brazil, "Nawal El Saadawi" from North Africa, "Loretta Rosali" from the Philippines, "Nora Cortinas" from Argentina and "Chandra Sekkar" from India.
On the right side of the platform was seated the Prosecutor "Alessandro Teitlbaum" and jurist from Argentina flanked by his assistants from Uganda, Mali, the Senegal, Ecuador, the Dominicans, Nicaragua, India, Angola and Brazil.
The jury placed to our left was composed of twelve members, women and men from Argentina, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Mali, South Africa Tanzania, the Fuji Islands, Indonesia, Cuba, Haiti, China and the Philippines.
The proceedings lasted for two whole days from nine in the morning until seven in the evening on the 1 and 2 February with breaks for lunch. During these two days we listened to eighteen witnesses, eight from Africa, five from Asia, and five from Latin America. They had come to give their testimony on the effects of foreign debts on the economy and the life of people in their countries, on the results of policies enforced by the World Banks, the International monetary fund, the transnational corporation in the rich capitalist countries particularly in the Untied States.
This people's tribunal, the first of its kind to examine and condemn the economic genocide imposed on peoples of the South through the accumulation of foreign debt had been convened within the framework of the "World Social Forum" held in "Porto Alegre" during the first two weeks of February 2002. It was sponsored and organized by a non-governmental association called Jubilee South based in South Africa and in Brazil. Jubilee South is an off-shoot of the International Committee against foreign debt.
I was a writer and a medical doctor but my interest in womenís issues had led me to engage in diverse activities and struggles. In March 1992 I had participated as a judge in a tribunal headed by Ramsay Clarke once attorney general of the United States. This tribunal was held at that time to try George Bush (the Father) for his leading role in launching the Gulf War against Iraq in January 1991. Now it was George W. Bush the son who was waging what he called a "war against terrorism" but which in fact was once more a war to expand and reinforce the hegemony of the United States over the whole world, and to ensure control of oil wherever it lay under the surface of the earth or under the waters of the ocean and seas. I sat up there on the platform with five other judges feeling proud that I had been chosen by this peoples movement to represent North Africa and the Arab region on this peoples Tribunal, once more to judge those who continued to commit crimes against humanity. So I listened with attention to the prosecutor and his assistants then to the witnesses from Africa, Asia and Latin America as they climbed up one after the other on the platform to describe the harm done by foreign debts, and by the policies of structural adjustment" imposed by the Whole Bank and the International Monetary fund on countries of the South so that they could pay their debts, the interest on these debts, and the servicing of these debts, pay back as an end result ten folds the sums they had originally been loaned. I listened with pain and anger to the stories of destruction, of plunder, of starvation, of illness and suffering, and death. To the way in which the accumulation of foreign debt had led to a rapid depletion of resources, to increasing inequality in the balance of trade between poor and rich countries, to economies geared to exports that only serve o repay debts, to reduction in services and government expenditure, to speculation resulting from currencies bound to the dollar. What may be turned termed to economic and social genocide.
I was particularly interested in those who spoke of the link between foreign debts and war, for today in our region and elsewhere we are once more threatened with, The war waged by the United Sates and its "allies" in Afghanistan has shown us what a war waged with the most modern and destructive technology can mean.
Doctor Sherif Hetata who has been chosen as a witness from North Africa succeeded in giving us a vivid and graphic account of the relationship between the history of colonialism in Egypt, foreign debt and war, British Colonialism occupied Egypt in the eighties of the nineteenth century to ensure payment of the debts incurred by the ruler Kheolive Ismail, and to sub due the popular revolt against foreign intervention in economic affairs. In 1956 President Nasser turned down a loan offered the World Bank to build the High Dam in Aswan because Allan Dulles Foreign Secretary of the United States insisted that it be tied to foreign supervision of Egyptís finances similar tot hat imposed seventy years before on the country by British and French colonialism. This obliged Nasser to nationalize the Suez Canal and was followed by the war waged by England, France and Israel against Egypt in October 1956.
In January 1991 Egypt was pressurized by the Untied States to engage in the Gulf War waged by thirty countries against Iraq. The price paid for this engagement was a reduction of seven million dollars in Egyptís foreign debt, which was rapidly recuperated by the United States and their Western countries through the imbalance in trade. But most serious was the destruction of Iraq as an up coming Arab country. The further fragmenting of solidarity between the Arab countries, the lightening of American control both economic and military and the creation of a balance of power even more favorable to Israel over the region.
When Nasser died in 1970, the foreign debt of Egypt did not exceed the paltry sum of three milliard dollars. At the time of the Gulf War it had topped the sum of forty-five milliard dollars. Now it was said to be around thirty-seven milliard dollars but after the events of 11 September 2001 Egypt is feuding for more loans. The dollar exchange rate during Nasserís time had reached five hundred and sixty piastres bringing another rapid inflamatory rise in the prices of all commodities.
He ended his testimony by saying, "Transnational capitol needs war to fight the recession. Capitalism cannot live without war and we must fight for peace everywhere, for peace build on justice, People in Egypt and everywhere need peace. They can defeat the war machine of the United States by putting their efforts together.
The last session of this escceptionally important tribunal was attended by the governor of "Rio Grande do sul" Olivio Dutree who is the head of the "Socialist Workers Party", the leading faction in a fourteen party organization coalition. He pronounced a short speech detailing some of the effects of foreign debt and neo- colonial intervention in the life of Brazil.
At the end of the proceedings the jury issued a fourteen point verdict condemning policies related to foreign debt and those responsible for the implementation of such policies namely the World Banks, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the transnational corporations, the government of rich capitalist counties and the rulers of the South who capitulate to these policies.
The judges endorsed the verdict but the Tribunal decided to communicate one verdict to the organization and governments responsible for the offences detailed in it. Their representatives will be asked to attend a second session of the Tribunal to be held during the month of April 2002 so that they can present their defense. The final sentence of the Tribunal will be pronounced after hearing the accused, or if they abstain from appearing before the court.
3 Feb. 200
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