Commentary: effect of DC's decade of IMF protest on current IMF/World Bank policy

On the 5th of April, Jubilee USA reported that the IMF has agreed to suspend "debt" repayments during the pandemic from 28 of the world's poorest countries. While this falls far short of the original and ongoing demand of full debt cancelllation, there is no way the pre-A16/April 2000 IMF and World Bank would have done this. A decade of protests mostly in DC came in between.

A16 was the massive siege of the IMF and World Bank's Spring 2000 meetings by as many as 30,000 activists from a broad base of groups and positions. Ranging from organized labor to environmental and animal rights activists to a full-on black bloc, the combined forces were comparable in numbers to at least six brigades of the US Army's soldiers.

The author of this report was there on the ground as desperate Secret Service on 15th st resorted to negotiating with protesters to allow staffers to reach the White House on condition that this acces was not used to reach the World Bank or IMF. This came after a bluffing threat to fire rubber bullets was called. Actions began with hard lockdowns in the early AM hours, and soon everything from 15th st to 22nd st, from E st to I street was surrounded by a street width thick blockade of endlessly marching protesters protecting a hardened inner perimeter.

Summer that same year, the IMF rejected a proposal to fund a proposal by China to subsidize resettlement of farmers displaced by other factors to lands stolen from Tibet. The sudden public scrutiny of the IMF (like that of FERC a generation later over fracking and pipelines) may well have played a role in this decision.

Also that summer, the author of this report publicly predicted that every IMF and World Bank meeting for the next ten years would have to meet behind riot cops-and that George W Bush would win or steal the election but have to wear a gas mask to his own Inauguration. Both of these came close to the events that actually followed. The J20/2001 Inauguration protests were quite forceful, forcing Bush's motorcade to go as fast as the Secret Service agents alongside could run. This was followed by his invasion of Iraq, and the decade-long insurgency and domestic protests and direct action that followed. Street protests against the IMF and World Bank ran even longer, nearly to 2015 and the start of the Trump nightmare.

DC hosted all IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings and 2 out of 3 of the Fall meetings. Thus, twice a year it seemed the same activists faced off against the same cops, with major protests in 2002 (including another illegal mass arrest at Pershing Park vs the "People's Strike"), Spring 2003 against both the Iraq War and the IMF Meetings, Fall 2006 including the "IMF Soccer Riot," the Fall 2008 "October Rebellion" that marched on Georgetown, and the Spring 2009-Fall 2010 string of IMF protests that featured "Harold" being removed from command of police at these protests after being caught on video swearing at protesters. Fall 2010 police response was chaotic, featuring a "trap and release" false kettle. In Spring 2011 police seemed to be on their best behavior, as IMF protests joined with big "power shift" environmental protests. Spring 2012 featured an Occupy-themed week of protest culminating in the "Octopus" that was the center of a network of ropes used to block access by IMF delegates to the meetings.

The last major protests against the Bank and the Fund in DC were in Spring 2013 joiniong with NNU(the nurses group) but protests continued all the way to 2015 before the Trump years disrupted trade on the one hand and forced protesters into new battles on the other. This may yet come back up if Biden starts pushing new trade deals.

One of the major impacts of the repeated death of trade deals targetted by protesters (Doha Round, FTAA, etc) was to force both candidates in the 2016 US Presidental election to oppose the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) trade treaty supported by Obama and the US Trade Representative's office. As proposed at that time, the treaty contained nearly all of the corporate court, GMO, drug patent, and other terms that activists had been fighting since the failed 1990's "Multilateral Agreement on Investments" or MAI and shortly later Seattle and IMF protests.

Both Hillery Clinton and Donald Trump publicly claimed to oppose the TPP, though white labor voters who did not care about racial issues considered Trump more reliable on this issue. Right up to election night, much of the Left was expecting Hillery Clinton to win and two days later announce she had reversed her position on the TPP. Instead, racist white voters (75% of US men polled GOP the following year) propelled Trump into office. Nearly lost in the surge of fear and racist hate that followed was his decision to pull the US out of the already finalized but not ratified TPP deal. With the US gone, the other participants reopened the negotiations and removed some of the USTR's worst proposals. Meanwhile, Trump (acting as Hillery was expected to) supported most of the TPP's worst proposals in other trade deals such as his NAFTA renegotiation talks.

This brings us back to current IMF and World Bank behavior. Their influence has been greatly lessened. Former Venezualan president Hug Chavez used oil revenue to pay off many loans saddling other Latin American nations, thus removing one method used by US corporate imperialists to ensure access. As of now, the IMF does not dare attempt to impose sanctions on the 28 poorest nations owing them money, suspending these "debt" payments instead.

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