The end of the world

John Vega is a student at Truckee Meadows Community College High School.

The World Bank’s 24-member board recently approved Paul Wolfowitz as its new president. You can bet the Bush administration is happy to have someone who is loyal to it running the 184-nation development bank. A lot of organizations are protesting his appointment as president, including people from the Mobilization for Global Justice and ActionAid International USA.

“Now the developing world has to live with Paul Wolfowitz, a man with no relevant experience but for his oversight of the reconstruction of Iraq—a project beset by corruption, cronyism and incompetence,” said Robert Weissman, director of Essential Action, one of the protest groups.

But the man behind it is not the problem; the World Bank itself is what we should worry about.

The World Bank’s original mission was to finance the reconstruction of nations devastated by WWII. Its operation is maintained through payments by member states. It came into existence in 1945 as a consequence of international agreements at the July 1944 Bretton Woods Conference.

A lot of people don’t know what the bank really does, though. All we hear about in the news is who is going to run it, or whether the bank should or shouldn’t give grants instead of loans.

The bank’s stated mission is to “fight poverty and improve the living standards of people in developing countries,” but its real mission is much more sinister.

The bank has funded 500 dams in 90 countries, displacing 10 million people. It is still funding unproductive dams. It has directly funded four out of the five highest dams in developing countries outside China, three out of the five largest reservoirs in these countries, and three of the five largest hydro plants. In 1982, more than 400 Maya Achí men, women and children were tortured, raped and killed by the Guatemalan army after their community peacefully opposed their forced relocation, caused by the construction of the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) funded Chixoy Dam.

A study in 1999 found that the bank was financing 30 projects involving the incineration of medical waste, thereby producing harmful dioxin pollution.

In 1989, the bank was funding an anti-malaria project in Brazil that used the notorious, much-banned pesticide DDT. And the roads the World Bank cut into the rain forest caused the rise of malaria in the first place.

The World Bank displaces indigenous peoples, builds harmful, unproductive dams, and cuts down forests—all in the name of profit. The new World Bank president won’t make things better, and Americans will continue to be blind to the suffering. We need to wake up and think about exactly what international entities like the World Bank are doing in the name of freedom and justice.