Protesters urge IMF, World Bank to cancel third world debt

About 1,000 protesters roller-skated, chanted and danced their way through the streets of downtown D.C. Saturday to oppose the policies of the International Money Fund and World Bank.

Saturday’s demonstration was a watered-down version of previous IMF and World Bank protests that drew upwards of 50,000 people. Protest leaders attributed the low turnout to Sunday’s March for Women’s Lives, an abortion rights march that was attended by more than 500,000 people and overshadowed the IMF and World Bank rally.

The march, which was preceded by a rally in Franklin Square Park, at 14th and K streets, drew a diverse crowd of demonstrators with grievances about international lending policies and the post-war occupation of Iraq. Metropolitan Police reported that two protesters were arrested for destruction of property during an otherwise peaceful demonstration.

Speaking in Franklin Square Park Nora Cortinas called on the IMF and World Bank to cancel the debts of third world countries. Some developing nations are struggling to pay back the billions of dollars they have borrowed from the international lending organizations.

“We want debt consolidation for all countries,” said Cortinas, a social psychologist who has advocated for human rights since her son was kidnapped by the Argentine government 25 years ago.

“They violate human rights … of people of the world,” Cortinas added. “They provoke genocide. We’ve come here to shame them.”

Several GW students attended the rally and march, which came as close to campus as 20th and K streets.

“Everyone here wants to cancel third world debts that perpetuate the cycles of poverty,” sophomore Chad Blue said.

But IMF officials said they are already addressing protesters’ concerns. Bill Murray, an IMF spokesman, said in a phone interview last week that “billions and billions of debt relief” have been offered to 27 indebted countries since 1996.

“We’ve heard these criticisms before, and I think they’re based on old information, and (protesters) are not paying attention to what’s been happening on recent issues,” he said.

University of Pittsburgh professor Dennis Brutus said he was worried about a possible American invasion of Fallujah, a city in southern Iraq that has been taken over by insurgents.

“Among the issues that concern us today, the one that troubles me most … are the terrible deeds being done in Iraq that are likely to be surpassed in the next few days in the city of Fallujah,” said Brutus, who led the crowd in a “We are watching you” chant directed at the Bush administration.

At 1 p.m., protesters began their march, beating drums, blowing whistles and clanging pots in what they called a “cacerolazo,” a form of protest popular in Latin American countries.

Dozens of police officers on horse, bicycle and motorcycle flanked the marchers. A 19-year-old Ohio woman and a 21-year-old Rhode Island man were arrested on felony destruction of property charges for scratching cars along the march route with their keys, said Officer Quintin Peterson, of MPD’s Public Information Office.

A large contingent of protesters dressed in black and wore bandannas that obscured their faces. They said it was because they were afraid that the police would take their photographs and identify them as unlawful protesters. A sizeable group of self-identified anarchists also attended the events and waved black and red flags.

“We think (government) is an oppressive institution,” one protester from Italy said.

When the marchers arrived at World Bank headquarters at 18th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., they were greeted by 5-foot steel fences and scores of police blocking access to the building. As one group of protesters burned an American flag near the World Bank, another man climbed to the top of a traffic light pole to bang his bongo.

Ricardo Navarro, an activist from El Salvador, spoke from a pickup truck in front of the World Bank.

“People in the world are telling the World Bank, ‘go to hell,'” he said. “We can shut down the World Bank if we believe it is possible.”

Virginia Setshedi, a protester from South Africa, also spoke in front of the World Bank.

“Because of the policies of the IMF and the World Bank, we are continuing to pay this debt when our people continue to die,” Setshedi said. “We don’t owe them anything. They owe us, and they owe us a lot.”

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