The Commons

Shalmali Guttal, Focus on the Global South, March 2006*


The Mekong region is buzzing with trade and investment activities, and there are many takers for its abundant and diverse natural wealth and growing work-force.

A Plethora of Commitments

Trade in the Mekong region is pursued through a variety of official and non-official means. At the non-official end of the spectrum is border trade across the thousands of kilometers of international boundaries in the region. Carried out largely by small merchants and itinerant traders, such trade includes goods as diverse as vegetables, fruit, fish and fish products, livestock, rice, fertilizers and pesticides, processed foodstuffs, gemstones, timber, forest products, animals and animal parts. Much of this trade is unregulated and some is illegal, but it serves as an important source of livelihood for those living along the borders. Border trade-especially in the Golden Triangle area--also includes narcotics and sex work, although this is rarely registered in official economic reports about the region.

By Shalmali Guttal *

Over the past two decades, post-war or post-conflict reconstruction has emerged as the essential framework for establishing neo-liberal policy regimes in newly liberated nations (such as Timor Leste), countries emerging from protracted periods of violent conflict (such as Cambodia, Haiti, El Salvador and Nicaragua), and countries subjected to external aggression and occupation (such as Afghanistan and Iraq). Many elements of these policy regimes can also be found in countries undergoing structural changes to their national political and economic systems, as in the ‘transition’ countries of Central Asia and mainland Southeast Asia.

By Walden Bello and Shalmali Guttal

When President Tadao Chino of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) came down to meet representatives of the over 1000 protesters that had gathered in front of the Honolulu Convention Center o­n Wednesday, May 9, the move was a major victory for opponents of the Manila-based agency. For years, the ADB president had refused to meet critics of the ADB in a public, transparent situation. During the Bank's annual meeting in Chiang Mai last year, ADB staff had gone to considerable lengths to prevent such an occurrence, and they were prepared to stonewall us again at this year's meeting.

But the ADB's 34th Annual General Meeting (AGM) created tremendous controversy in Hawaii for a number of reasons. For a start, there is the history of US imperialism and colonialism, which, according to local organizers, has made Hawaii the most, militarized piece of earth in the world. Through a combination of brainwashing, economic dependency and old fashioned repression, US authorities have done their best to contain indigenous and local Hawaiians' struggles for sovereignty and self determination. What a site for the annual meeting of an institution that claims to advance the interests of the poor and under-privileged! Despite Hawaii's distance from most anywhere in Asia, the 34th AGM attracted critics from across the Asia-Pacific and North America and served as a coalescing point for anti-globalisation protesters who very effectively linked traditional US imperialism with the market capitalism promoted by institutions such as the ADB.

A Captive Audience

President Chino expected a perfunctory meeting, in which the civil society delegation would hand him a petition and he would scamper back to the safety of the convention center and his retinue of assistants. What he did not expect was that Ms Dawan would not release his hand o­nce he had offered it to her in a handshake. Her firm but gentle grip allowed Dr. Bello to read aloud the collectively written petition to a captive Chino for the next 15 minutes. And despite the demands of Chino's assistants that the police break up the meeting--since the ADB president had come to receive a written petition, not to hear it read aloud to him--the police were pretty much unable to do anything.

The statement, signed by 50 non-governmental and people's organizations from throughout the Asia Pacific region, read in part:

"The Asian Development an institution that is now widely recognized as having imposed tremendous sufferings o­n the peoples of the Asia-Pacific. In the name of development, its projects and programs have destroyed the livelihoods of people, brought about the disintegration of local and indigenous communities, promoted the sharp rise of inequality, deepened poverty, and destabilized the environment.

We, representatives of peoples, communities, and organizations throughout the region, have had enough of this destruction in the name of development. We have had enough of an arrogant institution that is o­ne of the most non-transparent, undemocratic, and unaccountable organizations in existence.

The people of the region want the ADB out of their lives...and yield the space for others to promote alternative strategies of development that truly serve the people's interests."

The petition specifically demanded the cancellation of four controversial projects: the Samut Prakarn Wastewater Management Project in Thailand, which threatens irreparable damage to a sensitive coastal ecosystem and is ridden with corruption; the Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resource Management Project in the Philippines (Charm), which is undermining traditional community-based farming by encouraging cash-cropping; the Chashma Right Bank Irrigation Project in Pakistan, which involves involuntary resettlement of villagers; and the Sri Lanka Water Resource Management project, which threatens serious ecological disruption to affected communities.

Shalmali Guttal, May 2, 2001

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has started off on the wrong foot with its Hawaiian hosts in preparation for the 34th Annual General Meeting (AGM), scheduled for May 7-11 in Honolulu. Despite attempts on both sides--the ADB and the Hawaiian Tourism Authority (HTA)-to portray an amicable relationship, preparations for the AGM appear to be proceeding in a general atmosphere of nervousness, suspicion and mutual mistrust.


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