Debt Over! A report from the Fourth CADTM Europe Summer University: Day One

For three days the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt, CADTM, is hosting its summer university. The theme is that the Debt economy needs to be investigated, as neoliberal leaders assert that debt governs society as a whole, proving that debt has become a key tool of the neoliberal economy. The goal of the conference is to look at multiple phenomena through the prism of the debt economy.

The conference is organized around several “itineraries”: debt in the South, debt in the North, environmental debt, audit, and feminist fights.

The first day started with a plenary session entitled “ La dette dans tous ses etats” (Debt in all its states), a play on words suggesting the multifaceted aspect of this neoliberal instrument.

The first speaker gave a snapshot of the cynicism of the situation that demands the scam that allowed the financial crisis of the patriarchal neoliberal to become the public debt crisis and the responsibility of the public. They play, we pay. In Europe, the offensive started seven years ago, taking aim at the social rights brought about by decades of social struggles. The recent financial reform Projet Barnier that was formed at the European Commission was influenced and largely designed by over 1000 financial lobbyists with a budget of 300 Million Euros.

The next speakers revealed the intricacy of finance and domination of the oligarchs in the form of debt in Ukraine that led to the current crisis that is still killing people.

After that, Gilbert Lieben, the Secretary General of the Centrale Générale des Services Publics, a Belgian union for public services employees, gave an overview of the work that unions have to do to debunk the traps of the debt system. He reminded the audience that, at first, the unions did not realize the importance of the formation of the concept of debt in social struggles.

Then, Olivier de Schutter, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, exposed the connection between debt and farming as small farmers have been under siege since the agriculture sector has been open to free market deregulation.

CADTM spokesperson Eric Toussaint set the stage of the past and future stakes for the South in the debt economy. After listing several positive initiatives such as in Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, and, to some extent, Argentina, he warned the audience of the possible devastating consequences for the South of a change by the FEDS of the interest rates in this intricate global debt system. He emphasized that alternative are not only possible but necessary if we want to break all forms of oppressions.

Amina Amzil, from Attac Morocco, delineated the feminist struggle. She explained the double burden on women in Morocco, where the debt economy devours 78% of the GDP. In Morocco between reductions in public social services and in public employment, women are particularly impacted. Austerity policies increase and intensify precariousness for women who are more likely to be illiterate, dependent and victims of domestic violence. Debt is another means of oppression for women.

The CADTM has been involved in organizing citizen audit of public debts everywhere in the world. Its latest involvement in the audit of the Greek debt under the aegis of Zoe Kostantopoulou, the President of the Greek Parliament, has brought attention to the importance of a transparent process in public policy.

The afternoon workshop, “Arming women against all forms of austerity”, addressed this lack of transparency as central to the exploitation of women. The workshop invited us to organize more effectively. As Sonia Mitralias said, we need new ways to imagine a different future.

Debt is gendered and the response must integrate women in their entirety and diversity. The group created a five-module educational kit, from austerity to what to do. One of the modules, “Exploitation of women knows no crisis”, helps participants understand that the few gains in women’s rights are again under attack. The audience was large and diverse and passionate. I met women from Cameroon, Tunisia, Morocco, and elsewhere.

Women in Belgium organized a feminist audit of the debt in which they account the number of services women provide for free, from reproduction and care work to cheap labor. Their conclusion is simple: the state incurs the huge debt, not the women! They called their project “La Facture” (the invoice, or the bill). The State plays, the women pay and pay and pay.

The fight against the debt economy is transnational and gendered.

 

 

(Photo Credit 1: CADTM) (Infographic Credit: Le Monde selon Les Femmes)

The experiment continues, and we are all still canaries in the coal mine

When Greek public debt exploded in 2010 some started asking, “Why Greece why now?”

The documentary “Les canaries dans la mine” (the Canaries in the Coal Mine), initially released in French in 2013, incorporates many voices from unionists, community health center managers, students, to journalists and politicians and more. They all conclude that what happened to Greece is an experiment to dismantle public services and democratic ideals. As Zoe says in the documentary: “Greece is a laboratory for those who think that human rights, human existence can be subjected to experiments.”

I recently talked with Sophia Tzitzikou on the occasion of the release of the documentary in English (with English subtitles). She runs a health community center in Athens and was interviewed in the documentary. I asked how the situation has evolved since the filming of the documentary: “It is worse.” As a result of the inhuman austerity measures that have destroyed public services and employment, poverty in on the rise. “There are no policies in favor of the poor, and public hospitals continue to be shut down.” The situation is especially dire for psychiatric hospitals: “Three of them were recently closed in Athens. The patients were simply sent to the streets.”

As a member of Greece’s UNICEF delegation, Sophia emphasized, “36% off Greek children now live in poverty, with 340 000 of them in conditions of social exclusion.” Her tone expressed her anger, as she added that the abortion rate has never been so high. Sophia explained, “Women simply don’t want to bring life into this misery.” Not to forget that in Greece giving birth used to be covered within a decent public health care system that has been taken apart by austerity measures imposed by The Troika, the financiers of Europe.

Even these numbers hardly describe the new reality. As Sophia said, “We have the feeling that our lives don’t belong to us anymore. Human rights are violated everyday, rights to work, rights to health, rights to have children, rights to live. We are now removed from all of that.”

The experiment continues. Puerto Rico is one of the last casualties of this neoliberal attack on the public and its services. This time, the order to enforce austerity measures on the US territory came directly from Wall Street with no shame. The credit-rating agencies like Standard & Poor set the tone as they “downgraded” the territory. Then, using the same tools as the Troika did in Greece, the remedy was made self-evident: cut public budgets, close public schools and reduce public services. The US financial markets have their grip on the island. Again, unions have been equally targeted. We see the same tools being used to discard public services over and over.

Watch the Canaries in the Coal Mine, it will inform you about these neoliberal attacks on workers, women and the public at large…us. We are all still canaries in the coal mine.

 

(Video Credit: YouTube/Yannick Bovy)

Jackie Nanyonjo died last Friday

Jackie Nanyonjo

My grandmother did not die of uremic poisoning. She died because she was in hiding, in Nazi-occupied Brussels, and could not get the medical care she needed. And so she died and was buried in an unmarked grave in a potter’s field `somewhere in Brussels’.

Jackie Nanyonjo died in Kampala, Uganda, last Friday. Jackie Nanyonjo was a lesbian who fled Uganda, made it to England, and applied for asylum. In so doing, she joined women like Betty Tibikawa, Linda Nakibuuka and so many other Ugandan lesbians who, having asked for safe haven, trade one rung of hell for another.

Jackie Nanyonjo fought for the rights, power and dignity of women, LGBTI individuals and communities, lesbians, asylum seekers. She fought for those rights on the streets; in the cells and corridors of Yarl’s Wood; and in the airplane that took her, abducted her more accurately, to Kampala two months ago. When she arrived in Kampala, she went into hiding. She didn’t contact members of the organized LGBT rights communities, most likely because of the current pogroms against lesbians and gays and their organizations. And so, on Friday, March 8, 2013, International Women’s Day, Jackie Nanyonjo died, in hiding, in Kampala.

Friends report that she was in poor health in the United Kingdom and in very poor health when she arrived in Kampala.

My grandmother did not die of uremic poisoning. Jackie Nanyonjo did not die of poor health. They were both killed. May they both rest in peace. May we do better than merely remember and intone their names.

 

(Photo Credit: PinkNews)