May 01, 2008

"Globalize" resistance and protest

"It's a global phenomenon-- there is nothing we can do about it." This has been the stock response -- or cop-out -- of the Arroyo regime whenever oil prices go up. Now, with the price of rice suddenly leaping sky-high; the long queues for government-subsidized rice an everyday scene; government at its wit’s end trying to secure contracts from foreign suppliers to fill the country’s production shortfall; and foreign creditors ringing alarm bells over looming hefty increases in the government’s budget deficit, the regime again resorts to the worn-out excuse to sidetrack its failure to effectively address the rice crisis.

But this time around, we can readily agree that the rice/food crisis is happening worldwide and its immediate causes and historical roots cannot be strictly confined to the specific policies and concrete situations obtaining in particular countries. Indeed, the international agribusiness cartels such as the small clique of corporations that control the world's fertilizer and pesticide market, the largest seed companies (e.g. Monsanto), the largest grain traders (e.g. Cargill) and the world’s big food processors (e.g. Nestle), their local business partners in third world countries and the homegrown trading cartels (e.g. in rice) have made a killing in the midst of growing hunger, food riots and panic buying by governments and households.

Having said that, we reiterate that the Arroyo regime is not blameless, in fact it must own up to and be held accountable for the neoliberal policies and programs it has perpetuated and even accelerated in implementation that today aggravates the rice crisis.

The World Bank and mainstream analysts highlight demographics such as increasing populations and the supposedly higher standards of living in countries with large populations like India and China, together with the massive shift to biofuels in a world grappling with record high fossil fuel prices, as the culprits behind the rising global grains demand while supplies have been dwindling because of natural calamities, climate change brought about by global warming and extensive land use conversion. So allegedly, no one is really to blame, least of all the national governments that are facing political instability because of the food/fuel crisis.

What we are slowly finding out is that of the host of factors that are man-made and preventable, corporate greed and neoliberal globalization policies pushed by the IMF-WB-WTO and readily adopted by subservient governments of developing countries like the Philippines, are actually what underlies the surge in prices of wheat, cooking oil, fruit and vegetables, as well as of dairy and meat since 2007, and the sudden spikes in rice prices at the start of 2008.

According to GRAIN (see, an international non-governmental organization which promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity:

“Nothing that the policy makers say should obscure the fact that today's food crisis is the outcome of both an incessant push towards a 'Green Revolution' agricultural model since the 1950s and the trade liberalization and structural adjustment policies imposed on poor countries by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund since the 1970s. These policy prescriptions were reinforced with the establishment of the World Trade Organization in the mid-1990s and, more recently, through a barrage of bilateral free trade and investment agreements.

“Together with a series of other measures, they have led to the ruthless dismantling of tariffs and other tools that developing countries had created to protect local agricultural production. These countries have been forced to open their markets and lands to global agribusiness, speculators and subsidized food exports from rich countries. In that process, fertile lands have been diverted away from serving local food markets to the production of global commodities or off-season and high-value crops for Western supermarkets. Today, roughly 70% of all so-called developing countries are net importers of food. And of the estimated 845 million hungry people in the world, 80% are small farmers.” (Underscoring supplied.)

Governments of rice exporting countries like India and Vietnam have banned and/or restricted sales outside their borders in an attempt to delink their local rice pricing from out-of-control speculation in the international commodities market, tame domestic inflation and protect their own food security. On the other hand, governments of rice-importing countries, foremost of which is the Arroyo regime, are trying to assure their own rice buffer stock by hiking their target volume of imported rice or buying earlier than normal, in the process driving up prices even more. Countries that are not self-sufficient in rice, lured by the IMF-WB line about it being more efficient and cost-saving to simply import rice than grow it themselves, are reduced to scrambling to buy as much as they can even at such artificially inflated prices or risk being booted out of power. Indeed, there is a direct connection between the Arroyo regime’s own political crisis and its rice-buying frenzy.

GRAIN reveals, “Today the world's poorest countries are forced into an intense bidding war against speculators and traders, who are having a field day. Hedge funds and other sources of hot money are pouring billions of dollars into commodities to escape sliding stock markets and the credit crunch, putting food stocks further out of poor people’s reach. … One firm calculates that the amount of speculative money in commodities futures -- markets where investors do not buy or sell a physical commodity, like rice or wheat, but merely bet on price movements -- has ballooned from US$5 billion in 2000 to US$175 billion to 2007.

"Such record profits have nothing to do with any new value that these corporations are producing and they are not one-off windfalls from a sudden shift in supply and demand. Instead, they are a reflection of the extreme power that these middlemen have accrued through the globalization of the food system. Intimately involved with the shaping of the trade rules that govern today's food system and tightly in control of markets and the ever more complex financial systems through which global trade operates, these companies are in perfect position to turn food scarcity into immense profits. People have to eat, whatever the cost."

Now more than ever, toiling peoples everywhere -- blue collar and white collar, those working the fields as peasants or as independent farmers, those who labor in sweat shops of the Third World or in factories of the advanced capitalist countries, those who work at home as subcontractors or on the sidewalks as itinerant vendors -- must realize how neoliberal or imperialist globalization is surely and rapidly destroying their livelihoods, their right to decent standards of living, and their aspirations for a more just, peaceful and egalitarian society. There is no other recourse than to “globalize” resistance against such unbearable conditions of existence and to struggle together to win a future with hope. #

*In celebration of May 1, the International Workers Day


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