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Here's why they're angry with us

By Stan Cox
Prairie Writers Circle

(Thursday, Jan. 30, 2003 -- CropChoice guest commentary)--The titans of the corporate and political worlds assembled in January in Davos, Switzerland, for the annual World Economic Forum. Still mired in the corporate scandals and disappointing profits of the past year, forum organizers chose a slogan with a distinctly defensive ring: "Building Trust."

Meanwhile, 100,000 delegates met at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. For the past three years, this forum has dealt with issues that are important to people whose interests were not represented in the Davos meeting -- that is, to most of humanity. Its motto is more visionary: "Another World is Possible."

From the beginning, the Social Forum has been more a result of evolution than of planning, and now it is branching out, continent by continent. One of its new offspring, the Asian Social Forum, convened during the first week of January in Hyderabad, India. I happened to be in Hyderabad at the time and joined the 8,000 or so delegates from across the continent.

"Globalization," that all-too-familiar abstraction, took human shape at the Asian Social Forum. When the elite sign deals in places like Davos, the consequences ricochet around the planet, and people get hit. Some of those people came to Hyderabad to tell their stories and try to bring another world into being.

Here are a few of those stories:

  • Delegates from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia told of their attempts to save the Mekong River. The Mekong, the focus of Indochina’s biological and cultural life, is to have its magnificent rapids blasted and straightened, courtesy of the Asian Development Bank. The reason: A new shipping channel is needed to satisfy America’s insatiable hunger for Chinese-made goods.
  • Members of the civic organization Exnora told how their enormously successful, block-by-block composting/recycling program in the south Indian city of Chennai was abandoned in favor of a costly contract with the Onyx corporation (a subsidiary of the French giant Vivendi). Now Onyx is free to collect garbage in bulk and dump it into a wetland that feeds an aquifer supplying Chennai’s drinking water.
  • Farmers in the Philippines now face three to six months in jail if they replant from their own fields the seed of crop varieties developed by transnational biotech companies. They are looking at their country’s new Plant Variety Protection law, which was drafted with lots of American help, and asking, "Who’s the thief here, anyway?" Aside from a few engineered genes, the patented seeds have their origins in the fields of the farmers’ ancestors.
  • Coca-Cola’s logo is plastered across the length and breadth of India. It was all over the grounds of the Asian event, too, but always accompanied by slogans like "Coke -- The Drink of Shameless People." In several Indian states, people are fighting to stop Coke from pumping scarce water out of their aquifers and reservoirs, and -- with the help of government subsidies -- bottling it and selling it at a price few villagers can afford.

Being an American at the Asian Social Forum was like being an unarmed hunter at a deer convention. In almost every speech, workshop, street play and song, the villains wore red, white and blue.

Unfair, you say? Why should they pick on us? It’s largely because George Bush and the U.S. government have told the rest of the world in no uncertain terms that America calls the shots in today’s world. We shouldn’t be surprised when people point to us when globalization goes haywire.

In December, the Pew Research Center published the results of a poll on America’s reputation in 44 countries around the world. A central conclusion: "The global image of the United States has suffered a dramatic bruising in the past two years, most seriously among Muslim countries but also to a surprising extent among traditional allies. ... The souring attitudes toward the United States were matched by a broad discontent with world economic and social conditions."

There’s little chance that the big shots who met in Davos can "build trust" in a U.S.-led global economic order that has compiled a track record of greed and destruction to rival that of the old colonial systems. As Hyderabad columnist Jayati Ghosh noted in the wake of the Asian Social Forum, another world is not only possible, it is necessary.


Stan Cox is a member of the Prairie Writers Circle and senior research scientist at the Land Institute, a natural systems agriculture research organization in Salina, Kan. He holds a doctorate in plant breeding from Iowa State University.

The author is a member of the Prairie Writers Circle, a project of the Land Institute in Salina , Kan . The Land Institute is a nonprofit research organization devoted to developing a perennial-based agricultural system with the ecological stability of the prairie and a grain yield comparable to that of annual crops. By providing op-ed essays to newspapers and other publications, the Prairie Writers Circle aims to encourage public discussion of issues that arise where agriculture, the environment and society intersect.

This essay is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Land Institute. The institute reserves the right to reprint Prairie Writers Circle work in its own publications and website.