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Date: Fri, 19 Jul 1996 17:01:29 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU>
Subject: NACLA: Anti-World Bank Activism in the South

/** nacla.report: 259.0 **/
** Topic: Anti-World Bank Activism in South by Fatima Vianna Mello: **
** Written 11:58 AM Jun 19, 1996 by nacla in cdp:nacla.report **
May/June 1996
Reprinted from the May/June 1996 issue of NACLA Report on the Americas. For subscription information,
E-Mail to nacla-info@igc.apc.org

Making the World Bank More Accountable: Activism in South

By Fatima Vianna Mello, NACLA report on the Americas, May/June 1996

The World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) extol the importance of involving civil society in the projects that they fund. From the Amazon rainforest to southern megacities like Sao Paulo, local communities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Brazil understand how things really work: despite the rhetoric, the Brazilian government and the multilateral lending institutions lack the political will to create institutional mechanisms to facilitate a democratic dialogue with the populations affected by the projects.

To give one example, the World Bank invested more than US$500 million over the course of the 1980s to support the Brazilian government's Polonoroeste project in Rondnia, which has been called the greatest ecological disaster ever funded by the Bank. This megaproject was supposed to rationalize the colonization process, provide local infrastructure, and protect indigenous areas in the Amazon. Hundreds of indigenous peoples, rural workers and rubber-tappers were expelled from their lands after the road to the interior was paved, yet they had no say in the project's design at all.

Acknowledging its part in that debacle, the Bank is now investing US$167 million in a new project called Planafloro, which is supposed to reflect a more sustainable approach to development in the area affected by the previous project. Although good in intention, Planafloro was not designed with the involvement of local communities. The Bank only initiated a process of consultation after being pressured by Northern environmental groups. Local organizations are now petitioning the World Bank's Inspection Panel to investigate Planafloro. Neither the Brazilian government nor the Bank seems to be interested in pursuing this investigation even though local organizations have presented compelling evidence of significant problems with the way the project is being implemented.1

Brazil is among the five biggest World Bank borrowers, along with China, Mexico, Indonesia and Russia. In 1994, Brazil had the most projects funded by the World Bank, and was third in total amount of loans.2 Brazilian activists have become fed up with the lack of transparency and accountability that has resulted in socially and environmentally unsustainable projects like the Polonoroeste and Planafloro.

For many years, Brazilian organizations turned to their international allies--mainly U.S. NGOs--to stop or give a more sustainable direction to development-bank projects. This partnership was rooted in the fact that Brazilian groups found it hard to coordinate their local organizing efforts and that a dialogue with municipal and federal governments was largely absent. Of course, these international alliances are still crucial. Besides putting Brazilian struggles in international context, their Northern allies feed Brazilian activists information and advocate on their behalf in Washington, D.C.

Brazilian NGOs, however, felt that Brazil lacked a domestic forum that could highlight and link up the many localized struggles taking place across the country. Various Brazilian organizations were already monitoring the development banks, and working with local populations affected by their projects. But to be effective in an immense and complex country like Brazil, activists began to realize the importance of fortifying their struggles at the national level. With a national organization, the Brazilian government and the multilateral lending institutions would be pressured on two fronts: from domestic forces in Brazil as well as from their international allies.

In March, 1995, 35 groups came together to form the Brazil Network on Multilateral Financial Institutions. So far, the Network includes development, environmental, labor, research, educational, urban community, religious, cultural, and rural workers' organizations. Its main goal is to increase civil society's participation in the design, planning and implementation of development-bank projects. The organization also hopes to influence public policy by promoting a dialogue between civil society and the Brazilian government. To that end, the Network is lobbying the federal government and the National Congress to create a permanent institution that would give civil society more input into the allocation of development-bank funds.

Another central goal of the Network is to publicize and support local organizing experiences. The national media rarely cover grassroots social movements, even when they successfully derail environmentally and socially destructive projects and propose innovative alternatives. The Network intends to publish information about these local struggles and to widen public awareness more generally about the presence of multilateral lending institutions in the country. The Network also maintains an electronic conference where it posts information about its activities as well as urgent- action appeals.

At the international level, the Network has built excellent working links with the Latin American and Caribbean Network on Multilateral Banks, with focal points in Montevideo (at the Third World Network) and in Washington, D.C. (at the Bank Information Center). The Network also supports initiatives such as the 50 Years is Enough campaign in the United States, and disseminates information about these campaigns in Brazil.

The creation of the Brazil Network will hopefully contribute to the struggle to democratize multilateral lending institutions. In concert with other such movements across the globe, the Network is pushing institutions like the World Bank and the IDB to promote development strategies that work for people, not against them.


1. Stephan Schwartzman, A Sociedade Civil e os Bancos Multilaterais no Brasil: Diagnostico e Propostas Para Discussao, Environmental Defense Fund and Instituto Socioambiental, August, 1995.

2. Henrique Barros and Michael Bailey, Para Comprender e Dialogar com Organismos Multilaterais: Um Guia Sobre o Banco Mundial no Brasil e no Mundo, OXFAM Brazil/INESC, September, 1995.