Resistance has no Alternative


By Alejandro Bendaña

February 9, 2001

Jubilee is a Judeo-Christian notion that expresses a universal message of the periodic need for restitution, reparation and forgiveness of debt.

South is a geographical notion that we give to a historical and political content. Here we refer to the tri-continental linking of Asia, Africa and Latin America which amidst their enormous diversity share a history of colonialism and slavery, and resistance to these same evils.

We are inspired by figures such a Frantz Fannon, born in the colonial America and died fighting the same colonialism in Northern Africa; by Che Guevara who not only waged a struggle in the two American continents, but also in Central Africa and Mahatma Ghandi who resisted oppression in South Africa before he did so in his own native country India.

If we stress colonialism and slavery in the new Southern Platform against the debt burden, that is because it is impossible for us in the South to separate the origins of debt from the origins of slavery. This is a fundamental historical truth we insist needs to be acknowledged and assumed. The origin of the capital that was "loaned" to us was historically stolen from us. It would be difficult to explain the reproduction of wealth, for example, in Europe and the United States in the absence of the massive amounts of stolen labour and plundered resources.

Manolo Barreno, an Ecuadorian and South activist who passed away last August, passionately reminded anyone that "Between the years of 1509 and 1660 the Europeans had taken 185,000 kilograms of gold and about 16 million kilogrammes of silver. "Since these visitors were good Christians, we would like to presume that they did not steal these treasures, but simply borrowed them. As we calculate what should be repaid, we don't want to be harsh - as we too are good Christians! So we will not charge 30 or 40 percent interest, but only 10 percent. At 10 percent interest over 300 years with a 40 year grace period, we can calculate that the weight of the North's gold and silver debt to South America would weigh more than the weight of the earth." Damages done to lives, dignities and nature are irreparable and morally defy attempts at quantification.

However if debt is to be placed in numbers, there are also studies that estimate some 225,505,049 hours of labour performed by African-American slaves between 1619 and 1865. The value of that critical "contribution" to United States' industrialisation and export of capital, with an interest of six percent compounded through 1993 is a staggering bill of $97,100,000,000,000. Facts such as these, along with precedents set by Jewish claims for damages on account of the Holocaust, would lead Manolo to say, "This really makes one ask, who owes whom? It is no wonder that the call of Jubilee South is.... DON'T OWE, WON'T PAY!"

Over and beyond that governments and people of the South not pay and repudiate an illegitimate debt, Jubilee South demands payment of the true debt of the North to the South. Since debt is intricately linked to structural adjustment and capitalist neo-liberalism, Jubilee South believes in dropping the debt system along with the debt. Jubilee demands reparations and restitution, not least in the category of the historical and ongoing damage that the neo-liberal model imposes on the environment.

The ecological debt that begun to escalate in the 16th century continues to accumulate with every dam financed by the World Bank or with the US insistence in placing the interests of the corporation above those of the environment, as witnessed in the recent Hague Conference on climate change. As regards the gender debt, we, particularly as men, can only with great difficulty begin to conceive and quantify, let alone make restitution. If exploitation and debt accumulation in escalates, so too must Southern instances of resistance.

In Latin America we witness the rebellion of the Uva people against Occidental Petroleum in Colombia, as in Ecuador the indigenous peoples of the South have pushed out Shell oil drillings. In the light of ongoing oppression, Jubilee South cannot be fooled by talk of aid, debt relief, Structural Adjustment, or PRSPs. Each is a tool of oppression designed to perpetuate debt and bondage. Nor can we be taken in by hypocritical concerns with poverty alleviation on the part of the poverty creators, of cries against corruption in the South by the corruption makers in the North.

To us this is the same as a burglar who steals money from a home only to return later with an odious offer to return a small part of the wealth subject to a myriad of conditions. Our call is for restitution not conditional charity. This struggle did not begin yesterday. It is a movement before it is a campaign, and as such will not self-destruct on a given date nor sacrifice the indispensable broader analysis and range of action that is required for effective transformation of the debt system.

Debt is not a question of numbers and write-offs, it a matter of injustice and people's sustained struggle for life. It admits no arbitration, because there can be no arbitration between justice and injustice--there can only be justice. We join hands primarily across the South, but also engage and recognize the important struggles being waged in the North. We have been inspired by the images of the streets of Seattle, Washington and Prague, along with the debt mobilizations in Birmingham and Cologne. We are increasingly drawn together in a common anti-corporate globalisation momentum that initiates with the new millennium.

The neo-liberal globalisation of poverty is being met with a more militant globalisation of solidarity - a solidarity that will not be limited to defeatist tea-drinking tactics. We understand how many have been taken to non-violent direct action. It is because resistance has been offered no other alternative and there is no alternative to resistance and struggle, because struggles are alternatives in the making. As Gandhi once said, "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win". They are now fighting us and we will win.

ALEJANDRO BENDAí‘A is founder and president of the board of the Centro de Estudios Internacionales in Managua, Nicaragua, where he resides. He currently serves on the International Coordinating Committee of Jubilee South and the International South Group Network.

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