about life and debt

Life & Debt includes a segment on the banana industry wherein Jamaica has been granted preferential treatment from the British through the Lome Convention, providing a tax-free import quota for 105,000 tons/fruit per year to England. Through a case the U.S. brought to the WTO, the U.S. government is demanding the Lome Convention quota removed, (although the U.S. does not grow bananas on its own soil) forcing Jamaica to compete with exporters from Central America and South America. Specifically Chiquita and Dole, which are U.S. companies who produce bananas on a large scale. Central America is characterized by cheaper labor, a different soil type, high rainfall and a climate suited to large-scale banana production and thus more efficient. In 1993, a strike at Chiquita Farms in Colombia wherein 25,000 workers protesting for better wages was settled by firing shots at the striking workers and killing 40 people and the banana ships rolled insuring Chiquita's high rate of "efficiency." Jamaica's entire banana production could be produced by one farm in Central America. Banana's bring in 23 million US to Jamaica, comprising 8% of all exports. Yet, in the Windward Islands, bananas account for 50% of total exports. In St. Lucia, St.Vincent, bananas also comprise significant % of total exports, so quota loss will impact the entire Caribbean. At present the European Union has granted $600 million to help Jamaica become more efficient in their banana production so that they may attempt to compete on the "free market" in year 2000. The quota that is being so forcefully contested by US multinationals is under 5% of all global banana production. It is unlikely that the banana industry here could match the price of bananas from Central America. Already the number of small banana growers on the island have shrunk from 45,000 to 3,000.

Every country aims to be self-sufficient in milk production. The milk farmers in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union all receive huge subsidies to keep their milk prices low. Thus when the milk solids from the U.S. or Europe are exported they are at an artificially low price due to support. Jamaica's local production of milk was on a strong upward climb. In a 5 year period (1987-1992) the industry grew to 30 million liters, producing over 25% of the nations consumption, and was poised to rapidly increase production. In 1992, liberalization policies demanded that the import taxes placed on imported milk solids from Western countries be eliminated and subsidies to the local industry removed. In 1993, one year after liberalization, millions of dollars of unpasteurized local milk had to be dumped, 700 cows were slaughtered pre-maturely and several dairy farmers closed down operations. At present, the industry has sized down nearly 60% and continues to decline. It is unlikely the dairy industry will ever revitalise its growth.

Life & Debt aims to clarify the impact that these economic policies have on the day-to-day lives of the people they are said to benefit. The voting rights within the IMF are roughly proportionate to the contributions paid in by member nations. The breakdown of the democratic process becomes clear as the Jamaican people are removed from participation in the decisions that truly affect their lives. The IMF promotes an agenda of monetary austerity, currency devaluation, and lowering wages. The goal is to reduce inflation by balancing a nation's loan repayments and imports with its export earnings. The result is usually a recession. The World Bank takes a longer run perspective. It aims for structural adjustment, which means trying to transform a borrower nation's economy into a free- market economy. It typically proposes market deregulation, sometimes accompanied by new lending from the World Bank and private lenders. These policies are supposed to benefit Third World economies by integrating them into the global market. What actually happens is that Third World people suffer, while commercial banks in the North collect a great deal of interest. In Jamaica, only 5 percent of total money borrowed since 1977 has been able to stay inside the country.

The lessons of Jamaica--where these policies have been in effect for nearly twenty-five years--extend far beyond its shores. In nearby Haiti, former President Aristide was pressured to accept loans from the IMF; in Russia, billions in IMF loans have been accepted for the first time and the country is already suffering from the stringent conditions prescribed by the Fund; throughout Africa, countries struggle to meet scheduled adjustments. Life & Debt is a tribute to the ingenuity and strength of the people who defy the odds of survival, yet its primary aim is to inform young adult audiences in the U.S. of the impact these policies have on our neighbors abroad.

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