International Papers

Let Them Eat Laptops 

Britain’s Independent on Sunday described the weekend’s G8 summit in Okinawa, Japan, as “an insult to the world’s poor.” Despite pledging at last year’s meeting to forgive $100 billion of Third World debt by the end of 2000, the paper reported that the Group of Eight countries have written off only about $15 billion thus far, and the number of countries qualifying for relief has fallen from the original target of 40 down to nine. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Japan spent $745 million on hosting the meeting—much of it on elaborate security precautions to avoid WTO-type protests. Britain’s Sunday Telegraph said that British officials were so outraged that they leaked the cost of the 1998 Birmingham summit: approximately $10 million.

Editorial pages were dominated by the debate over debt restructuring vs. forgiveness and by complaints about the organizers’ excesses and the emptiness of the group’s plan to close the “digital divide.” Spain’s El País pointed out that the “education divide,” which leaves 900 million illiterate, is a more pressing concern, and a protest leader told the Observer, “The poorest people in the world cannot eat lap tops.”

An editorial in the conservative Sunday Telegraph counseled against debt cancellation. Focusing, for reasons it didn’t explain, on Africa, the paper seemed more concerned with punishing wayward politicians than relieving the conditions of the continent’s poor. It claimed that if debts were forgiven:

The mistaken view would be reinforced, both in Africa and the west, that the cause of Africa’s failure to develop economically was to be found in the western banks and not in the policies (if kleptocracy can be called a policy) of African governments. The truth of the matter is that African peasants have not been oppressed by banks, but by African politicians who, whatever their ideology, have favoured urban consumers at the expense of rural producers, and have corruptly concentrated power and resources in their own hands.

The Sunday Times of London took a similar attitude, using the words of the Labor Party’s Clare Short, Britain’s minister for international development, against debt forgiveness. An editorial said that Tony Blair should’ve taken her to the summit because, “Short knows what she is talking about on this emotive subject, which is more than can be said for the leaders of the industrialised world who tucked into a dinner of lobster, duck, crab and caviare, washed down by chablis and sake.” It then went on to take quotes from the minister out of context, dismissing “bloody-minded” African leaders and declaring, “[Y]ou cannot just throw money at a country which buys lots of arms and is perpetuating wars.”

Forgiveness had its supporters: The Age of Melbourne dismissed the notion that nations will be encouraged to act recklessly if their failure to meet obligations is rewarded, pointing out, “the world faces a huge moral conundrum in the fact that the poorest countries pay more in debt repayments to rich countries than they receive in aid from those countries, and that as a result of the debt burden the population of those countries remains undernourished, uneducated and lacking basic health care.” And our old friend the Khaleej Times of Dubai reminded readers that during the three years the G8 has wrestled with the “moral hazard” of loan forgiveness, “millions of children in Africa have died as a result of debt.”

It’s bris out there. South Africa’s Mail & Guardian reported that four boys died and nine were hospitalized for exposure and severe frostbite when a cold snap hit while they were attending a “circumcision school” in the Orange Free State. According to the paper, boys spend up to six weeks in the bush “dressed in nothing but a blanket, as part of the ritual that marks their passage to manhood.” Increased “circumcision-related medical complications” have led the government to draft legislation to force traditional doctors and medical authorities to follow protocols when performing circumcisions.

It’s ours; we just don’t want to go there. A study in Clarín of Buenos Aires revealed that in the year since travel restrictions were lifted, only 99 Argentineans have visited the Falkland Islands (known in Argentina as the Malvinas) as tourists. Of the 254 total visitors, 105 were relatives of soldiers killed during the 1982 conflict with Britain and 50 were journalists. The logistical complications of the trip, the expense, the lack of tourist attractions, and the cool welcome from the resident islanders were given as reasons for the apparent apathy. While a poll (albeit with a meager sample of 405) showed that 71.5 percent believe it’s important for Argentineans to travel to the Falklands to remind the islanders of their true sovereignty, few respondents want to make the trip. Clarín concluded:

As we discovered, direct flights are uncertain, prices are expensive, and there’s no official promotion of tourism to a destination that, by all accounts, the government believes to be 100 percent Argentinean. So, the question remains: Who cares about the Malvinas?