The Story of 500 Years of Global Greed and Misery
To end poverty, you have to know how it began -- with globalization. No, not the 20th century variety engendered by multinationals and their friends at the IMF, World Bank and WTO. They just codified practices that kept developing countries poor.
French filmmaker Philippe Diaz, in an illuminating documentary opening in New York Friday, traces globalization back 500 years to the Spanish and Portuguese conquests of the Americas. Diaz shows how the colonial North used the South’s resources to build its industrial base and how its continued control over resources, global trade and debt rules prevents developing countries from ending poverty.
Diaz had produced French feature films such as "Bad Blood" and "The Man Inside" before turning to documentaries. He made "The Empire in Africa" about Sierra Leone. The drama of the new film, "The End of Poverty?", is as startling as anything he could invent.
The title is a play on a book by economist Jeffrey Sachs -- without the question mark -- who, Diaz told IPS, "runs all around the world with Bono and these guys claiming that if we bring mosquito nets and fertilizers, it will end poverty."
For example, Diaz is incredulous that Sachs’s book ascribes Bolivia’s economic failure to high altitude. He points out that 30 years ago, Sachs advised the Bolivian government to privatize everything, and today the country is essentially owned by foreign corporations.
Abel Mamani, Bolivia’s water minister, says in the film, "In the case of railroads, they have practically disappeared since they were privatized. In the east we don’t have trains anymore. They have been entirely dismantled. "
The filmmaker says that the year "1500 is when everything started, the time where Europe expands outside its borders and takes everything it can from Latin America, Africa, Asia -- the land and all the other resources.
The moment you take the land away, the only way people can survive is to sell their work for food. You take resources away, you create slavery, poverty."
The film shows how European industrial development was not, as widely asserted, based on the Protestant ethic but on riches accumulated via colonialism.
"How do you think countries [like] Belgium, small countries with no resources, built empires? Existing industries were destroyed, even those of better quality, and colonies were forced to buy manufactured goods and equipment from colonial masters," Diaz told IPS.
Eric Toussaint, head of the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt in Belgium, describes in the film how "The Dutch destroyed the Indonesian textile industry and built a textile industry in Holland. Same for ceramics. The textiles and ceramics that we are told are Dutch are in fact made with techniques they took from Indonesia and specifically from Java, brought them back to Holland and built a wealthy industry."
He adds, "In the 18th century the Indian textiles were of a much better quality than those of the British. The British destroyed the Indian textile industry and prevented merchants within the British Empire from importing fabrics and other manufactured products from the colonies."
"Sixty to 80 million still live in slave-like conditions all over the world on plantations and in mines," he explains. "It was the same system, we just changed the tools. We don’t have the guns to keep slavery; we have the programs of the IMF and World Bank, the unfair trade system."