Ziegler launches assault on capitalism

Jean Ziegler was applauded by the crowd in Porto Alegre

Jean Ziegler, a Swiss UN ambassador, has launched broadsides against capitalism and its proponents during a speech at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre.

This content was published on January 27, 2003 - 15:41

To rapturous public applause, the sociologist and author railed against capitalism and the elites - Bush, Sharon, Putin and bin Laden - as well as the UN and IMF.

"The avant-garde of humanitarianism are today living in Latin America," said Ziegler, the UN's Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the Right to Food.

He was addressing the WSF in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre - the Left's answer to the World Economic Forum summit in Davos.

"I'd like to mention [Brazil's] President Lula and his colleagues from the Workers Party and the movement for people without property rights.

"President Hugo Chavez and his Columbian followers; the fighters in Ecuador; Fidel Castro and his courageous people," Ziegler said, pausing as each statement was applauded.

It was clear that the former Social Democrat parliamentarian had gained the public's approval right from the start of his address at the Gigantinho Arena in Porto Alegre.

Over 12,000 people came to hear Ziegler on Sunday afternoon, filling the arena to maximum capacity as temperatures soared to over 30 degrees.

Against IMF and WTO

"Since the implosion of the Soviet Union the capitalist world order is spreading like bushfire," said Ziegler.

"In the industrialised countries their weapon was unemployment. In the countries of the South, the noose is the economy of debt.

"A small group of men has been born," he continued. "They have more power than the Kaiser or the Pope ever had."

Ziegler said that the footsoldiers of this "oligarchy of transnational funds" were the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation.

"Globalisation is a daily terror for three-quarters of mankind," he said.

"Starvation is no destiny"

The former professor of sociology at Geneva University, teacher at the Sorbonne in Paris, author and parliamentarian [as he was introduced] was largely unknown to his audience.

They had mostly come to hear the Theologian, Leonardo Boff, or the author, Eduardo Galeano. Or perhaps to listen to India's Rhada Kumar who was also giving a speech on "peace and values".

"Thanks to cyberspace and the free market those in power have enormous vitality. Never has the massacre of mankind taken place so quickly: every day 100,000 people die of hunger. And this on an affluent planet," warned Ziegler.

"Starvation is no destiny. There's a murderer behind every child's death. It's up to us to uncover these people and to paralyse them."

Bush as "Pinochet"

The militant Swiss, who regularly rails against the financial and political elite in Switzerland, also had plenty to say about President Bush.

He called the September 11 attacks an inexcusable crime and said that those responsible must be brought to justice.

"But Mr Bush - the White House Pinochet - uses this tragedy as a pretence and threatens the Iraqi people with bombs from 15,000 metres above," said Ziegler, whose mention of Bush was greeted with approbation and catcalls.

"Bush covers for [Israeli prime minister Ariel] Sharon's crimes in Palestine and [Russian president Vladimir] Putin's crimes in Chechnya - and all with the reference to the so-called war on terror," he added.

Grass roots

"Where does hope remain?" Ziegler asked, answering that it was not to be found in the UN, despite its good ideas and the leadership of Secretary General, Kofi Annan.

"The UN is suffering from schizophrenia. Whatever its sub-organisations manage to do, it's always destroyed by the IMF or the WTO," he said.

Ziegler said that hope lay only in the work of Karl Marx, even though his name was seldom mentioned in respectable political circles.

"Marx said that the revolutionary must hear the grass growing. The grass is growing in Porto Alegre, in the shanty towns of those people without property rights, in the ATTAC meetings in Paris. Resistance is being organised everywhere."

The solution, according to Ziegler, is the dismantling of the IMF and World Bank and an end to offshore funds.

"George Bernanos said: God has no other hands except our own. We need to work together to create a fairer world, to cement the [electoral] victory of Lula and his people," finished Ziegler.

The end of his speech was met with great applause and approval from the assembled listeners. Loudspeakers sounded with "Olé, Olé, Olé, Ola, Lula, Lula."

swissinfo, Phillipe Kropf, special correspondent in Porto Alegre
(translated by Isobel Johnson)

Key facts

Ziegler is a former professor of social science and economics in the universities of Geneva and the Sorbonne. He is interested in the issues of poverty and hunger around the world.
He was a prominent member of the federal Swiss parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee until June 1991.
He is now Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the Right to Food.

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