For the Third World, economic globalization is
just more of the same
by Anna Manzo
Toward Freedom magazine, November 1998
In industrialized nations, historic colonialism is rarely
equated with "economic globalization." Yet, as multinational
corporations assert rights over nation-state sovereignty, globalization
increasingly looks like a highly-evolved form of colonialism,
resubordinating the economies of newly industrialized countries
(NICs), as well as labor markets of developed nations.
"It's important to look at the development of the economy
from the mindset of the global powers," says Philippine Green
Party leader Roberto Verzola, "because they will eventually
impinge on the rest of the world, often shaping our destinies
and steering our development in directions we never wanted to
take." Verzola also coordinates Interdoc, a network of international
non-governmental organizations tracking the impact of the emerging
global information economy on developing countries.
According to Verzola, the dates and the colonizing countries
may have varied throughout the Third World, but the colonial experiences
have basically been the same. Military conquest was carried out
by the use of superior military technology, then followed by the
imposition of new religions, culture, a colonial administration,
and the drawing out of the land's wealth.
This system-colonialism's first wave- dulled resistance. "The
colonial mindset set in when the people started to accept the
colonizers' words: 'We bring you Christianity;' 'We bring you
civilization;' 'We will teach you democracy," said Verzola.
"When occupation forces were withdrawn, the formal political
power transferred to local elites very often retained the same
colonial set of laws, bureaucracy, and armed forces that had served
The Philippines' longest colonial experience in the Pacific
region-first under control of the Spanish, and then the US-offers
a case study in contrasting colonialism past and present. The
first indigenous resistance to colonization began in 1521, when
Ferdinand Magellan and several crew members claimed the islands
for Spain, violated their women and were slain by native leaders.
But the Spanish returned in 1565 with superior weaponry, conquering
much of the 7100-island archipelago within 10 years.
After military conquest, Spanish priests converted lowland
tribespeople to Christianity, often building churches with forced
labor. Friars replaced local shamans and made Christianity more
appealing by incorporating many elements of indigenous religions.
However, Mindanao Muslims and highland tribes were successful
in resisting colonization and maintaining their traditional culture
until 1898, when US military presence and a market economy began
to undermine their lifestyle.
Philippine independence from Spain in 1898 marked the first
successful liberation from a European colonizer in Asia, but was
short-lived. According to Pulitzer prize-winning author Stanley
Karnow, the Spanish-American War began as a "pious endeavor
to liberate Cuba from Spanish oppression," but ended in "the
former colony [the US] itself becoming a colonialist" when
the US brutally annexed the newly-independent Asian republic.
Walden Bello, director of Thailand's Focus on the Global South,
sees the 1899 Philippine annexation as critical to global US strategy.
MARKETS, DICTATORS, AND THE IMF
In colonialism's second wave, three driving forces alternately
dominated in US interests: the strategic military extension of
the US state; corporate expansionism, and missionary democracy.
Imperialist intentions had to be sanitized as democracy in response
to a strong anti-imperialist movement in the US-a special problem
because of the US' own anti-colonial revolution against Britain.
"However, replicating the American system of 'independence'
through electoral democracy allowed different factions of the
elite to compete relatively peacefully for political power,"
explains Bello. This offered an effective form of political control:
an illusion of democratic choice. The poor could participate in
elections, but wealth subverted the process.
The US tried to export this model, but failed when it chose
countries like Korea and Vietnam, caught up in nationalist revolutions.
Disenchanted, US officials made anticommunism the credential for
choosing allies-a system that led to US support for dictatorships
such as Park Chung-Hee in Korea, Marcos in the Philippines, and
Suharto in Indonesia.
A US priority in international relationships has been to insure
access for US corporate investment and products by pressuring
governments to eliminate tariffs and other policies protecting
domestic business, the opposite of early protectionist measures
to develop the US' own industrial sector. Verzola believes this
arrangement fosters dependency on the colonial power, compromising
a nation's economic sovereignty. Relationships with institutions
such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank,
and the World Trade Organization exacerbate the condition. Promising
development funds, jobs, technology, and protection from communism,
they instead impose trade liberalization and austerity programs
that stagnate development.
Agricultural liberalization, for example, endangers the self-sufficiency
of indigenous farmers by requiring monocropping for export. "For
several years, farmers converted rice cultivation to potato crops
to produce french fries for McDonald's restaurants. But when the
fast-food chain found pre-cut and frozen potatoes cheaper elsewhere,
50,000 farmers were suddenly out of work," says Victoria
Tauli-Corpuz, who coordinated the declaration of indigenous women
at the Beijing Women's Conference and lobbies on behalf of indigenous
"Additionally, we are told not to grow rice because we
can import rice that's grown more efficiently elsewhere. But if
you import, you need foreign currency; you cannot buy products
abroad with Philippine pesos. Workers need to work abroad to get
foreign currency-or rely on more IMF loans," she says. "We
should not be forced to change our crops to those that the government,
IMF, or international markets have decided are 'globally competitive."'
CORPORATIONS AS GOVERNMENT
In the latest wave of colonialism, the nation-state is asked
to play a subservient role to multinational corporations; corporate
rights are often more favorably treated than individual rights.
Corporations have become aggressive in asserting their freedoms
via "liberalization," overcoming government control
through "deregulation," and taking over government activities
through "privatization," according to Verzola.
Supra-national institutions such as the IMF, World Bank, and
World Trade Organization are working to further negate national
sovereignty through emerging global legal infrastructures; for
example, the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI)
would allow multinational corporations to dictate changes to a
country's national, state, and local regulations governing labor,
health, and environmental standards. Other legislative processes
are deregulating information technology, communications, financial
services, and the biotechnology industry, allowing the formation
of unprecedented monopolies.
Many Third World and indigenous cultures view "ancestral
knowledge" and natural resources as collective assets, meant
to be shared rather than exploited by individual owners, Verzola
observes. In Western cultures, the right to private property is
absolute and almost everything is commodified. Information itself
is an object of commodification and privatization. In the genetic
engineering and biotechnology industries, for example, a handful
of the major biotechnology corporations are fighting for monopolistic
patent rights to the 80,000 genes making up the human genome.
At a 1994 conference on sustainable development, Tauli-Corpuz
learned that her tribe, the Philippine Igorots, was targeted by
the Human Genome Project, along with 700 communities worldwide.
She also discovered that some international medical missions arriving
in the Philippines had a hidden agenda: to collect genetic material
from diverse indigenous communities for research and eventual
product development by multinational pharmaceutical companies.
Tauli-Corpuz has protested the commodification of this "new
natural resource" by calling for an international moratorium
on bio-prospecting until further legal protections can be developed.
Ironically, her daughter's nearly-completed graduate research
in molecular biology was recently shelved by her professor after
an institutional infusion of research money from the Human Genome
Project. Adding insult to injury, the young woman was asked by
the same professor to collect genetic materials from 100 of her
relatives. She declined.
"One day, you might find that you don't even own your
own body," says Tauli-Corpuz. We're protesting this project
because it violates the way we look at life, its sacredness, the
whole idea of dignity, of what knowledge should be and how it
In the biotechnology arena, foreign nationals aren't the only
ones whose genetic material is being patented by commercial US
firms. One Alaskan businessman, John Moore, found a cell line
from his spleen had been patented for an anti-cancer agent worth
$3 billion. A California Supreme Court ruled that Moore had no
property right over his own body tissues.
As Verzola observes, the hardest battle is in recognizing
and overcoming the colonial mentality that immobilizes the people,
during their impulse to fight.
Anna Manzo is a Connecticut-based writer. Research assistance
provided by Scott Harris, Public Affairs Director of WPKN Radio
in Bridgeport, CT
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