The hotel worker IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn allegedly sexually assaulted likely suffered in her home country as a result of IMF policies, like so many of the world’s poor.
Last month, I helped lead a march of hundreds of people to protest what we consider to be the International Monetary Fund’s criminal behavior during its yearly spring summit with the World Bank. Along with others, I raised my voice to say, “Arrest the IMF!”
Now, Strauss-Kahn is in a jail cell. According to witnesses and other evidence, he sexually assaulted a female hotel worker in a shockingly violent act in a posh suite at the Manhattan Sofitel hotel. When the worker he allegedly attacked bravely broke free, Strauss-Kahn fled the scene, leaving behind personal items such as his mobile phone. The worker, who is an immigrant from the West African nation of Guinea, immediately told others what had happened to her. Law enforcement personnel caught up with him at JFK airport and pulled him off of the airplane minutes before his flight to Paris was scheduled to depart.
While the alleged details are shocking, it’s no surprise to me that an IMF chief would exhibit violent, sociopathic behavior. After all, the IMF’s austerity policies have assaulted poor countries for years.
The Fund is arguably the world’s most powerful financial institution. It issues loans to countries undergoing economic and financial distress, mostly poor ones, though lately European Union members Ireland, Greece, and Portugal have become big customers. In exchange for cash in times of need, the IMF demands blood from the countries that it serves.
In return for its emergency loans, the Fund often forces countries to halt government services that people rely on, such as food subsidies for the poor, health care services, education benefits, and retirement benefits. The IMF presses countries to privatize national assets, selling off pieces of itself to corporations and the wealthy. It demands trade deregulation, allowing corporations to conduct business without any accountability to the government of the country. It tells countries to get rid of laws that protect the environment. As a result, inequalities deepen, and it’s hard to see how many countries getting IMF loans really benefit.
Strauss-Kahn’s alleged sex attack on an African immigrant is a harrowing metaphor for how the IMF treats the rest of the world. And in fact, it might be more than a metaphor. This very same woman may have suffered in her home country as a result of IMF policies, long before her life’s journey brought her to the United States.
According to the woman’s lawyer, Jeffrey Shapiro, she arrived in the U.S. from Guinea seven years ago under “very difficult circumstances.” She has a 15-year-old daughter. The worker did not know that her attacker was the IMF chief until at least a day after the attack took place, he said.
As part of a global plan to reduce the debt extremely poor nations owed to international financial institutions and wealth governments, the IMF jumped into the country’s economics more than 15 years ago, instituting game-changing domestic laws (called “structural adjustments”) that would prompt privatization, especially in the mining sector. A detailed policy framework forced on Guinea by the IMF made allowances for a railroad and a deep-water sea port for exporting iron and aluminum shipments, but didn’t make allowances for any new hospitals or schools. It ensured that the Guinean government would be “committed to privatizing the central pharmacy,” which likely raised the rate of all basic medicines.
She didn’t know it when she fought off her attacker, but this brave hotel housekeeper had likely been assaulted by the IMF before, through its cruel policies. Could the shifting factors of the global economy have caught her in its maw? Could these factors be what spurred her to make the dramatic decision to leave her home to emigrate to the United States?
She wouldn’t be alone. Most immigrants cite economic factors as major reasons that they move here. Too often, global strings are pulled by wealthy financiers, and people suffer.
Just as the woman Strauss-Kahn allegedly attacked fought him off, we as a unified global community must fight back against the IMF’s destructive policies. It starts with raising our voices in protest against this financial powerhouse that is assaulting the poor.