By Alan F.H. Wisdom (@AFHWISDOM)
An initiative of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Hunger Program is organizing U.S. and overseas activists to oppose free trade agreements and resist corporate investments in developing countries. This “Joining Hands” initiative was featured in a workshop at an April 5 PCUSA-sponsored conference on “food justice.”
Joining Hands describes itself as “an initiative of the Presbyterian Hunger Program that fights the root causes of hunger by sparking the formation of networks in developing countries. These networks lead the struggle against hunger at a local level while working with PC(USA) presbyteries and congregations to address global hunger issues.” Hunger Program associate Valery Nodem hailed Joining Hands as “the new approach in the church to do mission.” With the rest of the Hunger Program, it is funded through the One Great Hour of Sharing offering.
The Rev. Alexa Smith, PCUSA staff associate for Joining Hands, characterized the initiative as an effort to shine light into the dark places of international commerce. Developing country decisions to enter free trade agreements and allow foreign investment are often made without consulting the people most directly affected, according to Smith. “Most of the decisions that were causing people problems were not public decisions,” she said. “They were decisions that were made in the shadows.” Smith asked her audience to imagine a poor farmer caught by surprise when “a bulldozer was moving toward your house to displace you because the government had leased the land you were living on to a corporation very cheaply to grow a monocrop for export.”
The Joining Hands associate saw such incidents as symptomatic of a global problem: “There are 1.5 billion people in more than 50 resource-rich countries who remain mired in poverty.” Although the resources are abundant, many of those countries have “very authoritarian governments” that appropriate the proceeds from foreign investment for themselves and their loyalists. “Most of the money is siphoned off at the upper level and never filters down for basic needs like infrastructure, health care, education, and housing,” Smith charged.
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