Although almost no protest marches have been permitted in Cambodia since the 2003 anti-Thai riots, a group of anti-globalization activists said Monday that they believe they will be allowed to demonstrate on Nov 13 in Kandal province against the policies of donor countries and institutions in Cambodia.
The “People’s Caravan,” billed in a press statement as a pan-Asian “collective journey of millions of peasants,” using “transportation ranging from bullock carts to bicycles, elephants to camel[s],” is being organized here by outspoken feminist NGO Womyn’s Agenda for Change and seven other NGOs, including Positive Women of Hope Organization and Youth for Peace.
Each NGO will protest in a different province, but they will all come together in Kandal, where protesters will drive in cars stopping at the roadside to sing anti-privatization songs.
“We have a good chance [of approval],” said rally organizer Sam Vuthy of Womyn’s Agenda for Change. “Our group is on the side of the government and the poor people against donations with conditions,” he said.
One song that will be sung at the event bemoans the influence of the private sector. “Cambodia used to be fresh but it has become dark…. The private sector owns everything and the prices are too high,” the song’s lyrics proclaim.
Key among the agenda items for the NGOs is free access to AIDS medicine. As part of Cambodia’s accession to the World Trade Organization, it must soon enforce patents, including those on anti-retrovirals.
Members of the eight NGOs on Monday criticized donors for pressuring the government to privatize water and electricity companies.
Sam Vuthy said the main obstacles to reducing poverty here are the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and International Monetary Fund.
He cited the tying of aid to the purchasing of certain products and requirements to lower import tariffs as particularly damaging policies.
“By pressuring the government, you are undermining stability,” Ly Pisey of Womyn’s Agenda for Change said.
The People’s Caravan will end in Hong Kong during December’s meeting of the Doha Round of trade negotiations. At the meeting, poor countries are expected to pressure rich nations to reduce agricultural subsidies.