By Diego Cevallos

Inter Press Service
March 13, 2002
A three-meter-high wall will conceal a small slum from the view of 50 heads of state and government who are to attend a Mar. 18-22 international conference on the search for solutions to the problems of the poor, to be held in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey.

Ironically, World Bank president James Wolfensohn recently stated in a reference to the International Conference on Financing for Development that "it is time to tear down the wall" that divides the rich world from the poor.

An 80-meter-long, three-meter-high wall being built near the convention centre to host the meeting will keep a humble schoolhouse and a cluster of shanties out of sight of the conference participants.

Local social activists have dubbed it "the Berlin wall". However, the Monterrey secretary of public works, Luis Martinez, responded that the aim of the wall was simply to provide greater security for the school. Activists are planning peaceful protests during the international conference, and have already warned that they will hold the police and soldiers to be deployed by the Mexican government responsible for any incidents.

It is time to tear down the wall between rich and poor, and to acknowledge that in today's globalized world, poverty is our collective enemy, Wolfensohn said Mar 6 in Washington in a statement regarding the conference, which he is to attend.

Although Monterrey is one of Mexico's most vibrant and richest cities, 25 percent of its one million people live below the poverty line.

The "Berlin wall reveals the deceitfulness of the conference organizers, and their attempt to disguise reality," said Javier Orellana, president of the Monterrey Alliance of Users of Public Transport and a member of the Mexican Social Forum, a branch of the World Social Forum.

Activists have announced marches to protest economic globalization, the presence of President George W. Bush at the conference, and "neo-liberal policies."

The International Conference on Financing for Development will address key financial issues related to global development, taking into account the forces of globalization and interdependence, says a United Nations document.

According to the final document to be signed by the leaders taking part in the conference, the governments will commit themselves to working towards the goals of poverty alleviation, sustained economic growth and the promotion of sustainable development, while moving towards an all-inclusive global economic system based on equality.

Over 6,000 people are expected at the conference, including presidents and other high-ranking government delegates, and heads of international bodies like the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, as well as representatives of non-governmental organizations.

In addition, business association leaders and social activists will hold meetings ahead of the conference, between Mar. 14 and 18, and will later attend the conference workshops, alongside the government delegates and representatives of international entities.

The government of Vicente Fox has channeled $ 6.6 million into organizing the conference. The money went mainly into infrastructure at the convention centre and housing for the visitors.

Demand for hotel rooms exceeds local capacity. The organizers reported that a number of business leaders, social activists and even government delegates will stay in nearby towns or in private homes in Monterrey.

The government also assigned an unspecified amount of money to the deployment of security forces, who are to prevent any outbreak of violence in the protests, and to sprucing up the city in order to show a clean, well-organized town without overly visible signs of poverty.

The "Berlin wall is an aberration, and shows the organizers' lack of vision in their eagerness to discuss poverty, but without seeing it," said the activist Orellana.

During the conference, the Monterrey plazas where rallies and protests are traditionally held will be occupied by craft fairs, and classes in local schools and universities will be suspended.

The heads of the Faculty of Economy at the University of Nuevo Leon, where leftist parties are especially active, invited their students on an educational tour that will take them away from Monterrey while the conference is taking place.

The international conference will benefit Mexico due to the boost that tourism will be given by the presence of presidents and other high-level national and international officials in Monterrey, the UN secretary-general's adviser for the conference, Christian Ossa, told IPS. The United Nations is investing between $ 1 and $ 1.5 million in organizing the conference, Ossa added.

Security in the convention centre that will host the conference will be in the hands of armed UN personnel, and there will be strict controls for everyone, "made necessary by the post-Sept. 11 scenario," said Ossa, referring to the terrorist attacks in the United States.

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