I’m at the Carter Center in Atlanta to attend a conference on the right to information. The highlight on Wednesday was a speech by Jimmy Carter himself, touching on the center’s work on this issue but also criticizing the current U.S. government’s record on openness.
The Bush Administration has classified more secrets than any other in U.S history, Carter emphasized. He also pointed out that when Congress recently passed a law establishing an ombudsman to facilitate openness, the Administration sabotaged the intent by allocating no money for the post and by having the position transferred to the State Department.
Even ex-Presidents are constrained by this regime of secrecy from declassifying papers pertaining to their presidencies, he stated.
“I look forward to more freedom from January onward,” Carter said to applause, leading him to joke that this was the first applause line in his speech.
A fiery follow-up to Carter was by Juan Ramon Quintana, a minister from Bolivia, who spent much of his speech outlining the benefits to the Bolivian people from the Evo Morales government’s contract renegotiations with multinationals, such as the oil giants. (Quintana was standing in for Evo Morales, whose last-minute cancellation has been the big disappointment of the conference.) There are 500,000 more literate Bolivians, a manifold increase in computers in schools, and more roads built in the past two years than in the previous twenty—all due to the extra money the Bolivian state is receiving from the multinationals, he said.
The really refreshing aspect of the conference is its truly global nature. There are representatives from throughout Latin America, Africa, Europe, China and India. I saw the ex-President of Peru, Alejandro Toledo, walking in the front door with a grin on his face. At lunch, I was seated next to a Chinese economist, who incidentally did his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois. And much to my delight, I met Firoze Manji, who co-edits with Mukoma Wa Ngugi (a writer for the Progressive Media Project) Pambazuka News, a social justice publication focused on Africa. As if to balance things, there was a World Bank representative on a panel, ironically talking about the need for transparency. I was about to question him about the lack of transparency in his own organization, but other people beat me to it. There’s little love lost for the World Bank in this crowd.