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Advice and dissent

After Seattle and Washington, street protests have become standard features at big international gatherings, along with the traditional speeches and receptions. So the near absence of demonstrators at the IDB’s annual meeting in New Orleans last March came as somewhat of a surprise.

Where were the critics? It turned out that they were inside the convention center. Altogether, some 25 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) attended the meeting as registered participants. Although NGOs have been coming to IDB annual meetings for years, this time they were provided with computers, telephones, copy machines and meeting space. Through one-on-one lobbying and written statements, they raised concerns about the environmental and social impact of IDB-financed projects, called for debt cancellation, urged more work to reduce poverty, and demanded a larger NGO role in the Bank’s work. “We want greater public participation and debate on big picture strategies, programs and policies,” said Margarita Flores of the Colombian-based network Red Bancos.

The groups, based in 11 Latin American countries and the United States, included networks that represent hundreds of NGOs and two labor organizations with millions of members. They reflected the explosive growth of civil society organizations in the region, which has added vitality to democratic institutions and has enriched public debate.

Although their criticism was at times harsh and their expectations were perhaps unrealistic, NGOs such as these have become an important IDB interlocutor. Far from considering them a threat, the IDB welcomes their participation, believing that they offer perspectives on the issues that can strengthen the Bank’s ability to fulfill its mission.

Relations between NGOs and the IDB have grown closer over the years, and will continue to do so. “We have made progress,” said K. Burke Dillon, IDB executive vice president, in a meeting with the NGO representatives. “But we need to make more progress.” As a step in that direction, Dillon said that the Bank will hold regular meetings with civil society groups, in addition to the ongoing contacts that it currently maintains at its Washington, D.C., headquarters and through its country offices.

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