US virtually alone in rejecting Convention on Cultural Diversity

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Tantrums and Threats
by Pedro de La Hoz, Periodico 26

Whoever is not with me is against me is the slogan the Bush White House has preached to the world. This week such a simpleminded philosophy reached the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as its member nations overwhelmingly approved (148 votes for, two against, four abstentions) the Convention for the Protection of Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions. The only nay votes came from the United States and its loyal ally Israel, which opposed the measure not only to please its godfather but also because cultural diversity in its territory smacks of recognizing the Palestinian population and that would be too much for ultra-sensitive Zionists.

The US did everything possible to sabotage the Convention. It tried to get the discussion postponed until the General Conference set for 2007 and introduced 28 amendments. The administration instructed its Education Secretary Margaret Spelling to pronounce a sugary speech. It also sent letters to foreign ministers around the world signed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, requesting they vote against the cultural diversity agreement. In the letters, it was further implied that the US would consider once again abandoning UNESCO if it didn���t get its way.

How could such a noble document be so troubling to Washington, when it is a text that is more suggestive than, so far, practical on what should be done to protect cultural diversity at this sad point in time?

At first glance it appears to be a stance somewhere between the market and culture. The Convention advocates differentiated treatment for cultural creations so that they are not regarded as just products. It gives governments the sovereign right to promote and protect cultural patrimony as they see fit. Article 20 establishes that the Convention should be taken into account ���when interpreting or applying other agreements��� or ���when taking on other international commitments.���

The US government believes this threatens the liberalization of markets, a concept it has fiercely defended. They note that if the Convention was taken seriously by the signers there could be obstacles to flooding the planet for the icons of made in the USA culture.

Spanish philosopher Maria Jose Farinas describes the real meaning of the so-called ���free market��� for culture: ���Cultural globalization denies each culture the right to be itself and develop in its own time and space. It is the fruit of a totalitarian and exclusive neoliberal ideology. It is also a new form of cultural imperialism, exercised especially from a global private sector that represents the antithesis of pacifism in international relations, because it often causes social imbalances, economic inequality and cultural pillaging.���

At the root, that is the problem. The US refuses to accept the idea of a world different from its own vision. Respect for diversity does not exist in its language or its methods. It drives Washington crazy that it is no longer only Marxists or Communists that defend the voices of others ���the excuse they used to withdraw from UNESCO in 1984, not to return until after 19 years. The Bush administration didn���t like it when Shri Lanka���s Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga said in Paris: ���We cannot permit a single vision, a single group of ideas, a single project take over the whole world, for such a world would be terrible and dangerously lacking.��� Likewise, the White House disapproved of France, Canada and Brazil taking the center stage in support of cultural diversity. Nor could it stomach that, Timothy Craddock, the UNESCO representative of its close ally Great Britain, called the wording of the document ���"clear, carefully balanced, consistent with the principles of international law and fundamental human rights.���

Following its near unanimous approval, the Convention will now enter into effect after it is ratified by 30 countries. Nonetheless, the US Department of State sent out a press release that described the convention was ���deeply flawed��� and announced unilateral measures to impose its own twisted idea of cultural diversity. Those measures were not revealed, of course, as the US keeps them to be used in the typical imperial style of blackmail and threats.

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