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Washington's AIDS Hypocrites, Wolfowitz and Tobias, Ousted

Planet Out staff

The heads of two of the world's biggest AIDS programs, largely run by the United States, have resigned within a month of each other amid accusations of sexual hypocrisy.

Paul Wolfowitz, the head of the World Bank, resigned yesterday after fighting for his job for six weeks. He was quoted Thursday by the New York Times as having given up his fight and negotiating terms for his resignation.

His resignation comes less than a month after the resignation of Randall Tobias, President Bush's overseas aid director and former AIDS czar, for allegedly being a customer of a Washington escort agency.

The media have made it look as Wolfowitz's troubles stem mainly from his promoting and negotiating big pay rises for his girlfriend, Shaha Riza.

This is bad enough, given that Wolfowitz, during a scant two years as World Bank president, alienated many executive directors from Europe and the developing world in the complex, multilateral organization by pushing through tough anti-corruption measures sometimes involving the withdrawal of funds from poverty-stricken areas.

In reality, Wolfowitz's resignation is about much bigger issues, including global HIV and family planning policy, and whether the United States has any right to prescribe sexual morality to the rest of the world.

According to his critics, Wolfowitz prioritized "good governance" even over poverty alleviation. This included freezing programs in such places as tsunami-hit Bandar Aceh in Indonesia, where, until recently, Wolfowitz, as former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, had been held in high esteem.

But the bank's own Jakarta representative said locals have been questioning Wolfowitz's right to raise issues like local corruption when he is accused of corruption himself. Staffers at the bank's Washington headquarters have been seen sporting "good governance" blue ribbons in open opposition to their president.

The World Bank has been the scene of bitter battles between Wolfowitz and his group of vice-presidents and advisers -- most of them neoconservatives brought in by Wolfowitz -- and the bank's executive directors, most of whom come from outside the United States.

The conservative faction recently lost a huge battle when its determined attempt to remove all wording that might possibly refer to abortion or to contraception for underage girls from its new Health, Nutrition and Population Strategy was rebuffed by the Europeans and the phrases reinstated.

The crucial battle took place when Wolfowitz appointee Juan Jose Duboub, a Salvadorean archconservative and member of the secretive Opus Dei Catholic organization, tried to change the phrase "reproductive health services" in the strategy to "age-appropriate access to sexual and reproductive health care."

This may look like a trivial change, but Wolfowitz opponents say it would have effectively removed explicit World Bank support for any programs offering contraception, condoms, abortion and women's reproductive rights.

Duboub had also tried to remove references to "climate change" from the same document and replace them with "climate risk" or "climate uncertainty."

Wolfowitz is the first World Bank president ever to resign, and the Reuters news agency Friday called it "an unprecedented challenge to the United States' global financial leadership."

The World Bank president has always been American because of a tradeoff after World War II that, quid pro quo, allowed the leader of the International Monetary Fund always to be European. Insiders are speculating that the presidency may now have to be offered to a non-American -- possibly someone from China. If so, this would be a historical shift in global financial leadership and evidence of the Bush government's continued slide into irrelevance.

And, on the surface at least, all because of a girl.

Meanwhile, the resignation of Randall Tobias, Bush's director of Foreign Aid and former AIDS czar, continues to echo round Washington, and for the same reasons. Tobias resigned April 30 when he was named as one of the frequent customers of a call-girl agency run by alleged "D.C. Madam" Deborah Palfrey.

Among her customers was, Palfrey alleged, former naval commander Harlan Ullman, author of the Iraq war "shock and awe" strategy.

As the ultimate boss of the PEPFAR AIDS relief program and during his days as AIDS czar, Tobias was directly responsible for enforcing U.S. policies that forbade the funding of HIV programs targeted to sex workers.

Given that many of the "girls" Tobias admitted he called round were central American immigrants, he is being accused not just of using prostitutes but supporting the very trade he campaigned against.

Jodi Jacobson of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), a lobbying organization against Wolfowitz's policies at the World Bank, commented that Tobias' actions "hinted at a new kind of guest-worker program supported by the administration."

The link has also been made between Tobias' support for abstinence-only-till-marriage programs, or what Jacobson calls the "Americans for Stopping Sex in Africa League."

Since President Bush came to power, an estimated 30 million young people, including 11 million in Africa, have taken part in these programs, despite evidence that they have zero effect.

A third of the HIV-prevention money directed to poor countries under the Bush PEPFAR program must be spent on abstinence programs -- in some countries, a much higher proportion than this.

In Nigeria, for instance, 70 per cent of U.S. HIV prevention money is spent on abstinence programs. Commentators have said that this has re-stigmatized condoms.

"Either abstinence doesn't work in high-literacy settings, or Tobias, a married man, has not been reading his own literature," Jacobson comments. (Gus Cairns, U.K.) If you'd like to know more, you can find stories related to Washington's AIDS hypocrites ousted.

Copyright © 2007 Planet Out.

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