The Coca-Colonization of Global Health and Human Rights

Rachel Mahoney

“The history of trade follows that of larger world orders.  Following years of exploiting their former colonies, rich countries ordered trade to their own advantage and have maintained unequal orders ever since.  Although they no longer extract mineral, oil, and timber with the barrel of a gun, they now use tariffs, subsidies, and import quotas.  One order of exploitation has given way to a subtler but equally lethal version” (O’neil, 149)

One salient example of subtle contemporary imperialism is the coca-colonization of many developing economies.  Coca-colonization, a term coined as the result of rising neoliberalism, occurs when powerful multi-national corporations (Coca-Cola) and lending institutions (International Monetary Fund) take steps to “modernize” and “integrate” indigenous agricultural economies, instead spurning these markets to ineffective peripheral positions in the global balance of power  (Leatherman & Goodman, Coca-colonization of diets in the Yucatan).  

As students of public health and human rights — and more importantly, as active global citizens — it is our duty to consider each angle of the claims made about global health; we must understand the complex and dynamic ways institutions, governments, and corporations around the world affect the health and status of everyone.  Joyce A. Millen, former Director of the Institute for Health and Social Justice at Partners In Health and professor of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, echoes this need for critical skepticism of health statistics: “…many of the significant health improvements made over the last 50 years are marred by growing health disparities between the world’s wealthy and the world’s poor” … “the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ amidst the global balance of power and wealth.  Millen goes on to caution that “aggregate statistics mask” the unevenness of health improvements worldwide, by failing to mention that “equally dramatic losses” of many development strategies (Millen et al., 4 and 5).

Included in the “equally dramatic losses” alluded to above, are the 10 million children under five-years-old who died in 2007.  What is more, is that 97% of these children died in developing countries that lack the resources to treat and prevent their predominantly preventable deaths. How different might the fates of these children be if they had won the proverbial “birth lottery”?  Alas, they, along with billions more babies, are born in countries with infant mortality rates sixteen times higher than the Global North (Millen et al., 5).

Millen and her colleagues make clear the disparities that prevent raw economic growth from benefitting everyone equally.  A myriad of intersecting factors like colonialism, political and structural violence, malnourishment, and corporation-dominated global financial flows have only worsened the lives of the world’s poorest citizens: “specific growth-oriented policies have not only failed to improve the living standards and health outcomes among the poor, but also have inflicted additional suffering on disenfranchised and vulnerable populations” (Millen et al., 7).

An anti-neoliberalism cartoon symbolizing the corporate imperialism it perpetuates around the world.

One thought on “The Coca-Colonization of Global Health and Human Rights

  1. I agree with you that these coca-colonization has profound negative effects on countries in the global economy. It IS important for us to try to wrap our minds around the complex and intricate ways that politics, aid, corporations are interconnected. It is important to first be students before we try to bring aid or impose our thoughts about how to change the world. We can do little, and perhaps even hurt those we wish to help if we do not have an appropriate understanding of what needs to be done.

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