US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday warned Bangladesh’s government not to undermine pioneering microlender Grameen Bank, saying it was a key driver in the South Asian nation’s slow climb out of poverty.
Clinton met with Grameen’s ousted founder — Nobel Prize-winning economics professor Mohammad Yunus — and later voiced strong support for the organization, which has fallen out of favor with Bangladesh’s political leadership.
“I have followed the dispute over Grameen Bank from Washington and I can only hope that nothing is done that in any way undermines the success of what Grameen Bank has accomplished,” Clinton told an audience at a public question-and-answer session in Dhaka.
“I highly respect Mohammad Yunus and I highly respect the work that he has done and I am hoping to see it continue without being in anyway undermined or affected by any government action. That would be unfortunate,” she said.
Clinton, the first senior US official to visit Bangladesh since 2004, has used the trip to bolster Grameen and Yunus himself, who was ousted as the bank’s leader last year after the government declared that he was beyond retirement age.
Yunus’ supporters maintain that his removal was part of a political vendetta by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government against a potential future political challenger to her rule.
US officials say Washington is now watching closely as Bangladesh moves to name a successor to Yunus, emphasizing that the process must be clear and transparent and not undercut Grameen’s accomplishments in bringing economic opportunity to poor women.
About 10 million Bangladeshis, mostly poor women, have been benefited by small credit offered by the Grameen, and Yunus vowed to raise the number by millions more in a few years. The beneficiaries say the money immensely helped them fight — and largely come out of — poverty.
Clinton visited Bangladesh in 1995 as US first lady, and yesterday said the country had made impressive strides in growing its economy, combating poverty, improving agricultural productivity and reducing maternal and child mortality.
Clinton’s 24-hour visit to Bangladesh was part of an Asia tour that started in China, where she tangled with Beijing over the fate of a Chinese dissident holed up at the US embassy, and will conclude in India, where US officials want assurances that New Delhi is taking strong action to cut oil imports from Iran.
Her three-day trip to India coincides with a visit by a large Iranian trade delegation, as New Dehli walks a tightrope of strengthening ties with ally the US and sating its fast-growing energy needs.
India has publicly rejected Western sanctions, but has pushed refiners to cut imports of oil from Iran by 15 to 20 percent — enough, it hopes, to win a waiver from Washington. The US in March granted exemptions to Japan and 10 EU nations from its sanctions, which are aimed at pressuring Iran to end its nuclear program.
India and China, Tehran’s biggest buyers of crude, remain on a list of at-risk countries if they do not cut oil imports “substantially.”
During her visit, Clinton will also make the case for the country to open its supermarket sector to foreign chains such as US giant Wal-Mart Stores — a major economic reform that has stalled under Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government.
Clinton started her visit to India yesterday afternoon in Kolkata.