Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

Name:
Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!

30.6.05

What I've been reading

Phew! Lots of stuff today. I'll probably take the day off mañana.

It's been a while since I finished a book, because I've been reading a bunch of different ones. I decided to read this next one even though it went against my "reading books in alphabetical order by author" thing. This book seemed to "in the moment" to skip.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins
250 pages, 2004, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

This is a disturbing book. If even half of what Perkins is saying is true (and I'm not saying he's a liar, I'm just saying that memoirs tend to make the writer look favorable - it's just the way it is), then everyone should read this book and think about what America has done to the world. These days, when the G8 is finally getting around the debt relief for the world's poorest countries, it's instructive to understand how we got to this place. Perkins tells us how.

Perkins used to be an economic hit man (EHM). Simply put, he was recruited by a multinational corporation to go into "underdeveloped" countries, offer their leaders deals to create a Western-style infrastructure that would benefit those leaders and the wealthiest families in the country (said development to be undertaken, naturally, by American companies), and then, when they have run up huge debts that they can't repay, the American companies, working hand-in-glove with the government, blackmails them into offering perks to the government and the businesses. Perkins calls this government/business marriage a corporatocracy, which is as good a word as any, and he traces how the government has been run this way for 50 years.

The insidious thing about all this, of course, is that Perkins never worked for the government, and therefore the government can always say it knew nothing about what was going on. However, it's interesting that in all the places where he went and set up these conditions, there was something vital to "national security" where it would be handy to have the local governments in a vise. The most common of these things is oil. Perkins traces the development of the EHM back to Kermit Roosevelt, Teddy's grandson, who went to Iran in 1951 and helped bring down the democratically-elected leader Mohammed Mossadegh, who had had the temerity to nationalize the petroleum industry. Instead of invading, Roosevelt (a CIA agent) went in to coerce, cajole, bribe, and create the impression that Mossadegh was inept. He went down and the United States installed the shah. Everyone knows how that turned out, right?

Perkins got into the business in the late 1960s and was instrumental in creating not only the kinds of situations for which EHMs got their reputations (in Indonesia and Ecuador, for instance), but also a new kind of situation, in Saudi Arabia. He goes over the way the Saudis didn't need American money, since they were sitting on an ocean of oil. After the OPEC oil embargo, however, the U.S. realized they needed allies within OPEC. They offered to westernize Saudi society if the Saudis dealt kindly with them in future oil negotiations. At that time, goats were cleaning the streets in Riyadh. So the Saudis got their gleaming cities in the desert, and the U.S. got cheap gasoline. Everyone wins!

Perkins also goes into detail about his experience in Panama. The leader of Panama, Omar Torrijos, became Perkins' friend in the 1970s. Perkins describes how this staunch nationalist refused to give in to the multinationals and the American government and negotiated the ceding of the canal to Panama in 1977. For this, Perkins alleges, he was assassinated in 1981. Even if Torrijos actually did die in an innocent plane crash, what the corporatocracy was trying to do to Panama led to the invasion in 1989 to take down Manuel Noriega, Torrijos' protégé and successor. Noriega, for all his faults, did not want to let American businesses run his country. George Bush (who, along with all his cronies who now run the country for their puppet, Bush II, comes off looking not so good in Perkins' account) could not allow any Latin American country to stand up to the U.S., so in went the troops. Perkins also talks about Jaime Roldós, Ecuador's president, who also stood up to the American business interests and who also died under mysterious circumstances a few months before Torrijos. In neither of these cases can anything be proved. It's just interesting that anyone who plays ball with the U.S. tends to stay alive a lot longer than those who don't.

Perkins eventually quit, but he stayed in touch with the business long enough to understand that the American government did the same thing with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in the 1980s, and then, when Hussein wouldn't comply, he had to be removed. It's an interesting way to look at the war we're currently involved in. As long as Hussein allowed American business interests to have their way in his country, we didn't care that he killed a bunch of his own people. Once he started looking elsewhere to develop his oil reserves, suddenly he was worse than Hitler. Perkins also talks about Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, who also defied the United States and fell from power briefly just before the Iraq war. He managed to regain control, however, and Perkins argues the Iraq war saved Venezuela from invasion. I found this part of the book interesting, because ever since I was in Venezuela in 1999 I have followed it occasionally, and getting this perspective was nice.

In the later chapters, Perkins gets a little weird, as he discusses the New Age in the New Millennium, but for the most part, his book is a chilling tale of economic destruction and how the paradigm has shifted in the last 50 years so that fewer of our people die (in wars and the like) but more of the "others" die in poverty and starvation. Perkins and his kind would go into countries, promise people Western miracles that they didn't really need, destroy their way of life and replace it with ours, and give all the money to the rich families who already controlled everything, leaving nothing in return. This is the tragedy of this sort of exploitation. We all assume that because we have an iPod and a laptop that everyone wants one. We assume that people would rather live in houses than in jungles. Why do we assume that? If the tribes in Ecuador want that, they'll come here. Perkins makes the argument that we should leave them alone.

It's a compelling book, one that is relevant to what's going on right now. I hope President Bush follows through on debt relief - it might be the one good thing he does with his presidency. We need to think about our relations with the world in a new way, because the way we've done it for the past 50 years has created as many problems as it's solved. A few days ago I got into a little bit of a snippy argument in the comments section of this post. The conservative with whom I was arguing said he shed no tears for Salvador Allende. That's perfectly fine - neither do I. The point is that he was a freely elected leader and the United States helped assassinate him because we didn't like him. It's no wonder people around the world hate us - we give them plenty of cause. Perkins' book shows how the United States has created this global empire that is built for one thing - making the rich in our country richer. I'm not going to argue that just because the rich get richer it doesn't mean there's less wealth for everyone else. I am going to argue that the way the rich get richer makes us all poorer, and betrays what this country stands for. This is an important book because it hasn't changed. Hussein is gone, but who got all the contracts to rebuild Iraq? Bechtel, Inc. and Halliburton. These two companies, along with others, have been getting these contracts from the government for decades. We're not going to win anything this way.

Okay, that's all for today. I promise! I'm going to bed.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greg: excellent summary. I am an economist - - though no a hit man, and I found the book and information very compelling. I don't think a rational individual could explain away all the linkages and coincidences and timing of events presented by the author. And, as you say, it is no wonder why so many other countries dislike the US, and we are view as an imperialist country.

4/5/07 11:26 AM  
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