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An Economic Hit Man Speaks

By Kathyayini Chamaraj

06 March, 2005
The Hindu

Many have been hinting at it since decades and the whole edifice of the World Social Forum has been built on this premise: that the United States' imperialist, invisible hand is behind all the structural reforms being preached by international financial institutions in the name of development for the developing countries; and that these prescriptions somehow had the effect of enriching the already rich sole superpower of the world while pauperising the countries that were supposed to become rich.

But now it is all in the open, the hidden hand has become visible, unveiled by an American himself, who feels it his duty to be loyal to the founding doctrines of his country rather than to their current misshapen form. John Perkins, once a self-described "economic hit man", who infiltrated developing countries with suitcases of money, to capture their leaders with bribes and loans and extract huge concessions from them for U.S. business interests, has revealed it all in his courageous new book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.

John Perkins speaks

One of the exciting events at the World Social Forum (WSF) at Porto Alegre in Brazil this year in the last week of January, was a dialogue with John Perkins, the author himself, who, from being an economic hit man, has now crossed over to the "other side" and joined those who have all along believed that "Another world is possible". This event makes the WSF's vision of another world not an "idle dream", as many believe it to be, but that much more real and within reach. Now the weird bunch of sloganeering anti-globalisation-ists at the WSF can wag their finger at the rest of the world and say, "We told you so".

John Perkins started and stopped writing Confessions of an Economic Hit Man four times over the last 20 years. He says he was threatened and bribed in an effort to kill the project. But he determined to reveal all when he stood at "ground zero" after 9/11 and could still smell burning American flesh. He shuddered at the thought that his 22-year-old daughter could have been one of the victims and realised that this was the storm the Americans were reaping for the wind that hit men like him had sown all over the developing countries.

Tracing empire building

Perkins traced the history of empire building by the U.S. to the post-World War II period. The empire had no emperor but was controlled by the corporate sector which Perkins has defined as "corporatocracy". The desire for empire had its roots in the fear and insecurity generated among Americans by the post-World War 1 Depression. The Bretton Woods institutions, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), were set up to reconstruct Europe and Asia and prevent the world from ever experiencing another Depression. But these institutions got politicised and gradually their goal became one of proving that the U.S. way was the only right way.

Perkins reveals the secret process by which the U.S. National Security Agency recruited persons with a particular psychological vulnerability to be hit men. The shadow masters behind the NSA played on his inferiority complex stemming from his lower middle class background from a small town, and manipulated his ambition to make it good in life. "The NSA offered," says Perkins, "money, power and sex", to make him do their bidding. A glamorous older woman called "Claudine" trained him early in his career and gave him "all that he dreamt of". He was urged to join the Peace Corps in Ecuador to gain familiarity with developing countries.

One of the first successes of the empire builders was the reinstatement of the Shah of Iran in 1951 in a coup without an army, which was engineered by U.S. corporates. Perkins, as former chief economist at Boston strategic-consulting firm Chas. T. Main, travelled the world as an economic hit man for 10 years — to Indonesia, Panama, Ecuador, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other strategically important countries, helping U.S. intelligence agencies and multinationals. He was made to take an oath of secrecy about his work.

His job

His job was to cajole and blackmail the leaders of LDCs (less developed countries) into serving the interests of the U.S. corporatocracy (a coalition of government, banks, and corporations) and bring business to U.S. companies, while professing to alleviate poverty in these countries. The naïve chiefs of these countries would be persuaded to take multi-billion dollar loans, much bigger than they really needed, for big infrastructure projects, such as power plants. The hit man would make sure that the projects were contracted to U.S. multinationals.

John Perkins accuses the American government and the international aid agencies — WB, IMF, USAID — allied with it of cheating "developing" countries out of trillions of dollars by lending them more money than they could possibly repay and then, by dictating repayment terms, essentially controlling their economies. It was not unlike the way a loan shark or a bond-master operates. The promised aid money would end up at Halliburton, Bechtel, Brown and Root, and other United States transnational engineering and construction companies to build these projects. "If you do that in a bank to an individual, it will be illegal. But if a nation does it, it is not illegal because there are no international laws which outlaw it," says Perkins.

The poor in these countries would see that only a few wealthy families, who controlled the planet's natural resources, were getting richer from these projects, while they would get poorer. Perkins' confessions sweep away any doubt or vestige of illusion one might have still entertained about the United States being a moralist force working for the preservation of democracy and freedom around the world.

Those who weren't swayed

But there were some leaders who did not buy the hit men's offers. "We failed to bring Jaime Roldós, President of Ecuador, and Omar Torrijos, President of Panama, around, and so the other type of hit men, the CIA-sanctioned jackals who were always right behind us, stepped in." says Perkins. Both presidents died in fiery air crashes. Perkins believes that their deaths were not accidental and that they were assassinated by the CIA because they opposed the corporate, government, and banking heads, whose goal was a global empire. Omar Torrijos, in fact, became a personal friend of Perkins. With aid money, he had shown that it was possible to bring about genuine development of Panama by focussing, for instance, on micro-credit, small farmers and sustainable fishing.

After the OPEC oil crisis of the 1970s, the U.S. decided to target Saudi Arabia. Perkins says that he was sent there to implement a secret scheme that funnelled billions of Saudi Arabian petrodollars back into the U.S. economy. This was the reason for the intimate relationship between the Islamic fundamentalist House of Saud and successive American administrations. The House of Saud was made to assure the U.S. that they would not fluctuate their oil prices.

"We were so successful in Saudi Arabia, that we tried the same thing in Iraq. But Saddam did not buy. So we sent in the CIA to Iraq. But Saddam had such loyal bodyguards that it was not possible to oust him. That's why and when we sent the army," says Perkins.

"If there is an evil empire, we are it," says Perkins, meaning America. One per cent of Americans owned the empire while 50,000 people died every day in poor countries. "History has shown that empires never last. Some other empire comes up and may be worse than the previous one. We have to change this history. We need a different kind of consciousness, prophesied by indigenous cultures, which will bring the North and South together," he pleaded.

He noted that, luckily, the systems of globalisation that had created the problem, had also provided the means of the solution. It was because of the airlines, the internet, etc. that it was possible to hold the WSF. Perkins wanted the World Social Forum to fight this evil empire. "Economics is not a science at all. It is a way of justifying your means. It is time we stood up and said that the debts owed by these countries are illegal"

`Turn off the TV'

He noted that the TV was circumscribing Americans' lives and keeping them ignorant. "We, Americans, need to turn off those TVs and start talking," he said. Whereas 50 corporations controlled the media in the U.S. in 1980, today there were only six.

Being a loyal American, he owed allegiance to the tenets of freedom, democracy and equality upon which Washington, Jefferson, etc., had built the U.S.

He was sorry to admit that the U.S. had gone away from these ideals. He recalled a Shamanism saying: "The world is as we dream of it". If the WSF does not actively pursue this other dream, then terrorism will be the only alternative for those being disenfranchised.

One reviewer finds Perkins' story implausible and unconvincing, except perhaps to conspiracy buffs. He complains that Perkins offers so few details that he often seems paranoid.

But a larger number of reviewers of his book find that his is a compelling story that reveals the real reasons why America invaded Iraq and also offers hope and a vision for realising the dream of a just and compassionate world.

Those intending to revive Enron beware.











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Confessions Of An Economic Hitman