Every once in a while comes a book that shakes you to the core. Confessions of an Economic Hitman is one of them. Written by John Perkins, it details a personal account of how one man helped a powerful nation stamp its authority on the world and transform itself into a global empire, mostly using unfair means.
Let me make something clear from the start. The term hitman in this case does not mean someone hired to kill. Rather Perkins is a hitman in the economic sense of the word, which means he is called upon to do financial deals with governments (mainly of developing countries) to develop/upgrade the country’s infrastructure and alleviate the millions of its citizens from poverty. Yet it is not as simple as it looks.
Recruited as an analyst by the NSA (the intelligence gathering agency of the USA, the same one that taps into your phones and listens to your conversations), the author started his work as an Economic Hitman (abbreviated as EHM) for a big company called MAIN. As an EHM, Perkins was trained to inflate the economic forecasts in his projections for his client countries which would help them secure a loan from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), three institutions in which the US enjoys significant privileges. The upside of making such inflated forecasts was that the host country would get money to develop projects, but the loan would be so huge that the country would ultimately default. This is where the advantage to US lied. The host country would then become a puppet of the US, making political and economic decisions that suit the world’s most powerful country. These countries were also then expected to side with the US on matters of international debate that would suit their interests.
One such telling example is that of Saudi Arabia. In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War between the Arabic states and Israel where the US sided with the latter, the Arab states imposed a complete oil embargo on the US causing panic in the country. In a chapter titled the Saudi Arabian Money Laundering Affair, the author describes how the US forced the Saudi Arabians to purchase US securities, whose interest would be used to finance the infrastructure projects that changed the landscape of Saudi Arabian deserts. In return, the US received a guarantee of continuous oil supply, at prices suitable to them. This arrangement legitimized the rule of the House of Saud in the peninsula and deterred any other state from making an attack on it as it was backed by US military. The author also states that the US knew that the Saudi Arabian government was financing terrorists and chose to turn a blind eye to it as it was more focused on getting the oil.
Panama and Venezuela also offer classic cases. In the former, the US killed a popular leader who wanted the Panama Canal to be restored to Panama and instead installed a puppet leader in his place-Manuel Noriega-who was a paid CIA informant for years. Even though Noriega made his money as a CIA agent and more so as a drug trafficker, the US chose to turn a blind eye to the latter as long as its interest was served. But when Noriega began to turn on the US, they brought him to trial in the US and imprisoned him. A similar thing was repeated in Venezuela. When Hugo Chavez was elected as President in 1998, he replaced the US stooges in the national oil company with his own trusted people and doubled the hydrocarbon tax, which doubled the royalties that foreign oil companies had to pay to Venezuela. The then US ambassador to the country admitted to paying high ranking generals in the army and opposition leaders to dissent against Chavez, which almost resulted in his overthrow
Perkins says that in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, US policies took a turn to the worst. Rather than putting money to catch the terrorists, they were more focussed on gathering new oil sources from the Middle East-by attacking Iraq. According to reports, Iraq has more oil than Saudi Arabia and if US could get a piece of the reserves-by attacking and then rebuilding Iraq-which it did, it would ensure itself of a supply of cheap oil for generations to come and could also distance itself from Saudi Arabia, where the 9/11 terrorists came from. The plan to attack Iraq, even when other countries opposed it, is a testament to the fact that the US and its President at that time, George W. Bush, were more concerned about filling up their oil coffers than the legality and impact of their decisions. But when the Iraq affair did not go as planned and the supply of oil was threatened due to continuous war, the US turned south in search of oil-to the Amazon, and in particular to Ecuador. In that country, the US followed the same tactics-making inflated forecasts for economic projections so that the host country could get huge loans for making dams, hospitals etc. The US oil companies found an effective ally to deal with the local population- Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL).
SIL is a non-profit organization aimed at documenting and promoting the lesser known languages of the world. In the case of Ecuador, whenever an oil company found huge deposits, SIL missionaries would visit that place and convince the local population to leave by offering them free food and clothes at another place. If the people decided to stay, then other tactics were used to force them to move, such as spiking their food which would lead them to having diseases they had never heard about. The author alleges that SIL would place transmitters in the food packages provided to the people and as soon as they heard that some person got sick, they would immediately reach the area with the required medicine and treat the people. This resulted in people seeing SIL as their saviours and moving to other places as instructed.
In this article, I have not elaborated on the case of Iran, but the other cases should give you an idea as to what is happening in the world today and how one superpower is trying to control and modify the world just because it can. It also helped me to make sense of some of the events. One of the questions I always had was why the US continued to side with Saudi Arabia in spite of its horrendous human rights record and its open support for terrorist organizations. The chapter on the money laundering affair helped me understand the issue from a new perspective.
John Perkins’s book helps throw light on the madness and ruthlessness that defines US foreign policy and how in the name of development, their only concern is about political and economic leverage over developing countries. This is a must read book for everyone who wants to make sense of the world politics as it is today. This will be a difficult read, more so because it is a topic where people will have different viewpoints. But if one man at the heart of it all has made such an effort to educate people about the actions of the US, it is our duty as the readers to make sure that this reaches as many people as possible.