Part VI: 1981-Present

excerpted from the book

Confession of an Economic Hit Man

by John Perkins

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, SF, 2004, hardcover



In November 1980, Carter lost the U.S. presidential election to Ronald Reagan. The Panama Canal Treaty he had negotiated with Torrijos, and the situation in Iran, especially the hostages held at the U.S. Embassy and the failed rescue attempt, were major factors.

However, something subtler was also happening. A president whose greatest goal was world peace and who was dedicated to reducing U.S. dependence on oil was replaced by a man who believed that the United States' rightful place was at the top of a world pyramid held up by military muscle, and that controlling oil fields wherever they existed was part of our Manifest Destiny. A president who installed solar panels on White House roofs was replaced by one who, immediately upon occupying the Oval Office, had them removed.

Carter may have been an ineffective politician, but he had a vision for America that was consistent with the one defined in our Declaration of Independence. In retrospect, he now seems naively archaic, a throwback to the ideals that molded this nation and drew so many of our grandparents to her shores. When we compare him to his immediate predecessors and successors, he is an anomaly. His world-120 view was inconsistent with that of the EHMs.

Reagan on the other hand was most definitely a global empire builder, a servant of the corporatocracy. At the time of his election, I found it fitting that he was a Hollywood actor, a man who had followed orders passed down from moguls, who knew how to take direction. That would be his signature. He would cater to the men who shuttled back and forth from corporate CEO offices to bank boards and into the halls of government. He would serve the men who appeared to serve him but who in fact ran the government - men like Vice President George H. W. Bush, Secretary of State George Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, Richard Cheney, Richard Helms, and Robert McNamara. He would advocate what those men wanted: an America that controlled the world and all its resources, a world that answered to the commands of that America, a U.S. military that would enforce the rules as they were written by America, and an international trade and banking system that supported America as CEO of the global empire.

Early in 1981, the Roldós administration formerly presented his new hydrocarbons law to the Ecuadorian Congress. If implemented, it would reform the country's relationship to oil companies. By many standards, it was considered revolutionary and even radical. It certainly aimed to change the way business was conducted. Its influence would stretch far beyond Ecuador, into much of Latin America and throughout the world.'

The oil companies reacted predictably -they pulled out all the stops. Their public relations people went to work to vilify Jaime Roldós, and their lobbyists swept into Quito and Washington, briefcases full of threats and payoffs. They tried to paint the first democratically elected president of Ecuador in modern times as another Castro. But Roldós would not cave in to intimidation. He responded by denouncing the conspiracy between politics and oil - and religion. He openly accused the Summer Institute of Linguistics of colluding with the oil companies and then, in an extremely bold -perhaps reckless - move, he ordered SIL out of the country.

Only weeks after sending his legislative package to Congress and a couple of days after expelling the SIL missionaries, Roldós warned all foreign interests, including but not limited to oil companies, that unless they implemented plans that would help Ecuador's people, they would be forced to leave his country. He delivered a major speech at the Atahualpa Olympic Stadium in Quito and then headed off to a small community in southern Ecuador.

He died there in a fiery helicopter crash, on May 24, 1981.

The world was shocked. Latin Americans were outraged. Newspapers throughout the hemisphere blazed, "CIA Assassination!" In addition to the fact that Washington and the oil companies hated him, many circumstances appeared to support these allegations, and such suspicions were heightened as more facts became known. Nothing was ever proven, but eyewitnesses claimed that Roldós, forewarned about an attempt on his life, had taken precautions, including traveling in two helicopters. At the last moment, one of his security officers had convinced him to board the decoy copter. It had blown up.

Despite world reaction, the news hardly made the U.S. press.

Osvaldo Hurtado took over as Ecuador's president. He reinstated the Summer Institute of Linguistics and their oil company sponsors. By the end of the year, he had launched an ambitious program to increase oil drilling by Texaco and other foreign companies in the Gulf of Guayaquil and the Amazon basin.

Omar Torrijos, in eulogizing Roldós, referred to him as "brother." He also confessed to having nightmares about his own assassination; he saw himself dropping from the sky in a gigantic fireball. It was prophetic.



I was stunned by Roldós's death, but perhaps I should not have been. I was anything but naive. I knew about Arbenz, Mossadegh, Allende - and about many other people whose names never made the newspapers or history books but whose lives were destroyed and sometimes cut short because they stood up to the corporatocracy. Nevertheless, I was shocked. It was just so very blatant.

I had concluded, after our phenomenal success in Saudi Arabia, that such wantonly overt actions were things of the past. I thought the jackals had been relegated to zoos. Now I saw that I was wrong. I had no doubt that Roldós's death had not been an accident. It had all the markings of a CIA-orchestrated assassination. I understood that it had been executed so blatantly in order to send a message. The new Reagan administration, complete with its fast-draw Hollywood cowboy image, was the ideal vehicle for delivering such a message. The jackals were back, and they wanted Omar Torrijos and everyone else who might consider joining an anti-corporatocracy crusade to know it.

But Torrijos was not buckling. Like Roldós, he refused to be intimidated. He, too, expelled the Summer Institute of Linguistics, and he adamantly refused to give in to the Reagan administration's demands to renegotiate the Canal Treaty.

Two months after Roldós's death, Omar Torrijos's nightmare came true; he died in a plane crash. It was July 31, 1981.

Latin America and the world reeled. Torrijos was known across the globe; he was respected as the man who had forced the United States to relinquish the Panama Canal to its rightful owners, and who continued to stand up to Ronald Reagan. He was a champion of human rights, the head of state who had opened his arms to refugees across the political spectrum, including the shah of Iran, a charismatic voice for social justice who, many believed, would be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Now he was dead. "CIA Assassination!" once again headlined articles and editorials.

People everywhere mourned the death of this man who had earned a reputation as defender of the poor and defenseless, and they clamored for Washington to open investigations into CIA activities. However, this was not about to happen. There were men who hated Torrijos, and the list included people with immense power. Before his death, he was openly loathed by President Reagan, Vice President Bush, Secretary of Defense Weinberger, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as by the CEOs of many powerful corporation.

The military chiefs were especially incensed by provisions in the Torrijos-Carter Treaty that forced them to close the School of the Americas and the U.S. Southern Command's tropical warfare center. The chiefs thus had a serious problem. Either they had to figure out some way to get around the new treaty, or they needed to find another country that would be willing to harbor these facilities - an unlikely prospect in the closing decades of the twentieth century. Of course, there was also another option: dispose of Torrijos and renegotiate the treaty with his successor.

Among Torrijos's corporate enemies were the huge multinationals. Most had close ties to U.S. politicians and were involved in exploiting Latin American labor forces and natural resources - oil, lumber, tin, copper, bauxite, and agricultural lands. They included manufacturing firms, communications companies, shipping and transportation conglomerates, and engineering and other technologically oriented corporations.

The Bechtel Group, Inc. was a prime example of the cozy relationship between private companies and the U.S. government. I knew Bechtel well; we at MAIN often worked closely with the company, and its chief architect became a close personal friend. Bechtel was the United States' most influential engineering and construction company. Its president and senior officers included George Shultz and Caspar Weinberger, who despised Torrijos because he brazenly courted a Japanese plan to replace Panama's existing canal with a new, more efficient one. Such a move not only would transfer ownership from the United States to Panama but also would exclude Bechtel from participating in the most exciting and potentially lucrative engineering project of the century.

Torrijos stood up to these men, and he did so with grace, charm, and a wonderful sense of humor. Now he was dead, and he had been replaced by a protégé, Manuel Noriega, a man who lacked Torrijos's wit, charisma, and intelligence, and a man who many suspected had no chance against the Reagans, Bushes, and Bechtels of the world.

I was personally devastated by the tragedy. I spent many hours reflecting on my conversations with Torrijos. Late one night, I sat for a long time staring at his photo in a magazine and recalling my first night in Panama, riding in a cab through the rain, stopping before his gigantic billboard picture. "Omar's ideal is freedom; the missile is not invented that can kill an ideal!" The memory of that inscription sent a shudder through me, even as it had on that stormy night.

I could not have known back then that Torrijos would collaborate with Carter to return the Panama Canal to the people who rightfully deserved to own it, or that this victors along with his attempts to reconcile differences between Latin American Socialists and the dictators, would so infuriate the Reagan-Bush administration that it would seek to assassinate him. I could not have known that on another dark night he would be killed during a routine flight in his Twin Otter, or that most of the world outside the United States would have no doubt that Torrijos's death at the age of fifty-two was just/ one more in a series of CIA assassinations.


The idea of reducing our oil dependence fell by the wayside. Reagan was deeply indebted to the oil companies; Bush had made his own fortune as an oilman. And most of the key players and cabinet members in these two administrations were either part of the oil industry or were part of the engineering and construction companies so closely tied to it. Moreover, in the final analysis, oil and construction were not partisan; many Democrats had profited from and were beholden to them also.

... What was going on in the energy field was symbolic of a trend that was affecting the whole world. Concerns about social welfare, the environment, and other quality-of-life issues took a backseat to greed. In the process, an overwhelming emphasis was placed on promoting private businesses. At first, this was justified on theoretical bases, including the idea that capitalism was superior to and would deter communism. Eventually, however, such justification was unneeded. It was simply accepted a priori that there was something inherently better about projects owned by wealthy investors rather than by governments. International organizations such as the World Bank bought into this notion, advocating deregulation and privatization of water and sewer systems, communications networks, utility grids, and other facilities that up until then had been managed by governments.

As a result, it was easy to expand the EHM concept into the larger community, to send executives from a broad spectrum of businesses on missions previously reserved for the few of us recruited into an exclusive club. These executives fanned out across the planet. They sought the cheapest labor pools, the most accessible resources, and the largest markets. They were ruthless in their approach. Like the EHMs who had gone before them -like me, in Indonesia, in Panama, and in Colombia -they found ways to rationalize their misdeeds. And like us, they ensnared communities and countries. They promised affluence, a way for countries to use the private sector to dig themselves out of debt. They built schools and highways, donated telephones, televisions, and medical services. In the end, however, if they found cheaper workers or more accessible resources elsewhere, they left. When they abandoned a community whose hopes they had raised, the consequences were often devastating, but they apparently did this without a moment's hesitation or a nod to their own consciences.

The modern international financial system was created near the end of World War II, at a meeting of leaders from many countries, held in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire -my home state. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were formed in order to reconstruct a devastated Europe, and they achieved remarkable success. The system expanded rapidly, and it was soon sanctioned by every major U.S. ally and hailed as a panacea for oppression. It would, we were assured, save us all from the evil clutches of communism.

But I could not help wondering where all this would lead us. By the late 1980s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the world Communist movement, it became apparent that deterring communism was not the goal; it was equally obvious that the global empire, which was rooted in capitalism, would have free reign. As Jim Garrison, president of the State of the World forum, observes:

Taken cumulatively, the integration of the world as a whole, particularly in terms of economic globalization and the mythic qualities of "free market" capitalism, represents a veritable "empire" in its own right... No nation on earth has been able to resist the compelling magnetism of globalization. Few have been able to escape the "structural adjustments" and "conditionalities" of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, or the arbitrations of the World Trade Organization, those international financial institutions that, however inadequate, still determine what economic globalization means, what the rules are, and who is rewarded for submission and punished for infractions ...



... Noriega was ... saddled with a U.S. president who suffered from an image problem, what journalists referred to as George H. W. Bush's "wimp factor." This took on special significance when Noriega adamantly refused to consider a fifteen-year extension for the School of the Americas. The general's memoirs provide an interesting insight:

As determined and proud as we were to follow through with Torrijos's legacy, the United States didn't want any of this to happen. They wanted an extension or a renegotiation for the installation [School of the Americas], saying that with their growing war preparations in Central America, they still needed it. But that School of the Americas was an embarrassment to us. We didn't want a training ground for death squads and repressive rightwing militaries on our soil.

Perhaps, therefore, the world should have anticipated it, but in fact the world was stunned when, on December 20, 1989, the United States attacked Panama with what was reported to be the largest airborne assault on a city since World War II. It was an unprovoked attack on a civilian population. Panama and her people posed absolutely no threat to the United States or to any other country. Politicians, governments, and press around the world denounced the unilateral U.S. action as a clear violation of international law.

Had this military operation been directed against a country that had committed mass murder or other human rights crimes - Pinochet's Chile, Stroessner's Paraguay, Somosa's Nicaragua, D'Aubuisson's El Salvador, or Saddam's Iraq, for example - the world might have understood. But Panama had done nothing of the sort; it had merely dared to defy the wishes of a handful of powerful politicians and corporate executives. It had insisted that the Canal Treaty be honored, it had held discussions with social reformers, and it had explored the possibility of building a new canal with Japanese financing and construction companies. As a result, it suffered devastating consequences. As Noriega puts it:

I want to make it very clear: the destabilization campaign launched by the United States in 1986, ending with the 1989 Panama invasion, was a result of the U.S. rejection of any scenario in which future control of the Panama Canal might be in the hands of an independent, sovereign Panama - supported by Japan... Shultz and Weinberger, meanwhile, masquerading as officials operating in the public interest and basking in popular ignorance about the powerful economic interests they represented, were building a propaganda campaign to shoot me down.

David Harris, a contributing editor at the New York Times Magazine and the author of many books, has an interesting observation. In his 2001 book Shooting the Moon, he states:

Of all the thousands of rulers, potentates, strongmen, juntas, and warlords the Americans have dealt with in all corners of the world, General Manuel Antonio Noriega is the only one the Americans came after like this. Just once in its 225 years of formal national existence has the United States ever invaded another country and carried its ruler back to the United States to face trial and imprisonment for violations of American law committed on that ruler's own native foreign turf.

We shall never know many of the facts about the invasion, nor shall we know the true extent of the massacre. Defense Secretary Richard Cheney claimed a death toll between five hundred and six hundred, but independent human rights groups estimated it at three thousand to five thousand, with another twenty-five thousand left homeless. Noriega was arrested, flown to Miami, and sentenced to forty years' imprisonment; at that time, he was the only person in the United States officially classified as a prisoner of war.

The world was outraged by this breach of international law and by the needless destruction of a defenseless people at the hands of the most powerful military force on the planet, but few in the United States were aware of either the outrage or the crimes Washington had committed. Press coverage was very limited. A number of factors contributed to this, including government policy, White House phone calls to publishers and television executives, congresspeople who dared not object, lest the wimp factor become their problem, and journalists who thought the public needed heroes rather than objectivity.

One exception was Peter Eisner, a Newsday editor and Associated Press reporter who covered the Panama invasion and continued to analyze it for many years. In The Memoirs of Manuel Noriega: America's Prisoner, published in 1997, Eisner writes:

The death, destruction and injustice wrought in the name of fighting Noriega -and the lies surrounding that event -were threats to the basic American principles of democracy... Soldiers were ordered to kill in Panama and they did so after being told they had to rescue a country from the clamp of a cruel, depraved dictator; once they acted, the people of their country (the U.S.) marched lockstep behind them.

... I found myself asking the same question over and over: How many decisions - including ones of great historical significance that impact millions of people - are made by men and women who are driven by personal motives rather than by a desire to do the right thing? How many of our top government officials are driven by personal greed instead of national loyalty? How many wars are fought because a president does not want his constituents to perceive him as a wimp?

... the emerging role of the corporate executive-as EHM. A whole new class of soldier was emerging on the world scene, and these people were becoming desensitized to their own actions. I wrote:

Today, men and women are going into Thailand, the Philippines, Botswana, Bolivia, and every other country where they hope to find people desperate for work. They go to these places with the express purpose of exploiting wretched people - people whose children are severely malnourished, even starving, people who live in shantytowns and have lost all hope of a better life, people who have ceased to even dream of another day. These men and women leave their plush offices in Manhattan or San Francisco or Chicago, streak across continents and oceans in luxurious jetliners, check into first-class hotels, and dine at the finest restaurants the country has to offer. Then they go searching for desperate people.

Today, we still have slave traders. They no longer find it necessary to march into the forests of Africa looking for prime specimens who will bring top dollar on the auction blocks in Charleston, Cartagena, and Havana. They simply recruit desperate people and build a factory to produce the jackets, blue jeans, tennis shoes, automobile parts, computer components, and thousands of other items they can sell in the markets of their choosing. Or they may elect not even to own the factory themselves; instead, they hire a local businessman to do all their dirty work for them.

These men and women think of themselves as upright. They return to their homes with photographs of quaint sites and ancient ruins, to show to their children. They attend seminars where they pat each other on the back and exchange tidbits of advice about dealing with the eccentricities of customs in far-off lands. Their bosses hire lawyers who assure them that what they are doing is perfectly legal. They have a cadre of psychotherapists and other human resource experts at their disposal to convince them that they are helping those desperate people.

The old-fashioned slave trader told himself that he was dealing with a species that was not entirely human, and that he was offering them the opportunity to become Christianized. He also understood that slaves were fundamental to the survival of his own society, that they were the foundation of his economy. The modern slave trader assures himself (or herself) that the desperate people are better off earning one dollar a day than no dollars at all, and that they are receiving the opportunity to become integrated into the larger world community. She also understands that these desperate people are fundamental to the survival of her company, that they are the foundation for her own lifestyle. She never stops to think about the larger implications of what she, her lifestyle, and the economic system behind them are doing to the world - or of how they may ultimately impact her children's future.



The Reagan and Bush administrations were determined to turn Iraq into another Saudi Arabia. There were many compelling reasons for Saddam Hussein to follow the example of the House of Saud. He had only to observe the benefits they had reaped from the Money-laundering Affair. Since that deal was struck, modern cities had risen from the Saudi desert, Riyadh's garbage-collecting goats had been transformed into sleek trucks, and now the Saudis enjoyed the fruits of some of the most advanced technologies in the world: state-of-the-art desalinization plants, sewage treatment systems, communications networks, and electric utility grids.

Saddam Hussein undoubtedly was aware that the Saudis also enjoyed special treatment when it came to matters of international law. Their good friends in Washington turned a blind eye to many Saudi activities, including the financing of fanatical groups - many of which were considered by most of the world to be radicals bordering on terrorism - and the harboring of international fugitives. In fact, the United States actively sought and received Saudi Arabian financial support for Osama bin Laden's Afghan war against the Soviet Union. The Reagan and Bush administrations not only encouraged the Saudis in this regard, but also they pressured many other countries to do the same - or at least to look the other way.

The EHM presence in Baghdad was very strong during the 1980s. They believed that Saddam eventually would see the light, and I had to agree with this assumption. After all, if Iraq reached an accord with Washington similar to that of the Saudis, Saddam could basically write his own ticket in ruling his country, and might even expand his circle of influence throughout that part of the world.

It hardly mattered that he was a pathological tyrant, that he had the blood of mass murders on his hands, or that his mannerisms and brutal actions conjured images of Adolph Hitler. The United States had tolerated and even supported such men many times before.

Iraq was extremely important to us, much more important than was obvious on the surface. Contrary to common public opinion, Iraq is not simply about oil. It is also about water and geopolitics. Both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow through Iraq; thus, of all the countries in that part of the world, Iraq controls the most important sources of increasingly critical water resources. During the 1980s, the importance of water - politically as well as economically - was becoming obvious to those of us in the energy and engineering fields. In the rush toward privatization, many of the major companies that had set their sights on taking over the small independent power companies now looked toward privatizing water systems in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.

In addition to oil and water, Iraqis situated in a very strategic location. It borders Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey, and it has a coastline on the Persian Gulf. It is within easy missile-striking distance of both Israel and the former Soviet Union. Military strategists equate modern Iraq to the Hudson River valley during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. In the eighteenth century, the French, British, and Americans knew that whoever controlled the Hudson River valley controlled the continent. Today, it is common knowledge that whoever controls Iraq holds the key to controlling the Middle East.

What we had previously considered U.S. corporations were now truly international, even from a legal standpoint. Many of them were incorporated in a multitude of countries; they could pick and choose from an assortment of rules and regulations under which to conduct their activities, and a multitude of globalizing trade agreements and organizations made this even easier. Words like democracy, socialism, and capitalism were becoming almost obsolete. Corporatocracy had become a fact, and it increasingly exerted itself as the single major influence on world economies and politics.



During the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, petroleum prices skyrocketed and Venezuela's national budget quadrupled. The EHMs went to work. The international banks flooded the country with loans that paid for vast infrastructure and industrial projects and for the highest skyscrapers on the continent. Then, in the 1980s, the corporate-style EHMs arrived. It was an ideal opportunity for them to cut their fledgling teeth. The Venezuelan middle class had become sizable, and provided a ripe market for a vast array of products, yet there was still a very large poor sector available to labor in the sweatshops and factories.

Then oil prices crashed, and Venezuela could not repay its debts. In 1989, the IMF imposed harsh austerity measures and pressured Caracas to support the corporatocracy in many other ways. Venezuelans reacted violently; riots killed over two hundred people. The illusion of oil as a bottomless source of support was shattered. Between 1978 and 2003, Venezuela's per capita income plummeted by over 40 percent.

As poverty increased, resentment intensified. Polarization resulted, with the middle class pitted against the poor. As so often occurs in countries whose economies depend on oil production, demographics radically shifted. The sinking economy took its toll on the middle class, and many fell into the ranks of the poor.

The new demographics set the stage for Chavez - and for conflict with Washington. Once in power, the new president took actions that challenged the Bush administration. Just before the September ii attacks, Washington was considering its options. The EHMs had failed; was it time to send in the jackals?

Then 9/11 changed all priorities. President Bush and his advisers focused on rallying the world community to support U.S. activities in Afghanistan and an invasion of Iraq. On top of that, the U.S. economy was in the middle of a recession. Venezuela was relegated to a back burner.

... Afghanistan, Iraq, and Venezuela ... each had undergone traumatic political turmoil and ended up with leaders who left a great deal to be desired (a cruel and despotic Taliban, a psychopathic Saddam, and an economically inept Chavez), yet in no case did the corporatocracy respond by attempting to solve the deeper problems of these countries. Rather, the response was simply to undermine leaders who stood in the way of our oil policies. In many respects, Venezuela was the most intriguing case because, while military intervention had already occurred in Afghanistan and appeared inevitable in Iraq, the administration's response to Chavez remained a mystery. As far as I was concerned, the issue was not about whether Chavez was a good leader; it was about Washington's reaction to a leader who [d in the way of the corporatocracy's march to global empire.

By December 2002, the situation in both Venezuela and in Iraq reached crisis points. The two countries were evolving into perfect counterpoints for each other. In Iraq, all the subtle efforts -both the EHMs and the jackals - had failed to force Saddam to comply, and now we were preparing for the ultimate solution, invasion. In Venezuela, the Bush administration was bringing Kermit Roosevelt's Iranian model into play. As the New York Times reported,

Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans filled the streets here today to declare their commitment to a national strike, now in its 28th day, to force the ouster of President Hugo Chavez.

The strike, joined by an estimated 30,000 oil workers, threatens to wreak havoc on this nation, the world's fifth-largest oil producer, for months to come...

In recent days, the strike has reached a kind of stalemate. Mr. Chavez is using non-striking workers to try to normalize operations at the state-owned oil company. His opponents, led by a coalition of business and labor leaders, contend, though, that their strike will push the company, and thus the Chavez government, to collapse.

This was exactly how the CIA brought down Mossadegh and replaced him with the shah. The analogy could not have been stronger. It seemed history was uncannily repeating itself, fifty years later. Five decades, and still oil was the driving force.

On January 4, 2003, Chavez's supporters clashed with his opponents. Two people were shot to death and dozens more were wounded. The next day, I talked with an old friend who for many years had been involved with the jackals. Like me, he had never worked directly for any government, but he had led clandestine operations in many countries. He told me that a private contract( had approached him to foment strikes in Caracas and to bribe military officers - many of whom had been trained at the School of the Americas -to turn against their elected president. He had turned down the offer, but he confided, "The man who took the job know what he's doing.

That same month, January 2003, saw crude oil prices rise to big levels and American inventories close to a twenty-six-year low. Given the Middle East situation, I knew the Bush administration was doing everything in its power to overthrow Chavez. Then cam the news that they had succeeded; Chavez had been ousted. The N York Times took this turn of events as an opportunity to provide historical perspective - and also to identify the man who appeared to play the Kermit Roosevelt role in contemporary Venezuela:

The United States... supported authoritarian regimes throughout Central and South America during and after the Cold War in defense of its economic and political interests.

In tiny Guatemala, the Central Intelligence Agency mounted a coup overthrowing the democratically elected government in 1954, and it backed subsequent rightwing governments against small leftist rebel groups for four decades. Roughly 200,000 civilians died.

In Chile, a CIA-supported coup helped put Gen. Augusto Pinochet in power from 1973 to 1990. In Peru, a fragile democratic government is still unraveling the agency's role in a decade of support for the now-deposed and disgraced president, Alberto K. Fujimori, and his disreputable spy chief, Viadimiro Montesinos.

The United States had to invade Panama in 1989 to topple its narco-dictator, Manuel A. Noriega, who, for almost 20 years, was a valued informant for American intelligence. And the struggle to mount an unarmed opposition against Nicaragua's leftists in the 1980s by any means necessary, including selling arms to Iran for cold cash, led to indictments against senior Reagan administration officials.

Among those investigated back then was Otto J. Reich, a veteran of Latin American struggles. No charges were ever filed against Mr. Reich. He later became United States Ambassador to Venezuela and now serves as assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs by presidential appointment. The fall of Mr. Chavez is a feather in his cap.

If Mr. Reich and the Bush administration were celebrating the coup against Chavez, the party was suddenly cut short. In an amazing turnabout, Chavez regained the upper hand and was back in power less than seventy-two hours later. Unlike Mossadegh in Iran, Chavez had managed to keep the military on his side, despite all attempts to turn its highest-ranking officers against him. In addition, he had the powerful state oil company on his side. Petróleos de Venezuela defied the thousands of striking workers and made a comeback.

Once the dust cleared, Chavez tightened his government's grip on oil company employees, purged the military of the few disloyal officers who had been persuaded to betray him, and forced many of his key opponents out of the country. He demanded twenty-year prison terms for two prominent opposition leaders, Washington-connected operatives who had joined the jackals to direct the nationwide strike.

In the final analysis, the entire sequence of events was a calamity for the Bush administration. As the Los Angeles Times reported,

Bush administration officials acknowledged Tuesday that they had discussed the removal of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for months with military and civilian leaders from Venezuela... The administration's handling of the abortive coup has come under increasing scrutiny.

It was obvious that not only had the EHMs failed, but so had the jackals. Venezuela in 2003 turned out to be very different from Iran in 1953. I wondered if this was a harbinger or simply an anomaly and what Washington would do next.

At least for the time being, I believe a serious crisis was averted in Venezuela - and Chavez was saved - by Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration could not take on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Venezuela all at once. At the moment, it had neither the military muscle nor the political support to do so. I knew, however, that such circumstances could change quickly, and that President Chavez was likely to face fierce opposition in the near future. Nonetheless, Venezuela was a reminder that not much had changed in fifty years - except the outcome.



In the years since I first went there [Ecuador], in 1968, this tiny country evolved into the quintessential victim of the corporatocracy. My contemporaries and I, and our modern corporate equivalents, had managed to bring it to virtual bankruptcy. We loaned it billions of dollars so it could hire our engineering and construction firms to build projects that would help its richest families. As a result, in those three decades, the official poverty level grew from 50 to 70 percent, under- or unemployment increased from 15 to 70 percent, public debt increased from $240 million to $16 billion, and the share of national resources allocated to the poorest citizens declined from 20 percent to 6 percent. Today, Ecuador must devote nearly 50 percent of its national budget simply to paying off its debts - instead of to helping the millions of its citizens who are officially classified as dangerously impoverished.'

The situation in Ecuador clearly demonstrates that this was not the result of a conspiracy; it was a process that had occurred during both Democratic and Republican administrations, a process that had involved all the major multinational banks, many corporations, and foreign aid missions from a multitude of countries. The United States played the lead role, but we had not acted alone.

During those three decades, thousands of men and women participated in bringing Ecuador to the tenuous position it found itself in at the beginning of the millennium. Some of them, like me, had been aware of what they were doing, but the vast majority had merely performed the tasks they had been taught in business, engineering, and law schools, or had followed the lead of bosses in my mold, who demonstrated the system by their own greedy example and through rewards and punishments calculated to perpetuate it. Such participants saw the parts they played as benign, at worst; in the most optimistic view, they were helping an impoverished nation.

Although unconscious, deceived, and - in many cases - self-deluded, these players were not members of any clandestine conspiracy; rather, they were the product of a system that promotes the most subtle and effective form of imperialism the world has ever witnessed. No one had to go out and seek men and women who could be bribed or threatened - they had already been recruited by companies, banks, and government agencies. The bribes consisted of salaries, bonuses, pensions, and insurance policies; the threats were based on social mores, peer pressure, and unspoken questions about the future of their children's education.

The system had succeeded spectacularly. By the time the new millennium rolled in, Ecuador was thoroughly entrapped. We had her, just as a Mafia don has the man whose daughter's wedding and small business he has financed and then refinanced. Like any good Mafiosi, we had taken our time. We could afford to be patient, knowing that beneath Ecuador's rain forests lies a sea of oil, knowing that the proper day would come.

A few pundits were already questioning why Bush attacked Iraq rather than funneling all of our resources into pursuing al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Could it be f that from the point of view of this administration - this oil family establishing oil supplies, as well as a justification for construction contracts, was more important than fighting terrorists?

In the final analysis, the global empire depends to a large extent on the fact that the dollar acts as the standard world currency, and that the United States Mint has the right to print those dollars. Thus, we make loans to countries like Ecuador with the full knowledge that they will never repay them; in fact, we do not want them to honor their debts, since the nonpayment is what gives us our leverage, our pound of flesh. Under normal conditions, we would run the risk of eventually decimating our own funds; after all, no creditor can afford too many defaulted loans. However, ours are not normal circumstances. The United States prints currency that is not backed by gold. Indeed, it is not backed by anything other than a general worldwide confidence in our economy and our ability to marshal the forces and resources of the empire we have created to support us.

The ability to print currency gives us immense power. It means, among other things, that we can continue to make loans that will never be repaid - and that we ourselves can accumulate huge debts. By the beginning of 2003, the United States' national debt exceeded a staggering $6 trillion and was projected to reach $7 trillion before the end of the year -roughly $24,000 for each U.S. citizen. Much of this debt is owed to Asian countries, particularly to Japan and China, who purchase U.S. Treasury securities (essentially, IOUs) with funds accumulated through sales of consumer goods - including electronics, computers, automobiles, appliances, and clothing goods - to the United States and the worldwide market.

As long as the world accepts the dollar as its standard currency, this excessive debt does not pose a serious obstacle to the corporatocracy. However, if another currency should come along to replace the dollar, and if some of the United States' creditors (Japan or China, for example) should decide to call in their debts, the situation would change drastically. The United States would suddenly find itself in a most precarious situation.

In fact, today the existence of such a currency is no longer hypothetical; the euro entered the international financial scene on January 1, 2002 and is growing in prestige and power with every passing month. The euro offers an unusual opportunity for OPEC, if it chooses to retaliate for the Iraq invasion, or if for any other reason it decides to flex its muscles against the United States. A decision by OPEC to substitute the euro for the dollar as its standard currency would shake the empire to its very foundations. If that were to happen, and if one or two major creditors were to demand that we repay our debts in euros, the impact would be enormous.

... I could not help but wonder how many ... people knew, as I did, that Saddam would still be in charge if he had played the game as the Saudis had. He would have his missiles and chemical plants; we would have built them for him, and our people would be in charge of upgrading and servicing them. It could be a very sweet deal - even as Saudi Arabia had been.

The real story of modern empire - of the corporatocracy that exploits desperate people and is executing history's most brutal, selfish, and ultimately self-destructive resource-grab ... has everything to do with us. And that, of course, explains why we have such difficulty listening to the real story. We prefer to believe the myth that thousands of years of human social evolution has finally perfected the ideal economic system, rather than to face the fact we have merely bought into a false concept and accepted it as gospel. We have convinced ourselves that all economic growth benefits humankind, and that the greater the growth, the more widespread the benefits. Finally, we have persuaded one another that the corollary to this concept is valid and morally just: that people who excel at stoking the fires of economic growth should be exalted and rewarded, while those born at the fringes are available for exploitation.

This concept and its corollary are used to justify all manner of piracy -licenses are granted to rape and pillage and murder innocent people in Iran, Panama, Colombia, Iraq, and elsewhere. EHMs, jackals, and armies flourish for as long as their activities can be shown to generate economic growth - and they almost always demonstrate such growth. Thanks to the biased "sciences" of forecasting, econometrics, and statistics, if you bomb a city and then rebuild it, the data shows a huge spike in economic growth.

The real story is that we are living a lie ...

Things are not as they appear. NBC is owned by General Electric, ABC by Disney, CBS by Viacom, and CNN is part of the huge AOL Time Warner conglomerate. Most of our newspapers, magazines, and publishing houses are owned - and manipulated - by gigantic international corporations. Our media is part of the corporatocracy. The officers and directors who control nearly all our communications outlets know their places; they are taught throughout life that one of their most important jobs is to perpetuate, strengthen, and expand the system they have inherited.

... this book ... is a confession, pure and simple. It is the confession of a man who allowed himself to become a pawn, an economic hit man; a man who bought into a corrupt system because it offered so many perks, and because buying in was easy to justify; a man who knew better but who could always find excuses for his own greed, for exploiting desperate people and pillaging the planet; a man who took full advantage of the fact that he was born into one of the wealthiest societies history has ever known, and who also could pity himself because his parents were not at the top of the pyramid; a man who listened to his teachers, read the textbooks on economic development, and then followed the example of other men and women who legitimatize every action that promotes global empire, even if that action results in murder, genocide, and environmental destruction; a man who trained others to follow in his footsteps. It is my confession.

Confession of an Economic Hit Man

Index of Website

Home Page