Latin America

excerpted from the book

The Secret History of the American Empire

the Truth about Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and How to Change the World

by John Perkins

Plume Book, 2007, paperback

The United States represents less than 5 percent of the world's population; it consumes more than 25 percent of the world's resources. This is accomplished to a large degree through the exploitation of other countries, primarily in the developing world.

Although the United States does not tax countries directly, and the dollar has not replaced other currencies in local markets, the corporatocracy does impose a subtle global tax and the dollar is in fact the standard currency for world commerce.

In the early seventies, the royal House of Saud committed to selling oil for only U.S. dollars. Because the Saudis controlled petroleum markets, the rest of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) was forced comply. As long as oil reigned as the supreme resource, the dollar's domination as the standard world currency was assured.

[The American empire] is ruled by a group of people who collectively act very much like a king. They run our largest corporations and, through them, our government. They cycle through the "revolving door" back and forth between business and government. Because they fund political campaigns and the media, they control elected officials and the information we receive. These men and women (the corporatocracy are in charge regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats control the White House or Congress. They are not subject to the people's will and their terms are not limited by law.

The corporatocracy makes a show of promoting democracy and transparency among the nations of the world, yet its corporations are imperialistic dictatorships where a very few make all the decisions and reap most of the profits. In our electoral process-the very heart of our democracy-most of us get to vote only for candidates whose campaign chests are full; therefore, we must select from among those who are beholden to the corporations and the men who own them.

East Timor declared itself independent from Portugal on November 28, 1975. Nine days later Indonesia invaded. The brutal occupation forces slaughtered an estimated 200,000 people, one third of the population of East Timor.

Documents released by the National Security Archive establish that the U.S. government not only supplied the weapons used in the massacre but also explicitly approved the invasion. According to these records, President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with Suharto on December 6, 1975, and agreed with his planned attack, which was launched the next day.

Joao Carrascalao, brother of the former governor of East Timor and a political leader now in exile (interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!)

I arrived at Jakarta one hour before President Ford and Henry Kissinger landed in Jakarta [1975]. And on the same night, I was informed by Colonel Suyanto - he was a top officer in the Jakarta administration - that America had given the green light for Indonesia to invade Timor.

Most U.S. citizens are not aware that national disasters are like wars: They are highly profitable for big business. A great deal of the money for rebuilding after disasters is earmarked for U.S. engineering firms and for multinational corporations that own hotel, the restaurant, and retail chains, communications and transportation networks, banks, insurance companies, and other corporatocracy industries. Rather than helping subsistence farmers, fishermen, mom-and-pop restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, and local entrepreneurs, "disaster relief" programs provide one more vehicle for channeling money to the empire builders.

In the month after the [Asian] tsunami, January 2005, Washington reversed the 1999 policy implemented by Clinton that had severed ties with Indonesia's repressive military. The White House dispatched $1 million worth of military equipment to Jakarta.

New York Times, February 7, 2005

Washington is seizing on an opportunity that came after the tsunami... Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has moved to strengthen American training of Indonesian officers considerably... In Aceh, the Indonesian Army, which has been fighting a separatist rebellion for 30 years, has been on full display since the tsunami... The army's uppermost concern appears to be to keep a stranglehold on the armed forces of the Free Aceh Movement. In November 2005, Washington lifted the arms embargo and resumed full relations with the Indonesian military.

Empire building has been conducted largely in secret. Since democracy assumes an informed electorate, these methods pose a direct threat to America's most coveted ideal.

the son of an Indonesian government official

Since the fall of Suharto in 1998, things have gotten even worse. Suharto was truly a military dictator who was determined to keep the armed forces under his control. Once his reign ended, many Indonesians tried desperately to change the law so that civilians would have more power over the military. They thought that by reducing the military budget, they could accomplish their objectives. The generals knew where to go for help: foreign mining and energy companies.

... In the last few years, our army's been bought out by foreign corporations. The implications are frightening because, you see, these corporations now own our armed forces as well as our resources.

The United States exemplified democracy and justice for about two hundred years. Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution inspired freedom movements on every continent. We led efforts to create global institutions that reflected our ideals. During the twentieth century, our leadership in movements promoting democracy and justice increased; we were instrumental in establishing the Permanent Court of International Justice in the Hague, the Covenant of the League of Nations, the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and many U.N. conventions.

Since the end of World War II, however, our position as leader has eroded, the model we presented to the world undermined by a corporatocracy hell-bent on empire building.

One way the corporatocracy exerted control was by empowering autocratic governments in Latin America during the 1970s. These governments experimented with economic policies that benefited U.S. investors and international corporations, and generally ended in failure for local economies-recessions, inflation, unemployment, and negative economic growth. Despite mounting opposition, Washington praised the corrupt leaders who were bankrupting their nations while amassing personal fortunes. To make matters worse, the United States supported right-wing dictators and their death squads in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.

A wave of democratic reforms swept the continent in the 1980s. Newly elected governments turned to the "experts" at the IMF and the World Bank for solutions to their problems. Persuaded to adopt SAPs, they implemented unpopular measures ranging from privatization of their utilities to cuts in social services. They accepted outrageously large loans that were used to develop infrastructure projects that all too often served only the upper classes while leaving the country burdened with debt.

The results were disastrous. Economic indicators tumbled to new depths. Millions of people once hailed as members of the middle class lost their jobs and joined the ranks of the impoverished. As citizens watched their pensions, health care, and educational institutions decline, they also noticed that their politicians were buying up Florida real estate rather than investing in local businesses.

The first Bush administration made a decision that had a lasting negative impact on United States-Latin American relations. The president ordered the armed forces to invade Panama. It was an unprovoked, unilateral attack to unseat a government, ostensibly because it refused to renege on the Panama Canal Treaty. The invasion killed more than two thousand innocent civilians and sent waves of fear across every country south of the Rio Grand. Fear soon turned to anger.

Venezuela's Chavez

Chavez's rise to fame began in February 1992, when, as a lieutenant colonel in the Venezuelan army, he led a coup against Carlos Andrés Perez. The president, whose name had become synonymous with corruption, angered Chavez and his followers because of his willingness to sell his country to the World Bank, the IMF, and foreign corporations. Largely as a result of Caracas's collaboration with the corporatocracy, Venezuelan per capita income had plummeted by more than 40 percent and what had previously been the largest middle class in Latin America sank into the ranks of the impoverished.

Chavez's coup failed, but it set the stage for his future political career. After he was captured, he was allowed to appear on national television to persuade his troops to cease hostilities. He defiantly declared to his nation that he had failed "por ahora"-for now. His courage catapulted him to national fame. He served two years in Yare prison; during that time, Perez was impeached. Chavez emerged with a reputation for boldness, integrity, a commitment to helping the poor, and a determination to smash the shackles of foreign exploitation that had enslaved his country and his continent for so many centuries.

In 1998 Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela with an impressive 56 percent of the vote. Once in office, he did not bow to corruption like so many before him. Instead he honored men like Guatemala's Arbenz, Chile's Allende, Panama's Torrijos, and Ecuador's Roldós. They had all been assassinated or overthrown by the CIA. Now, he said, he would follow in their footsteps, but with his own vision and charismatic personality, and the staying power endowed on the leader of a country overflowing with oil. His victory and his continued defiance of Washington and the oil companies inspired millions of Latin Americans.

Chavez kept his commitments to the poor-urban and rural. Instead of re-injecting profits into the oil industry, he invested them in projects aimed at combating illiteracy, malnutrition, diseases, and other social ills. Rather than declaring huge dividends for investors, he helped Argentina's embattled President Kirchner buy down that nation's IMF debts of more than $10 billion and he sold discounted oil to those who could not afford to pay the going price including communities in the United States. He earmarked a portion of his oil revenues for Cuba so it could send medical doctors to impoverished areas around the continent. He forged laws that consolidated the rights of indigenous people-including language and land ownership rights-and fought for the establishment of AfroVenezuelan curricula in public schools.

The corporatocracy saw Chavez as a grave threat. Not only did he defy oil and other international companies, but also he was turning into a leader others might try to emulate. From the Bush administration's perspective, two intransigent heads of state, Chavez and Hussein, had evolved into nightmares that needed to end. In Iraq, subtle efforts-both the EHMs' and the jackals'-had failed, and now preparations were underway for the ultimate solution: invasion. In Venezuela, the EHMs had been replaced by jackals, and Washington hoped that they could solve the problem.

Using tactics perfected in Iran, Chile, and Colombia, jackals sent thousands of people into the streets of Caracas on April II, 2002, marching toward the headquarters of Venezuela's state-owned oil company and on to Miraflores, the presidential palace. There they met pro-Chavez demonstrators who accused their organizers of being pawns of the U.S. CIA. Then suddenly and unexpectedly, the armed forces announced that Chavez had resigned as president and was being held at a military base.

Washington celebrated, but the jubilation was short-lived. Soldiers loyal to Chavez called for a massive countercoup. Poor people poured into the streets, and on April 13, Chavez resumed his presidency.

Official Venezuelan investigations concluded that the coup was sponsored by the U.S. government. The White House practically admitted to culpability; 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."

Ironically, the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a boon to Chavez. It sent oil prices skyrocketing. Venezuela's coffers filled. Suddenly drilling for the heavy crude oils of the country's Orinoco region became feasible. Chavez announced that when the price of oil reached fifty dollars a barrel, Venezuela-with its abundance of heavy crude surpassed the entire Middle East as the world's number-one repository of petroleum. His analysis, he said, was based on U.S. Department of Energy projections.

a top advisor to President Lula of Brazil

He told me that he had read my book and appreciated the things I had exposed. However, he said, "It is only the tip of the iceberg. I'm sure you know this, but I feel I must say it. Even your book miss the real story."

He described the tremendous pressure being exerted on his boss, Lula. "It's not just about bribes and the threat of coups or assassinations, not just about striking deals and falsifying economic forecasts, not just about enslaving us through debts we can never' repay. It goes much deeper."

He went on to explain that in Brazil and many other countries, the corporatocracy essentially controls all political parties. "Even radical communist candidates who appear to oppose the United States are compromised by Washington."

When I asked him how he knew all this, he laughed. "I've been around a long time," he said. "I've always been involved in politics. From Johnson to Bush, both Bushes, I've seen it all. Your intelligence agencies, as well as your economic hit men, are a lot more efficient than even you imagine."

José described how students are lured in while they are naïve and vulnerable. He talked about his own personal experiences as a young man and the way women, booze, and drugs were used. "So you see, even when a radical opponent of the U. S. gets into office, and assuming that at this point in his life he sincerely wants to stand up to Washington, your CIA has what you call 'the goods' on him."


He chuckled at this. "You might call it that, or you might call it 'modern diplomacy.' It isn't just the U.S. of course. Surely you've heard the rumors about why Noriega was taken down and today rots in a U.S. prison."

"I've heard that he had cameras on Contadora Island." It was an infamous resort off Panama's coast, a "safe haven" where U.S. businessmen could treat politicians to every conceivable vice. I had visited-and used-Contadora several times during my EHM days.

"You heard who got caught by those cameras?"

"Rumors that George W. was photographed doing coke and having kinky sex during the time his father was president." There was a theory in Latin America that Noriega had used incriminating photos of the younger Bush and his cronies to convince the older Bush, the president, to side with the Panamanian administration on key issues. In retaliation, H. W. invaded Panama and hustled Noriega off to a Miami prison. The building housing Noriega's confidential files had been incinerated by bombs; as a side effect, more than two thousand innocent civilians were burned to death in Panama City that day in December 1989. Many people claimed that this theory offered the only logical explanation for violently attacking a nation without an army and that posed no threat to the United States.

José nodded. "From where I sit, those rumors ring awfully true. I've experienced things that take them out of the realm of fantasy." He cocked his head. "So have you." He paused, looking around. "And it terrifies me."

I asked whether Lula had been corrupted and for how long. It was obvious that this question made him extremely uncomfortable. After a long pause, he admitted that Lula was part of the system. "Otherwise, how could he have risen to such a position?" However, José also professed his admiration for Lula. "He's a realist. He understands that in order to help his people he has no choice. . ." Then he shook his head. "I fear," he said, "that Washington will try to bring Lula down if he goes too far."

"How do you think they'd do it?"

"Everyone has-as you say-skeletons in his closet. Every politician has done things that can look bad, if brought into the light in a certain way. Clinton had Monica. She wasn't the issue, though. Clinton went too far in his efforts to revise world currencies and he posed a huge threat to future Republican campaigns-he was just too young, dynamic, and charismatic. So Monica was marched into the spotlight. Don't you believe that Bush has a few women in his background too? But who dares talk about them? Lula has skeletons. If the powers that run your empire want to bring him down, they'll open the closet door. There are many ways to assassinate a leader who threatens U.S. hegemony."

Only you in the United States can change it. Your government created this problem and your people must solve it. You've got to insist that Washington honor its commitment to democracy, even when democratically elected leaders nationalize your corrupting corporations. You must take control of your corporations and your government. The people of the United States have a great deal of power. You need to come to grips with this. There's no alternative. We in Brazil have our hands tied. So do the Venezuelans. And the Nigerians. It's up to you."

Colombia is the glaring exception to the hemispheric anticorporatocracy movements. It has maintained its position as Washington's surrogate. Shored up by massive U.S. taxpayer assistance and armies of corporate-sponsored mercenaries, as well as formal U.S. military support, it has become the keystone in Washington's attempt's to regain regional domination. Although official justification for U. S. involvement centers on drug wars, this is a subterfuge for protecting oil interests against grassroots opposition to foreign exploitation.

Raül Zibechi, a member of the editorial council of the weekly Brecha de Montevideo and a professor at the Franciscan Multiversity of Latin America, points out that Colombia is now the world's fourth-largest beneficiary of U. S. military aid, behind Israel, Egypt, and Iraq (the Associated Press ranks it as number 3) and that the U.S. Embassy in Bogota is the second largest in the world, after Iraq. He states that he and other analysts have concluded that Washington is creating a South American unified armed force, commanded by the Pentagon, that is a military version of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and is headquartered in Colombia.

The men who contacted me - two army privates and a second lieutenant - substantiated Professor Zibechi's allegations. They asserted the real reasons they had been stationed in Colombia were to establish a U.S. presence and to train Latin soldiers as part of a United States-commanded Southern Unified Army (a term two of the three used).

Everything we do in Colombia just makes it more attractive for the drug business," the lieutenant told me. "Why do you think the situation keeps getting worse there? Because we want it to, we're behind the drug trafficking. The CIA is-just like it was in Asia's Golden Triangle. And in Central America and Iran during IranContra. And the British with opium in China. Coke provides illicit money, in the billions-for clandestine activities-and an excuse to build up our armies. What more can you ask? We're there, men like me in the legit army, to protect oil and to invade Venezuela. The drug game is a smokescreen.

A former U.S. Green Beret officer told me that a mercenary army was being assembled in Guyana, along the Venezuelan border. He said that all the men were combat-hardened paratroopers, training for jungle warfare and learning Spanish.

"We got wars under way in Afghanistan and Iraq. No jungles there. No Spanish. So what's the point? But guess where there's lots of jungle? Venezuela. And they speak Spanish in Venezuela.

In addition to guys like me -U.S., British, and South African mercenaries-there's a lot of guys in Guyana from Latin militaries, mostly WHINSEC graduates."

The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the School of the Americas (SOA), trains Latin soldiers in combat, counterinsurgency, interrogation, torture, spying, communications, and assassination. Its graduates include some of the continent's most notorious generals and dictators. SOA was located in the Panama Canal Zone until Omar Torrijos insisted on its removal. The fact that Manuel Noriega would not allow it back after Torrijos's death is one of the reasons the United States placed him on its "Most Wanted" list. Both Torrijos and Noriega were SOA graduates and both understood the power it wielded as an antidemocratic institution. It was moved to Fort Benning, Georgia, and in 2001 its name was changed in an attempt to dampen growing criticism.

Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera of Bolivia [under President Evo Morales]

Either everyone must be free or no one is free. For people in your country and mine to have stability we need to make sure that everyone around the world has stability... No longer should the state serve the rich and the big corporations. It must serve all the people, including the very poor.

The Secret History of the American Empire

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