Thursday, 26 June 2014


Clandestine operations are an integral part of a country’s foreign policy, although the heavy reliance on such operations is a reflection of the authoritarian nature of the government carrying out such operations. The larger and more powerful the country, and the less inclined to respect national sovereignty of other nations, the more elaborate the clandestine operations. Naturally, governments always justify their clandestine operations on the basis of “national security”. They also justify torturing prisoners held without due process in violation of the UN human rights covenant. This is as true of the US in the contemporary era, as it has been of more authoritarian countries. Aside from the fact that clandestine operations are antithetical to democracy the execution and consequences of such operations in most cases have proved an embarrassment if not a disaster for the government authorizing them.  

There are many pitfalls in clandestine operations, largely because anything can go wrong during the operation, but also afterwards because of unforeseen intermediate and long term consequences of such operations. Obviously, President Kennedy was not happy with the immediate and longer term consequences of the Bay of Pigs operation. By contrast, Kissinger was probably elated with the CIA-backed military coup in Chile that ended the regime and the life of Salvador Allende. Of course, there were longer term consequences in Chile, though not nearly as bad as those of Cuba. In short, clandestine operations are not always immediate unmitigated disasters like the Bay of Pigs. However, even when they achieve the goal of regime change, there is no guarantee of any long term stability, as the case of Panama proved where the CIA chose Manuel Noriega to work with from the 1950s until the end of the 1980s, but then the marines removed him and the US placed a new government in power.

The lesson here for the 21st century is that such operations are problematic in a multi-polar world where China and Russia increasingly perceive a US-NATO threat as menacing to their interests, while they pursue cordial commercial relations. The best case demonstrating the disaster of clandestine operations gone seriously wrong is Iraq where the US and its NATO and Arab allies backed the rebels who have turned out to create a much larger problem than the regime of Assad they were trying to eliminate. The US and its allies created ISIS and then scrambled to apportion blame, including the Shia Iraqi government in the blame game for the Sunni ISIS Jihadists. Similarly, the Ukraine is another area of US-led clandestine operations gone seriously wrong with the potential of either a smooth political solution or a disaster. The question is whether the disasters of such operations really mean anything to the US, or do they simply see them as minor glitches, which is in essence the problem with the prevailing mindset in the US.     

The nature of clandestine operations
There is a big difference between intelligence collection and analysis that agencies, such as the CIA, and authorizing political assassinations through third parties, using economic or political blackmail to force individuals in a government to adopt a certain course of action. While everyone understands that foreign military aid and trade and investment are tools of influence over the aid/trade/investment recipient, it is a big leap of faith to comprehend how threatening heavy handed covert operations that would result in regime change is a legitimate part of a democratic country’s foreign policy.

Interference in elections, something the US did during the Cold War in many countries, including Italy, Greece, Vietnam, Chile, Colombia, among others. Destabilizing a country where there have been open and free elections, as has been the case in numerous areas, including Ukraine from autumn 2013 until spring 2014 constitutes foreign intervention that falls in the domain of imperialism because it demonstrate total disrespect for national sovereignty. Even worse than clandestine activity to subvert the electoral process, the use of influence with the military to bring about an end to civilian rule and install a military regime. This is something that was also common throughout the Cold War with US helping to overthrow elected regimes – among the more famous cases include not just CIA-backed coup in Iran and Guatemala in the early 1950s, but Greece in 1967 and Salvador Allende in 1973. 

Amid the frenzy of the early Cold War and the arms race, the Eisenhower administration authorized clandestine operations that were glaring violations of international law. For example, the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, Prime Minister of the then Republic of the Congo, was one of the most flagrant violations of international law that led to disaster for the people in central Africa. The dictatorship of Col. Joseph Mobuto proved one of the most corrupt in the continent, but the US had no problem with it because it did not ally itself to the USSR. That the dictatorship violated human rights and drove the country into bankruptcy was not a problem, as long as the regime was pro-US. 

There are many such examples of the US destabilizing a popular regime by clandestine activity and then backing a dictatorship in the name of freedom and democracy, often to discover that things are not working out as initially assumed. This happened with Manuel Noriega of Panama who was a CIA man, but then dared to strike out on his own, only to be arrested by US troops in what he believed was sovereign territory that cannot be violated. 

The latest such interference from behind the scenes is Egypt where the military overthrew Islamic Brotherhood’s President Morsi and proceeded to create a virtual one-party state backed by the US and its allies. In all such cases of course, there is a backlash that comes back to bite very hard simply because the absence of a popular mandate and imperial interference create multiple resentment in the broader population that realizes national and popular sovereignty have been surrendered.

Besides paramilitary operations that are the heart of clandestine activity and have a direct impact, the use of mainstream media for propaganda purposes along with payoffs to politicians, military officers, trade unionists, and public officials are among the less innocuous forms of clandestine work. There is no doubt that propaganda to win the hearts and minds of a segment of the population is very important and deemed an acceptable part of foreign policy. The only question is the degree to which news organizations and reporters are no longer reporting news but rather delivering a point of view with the goal of convincing the public that “black is white”, for example. This practice goes back to the 19th century when European imperialists used everyone from newspaper reporters to clergy to convince Africans and Asians  that it was best for them to be under colonial rule. 

As part of clandestine operations, molding public opinion in the 21st century has become much more sophisticated, and not just because the NSA spies on millions of people around the world, as Snowden revealed to the world. For example, if the US government is interested in selling fighter planes to a government that is also looking to buy from the French, it will use its influence with the armed forces of the buyer but also plug in numerous paid stories in the media about the importance of buying the US-made planes. In additions, among the more sophisticated methods of molding public opinion are the NGO’s that present themselves as neutral parties, when in fact they could be funded from the government and carrying out its tasks, as the CIA clearly states in its web site.

NGOs and Clandestine Operations
While I expected the CIA web page to be recruiting personnel for clandestine operations worldwide, I was somewhat surprised when I saw a rather candid article about the agency’s use of high tech and NGO’s in intelligence operations, as the excerpt below reveals. “Over the past decade and a half, three phenomena have expanded dramatically: the availability of information through the diffusion of information technology; the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as important players in international affairs; and the demand for international engagement in failed or weak states, some having suffered from devastating conflicts. These three facts interact and raise a number of issues for US policymakers and for the Intelligence Community.”

As the CIA acknowledges, modern technology has meant radical changes in how clandestine operations are conducted, given that the web, cell phones and more sophisticated surveillance technology have created more possibilities for covert operations to be carried out by governments at the expense of other governments, businesses, private organizations, and individuals. Besides modern technology from satellites to drones, there is another vehicle that has been used to carry out clandestine operations, namely, hundreds of NGOs that are mere fronts for covert operations intended to destabilize a regime or to bring about regime change. This has been the case in Ukraine, Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Egypt, Syria, among some of the more notable examples in news headlines. In fact, the covert role of NGOs in Bolivia, Ukraine, and Venezuela has been very controversial and an open secret to the degree that there is a great deal published on the subject.

Arguing that the only goal is to deliver “freedom and democracy”, as though these are commodities like tomatoes to be delivered from the producer to the reluctant consumer and not rights to come from the grass roots of the people involved, the US also argues that its actions are intended to fight terrorism in all its forms. Needless to say, the definition of terrorism is one that constantly shifts. For example, the freedom fighters that the US supported in Syria in the last two years are today’s terrorists known as ISIS and causing massive damage to Iraq. The same holds true for Ukraine where neo-Nazis become freedom fighters, while pro-Russia separatists are baptized terrorists because they oppose of pro-West regime in Kiev.

As a constructed political phenomenon with social and economic dimensions, ‘the war on terrorism’ fills the void left by the Cold War in the East-West confrontation needed to maintain the sociopolitical status quo and the existing economic order that relies to a certain extent on defense sector-related public spending.  That the US chose to make ‘terrorism’ the cornerstone of its policy was well planned and calculated in order to maintain the institutional structure that had been built since the Truman administration.  Moreover, the global anti-terrorism campaign provides the US with the rationale to keep the goal of Pax Americana, namely, an imperial foreign policy rooted in very large defense sector and intelligence operations spending.

Not to take away anything from the late great scholar Sam Huntington who developed the clash of civilizations theory, but there is no "clash of civilizations" objectively speaking, as though by nature or simply because cultures are different. After all, there is a very long history of Medieval Islam from the Iberia to the Ottoman Empire proving that harmonious co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims were very fruitful. Indeed, the essence of progress in any society at any epoch in history is rooted in cultural diffusion and this is something that Muslims appreciated long before the Age of the Enlightenment in 18th century France. 

There is no clash between Western Christendom and Islam today any more than it was during the crusades. Just as with the crusaders interested in land, trade routes, gold, and glory of power that conquest injects into disturbed minds, similarly today there are those who think like crusaders and must manufacture crises. If indeed there is no “class of civilizations”, other than a manufactured one, the question is how imperial regimes create such clashes to justify their policies and ambitious goals.
The national sovereignty issue along with social justice is also at the core of the global terrorism campaign. There is something very disturbing indeed when regimes use the terrorism card as a mass distraction from social, economic and political problems, but above all to crush all voices demanding national sovereignty.

US Clandestine Operations and the Web
From the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation in 1961 until today, the US has tried different ways to undermine the Cuban regime. This is hardly because the tiny island of Cuba poses a threat to the US as many varieties of ultra-right wingers who have lost claim to their senses claim. However, these fire-breathing ideologues have a point when they insist that Cuba is a symbol of resistance to the hegemonic vision of Pan-Americanism that Washington has imposed from Presidents Monroe to the present. In short, Cuba is a thorn, much more so than Venezuela recently, and the US simply wishes to impose its will on the island to complete the picture of a US-dominated Western Hemisphere.

In 2009, the U.S. government created a “Cuban Twitter” (dubbed ZunZuneo) intended to sabotage the whose money trail is difficult to trace, the project tried to circumvent Cuba’s control of the internet, appealing to young people interested in voicing dissent, but totally unaware that behind the scheme was the US State Department gathering data on users for political manipulation. The US set up this project after the Cuban government arrested and imprisoned Alan Cross for running a clandestine mission using highly sensitive web technology. The US-AID program for which Cross was working insisted that it was on a “humanitarian mission”, trying to deliver freedom and human rights to Cuba, the same island where the US has been hosting political prisoners without trial at Guantanamo Bay.

Although some Senators expressed concern for such operations violating US laws, the Obama administration ostensibly more committed to respect of the law than Bush, did not back down from the clandestine activity. Setting the issue of legality aside, given that anything is legal including torturing prisoners held without due process, US Agency for International Development (USAID), which has a wide array of overt and covert projects under its umbrella, ran the program. It makes perfect sense that USAID would run the program, given that it has a longstanding history of running clandestine operations worldwide, everything from subverting trade unions to media outlets. It also makes sense that the money trail is almost untraceable, running from earmarked finds for Pakistan, but involving centers of operations in Spain and the Caribbean.

Ironically, the Obama administration that had presented itself as more open and democratic resorted to clandestine activities just as reminiscent of the early Cold War as Reagan and Bush. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton justified such clandestine activity, saying that the U.S. helps people in “oppressive Internet environments get around filters.” That she made a point to bring up Arab Spring, revealed the extent of US clandestine operations in those popular uprisings where the masses were manipulated, just like the Cubans, without knowing the source.

Will there be a pullback from clandestine operations because of the disasters in Ukraine where there is no military solution or Iraq under ISIS threat? My hope is that common sense and sanity may prevail in Washington, but that is optimistic. On the contrary, all evidence indcates that the contradictions in US foreign policy abound. For example, despite the massive problems that the Jihadist ISIS rebels are causing for the West, including rising oil prices, the Obama administration is actually increasing its financial assistance to Syrian rebels, further destabilizing the entire region. One could argue that the move makes sense because Syria relies on Russia for support and it seems that Iraq has also been looking to Moscow for military assistance; a move that apparently does not sit well with Washington. Although the logic here is to assist the enemies of my enemy, those enemies of my enemies can all turn against me as well in due course. This is a lesson apparently lost on US policy makers who rather not worry now about longer term consequences.

I see that the smooth-talking Obama administration projecting an image of multilateralism and legality to the world is in essence not very different than any Cold War administration Democrat or Republican. The polished façade of consultation with allies and seeking political solutions to crises conceals a long-standing policy of clandestine operations that include everything from USAID to NGOs and mysterious money trails that circumvent congressional oversight. 

Beyond the question of ethics that does not enter into the domain of clandestine operations, there is the question of risks/rewards. As long as the US was the number one superpower, it could engage in clandestine operations even if they went really badly as the Bay of Pigs. In the early 21st century, the world is not the same as it was in the early 1960s, but the US uses the same tactics as though nothing has changed. Just because the Communist bloc collapsed does not means that Russia and China are not rivals to be taken seriously. Nor is Latin America the same now as it was in the mid-20th century when regimes were in the backpocket of the US. As far as the Middle East goes, no matter what the US does other than to pursue multilateral policy and political solutions to conflicts, the end result will not be favorable for the US.  

In a wolrd flooded with information overflow, clandestine operations are risky affairs and there is a price to be paid, just as we see in Ukraine and the Middle East. Determined to escalate clandestine operations in the face of a declining Pax Americana and rising Asian economic influence in the world, Washington will actually resort to even more risky measures in the future as the reality of decline becomes clearer. After all, US-based multinational corporations have moved assets abroad and increasingly are seeking to avoid paying the IRS, thus contributing to the budgetary deficit. 

With the role of multinational corporations increasingly less rooted in the US where they would be contributing to the US economy, the government will be making desperate efforts to secure market share and influence, but toward what end?  While the US is engaged in all kinds of expensive and risky clandestine operations that would presumably strengthen the US economy and the dollar as a reverse currency, the enemy from within is undermining those efforts, to say nothing of the unpredictability of the clandestine operations themselves. The decline is already here for the US and the only question is the delusional manner that policymakers are handling it.

Saturday, 21 June 2014


There is a relationaship between public sector corruption and private sector corruption, and both impact economic growth growth and development in so far as corruption is parasitic and does not add anything to the economy. Similarly, there is a relationship between endemic corruption and an economy's ability to function according to marketplace rules as publicly stated and obesrved by some entities. However, it would be misleading to conclude that corruption is the cause for lack of growth and development, considering that very corrupt countries, including China, Russia and India have enjoyed substantial growth and development in the last decade and a half, while the less corrupt Western economies have not perfmored as well.

Greece is indeed one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and the most corrupt in the European Union. It is also a country that has been an experiment for austerity measures in the EU in the past four years, an experiment that even by the criteria of the IMF and EU has not achieved the publicly stated goals of reaching public debt of under 120% - the real debt is at 175%, but actually 220% if all public enterprises are taken into account. Nor has Greece the ability to float long term bonds in the private sector because of high interest rates. Similarly, the IMF and EU were wrong that austerity would reduce unemployment because foreign investment would flow into the country. On the contrary, austerity has entailed real - as opposed to official - unemployment of one-third the entire labor force, while investment has been trickling in. A pro-market publication called CAPITAL, recently asked its readers if they won a large amount of money outside of Greece, would they bring it back to invest.

Given the dim prospects of an economy that increasingly resembles those of its northern Balkan neighbors, exactly as Germany stated where Greece ought to be in terms of its status within the EU, the question is what are the domestic political abd business elites doing about reviving the national economy. The answer even greater corruption and more illegal activity than existed before the crisis of 2009.This is not to say that Greece has an economy where narcotics production and trafficking plays a major role as in Afghanistan, Colombia and Mexico. However, it has similarities with economies that rely on the "informal" and illegal economy for roughly one-third of GDP, perhaps even higher given the elaborate money laundering operations.

In early June 2014, the Greek police, under the direction of US narcotics agents, raided the home of a wholesale diamond dealer where they found half a ton of heroin. The same day they raided the villa of a Greek shipping tycoon in whose house agents found over half ton of the illegal drug, for a total of 1.2 tons. The arrests included two Turkish nationals that the US agents had been tracking in the Middle East - Afghanistan is the origin - through Turkey and then Greece where the shipment of narcotics was headed for Western Europe.

The Greek tycoon was on a list for tax evasion, including the infamous ‘Christine La Garde list’ of more than two thousand names of the Greek socioeconomic elite that has been engaged in massive tax evasion among other financial crimes that the Greek government has yet to prosecute. The alleged narcotics traffickers were well known for their lavish lifestyles, but they were beyond the reach of the law, and the only reason they were arrested is because US narcotics agents provided information about a precise shipment of heroine, including names and addresses.

Holding the number one maritime spot in the world, Greek shipping companies are the major traffickers of narcotics, linking Turkish, Greek, Iranian and Albanian heroin traffickers from the East as well as Colombian, Spanish and Dutch traffickers in the West. There are many ways to transport narcotics without detection, including the latest of hiding the heroin bags inside larger bags containing marble dust used in construction. Additionally, if the tanker ship copntains petrol or crude oil and other chemicals, detection with trained dogs becomes even more difficult. In the specific case of the massive horein shipment onboard a Greek tanker and on the properties ofa shipping tycoon and diamond dealer, an inside informant provided details to authorities of the narcotics shipment.

The only way to get the narcotics trade flowing in Greece as well as other parts of the world is to secure that customs officials, coast guard, police, judges and/or politicians are all on the payroll. For example, it has been an open secret that the island of Crete is a major supplier of hashish to Western Europe (mostly Holland) simply because public officials, including prominent politicians provide cover and facilitate the drug trade. Everyone knows exactly where the cannabis is growing because there have been periodic raids in the areas, just as they know it is transported in large quantities onboard trucks and ships. Despite the publicity of this issue, the drug trade continues uninterrupted.  

According to the UN, "Balkan and northern routes are the main heroin trafficking corridors linking Afghanistan to the huge markets of the Russian Federation and Western Europe. The Balkan route traverses the Islamic Republic of Iran (often via Pakistan), Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria across South-East Europe to the Western European market, with an annual market value of some $20 billion. The northern route runs mainly through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan (or Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan) to Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation. The size of that market is estimated to total $13 billion per year."

Just a few days after the heroin drug bust in the Greek shipping tycoon's home and the diamond dealer's property, another ton of heroin apparently was confiscated by Greek police, again with US-DEA assistance, and based on an insider informant's details of the shipment. Once again, the shipment size required large ship as well as large trucks for transport, indicating major organization behind it involving very well connected people. The combined confiscated heroin for the month of June amounts to 2.2 tons, the largest amount confiscated in the history of Europe and it may be one of the largest confiscations in the world valued at least 400 million euros. 

As nice as the news sounds about the DEA-Greek capture of 2.2 tons of heroin seized in June, the problem is the nature of the Greek political economy rooted in the subterranean sector that represents at least a third of the entire GDP. There is the whole question of whether governments ought to measure GDP by including illegal actities, such as drugs, sex trade, etc. After Nigeria decided to include such illegal activities in its economy adding 90% to its GDP, a number of EU countries said they would do the same, while the US said it had "no imediate plans" to count illegal activity money in the GDP. This in indicative of how governments turn a blind eye to illegal economic activity, and provide a sense of legitimacy to it after the fact. If large international banks are laundering drug money, why should the government leave the illegal economic activity out of the picture?

Greek prosecutors have been trying to go after the elites of Greece, all well known because the country is so small and the sudden wealth of many of these people cannot possibly be explained. Politicians of the two ruling parties – neo-conservative New Democracy and the neoliberal PASOK – have been protecting the elites directly through legislative measures by also by intervening in the justice system, often threatening to prosecute the prosecutors, especially when they have gone after the very corrupt top politicians in the current government with cases involving massive bribery scandals from domestic and foreign companies. 

Because there are laws providing amnesty for ministers, they cannot be prosecuted. When a current case came from the prosecutors involving the Vice Premier Evangelos Venizelos and his involvement in a massive corruption scandal regarding submarine contracts during his tenure as defense minister, the government immediately shut down parliament, so that the case can be legally “written off” and not be allowed to be heard and pursued in judicial channels. Because government ministers and politicians of the ruling parties are so immersed in corruption, they try through back channels to protect the elites that prosecutors are hunting down.

Several prominent businessmen, among them Dimitris Kontominas, owner of TV station and insurance company and well know for his role in scandals involving banks and government officials, and Angelos Filippidis, former head of Hellenic Postbank, and several of his colleagues, have been indicted over loan scandals that cost the former state-owned bank an estimated $700 million. Along with a number of others receiving loans without any guarantees and never repaying the loans to the state-owned bank, there are the charges of money laundering operations against top businesspeople closely linked to the ruling parties. These scandals involving top businesspeople would not be possible in the absence of top government officials giving the green light on the loans, which leaves the question of the motive of government officials.  

The biggest scandals involve the defense sector where it seems that Greece has been paying for tanks, helicopters and submarines that do not work properly, but it has been paying a much higher price than the market price. The bribery scandals in this sector have one former defense minister and other former government officials serving prison terms, but some of the politicians involved in corruption are currently in government. The infamous Siemens scandal that involved a number of New Democracy politicians remains unsolved, but the well known corrupt politicians who cannot possibly account for their millionaire status are in government enforcing austerity measures.    

While the political and business elites have bee stealing from the public treasury, they have had no difficulty insisting that austerity imposed on the middle class and workers must go one. This despite the reality that reality that the public debt is unsustainable at 175% of GDP, that it would probably come down to 120% of GDP in 2022 and unemployment will remain above 15% for the next ten years, with very low wage scales. 
Official reports from various international organizations about labor conditions indicate that Greek has some of the most archaic labor policies and conditions. 

The IMF/EU used austerity to impose this new system with which the PASOK and New Democracy right-wing government imposed largely because the domestic financial elites go along with this policy so that the masses pay for the public debt. Ironically, these are the same elites that are tax evaders, and smugglers of illegal cigarettes, narcotics, guns, and petrol; the same elites that launder money through real estate and professional athletic clubs, the elites that have taken out most of their money to stash it into offshore accounts, the elites that paid very little taxes while receiving massive benefits from the state through their businesses, these elites now present themselves as the best hope for the revival of the country from the current crisis.

About one-third of employers owe their employees back wages of a few months to a year.  There are currently workers who receive no payment other than that in kind – food, clothing, shelter. This is not only for foreign workers in the agricultural fields, but also Greeks who exchange labor services so they can live. According to the laws of the land, it is illegal to have anyone working in return for in-kind compensation rather than money wages. The government has put an end to any powers that trade unionist enjoyed, including collective bargaining. Using the austerity regime as a pretext, the government introduced a labor policy that resembles 19th century conditions. Even when workers take their case to court and even when courts rule in their favor, the government simply ignores the court ruling, or engages in endless delays using the legal system.  

Given that the country is swimming in corruption because political and business elites know of no other way to conduct policy or business, what is the prospect of Greece for the next few decades? The role of Greece in the world economy is bound to remain as an intermediary strategic area in the following domains. 

1. Main entry port for China's COSCO Corporation. This means that the Greek ports and some railroad operations will be under Chinese control in the 21st century, unless something changes drastically in the geopolitical map. The beneficiary here is China that has ready cheap access to a strategic port/railroad operation base. In exchange, Greece secures a few thousand jobs and the promise that China will be buying bonds in the future to demonstrate confidence in the public sector. The government provided very low cost operations for the Chinese leasing operations so that it can attract roughly five billion in investment, or 2% of GDP. Because Greek shipping companies secure financing from Chinese banks to build their ships in Chinese shipyards, the quid pro quo is that Greece must make concessions to the Chinese on port and rail infrastructural systems. After all, the Greek shipping tycoons have always had a preponderate influence in the direction of the economy and on public policy, although shipping accounts for a lower percentage of GDP than tourism and shipping tycoons keep their assets outside of Greece.  

2. A major intermediary for natural gas coming from Azerbaijan, Russia and the Black Sea/trans-Caucasus area in the future. This is a capital-intensive investment area that brings few sustainable benefits for the economy, if we exclude the initial investment in infrastructure and the relatively low cost of energy. Solar panel and wind power are other areas of investment, but those are also capital-intensive with dim prospects for offering anything but huge profits mainly to the German manufacturers of these sustainable energy systems and to large investors. Smaller investors are so highly taxed that they cannot compete in this market, given the considerable capital required for the upstarts.

3.  Gulf States investment in tourist-related real estate development that helps the tourism and gambling industries. However, profits are taken out just as in shipping, and the investment is not at the level that it would make much difference is absorbing a portion of the 28% unemployed. 
4. Varieties of operations ranging from legal state owned gambling (lottery) operations offered to billionaires linked to the ruling party. That the average taxpayer is well aware of how government subsidizes business elites closely linked to the ruling parties accounts for widespread cynicism and political polarization.
5.  Capital-intensive enterprises in select areas from computer system to banking are areas that will attract some investment as the political and economic climate becomes more stable. However, there is no possibility of Greece developing a diversified economy that is capable of serving the basic domestic needs. This means that it will rely on imports not only in the domain of capital and intermediary goods, but even agricultural products competing with domestically-produced ones. The result will be a perpetually low-wage environment because tourism accounts for about 15% of GDP at best and is not capable of sustaining the rest of the economy.

Because small and medium-sized businesses account for the absorption of the labor force, the prospects of unemployment below five percent is not in the horizon. The best prospect for college-educated people in Greece is to leave the country, given that Germany and the domestic political and economic elites agree that Greece is relegated to a status much closer to the northern Balkans where living standards are much lower than those in Western Europe. Meanwhile, the government, business analysts and Western apologists of austerity and neoliberalism as well as the media eulogize the success story of Greece that is now deeper in debt, with its future resembling the early Cold War years of socioeconomic and political polarization. How likely is it that there will be a change in the nature of "baksheesh capitalism"? Because this is as much a political economy issue as it is a cultural one it is dirfficult to say that there will be any change in the near future.A cultural and political revolution is unlikely in order to bring about change.

Saturday, 7 June 2014



The topic of corporate-sponsored terrorism supported by the state has not received much publicity by the mainstream media in the last three decades. By contrast, “terrorism”, which the US government deems important and mainstream news organizations cover in depth, has received enormous coverage in an effort to create a climate of fear and conformity to the political and socioeconomic status quo and to justify existing foreign policies that violate the national sovereignty of other countries. 
Controversial because the topic in question deals with US corporate-sponsored death squads operating in Colombia and at the very least tolerated if not facilitated by the US and Colombian governments, corporate terrorism is appropriate at a time that since 9/11 it is really difficult to determine who the US and other countries baptize a "terrorist". 

If we consider the fatal attack on the Belgian Jewish museum (May 2014) where three people were gunned down by a French Muslim, we could conclude that the individual was a Jihadist to be strongly condemned by all defenders of the law, human rights, and human decency.  It turns out, however, that the gunman had traveled to Syria to fight against the Assad regime, that is to say, the same regime that the US and its allies have been financing and fighting in the last three years. In this instance, the individual who killed three people in the museum is the same person that the US and its allies would baptize “freedom fighter” when he was engaged in rebel activity against Assad, but a ‘terrorist’ in the case of the Jewish museum attack.The mainstream media and politicians rarely raise the questions: 1. why do terrorist organizations begin? 2. who finances and supplies them? 3. why are recruits interested in joining; 4. why are there those who do not join but view terrorism as "understandable response" to Western imperialism.

Absurdity’s limits do not stop with Jihadists that the West praises when they are involved in toppling a regime that the US opposes – Libya or Syria only a couple of years ago, for example. The distinction between "terrorist" fighting against the same enemy as the US and EU is acceptable somehow, but when they carry out political acts of violence against Western or pro-Western targets that is unacceptable. Because of such blatant absurdities in US foreign policy reveal sheer political opportunism and total absence of any ideological foundation, Robert Ford, former US Ambassador to Syria, recently stated that US policy of assisting anti-Assad Islamic militants will result in terrorism that could potentially touch US interests in due course. Ambassador Ford noted the example of Afghanistan in the 1980s when the US trained Jihadists that would eventually turn into al-Qaeda. 

Similar contradictions as Ambassador Ford noted are blatant in the case of Ukraine where containment and encirclement US policies are bound to backfire in the absence of a political solution or ideological foundation rooted in democratic principles rather than political opportunism intended for short-term geopolitical and economic gains. Supporting neo-Nazis among other heterogeneous elements in the Ukraine against the Russian-backed separatist elements is not merely a manifestation of an incoherent foreign policy filled with contradictions and aimlessness for the ‘democratic' West, it also reveals the slow decline of the US in relationship to Asia with China at the core is forcing Washington toward desperate anachronistic Cold War solutions to 21st century problems. 


Without going into detail, there are about three dozen countries where the US has supported neo-Nazis, neo-Fascists and varieties of terrorists, and an assortment of right wing extremists all as a means of securing economic, military and/or diplomatic alliances. I will focus on Colombia where there is a clear cut case study because of US corporate involvement in terrorism backed by private companies while the US government has turned a blind eye at the very least. 

WIKILEAKS revelations have exposed with incontrovertible documentation that the US government knew and did nothing about US corporate-backed terrorist activities in Colombia. Moreover, three court cases against US-based multinational corporations brought to light the extent of such terrorist activities at a time that the US has been heavily publicizing its campaign against specifically-targeted “terrorists” around the world. This alone is an issue that calls into question the hypocrisy regarding the outcry of respect for human rights on the part of the US when in fact human rights are not respected and in fact violated with the acquiescence of Washington.

Whether or not the US has any moral authority to complain about the legitimate threat of terrorism emanating from fanatic Muslims is an issue of debate simply because of its historical involvement with them directly or indirectly. Many Western politicians, journalists and analysts point to 9/11 as the ultimate act of terrorism and the need to contain terrorism, as though it is possible to accomplish the goal with conventional military means rather than providing a political solution. Critics of the war on terror, which the US has created to replace Communism as the new enemy of the West, argue that official acts of war, including US drone warfare that has killed thousands of innocent people is much more devastating than anything individuals or groups can ever deliver in a hundred years. Does drone warfare constitute an act of terror because it takes out innocent civilians?

Putting the moral authority argument aside, as well as the issue of whether the state with the military means at its disposal has the ultimate power to deliver mass devastation, my focus here is on US corporate-sponsored death squads in Colombia with the ultimate goal of securing the market and higher profits and prevent not just a leftist regime from coming to power, but even reformists interested in promoting social justice.    

In the age of global an anti-terrorism campaign that the US started at the end of the Cold War as a way to replace Communism as a global threat and maintain public support for the status quo, Colombia is one country that has endured terrorist acts in the form of right wing paramilitary organizations funded and sponsored by US corporations seemingly above the law because they enjoy the backing of the state. According to the UN, and human rights organizations, left wing killings carried out in Colombia have accounted for 12% of clash-related fatalities, while right wing paramilitary deaths account for 80%. This raises the question of who is behind right-wing death squads and for what purpose. Similarly, the vast majority of disappearances and kidnappings are attributed to right wing paramilitary groups that are at the core of human rights violations. Invariably, this has been ignored by the Colombian government and the US that has historically close ties with Bogota. 

Who is behind the right wing paramilitary groups? Narcotics trafficking operations is certainly one source, with its inexorable links to official channels and banks around the world and in the US in order to launder money conduct the illegal international trade. In fact, there have been reports in the mainstream media about the links of top US and EU banks to drug lords. However, drug traffickers are hardly the only ones behind paramilitary operations. According to a number of press reports and human rights organizations, Coca Cola Bottling, Chiquita Banana and Drummond mining operations are three companies that have in the past financed right wing paramilitary operations resulting in killings, disappearances and persecution of trade unionists, labor organizers and leftist activists. The German TV network Deutsche Wella recently ran a long documentary on this issue, focusing mostly on Drummond and its role in Colombia. 

"LA VIOLENCIA" and Colombia's Legacy of Political Violence 
In the 1980s, when I wrote my first book dealing with Colombia, I argued that the inexorable link of the country’s violent political culture and its externally dependent monocultural economy with a considerable US corporate and government connection accounts for a unique situation in Latin America, almost as unique as the US-Panama one involving the canal that has been a symbol of US hegemony for more than a century. Among the top five most unequal nations in the world, Colombia is also a country with one of the world’s worst human rights and labor rights records; a reality that forces people to struggle for social justice only to encounter domestic and foreign-based terrorism against their struggle for better living and working conditions.  
Colombia’s legacy of violence linked to the political system and people’s struggle for human rights and social justice can be traced to the popular uprising of 1948 and the ten-year era of political violence that followed - La Violencia. 

The period of Colombia’s contemporary history of violence started in April 1948 with the assassination of a Marxist reformist, Jorge Eliecer Gaintan, a populist caudillo who denounced the corrupt Conservative and Liberal political parties behind which were the country’s socioeconomic elites and the US. Gaitan envisioned a new era for Colombia based more on a version of Keynesian economic policies with the creation of a strong social safety net to lift the peasantry and working class, while strengthening and broadening the small middle class. Gaitan’s assassination by right wing elements and the ensuing riots and mass demonstrations brought together the traditional Liberal and Conservative elites that feared a popular revolution. 

What followed was a ten year period of political violence between the two competing political parties, but with victims from peasantry and working class. The era known as La Violencia (1948-1958) coincided with the early Cold War and it crushed any reformist aspirations that aimed at addressing the gross socioeconomic inequalities, social justice and human rights issues, and especially any chance of regime change that would threatened both the domestic elites and US companies operating in Colombia. Symptomatic of La Violencia was a guerrilla movement under different groups from the 1960s to the early 21st century that fought against right-wing violence intended to maintain the sociopolitical and socioeconomic status quo. 

While the Cuban Revolution encouraged leftist rebel groups in Colombia, as indeed throughout Latin America in the era of Che Guevara, the US responded with special operations training to combat leftists in all walks of life, and to cleanse society of leftist influences in every sector from education to trade unions. Considering that the Alliance for Progress did nothing essentially to improve living conditions for peasants and workers, focusing instead on indoctrination and co-optation programs of potential supporters of reformists and leftist groups, the lower classes remained skeptical of any domestic or US program supposedly intended to improve the material lives of the masses. 

By 1979 when the Sandinista revolution and the civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala were unfolding, Colombia was entering the illegal narcotics market, moving rapidly to compete with Mexico that had become a major supplier for the US drug market. Parallel to the drug trafficking activity that was moving toward rapid development, reformists and leftist guerrilla groups were becoming active. With US support, the government systematically crushed any hope of reform, thus pushing society toward greater polarization and various means to make a living amid rising population. At the core of Colombia’s politics was a counter-reformist era characterized by hostile policies toward any progressive group and toward organized labor, policies that perpetuated the extreme poor-rich gap and further contributed to radicalization among a segment of the population. Needless to point out, the US, IMF, World Bank and Western Europe sided with the counter-reformists because it meant greater profits for their corporate operations. However, there was reistance from the grassroots and the governemnt's response was not accommodation but violence amid a cocaine trade that bought not just Colobian officials but US as well. 

In the 1980s death squads targeting trade unionists and other human rights activists became more active. In the last three decades, the death squads, paramilitary groups and the military have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of people (3,000-10,000), thousands disappearing, and at least five million displaced, all in a campaign to keep the population under a perpetual state of terror to prevent any kind of revolutionary climate or permit a revolutionary or reformist movement that would contain the role of the domestic elites and foreign companies. All along, cocaine became Colombia’s second most significant export after oil, bringing billions of dollars in revenue. The drug cartels from Medellin to Cali thrived, largely because of their well established connections in political and legal institutional structure.  


Amid the gangster political economy that evolved in Colombia by the late 1980s, US corporations began to play a catalytic role, much more violent than United Fruit Company had played in Guatemala in the early 1950s in Guatemala where it was responsible for the end of reformist regimes and the beginning of a violent anti-peasant and anti-labor dictatorship. In 2001 and 2006, Coca Cola was brought up on charges in U.S. District Court in Florida, allegedly because the company affiliates had used death squads to assassinate, torture, kidnap, and threaten trade unionists in the company’s plants. The lawsuit charged that the Coca Cola Company not only benefited from the acts of the death squads, but it organized them. The best angle for the plaintiffs in this case was to argue that Coke was a company that violated human rights of its own employees, though the reality of death squad operations goes beyond human rights abuses. COKE denied the allegations, but at the same time refused an independent investigation.

The interesting thing is that Colombia’s GDP at the time of the COKE legal issues involving death squads was lower than the market cap of the multinational bottling corporation. At the same time, the bottling company had the US government behind it, while Colombia had no leverage because of the dependent nature of its economy. From the 19th century era of coffee dependence to petroleum and bananas in the 20th century, Colombia’s rich natural resources were mostly under foreign control. One reason that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and before it other left wing groups made inroads among the masses is because of foreign exploitation of labor and natural rich resources that have kept the vast majority chronically poor.


Mining and railroads is another area where US-based corporations have played a role with death squads in Colombia. Considering that 65% of the population lives in mining zones and a large number live on less than $400 per year, the question is who is making the immense profits at the expense of the Colombian people.  Drummond that operates La Loma and Cerrejon has faced numerous law suits for the assassination of mining and railroad workers who were trade union activists. Drummond’s private security group, the notorious right-wing paramilitary organization United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) not only engaged in assassinations but also in terrorizing hundreds of people, including engaging in kidnapping and torturing.

The US embassy in Bogota was well aware that Drummond’s private security company was engaged in terrorist activities in north-eastern Colombia, and informed the State Department that Drummond was not only engaging death squads, but at the same time ignoring labor laws and environmental standards. This was taking place during the second term of the Bush administration and early years of Obama, years that coincided with US global campaign against Islamic terrorists, while turning a blind eye to US corporate-hired terrorists. One reason that the US ignored this issue is because Drummond is a major US-based multinational corporation and its Colombian operations are essential, considering that Colombia ranks sixth largest coal producer in the world. The only defense of Drummond was that the law suits for various violations, including death squad activities, stemmed from a Dutch company’s desire to secure mineral rights in the same area. Meanwhile, the US government had extended more military aid to the government in Bogota as an incentive to favor US companies over others. 


In 2011, Cincinnati-based Chiquita Banana Company faced 4000 Colombians suing the company for financing and assisting death squad operations.  Four years before the law suit, the banana company paid a $25 million fee after admitting similar charges brought by the US Justice Department, a mere drop in the ocean if the courts find against the company in the more recent case of financing terrorism.  According to published documents, Chiquita paid $1.7 to United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the same paramilitary group that Drummond engaged.  A state-sponsored death squad operation, AUC is accused of assassinating, torturing, displacing and terrorizing thousands of people while on Chiquita’s payroll during the 1990s.  Chiquita also funded left-wing FARC that was strongly against AUC, thus the company was playing both sides of the political spectrum to make sure it had paramilitary cover.

The company’s legal defense is that terrorist acts carried out by AUC took place in Colombia by Colombians. Therefore, US courts have no jurisdiction.  Chiquita is the same banana company that was instrumental in overthrowing the reformist regime of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz in a CIA coup in1954, although back then it was known as United Fruit Company, the same company responsible for funding assassinations against radical workers and trade unionists throughout banana plantations of Latin America.


This is not a case of history repeating itself, but rather large corporations with enormous assets to buy political influence in all the countries where they operate, including the home base where the problem starts. United Fruit in the 1950s would not be able to do anything were it not for the fact that the State Department and the CIA were not behind it. Chiquita in our time would not be able to be funding terrorism in Colombia were it not for the US government allowing it. The same goes for Drummond and COKE. 

  With one of the closest US ties of any Latin American country, especially given its geographic proximity to Venezuela that has not always had cordial ties with Washington, Colombia has one of the world's worst human rights records. It is on the list of just about any human rights organization, as well as on the list of Western governments friendly to Bogota. The UN as well as other organizations list Colombia as one of the world's most dangerous countries for trade unionists, especially those working for foreign corporations. This is one reason that trade unionism in Colombia has been falling in the past four decades, especially since the Reagan era when trade unionism came under severe attack in the US. 

 The legal cases I delineated above are ultimately in the hands of the courts. There are allegations, witnesses and of course the results of death squad activities. As to who and how many are responsible inside and outside of Colombia is a matter for judge and jury to determine. However, on the basis of the evidence presented so far, there is a cloud of profound suspicion hanging over the US-based multinationals that are not guilty of poor working conditions or neglect of safety standards that led to problems for their workers. The allegations are very serious because they point to a scheme of foreign corporations using the internal paramilitary networks to achieve their goals. 

As a consumer enjoying a bottle of COKE, eating a CHIQUITA banana inside your warm house heated by DRUMMOND corporation coal, remember that the blood of workers, human rights and civil rights, including women's rights activists has been spilled in Colombia with multiple parties responsible; and for what, the subjugation of a society so that it dare not try to assert its national economic sovereignty in the same manner as the US enjoys for itself.

Beyond the case of Colombia, what we have here is a blatant contradiction in US policy when it comes to "terrorism" and the war on terror. While Colombia proves beyond any doubt that human rights, civil rights, labor laws and environmental standards have been grossly violated, it also proves that the US government turns a blind eye to proven cases of death squad activity whose only goal is maximizing profits for multinational corporations. At the same time, anti-government rebels (FARC and ELN) opposed to US patron role in Colombia are labeled terrorists. 

One of the modalities in US foreign policy has been able to demonize its enemy as though there is a struggle between the forces of good and evil at work, rather than one set of interests vs. another. Even more absurd, there has been an effort to vastly exaggerate the strength and influence of the demonized "terrorist" enemy as the US defines it on a case by case. This may be understandable from a propaganda point of view because the US government wants public opinion on its side, but in a preverse way such a strategy actually lends greater credibility and strength to the enemy at issue and invariably makes it more appealing with certain disgruntled elements.

Labeling Colombian leftists terrorists, demonizing them and exaggerating their actual strength and influence is no different than the US labeling terrorists Russian separatist rebels in Eastern and south-eastern parts fighting against a pro-US regime that is right wing. Considering that in no case does the US use criteria based on any ideology or democratic princples in labeling a group 'terrorist', given that the sole criterion is political and economic opportunism, the tragic chapter on the anti-terrorist global campaign is nothing but a farce and a facade to preserve political and economic hegemony.