Thursday, April 21, 2005

Rebuilding countries is big business

I saw Naomi Klein on Democracy Now last night, and followed up by reading a recent article of hers in The Nation. Here's a bit of a summary and comment:

This is not exactly news - it's just another chapter in the story of our post-modern type of colonial international relations. The effects are, however, particularly insidious, so it is extremely important to bring them to public attention.

From post-tsunami Sri Lanka & Indonesia or hurricane-wrecked Honduras & Guatemala to war-torn Afghanistan & Iraq, there is no shortage of "countries smashed to rubble, whether by so-called Acts of God or by Acts of Bush (on orders from God)." These countries need to be rebuilt, and that is a lucrative opportunity. After the countries are pressured into agreeing to policies such as privatization of water, in come the private firms, like Bechtel, Halliburton, etc.

Double-talk alert: this is called "aid", so we westerners can feel good about ourselves, yet it is for-profit.

Here's what the "aid" has done after the Dec 26 tsunami: "The most devastated countries have seen almost no debt relief, and most of the World Bank's emergency aid has come in the form of loans, not grants. Rather than emphasizing the need to help the small fishing communities--more than 80 percent of the wave's victims--the bank is pushing for expansion of the tourism sector and industrial fish farms."

As Condoleeza Rice had said, the tsunami provided a great opportunity for the US.

World bank's ongoing tactics - lend money so countries in need can pay private US/International corporations to perform tasks that they have decided those countries should have - building infrastructure, electricity grids, providing water, opening private health care clinics, etc - all for profit of course. Profit that leaves the country, going straight into the pockets of these transnational corporations. Now the country is left with a huge debt which must be paid by the people. So the transfer of money goes like this: world back --> corporation (loan which pays for development), then, country --> world bank (debt repayment). Somehow the people who live in the country are bypassed. But it is they who are are left with the debt to repay. Most of the time, what were previously public sector projects are now run by private companies, so even more money goes from their hands into corporate hands.

this "reconstruction" boom is a perfect way to squeeze even more money out of countries which might not otherwise fall prey to the previous tactics. countries that have been destroyed, as Klein says, "take orders well. After a cataclysmic event, governments will usually do whatever it takes to get aid dollars--even if it means racking up huge debts and agreeing to sweeping policy reforms. And with the local population struggling to find shelter and food, political organizing against privatization can seem like an unimaginable luxury."

Klein aptly calls this: "a predatory form of disaster capitalism that uses the desperation and fear created by catastrophe to engage in radical social and economic engineering."

Highly recommended article - Read it

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