Home » Africa
Category Archives: Africa
America’s “Secret Wars” in Over 100 Countries Around the World: Empire Under Obama, Part 3
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at The Hampton Institute
Obama’s global terror campaign is not only dependent upon his drone assassination program, but increasingly it has come to rely upon the deployment of Special Operations forces in countries all over the world, reportedly between 70 and 120 countries at any one time. As Obama has sought to draw down the large-scale ground invasions of countries (as Bush pursued in Afghanistan and Iraq), he has escalated the world of ‘covert warfare,’ largely outside the oversight of Congress and the public. One of the most important agencies in this global “secret war” is the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC for short.
JSOC was established in 1980 following the failed rescue of American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Iran as “an obscure and secretive corner of the military’s hierarchy,” noted the Atlantic. It experienced a “rapid expansion” under the Bush administration, and since Obama came to power, “appears to be playing an increasingly prominent role in national security” and “counterterrorism,” in areas which were “traditionally covered by the CIA.” One of the most important differences between these covert warfare operations being conducted by JSOC instead of the CIA is that the CIA has to report to Congress, whereas JSOC only reports its most important activities to the President’s National Security Council.
During the Bush administration, JSOC “reported directly” to Vice President Dick Cheney, according to award-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh (of the New Yorker), who explained that, “It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on.” He added: “Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.”
In 2005, Dick Cheney referred to U.S. Special Forces as “the silent professionals” representing “the kind of force we want to build for the future… a force that is lighter, more adaptable, more agile, and more lethal in action.” And without a hint of irony, Cheney stated: “None of us wants to turn over the future of mankind to tiny groups of fanatics committing indiscriminate murder and plotting large-scale terror.” Not unless those “fanatics” happen to be wearing U.S. military uniforms, of course, in which case “committing indiscriminate murder and plotting large-scale terror” is not an issue.
The commander of JSOC during the Bush administration – when it served as Cheney’s “executive assassination ring” – was General Stanley McChrystal, whom Obama appointed as the top military commander in Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, JSOC began to play a much larger role in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. In early 2009, the new head of JSOC, Vice Admiral William H. McRaven ordered a two-week ‘halt’ to Special Operations missions inside Afghanistan, after several JSOC raids in previous months killed several women and children, adding to the growing “outrage” within Afghanistan about civilian deaths caused by US raids and airstrikes, which contributed to a surge in civilian deaths over 2008.
JSOC has also been involved in running a “secret war” inside of Pakistan, beginning in 2006 but accelerating rapidly under the Obama administration. The “secret war” was waged in cooperation with the CIA and the infamous private military contractor, Blackwater, made infamous for its massacre of Iraqi civilians, after which it was banned from operating in the country.
Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, was recruited as a CIA asset in 2004, and in subsequent years acquired over $1.5 billion in contracts from the Pentagon and CIA, and included among its leadership several former top-level CIA officials. Blackwater, which primarily hires former Special Forces soldiers, has largely functioned “as an overseas Praetorian guard for the CIA and State Department officials,” who were also “helping to craft, fund, and execute operations,” including “assembling hit teams,” all outside of any Congressional or public oversight (since it was technically a private corporation).
The CIA hired Blackwater to aid in a secret assassination program which was hidden from Congress for seven years. These operations would be overseen by the CIA or Special Forces personnel. Blackwater has also been contracted to arm drones at secret bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan for Obama’s assassination program, overseen by the CIA. The lines dividing the military, the CIA and Blackwater had become “blurred,” as one former CIA official commented, “It became a very brotherly relationship… There was a feeling that Blackwater eventually become an extension of the agency.”
The “secret war” in Pakistan may have begun under Bush, but it had rapidly expanded in the following years of the Obama administration. Wikileaks cables confirmed the operation of JSOC forces inside of Pakistan, with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani telling the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson (who would later be appointed as ambassador to Egypt), that, “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.”
Within the first five months of Obama’s presidency in 2009, he authorized “a massive expansion of clandestine military and intelligence operations worldwide,” granting the Pentagon’s regional combatant commanders “significant new authority” over such covert operations. The directive came from General Petraeus, commander of CENTCOM, authorizing Special Forces soldiers to be sent into “both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa.” The deployment of highly trained killers into dozens of countries was to become “systemic and long term,” designed to “penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy” enemies of the State, beyond the rule of law, no trial or pretenses of accountability. They also “prepare the environment” for larger attacks that the U.S. or NATO countries may have planned. Unlike with the CIA, these operations do not report to Congress, or even need “the President’s approval.” But for the big operations, they get the approval of the National Security Council (NSC), which includes the president, as well as most other major cabinet heads, of the Pentagon, CIA, State Department, etc.
The new orders gave regional commanders – such as Petraeus who headed CENTCOM, or General Ward of the newly-created Africa Command (AFRICOM) – authority over special operations forces in the area of their command, institutionalizing the authority to send trained killers into dozens of countries around the world to conduct secret operations with no oversight whatsoever; and this new ‘authority’ is given to multiple top military officials, who have risen to the top of an institution with absolutely no ‘democratic’ pretenses. Regardless of who is president, this “authority” remains institutionalized in the “combatant commands.”
The combatant commands include: AFRICOM over Africa (est. 2007), CENTCOM over the Middle East and Central Asia (est. 1983), EUCOM over Europe (est. 1947), NORTHCOM over North America (est. 2002), PACOM over the Pacific rim and Asia (est. 1947), SOUTHCOM over Central and South America and the Caribbean (est. 1963), SOCOM as Special Operations Command (est. 1987), STRATCOM as Strategic Command over military operations to do with outer space, intelligence, and weapons (est. 1992), and TRANSCOM handling all transportation for the Department of Defense. The State Department was given “oversight” to clear the operations from each embassy, just to make sure everyone was ‘in the loop,’ unlike during the Bush years when it was run out of Cheney’s office without telling anyone else.
In 2010, it was reported by the Washington Post that the U.S. has expanded the operations of its Special Forces around the world, from being deployed in roughly 60 countries under Bush to about 75 countries in 2010 under Obama, operating in notable spots such as the Philippines and Colombia, as well as Yemen, across the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. The global deployment of Special Forces – alongside the CIA’s global drone warfare program – were two facets of Obama’s “national security doctrine of global engagement and domestic values,” in the words of the Washington Post, though the article was unclear on which aspect of waging “secret wars” in 75 countries constituted Obama’s “values.” Commanders for Special Operations forces have become “a far more regular presence at the White House” under Obama than George Bush, with one such commander commenting, “We have a lot more access… They are talking publicly much less but they are acting more. They are willing to get aggressive much more quickly.” Such Special Operations forces deployments “go beyond unilateral strikes and include the training of local counterterrorism forces and joint operations with them.”
So not only are U.S. forces conducting secret wars within dozens of countries around the world, but they are training the domestic military forces of many of these countries to undertake secret wars internally, and in the interests of the United States Mafia empire.
One military official even “set up a network” of private military corporations that hired former Special Forces and CIA operations to gather intelligence and conduct secret operations in foreign countries to support “lethal action”: publicly subsidized, privatized ‘accountability.’ Such a network was “generally considered illegal” and was “improperly financed.” When the news of these networks emerged, the Pentagon said it shut them down and opened a “criminal investigation.” Turns out, they found nothing “criminal,” because two months later, the operations were continuing and had “become an important source of intelligence.” The networks of covert-ops corporations were being “managed” by Lockheed Martin, one of the largest military contractors in the world, while being “supervised” by the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command.
Admiral Eric T. Olson had been the head of Special Operations Command from 2007 to 2011, and in that year, Olson led a successful initiative – endorsed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates – to encourage the promotion of top special operations officials to higher positions in the whole military command structure. The “trend” was to continue under the following Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who previously headed the CIA from 2009 to 2011. When Olson left his position as head of Special Operations Command, he was replaced with Admiral William McRaven, who served as the head of JSOC from 2008 to 2011, having followed Stanley McChrystal.
By January of 2012, Obama was continuing with seeking to move further away from large-scale ground wars such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, and refocus on “a smaller, more agile force across Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East.” Surrounded by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in full uniforms adorned with medals, along with other top Pentagon officials, President Obama delivered a rare press briefing at the Pentagon where he said that, “our military will be leaner, but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority.” The priorities in this strategy would be “financing for defense and offense in cyberspace, for Special Operations forces and for the broad area of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.”
In February of 2012, Admiral William H. McRaven, the head of the Special Operations Command, was “pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy,” advocating a plan that “would give him more autonomy to position his forces and their war-fighting equipment where intelligence and global events indicate they are most needed,” notably with expansions in mind for Asia, Africa and Latin America. McRaven stated that, “It’s not really about Socom [Special Operations Command] running the global war on terrorism… I don’t think we’re ready to do that. What it’s about is how do I better support” the major regional military command structures.
In the previous decade, roughly 80% of US Special Operations forces were deployed in the Middle East, but McRaven wanted them to spread to other regions, as well as to be able to “quickly move his units to potential hot spots without going through the standard Pentagon process governing overseas deployments.” The Special Operations Command numbered around 66,000 people, double the number since 2001, and its budget had reached $10.5 billion, from $4.2 billion in 2001.
In March of 2012, a Special Forces commander, Admiral William H. McRaven, developed plans to expand special operations units, making them “the force of choice” against “emerging threats” over the following decade. McRaven’s Special Operations Command oversees more than 60,000 military personnel and civilians, saying in a draft paper circulated at the Pentagon that: “We are in a generational struggle… For the foreseeable future, the United States will have to deal with various manifestations of inflamed violent extremism. In order to conduct sustained operations around the globe, our special operations must adapt.” McRaven stated that Special Forces were operating in over 71 countries around the world.
The expansion of global special forces operations was largely in reaction to the increasingly difficult challenge of positioning large military forces around the world, and carrying out large scale wars and occupations, for which there is very little public support at home or abroad. In 2013, the Special Operations Command had forces operating in 92 different countries around the world, with one Congressional critic accusing McRaven of engaging in “empire building.” The expanded presence of these operations is a major factor contributing to “destabilization” around the world, especially in major war zones like Pakistan.
In 2013, McRaven’s Special Operations Command gained new authorities and an expanded budget, with McRaven testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee that, “On any day of the year you will find special operations forces [in] somewhere between 70 and 90 countries around the world.” In 2012, it was reported that such forces would be operating in 120 different countries by the end of the year.
In December of 2012, it was announced that the U.S. was sending 4,000 soldiers to 35 different African countries as “part of an intensifying Pentagon effort to train countries to battle extremists and give the U.S. a ready and trained force to dispatch to Africa if crises requiring the U.S. military emerge,” operating under the Pentagon’s newest regional command, AFRICOM, established in 2007.
By September of 2013, the U.S. military had been involved in various activities in Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia, among others, constructing bases, undertaking “security cooperation engagements, training exercises, advisory deployments, special operations missions, and a growing logistics network.”
In short, Obama’s global ‘war of terror’ has expanded to roughly 100 countries around the world, winding down the large-scale military invasions and occupations such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, and increasing the “small-scale” warfare operations of Special Forces, beyond the rule of law, outside Congressional and public oversight, conducting “snatch and grab” operations, training domestic repressive military forces in nations largely run by dictatorships to undertake their own operations on behalf of the ‘Global Godfather.’
Make no mistake: this is global warfare. Imagine for a moment the international outcry that would result from news of China or Russia conducting secret warfare operations in roughly 100 countries around the world. But when America does it, there’s barely a mention, save for the passing comments in the New York Times or the Washington Post portraying an unprecedented global campaign of terror as representative of Obama’s “values.” Well, indeed it is representative of Obama’s values, by virtue of the fact that he doesn’t have any.
Indeed, America has long been the Global Godfather applying the ‘Mafia Principles’ of international relations, lock-in-step with its Western lackey organized crime ‘Capo’ states such as Great Britain and France. Yet, under Obama, the president who had won public relations industry awards for his well-managed presidential advertising campaign promising “hope” and “change,” the empire has found itself waging war in roughly one hundred nations, conducting an unprecedented global terror campaign, increasing its abuses of human rights, war crimes and crimes against humanity, all under the aegis of the Nobel Peace Prize-winner Barack Obama.
Whether the president is Clinton, Bush, or Obama, the Empire of Terror wages on its global campaign of domination and subjugation, to the detriment of all humanity, save those interests that sit atop the constructed global hierarchy. It is in the interests of the ruling elite that America protects and projects its global imperial designs. It is in the interests of all humanity, then, that the Empire be opposed – and ultimately, deconstructed – no matter who sits in office, no matter who holds the title of the ‘high priest of hypocrisy’ (aka: President of the United States). It is the Empire that rules, and the Empire that destroys, and the Empire that must, in turn, be demolished.
The world at large – across the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Latin America – suffers the greatest hardships of the Western Mafia imperial system: entrenched poverty, exploitation, environmental degradation, war and destruction. The struggle against the Empire cannot we waged and won from the outside alone. The rest of the world has been struggling to survive against the Western Empire for decades, and, in truth, hundreds of years. For the struggle to succeed (and it can succeed), a strong anti-Empire movement must develop within the imperial powers themselves, and most especially within the United States. The future of humanity depends upon it.
Or… we could all just keep shopping and watching TV, blissfully blind to the global campaign of terror and war being waged in our names around the world. Certainly, such an option may be appealing, but ultimately, wars abroad come home to roost. As George Orwell once wrote: “The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact.”
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
 Max Fisher, “The Special Ops Command That’s Displacing The CIA,” The Atlantic, 1 December 2009:
 Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. Is Said to Expand Secret Actions in Mideast,” The New York Times, 24 May 2010:
 Eric Black, “Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh describes ‘executive assassination ring’,” Minnesota Post, 11 March 2009:
 John D. Danusiewicz, “Cheney Praises ‘Silent Professionals’ of Special Operations,” American Forces Press Service, 11 June 2005:
 Max Fisher, “The Special Ops Command That’s Displacing The CIA,” The Atlantic, 1 December 2009:
 Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Halted Some Raids in Afghanistan,” The New York Times, 9 March 2009:
 Jeremy Scahill, The Secret US War in Pakistan. The Nation: November 23, 2009: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20091207/scahill
 Adam Ciralsky, “Tycoon, Contractor, Soldier, Spy,” Vanity Fair, January 2010:
 Mark Mazzetti, “C.I.A. Sought Blackwater’s Help to Kill Jihadists,” The New York Times, 19 August 2009:
 R. Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick, “Blackwater tied to clandestine CIA raids,” The Washington Post, 11 December 2009:
 James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, “C.I.A. Said to Use Outsiders to Put Bombs on Drones,” The New York Times, 20 August 2009:
 James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, “Blackwater Guards Tied to Secret C.I.A. Raids,” The New York Times, 10 December 2009:
 Jeremy Scahill, “The (Not So) Secret (Anymore) US War in Pakistan,” The Nation, 1 December 2010:
 March Ambinder, “Obama Gives Commanders Wide Berth for Secret Warfare,” The Atlantic, 25 May 2010:
 Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. Is Said to Expand Secret Actions in Mideast,” The New York Times, 24 May 2010:
 Marc Ambinder, “Obama Gives Commanders Wide Berth for Secret Warfare,” 25 May 2010:
 Max Fisher, “The End of Dick Cheney’s Kill Squads,” The Atlantic, 4 June 2010:
 Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe, “U.S. ‘secret war’ expands globally as Special Operations forces take larger role,” The Washington Post, 4 June 2010:
 Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti, “Contractors Tied to Effort to Track and Kill Militants,” The New York Times, 14 March 2010:
 Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. Is Still Using Private Spy Ring, Despite Doubts,” The New York Times, 15 May 2010:
 Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, “Special Operations Veterans Rise in Hierarchy,” The New York Times, 8 August 2011:
 Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker, “Obama Puts His Stamp on Strategy for a Leaner Military,” The New York Times, 5 January 2012:
 Eric Schmitt, Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker, “Admiral Seeks Freer Hand in Deployment of Elite Forces,” The New York Times, 12 February 2012:
 David S. Cloud, “U.S. special forces commander seeks to expand operations,” Los Angeles Times, 4 May 2012:
 Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, “A Commander Seeks to Chart a New Path for Special Operations,” The New York Times, 1 May 2013:
 Nick Turse, “How Obama’s destabilizing the world,” Salon, 19 September 2011:
 Walter Pincus, “Special Operations wins in 2014 budget,” The Washington Post, 11 April 2013:
 David Isenberg, “The Globalisation of U.S. Special Operations Forces,” IPS News, 24 May 2012:
 Tom Bowman, “U.S. Military Builds Up Its Presence In Africa,” NPR, 25 December 2012:
Lolita C. Baldor, “Army teams going to Africa as terror threat grows,” Yahoo! News, 24 December 2012:
 Nick Turse, “The Startling Size of US Military Operations in Africa,” Mother Jones, 6 September 2013:
Egypt Under Empire, Part 3: From Nasser to Mubarak
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally published at The Hampton Institute
Part 2: The “Threat” Of Arab Nationalism
Between 1952 and 2011, Egypt was ruled by three military dictators: Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. Nasser placated labour unrest and imposed many social programs that benefited the population. Sadat subsequently began to break down the ‘social contract’ with Egyptian society, and when Mubarak came to power in 1981, the following three decades witnessed the imposition of a neoliberal order, complete with crony-capitalists, corrupted bureaucracies and a repressive police force. Three decades of increased poverty, polarized wealth and power, and increased labour unrest all laid the groundwork for the 2011 popular uprising.
As Nasser came to power in Egypt in 1952, he successfully crushed labour militancy in the country, and even executed two labour leaders as a symbol of the new regime’s lack of tolerance for radical labour actions. Nasser engaged in a power struggle for a brief period, before assuming complete power in 1954, at which point independent political organizations were banned and he “ushered in a populist-corporatist pact between labour and the state,” in which “the state controls the bulk of the economic, political, and social domains, leaving little space for society to develop itself and for interest groups to surface, compete, and act autonomously.”
Labour groups were organized “into a limited number of singular, compulsory, non-competitive, hierarchically ordered and functionally differentiated categories.” In 1957, the government created the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions (GFETU), monopolizing labour unions under the government, purging the radical leaders and co-opting the moderates. Since this period, “trade unions have functioned as an arm of the state rather than as democratic representatives of workers.” Thus, labour activism and actions largely subsided throughout the 1950s and 60s.
Despite violent repression of independent political organizations, communists and militant labour groups, Nasser became incredibly popular both within Egypt and across the wider Arab world. He established a one-party state and a large security apparatus “to crush any and all dissent.” However, his articulation and actions related to Arab nationalism and Arab socialism – the twin pillars of his ‘revolution’ – sought to free Egypt and the Arab world from imperial domination, and to undertake a social revolution domestically as “part of an informal social contract where the population accepted constraints on its political freedom in exchange for the promise of higher living standards and a stronger nation.”
A large network of social services was established, which “provided employment, education and healthcare, as well as subsidized transportation and food.” This program also entailed “spending large sums of money on the military, which was seen as the protector of the nation from external enemies.” These social programs helped to “create a modern middle class” in Egypt. The allegiance of the middle class to the authoritarianism of the regime was secured by the government guaranteeing state employment to all university graduates.
Nasser also implemented major agrarian reforms, which between 1952 and 1961, “redistributed about one seventh of the country’s cultivable land from large landowners… passed on to the landless and near landless fellahin rather than kept for direct use by the state.” This led to an “improvement of rural incomes and agricultural production,” and attempted to undermine the influence of the large landowning class of Egyptians.
With the defeat of Egypt in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Nasser’s government suffered a humiliating defeat, and Nasser’s death in 1970 led to the emergence of a new dictator, Anwar Sadat, also emerging from the military, who ruled the country from 1970 until 1981. Undertaking a policy of ‘de-nasserisation,’ Sadat sought to undo many of Nasser’s more progressive policies, earning him the favour of the West. Among such policies were to return the “confiscated” land to the large landowners within Egypt by employing an ‘open door’ market-oriented program called infitah. The intifah helped to create the conditions for a real estate and credit boom, ultimately adding to Egypt’s foreign debt as the country became increasingly dependent upon foreign financing and ‘investment.’
The infitah – or “opening” – wrote Hibbard and Layton, “offered an alternative vision of economic development to that of Arab socialism;” beginning a process of liberalization and an influx of Western capital, “to integrate Egypt into the Western capitalist system.” Sadat’s policies also oversaw the gradual elimination of Nasser’s social programs and “the abandonment of Nasser’s anti-imperialism.” The country quickly became more trade dependent, having to import staple foods, and foreign financing was limited to non-productive sectors of the economy. Egypt increasingly exported its labour to the Persian Gulf, which helped to reduce the problems of unemployment at home, and increased the country’s reliance upon remittances from its foreign workers sending their wages back home. In 1974, labour remittances, oil exports, tourism, foreign aid and the Suez Canal accounted for nearly a third of Egypt’s foreign income, a number that exploded to 75% in 1980. A new commercial elite developed with extensive ties to the state, while economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society accelerated.
Such policies did not occur without resistance, however, with opposition emanating from academics, state bureaucrats and workers, with strikes and “popular unrest” occurring throughout the mid-1970s, with a major transport worker strike in 1976 and large bread riots in 1977. Sadat responded to the labour unrest and food riots by sending in the military to crush the protests. Sadat oversaw the construction of an alliance between the large landowning class, the business class, and the conservative religious elite, and even sought to build ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. Further, Sadat rebuilt ties with the United States, and even established an alliance and peace treaty with Israel, negotiated by the Carter administration in the U.S. as the 1979 Camp David Peace Accords. With that, Sadat lost a great deal of popular support, and Egypt’s Islamists rejected him. Sadat was ultimately assassinated by an Islamist group in 1981.
In 1981, Hosni Mubarak then took control of Egypt, also emerging from within the military and continuing the trend of maintaining the military dictatorship established since 1952, and deepening the economic ‘reforms’ begun under Sadat. Under Mubarak, the military and economic elites became more closely integrated, and with the imposition on the Emergency Law following Sadat’s assassination, Mubarak wielded more authoritarian power, suspending the constitution and dismantling the rights of citizens, also allowing for “detention without charge, press censorship and other restrictions on civil liberties.” A new – parallel – legal system was constructed, relying upon military courts, purportedly for use against ‘terrorists’ but used to persecute any and all forms of political opponents.
Mubarak oversaw – during the 1980s and 1990s – a massively expanded entrenchment of neoliberal economic and social reforms in Egypt. Mubarak also pursued a major campaign against Islamists, who were making political gains with segments of the population by capitalizing on the poverty and popular anger toward the government, largely brought on as a result of the economic reforms. Mubarak’s Egypt thus became a major human rights violator, all the while receiving immense financial and military aid from Western governments, namely, the United States. The role of the security services – in particular the police forces under the control of the Interior Ministry – became more predominant throughout Mubarak’s rule, with torture and other abuses widespread.
The military plays a very large role in the economy as well, and under Mubarak, military officials were appointed as regional governors, village chiefs and put in charge of state-run companies. The military itself has undertaken large land expropriations, runs companies and factories, giving it a major role to play in manufacturing, agriculture, construction, gas and consumer industries. The military, however, keeps most of its economic activities secret, and does not pay taxes while often using “conscripted labourers” for its workforce.
Mubarak began to implement further ‘reforms’ to the agrarian sector along neoliberal lines during the 1980s. The Agriculture Minister Yusuf Wali began implementing agriculture sector liberalization policies in 1986, working “hand in hand with USAID and the World Bank.” The U.S. stressed “market-oriented” reforms and promoted export-led growth, as USAID invested $1.26 billion in the agricultural reforms. These reforms continued over the 1990s, and resulted in widespread dispossession of small farmers and a further alliance between economic and military-political elites.
The major neoliberal reforms in Egypt arrived under Mubarak with the signing of a 1991 Economic Restructuring and Adjustment Program with the IMF, demanding liberalization of trade and prices, privatization, and labour ‘flexibility,’ as well as the removal of several social safety net measures.
The ‘new economic elite’ that emerged in Egypt as a result of the IMF’s programs of the 1990s were closely tied to the ruling party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), and Mubarak’s son, Gamal, who headed the NDP. Prominent businessmen became more influential in policy-making circles and “the number of businessmen elected to Egypt’s parliament increased from 8 in 1995 to 150 by 2005.” Public spending on social services was dramatically cut, state-owned industries were privatized and employees fired, resulting in “staggering hardships for the majority.”
As labour was under sustained attack, they fought back, with twice as many labour protests in the 1990s than took place during the 1980s. With the 1991 IMF program, Egypt was firmly entrenched in a neoliberal ‘order,’ which would accelerate over the following two decades. Fifteen years following the IMF program’s beginning – by 2006 – Egyptian workers had been subjected to continuous hardships and exponentially increased their resistance to it.
The privatization program led to the unprecedented plundering of the Egyptian economy into the hands of relatively few economic elites. Out of 314 state-run companies, 209 were privatized by 2005, “leading to a massive displacement of public sector workers, and with it a further weakening of the struggling labour movement.” The number of workers employed by public sector companies was cut in half between 1994 and 2001. The IMF praised the privatization program in 2006 for having “surpassed expectations.” Wealth and power was concentrated “in the hands of a tiny layer of the country’s elite,” and a few large conglomerates dominated the major sectors of the economy. As Henry Veltmeyer wrote, “Mubarak – and the Egyptian state as a whole – represented an entire capitalist class.”
Neoliberal reforms were further implemented under Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif (2005-2011), which saw businessmen take a more direct role in managing the state, with six major government ministries being run by six major businessmen in the areas of trade and industry, housing, transportation, health, agriculture and social welfare. Taxes were dramatically cut for corporations and elites and dramatically increased for the rest of the population. Corruption and embezzlement of public funds was rampant as the privatization programs effectively subsidized “the private sector at the expense of the nation as a whole.”
The costs of food, fuel and transportation skyrocketed, while Prime Minister Nazif instructed protesting Egyptians to “grow up.” Thus, in 2006, Egypt witnessed a new wave of labour unrest. Independent forms of worker organization re-emerged and in 2006 alone, “there were 220 major strikes involving tens of thousands of workers in the largest strike wave that Egypt had seen in decades,” and which were increasingly linking up with peasant movements protesting against the large landowners.
In 2006, a three-day strike of workers at a weaving and spinning factory in El-Mahalla was “a major turning point in the history of the Egyptian workers’ movement,” marking a total work-stoppage and for a much longer duration than strike action prior and helped in the formation of new workers associations with more democratic accountability, directly challenging the state monopoly over unions.
The strike was “the largest and most politically significant industrial strike since a dispute in the same workplace in 1947,” having roughly 24,000 workers participating, with over 10,000 occupying the factory for three days and nights, and on the fourth day the government granted a concession by offering a 45-day bonus. This set off a wave of worker protests and strikes across the country over the following years. Between 2006 and 2009, an estimated 1.7 million workers participated in protest actions, including private and public industrial workers, postal workers, educational administrators, workers in transportation, tax collection, healthcare, and other sectors. The recent years of labour unrest has been referred to as “the largest social movement in over half a century” taking place within Egypt.
Between 2006 and 2008, Egypt recorded annual growth rates of 7%, and in 2009 – while much of the world was experiencing negative growth – Egypt recorded a 4.6% growth rate. However, between 2008 and 2009, poverty in Egypt increased from 20% to 23.4%, while roughly 40% of Egyptians live on less than $2 per day, one-third of the population is illiterate, and youth make up roughly 90% of the unemployed. Thus, while the neoliberal reforms of the previous three decades produced high growth rates, “it has [also] led to worsening living standards for the majority of the population and the increased concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority.” Between 1998 and 2010, there were between 2 and 4 million workers who took part in between 3,400 and 4,000 strikes and other labour actions. There were 266 strikes and labour actions in 2006, 614 in 2007, and they reached roughly 1,900 in 2009.
As strikes escalated, the demands for higher wages and more democratic union representation evolved into demands for the end of the Mubarak regime (and the neoliberal reign of Prime Minister Nazif). One strike organizer in 2007 told a radio program, “We are challenging the regime.” At strikes, workers were chanting, “We will not be ruled by the World Bank! We will not be ruled by colonialism!” Images of signs at protests circulated, reading, “Down with the Government. We want a Free Government.” One strike leader who was arrested in 2007, said upon his release: “We want a change in the structure and hierarchy of the union system in this country… The way unions in this country are organized is completely wrong, from top to bottom. It is organized to make it look like our representatives have been elected, when really they are appointed by the government.”
The second Palestinian Intifada in 2000 helped spawn new social movements within Egypt. The Cairo Conference was held in 2002 in an attempt to organize disparate social groups around two main shared positions: anti-neoliberalism and anti-war. In 2004, this led to the formation of the Kefaya (“Enough”), the Egyptian Movement for Change. This was aided along by a major demographic change within the country, where by 2011, roughly 52% of Egypt’s population was under the age of 25, and it was this group which disproportionately lacked employment, with roughly 95% of post-secondary educated youth being unemployed or working in fields unrelated to their education with very low pay. It was this demographic which became increasingly mobilized around non-ideological movements such as Kefaya, organizing a series of anti-Mubarak protests between 2004 and 2005, demanding democracy and accountability. The younger members of this group then established the April 6 Movement, “an organization that emerged in support of the 2008 strike by textile workers in Mohalla al-Kubra.”
A number of other social groups and protests organizations emerged from 2004 onwards, including Students for Change, Youth for Change, University Professors for Change, Workers for Change, Artists for Change, and the People’s Campaign for Change, among many others. In 2005, as Kefaya organized a massive anti-Mubarak protest, an organization of Egyptian intellectuals was formed as the National Assembly for Democratic Transition. Lawyers, journalists and other professions increasingly took part in protests.
The April 6 Youth Movement began to support the Mahalla workers’ strike in 2008, with founder Ahmed Maher having started a Facebook page that quickly reached over 70,000 members. As support grew, the government crack down ensued, with roughly 500 activists arrested over the following two months, including Maher (who was also tortured).
Since the Mubarak government made it illegal to hold meetings of more than five people, with a heavy-handed approach to information control and news censorship, Facebook and other Internet-based social media platforms quickly became very popular among young Egyptians. Roughly one in nine people in Egypt have Internet access, and 9% of those who have access used Facebook, making it the most visited website in the country, following Google and Yahoo. The Facebook page for the April 6 movement, reported the New York Times in 2009, was the page “with the most dynamic debates” among young Egyptians, “most of whom had never been involved with politics before joining the group.” The Facebook page provided a venue for young Egyptians “to assemble virtually and communicate freely about their grievances.”
The United States has been a major sponsor of the Egyptian dictatorship, giving it extensive leverage with the regime. Between 1948 and 2011, the U.S. provided Egypt with a total of $71.6 billion in bilateral foreign aid (most of which consisted of an annual aid package of $1.3 billion in military aid from 1987 to present), and since the peace treaty with Israel was signed in 1979, Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. ‘aid’ in the world (after Israel).
Another large international sponsor of the Egyptian dictatorship was the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which also heaped praise upon the Tunisian dictatorship of Ben Ali prior to its overthrow. In a 2010 report on Egypt, the IMF noted that the country had been following the Fund’s advice on economic reforms, though continued to recommend “phasing out energy subsidies” and increasing privatizations. The IMF further noted that, “the relationship between Egypt and the World Bank Group has been transformed and markedly improved over the last few years as a result of the progress Egypt has made in implementing reforms.”
In 2010, labour unrest continued throughout the country, with one strike organizer telling the press in May of 2010, “The government represents the marriage between authority and money – and this marriage needs to be broken up… We call for the resignation of Ahmad Nazif’s government because it works only for businessmen and ignores social justice.”
Egypt was clearly on the edge of an uprising, all that was required was a ‘spark’ – which came in the form of the Tunisian uprising in December of 2010 and January of 2011. With the overthrow of the long-time dictator, Ben Ali, in Tunisia, Egyptians were motivated to mobilize against Mubarak.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, Research Director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and hosts a weekly podcast show at BoilingFrogsPost.
 Rabab El-Mahdi, “Labour protests in Egypt: causes and meanings,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), page 390.
 Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), pages 198-199.
 Ibid, page 199.
 Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 390.
 Ray Bush, “Coalitions for Dispossession and Networks of Resistance? Land, Politics and Agrarian Reform in Egypt,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (Vol. 38, No. 3, December 2011), page 395.
 Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), page 200.
 Ibid, pages 200-201.
 Ibid, pages 201-202.
 Ibid, pages 202-203.
 Angela Joya, “The Egyptian revolution: crisis of neoliberalism and the potential for democratic politics,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), page 372.
 Ray Bush, op. cit., pages 396-397.
 Angela Joya, op. cit., page 370.
 Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, op. cit., page 202.
 Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 395.
 Henry Veltmeyer, “Unrest and Change: Dispatches from the Frontline of a Class War in Egypt,” Globalizations (Vol. 8, No. 5, October 2011), page 612.
 Angela Joya, op. cit., pages 370-371.
 Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 395.
 Henry Veltmeyer, op. cit., page 612.
 Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., pages 397-399.
 Ibid, pages 387-388.
 Henry Veltmeyer, op. cit., page 611.
 Joel Beinin, “Egyptian Workers and January 25th: A Social Movement in Historical Context,” Social Research (Vol. 79, No. 2, Summer 2012), page 326.
 Ibrahim Awad, “Breaking Out of Authoritarianism: 18 Months of Political Transition in Egypt,” Constellations (Vol. 20, No. 2, 2013), page 278.
 Joel Beinin, op. cit., page 331.
 Angela Joya, op. cit., pages 368-369.
 Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), pages 206-207.
 Angela Joya, op. cit., page 369.
 Ellen Knickmeyer, “Fledgling Rebellion on Facebook Is Struck Down by Force in Egypt,” The New York Times, 18 May 2008:
 Samantha M. Shapiro, “Revolution, Facebook-Style,” The New York Times, 22 January 2009:
 Jeremy M. Sharp, “Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations,” Congressional Research Service, 27 June 2013: page 9.
 Patrick Bond, “Neoliberal threats to North Africa,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), pages 483-484.
 Joel Beinin, “Egyptian Workers and January 25th: A Social Movement in Historical Context,” Social Research (Vol. 79, No. 2, Summer 2012), page 339.
“Human Beings Have No Right to Water” and other Words of Wisdom from Your Friendly Neighborhood Global Oligarch
“Human Beings Have No Right to Water” and other Words of Wisdom from Your Friendly Neighborhood Global Oligarch
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
In the 2005 documentary, We Feed the World, then-CEO of Nestlé, the world’s largest foodstuff corporation, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, shared some of his own views and ‘wisdom’ about the world and humanity. Brabeck believes that nature is not “good,” that there is nothing to worry about with GMO foods, that profits matter above all else, that people should work more, and that human beings do not have a right to water.
Today, he explained, “people believe that everything that comes from Nature is good,” marking a large change in perception, as previously, “we always learnt that Nature could be pitiless.” Humanity, Brabeck stated, “is now in the position of being able to provide some balance to Nature, but in spite of this we have something approaching a shibboleth that everything that comes from Nature is good.” He then referenced the “organic movement” as an example of this thinking, premising that “organic is best.” But rest assured, he corrected, “organic is not best.” In 15 years of GMO food consumption in the United States, “not one single case of illness has occurred.” In spite of this, he noted, “we’re all so uneasy about it in Europe, that something might happen to us.” This view, according to Brabeck, is “hypocrisy more than anything else.”
Water, Brabeck correctly pointed out, “is of course the most important raw material we have today in the world,” but added: “It’s a question of whether we should privatize the normal water supply for the population. And there are two different opinions on the matter. The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right.” Brabeck elaborated on this “extreme” view: “That means that as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution.” The other view, and thus, the “less extreme” view, he explained, “says that water is a foodstuff like any other, and like any other foodstuff it should have a market value. Personally I believe it’s better to give a foodstuff a value so that we’re all aware that it has its price, and then that one should take specific measures for the part of the population that has no access to this water, and there are many different possibilities there.” The biggest social responsibility of any CEO, Brabeck explained:
is to maintain and ensure the successful and profitable future of his enterprise. For only if we can ensure our continued, long term existence will we be in the position to actively participate in the solution of the problems that exist in the world. We’re in the position of being able to create jobs… If you want to create work, you have to work yourself, not as it was in the past where existing work was distributed. If you remember the main argument for the 35-hour week was that there was a certain amount of work and it would be better if we worked less and distributed the work amongst more people. That has proved quite clearly to be wrong. If you want to create more work you have to work more yourself. And with that we’ve got to create a positive image of the world for people, and I see absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be positive about the future. We’ve never had it so good, we’ve never had so much money, we’ve never been so healthy, we’ve never lived as long as we do today. We have everything we want and we still go around as if we were in mourning for something.
While watching a promotional video of a Nestlé factory in Japan, Brabeck commented, “You can see how modern these factories are; highly robotized, almost no people.” And of course, for someone claiming to be interested in creating jobs, there appears to be no glaring hypocrisy in praising factories with “almost no people.”
It’s important to note that this is not simply the personal view of some random corporate executive, but rather, that it reflects an institutional reality of corporations: the primary objective of a corporation – above all else – is to maximize short-term profits for shareholders. By definition, then, workers should work more and be paid less, the environment is only a concern so much as corporations have unhindered access to control and exploit the resources of the environment, and ultimately, it’s ‘good’ to replace workers with automation and robotics so that you don’t have to pay fewer or any workers, and thus, maximize profits. With this institutional – and ideological – structure (which was legally constructed by the state), concern for the environment, for water, for the world and for humanity can only be promoted if it can be used to advance corporate profits, or if it can be used for public relations purposes. Ultimately, it has to be hypocritical. A corporate executive cannot take an earnest concern in promoting the general welfare of the world, the environment, or humanity, because that it not the institutional function of a corporation, and no CEO that did such would be allowed to remain as CEO.
This is why it matters what Peter Brabeck thinks: he represents the type of individual – and the type of thinking – that is a product of and a requirement for running a successful multinational corporation, of the corporate culture itself. To the average person viewing his interview, it might come across as some sort of absurd tirade you’d expect from a Nightline interview with some infamous serial killer, if that killer had been put in charge of a multinational corporation:
People have a ‘right’ to water? What an absurd notion! Next thing you’ll say is that child labour is bad, polluting the environment is bad, or that people have some sort of ‘right’ to… life! Imagine the audacity! All that matters is ‘profits,’ and what a wonderful thing it would be to have less people and more profits! Water isn’t a right, it’s only a necessity, so naturally, it makes sense to privatize it so that large multinational corporations like Nestlé can own the world’s water and ensure that only those who can pay can drink. Problem solved!
Sadly, though intentionally satirical, this is the essential view of Brabeck and others like him. And disturbingly, Brabeck’s influence is not confined to the board of Nestlé. Brabeck became the CEO of Nestlé in 1997, a position he served until 2008, at which time he resigned as CEO but remained as chairman of the board of directors of Nestlé. Apart from Nestlé, Brabeck serves as vice chairman of the board of directors of L’Oréal, the world’s largest cosmetics and ‘beauty’ company; vice chairman of the board of Credit Suisse Group, one of the world’s largest banks; and is a member of the board of directors of Exxon Mobil, one of the world’s largest oil and energy conglomerates.
He was also a former board member of one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical conglomerates, Roche. Brabeck also serves as a member of the Foundation Board for the World Economic Forum (WEF), “the guardian of [the WEF’s] mission, values and brand… responsible for inspiring business and public confidence through an exemplary standard of governance.” Brabeck is also a member of the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), a group of European corporate CEOs which directly advise and help steer policy for the European Union and its member countries. He has also attended meetings of the Bilderberg group, an annual forum of 130 corporate, banking, media, political and military elites from Western Europe and North America.
Thus, through his multiple board memberships on some of the largest corporations on earth, as well as his leadership and participation in some of the leading international think tanks, forums and business associations, Brabeck has unhindered access to political and other elites around the world. When he speaks, powerful people listen.
Brabeck has become an influential voice on issues of food and water, and not surprisingly so, considering he is chairman of the largest food service corporation on earth. Brabeck’s career goes back to when he was working for Nestlé in Chile in the early 1970s, when the left-leaning democratically-elected president Salvador Allende was “threatening to nationalize milk production, and Nestlé’s Chilean operations along with it.” A 1973 Chilean military coup – with the support of the CIA – put an end to that “threat” by bringing in the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who murdered thousands of Chileans and established a ‘national security state’, imposing harsh economic measures to promote the interests of elite corporate and financial interests (what later became known as ‘neoliberalism’).
In a 2009 article for Foreign Policy magazine, Brabeck declared: “Water is the new gold, and a few savvy countries and companies are already banking on it.” In a 2010 article for the Guardian, Brabeck wrote that, “[w]hile our collective attention has been focused on depleting supplies of fossil fuels, we have been largely ignoring the simple fact that, unless radical changes are made, we will run out of water first, and soon.” What the world needs, according to Brabeck, is “to set a price that more accurately values our most precious commodity,” and that, [t]he era of water at throwaway prices is coming to an end.” In other words, water should become increasingly expensive, according to Brabeck. Countries, he wrote, should recognize “that not all water use should be regarded as equal.”
In a discussion with the Wall Street Journal in 2011, Brabeck spoke against the use of biofuels – converting food into fuel – and suggested that this was the primary cause of increased food prices (though in reality, food price increases are primarily the result of speculation by major banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase). Brabeck noted the relationship between his business – food – and major geopolitical issues, stating: “What we call today the Arab Spring… really started as a protest against ever-increasing food prices.” One “solution,” he suggested, was to provide a “market” for water as “the best guidance that you can have.” If water was a ‘market’ product, it wouldn’t be wasted on growing food for fuel, but focus on food for consumption – and preferably (in his view), genetically modified foods. After all, he said, “if the market forces are there the investments are going to be made.” Brabeck suggested that the world could “feed nine billion people,” providing them with water and fuel, but only on the condition that “we let the market do its thing.”
Brabeck co-authored a 2011 article for the Wall Street Journal in which he stated that in order to provide “universal access to clean water, there is simply no other choice but to price water at a reasonable rate,” and that roughly 1.8 billion people on earth lack access to clean drinking water “because of poor water management and governance practices, and the lack of political will.” Brabeck’s job then, as chairman of Nestlé, is to help create the “political will” to make water into a modern “market” product.
Now before praising Brabeck for his ‘enlightened’ activism on the issue of water scarcity and providing the world’s poor with access to clean drinking water (which are very real and urgent issues needing attention), Brabeck himself has stressed that his interest in the issue of water has nothing to do with actually addressing these issues in a meaningful way, or for the benefit of the earth and humanity. No, his motivation is much more simple than this.
In a 2010 interview for BigThink, Brabeck noted: “If Nestlé and myself have become very vocal in the area of water, it was not because of any philanthropic idea, it was very simple: by analyzing… what is the single most important factor for the sustainability of Nestlé, water came as [the] number one subject.” This is what led Brabeck and Nestlé into the issue of water “sustainability,” he explained. “I think this is part of a company’s responsibility,” and added: “Now, if I was in a different industry, I would have a different subject, certainly, that I would be focusing on.”
Brabeck was asked if industries should “have a role in finding solutions to environmental issues that affect their business,” to which he replied: “Yes, because it is in the interest of our shareholders… If I want to convince my shareholders that this industry is a long-term sustainable industry, I have to ensure that all aspects that are vital for this company are sustainable… When I see, like in our case, that one of the aspects – which is water, which is needed in order to produce the raw materials for our company – if this is not sustainable, then my enterprise is not sustainable. So therefore I have to do something about it. So shareholder interest and societal interest are common.”
Thus, when Brabeck and Nestlé promote “water sustainability,” what they are really promoting is the sustainability of Nestlé’s access to and control over water resources. How is that best achieved? Well, since Nestlé is a large multinational corporation, the natural solution is to promote ‘market’ control of water, which means privatization and monopolization of the world’s water supply into a few corporate hands.
In a 2011 conversation with the editor of Time Magazine at the Council on Foreign Relations, Brabeck referred to a recent World Economic Forum meeting where the issue of “corporate social responsibility” was the main subject of discussion, when corporate executives “started to talk about [how] we have to give back to society,” Brabeck spoke up and stated: “I don’t feel that we have to give back to society, because we have not been stealing from society.” Brabeck explained to the Council on Foreign Relations that he felt such a concept was the purview of philanthropy, and “this was a problem for the CEO of any public company, because I personally believe that no CEO of a public company should be allowed to make philanthropy… I think anybody who does philanthropy should do it with his own money and not the money of the shareholders.” Engaging in corporate social responsibility, Brabeck explained, “was an additional cost.”
At the 2008 World Economic Forum, a consortium of corporations and international organizations formed the 2030 Water Resources Group, chaired by Peter Brabeck. It was established in order to “shape the agenda” for the discussion of water resources, and to create “new models for collaboration” between public and private enterprises. The governing council of the 2030 WRG is chaired by Brabeck and includes the executive vice president and CEO of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the investment arm of the World Bank, the administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the chief business officer and managing director of the World Economic Forum, the president of the African Development Bank, the chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, the president of the Asian Development Bank, the director-general of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, and the chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, among others.
At the World Water Forum in 2012 – an event largely attended by the global proponents of water privatization, Nestlé among their most enthusiastic supporters – Brabeck suggested that the 2030 Water Resources Group represents a “global public-private initiative” which could help in “providing tools and information on best practice” as well as “guidance and new policy ideas on water resource scarcity.”
Brabeck and Nestlé had been in talks with the Canadian provincial government of Alberta in planning for a potential “water exchange,” to – in the words of Maclean’s magazine – “turn water into money.” In 2012, the University of Alberta bestowed an honorary degree upon Peter Brabeck “for his work as a responsible steward for water around the world.” Protests were organized at the university to oppose the ‘honor,’ with a representative from the public interest group, the Council of Canadians, noting: “I’m afraid that the university is positioning themselves on the side of the commodifiers, the people who want to say that water is not a human right that everyone has the right to, but is just a product that can be bought and sold.” A professor at the university stated: “I’m ashamed at this point, about what the university is doing and I’m also very concerned about the way the president of the university has been demonizing people who oppose this.” As another U of A professor stated: “What Nestlé does is take what clean water there is in which poor people are relying on, bottle it and then sell it to wealthier people at an exorbitant profit.”
The Global Water Privatization Agenda
Water privatization is an extremely vicious operation, where the quality of – and access to – water resources diminishes or even vanishes, while the costs explode. When it comes to the privatization of water, there is no such thing as “competition” in how the word is generally interpreted: there are only a handful of global corporations that undertake massive water privatizations. The two most prominent are the French-based Suez Environment and Veolia Environment, but also include Thames Water, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, among others. For a world in which food has already been turned into a “market commodity” and has been “financialized,” leading to massive food price increases, hunger riots, and immense profits for a few corporations and banks, the prospect of water privatization is even more disturbing.
The agenda of water privatization is organized at the international level, largely promoted through the World Water Forum and the World Water Council. The World Water Council (WWC) was established in 1996 as a French-based non-profit organization with over 400 members from intergovernmental organizations, government agencies, corporations, corporate-dominated NGOs and environmental organizations, water companies, international organizations and academic institutions.
Every three years, the WWC hosts a World Water Forum, the first of which took place in 1997, and the 6th conference in 2012 was attended by thousands of participants from countries and institutions all over the world get together to decide the future of water, and of course, promote the privatization of this essential resource to human life. The 6th World Water Forum, hosted in Marseilles, France, was primarily sponsored by the French government and the World Water Council, but included a number of other contributors, including: the African Development Bank, African Union Commission, Arab Water Council, Asian Development Bank, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the European Investment Bank, the European Parliament, the European Water Association, the Food and Agricultural Organization, the Global Environment Facility, Inter-American Development Bank, Nature Conservancy, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Organization of American States (OAS), Oxfam, the World Bank, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the World Health Organization, the World Wildlife Fund; and a number of corporate sponsors, including: RioTinto Alcan, EDF, Suez Environment, Veolia, and HSBC. Clearly, they have human and environmental interests at heart.
The World Bank is a major promoter of water privatization, as much of its aid to ‘developing’ countries was earmarked for water privatization schemes which inevitably benefit major corporations, in co-operation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the U.S. Treasury. One of the first major water privatization schemed funded by the World Bank was in Argentina, for which the Bank “advised” the government of Argentina in 1991 on the bidding and contracting of the water concession, setting a model for what would be promoted around the world. The World Bank’s investment arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), loaned roughly $1 billion to the Argentine government for three water and sewage projects in the country, and even bought a 5% stake in the concession, thus becoming a part owner. When the concession for Buenos Aires was opened up, the French sent representatives from Veolia and Suez, which formed the consortium Aguas Argentinas, and of course, the costs for water services went up. Between 1993, when the contract with the French companies was signed, and 1997, the Aguas Argentinas consortium gained more influence with Argentine President Carlos Menem and his Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo, who would hold meetings with the president of Suez as well as the President of France, Jacques Chirac. By 2002, the water rates (cost of water) in Buenos Aires had increased by 177% since the beginning of the concession.
In the 1990s, the amount of World Bank water privatization projects increased ten-fold, with 31% of World Bank water supply and sanitation projects between 1990 and 2001 including conditions of private-sector involvement, despite the fact that the projects consistently failed in terms of providing cheaper and better water to larger areas. But of course, they were highly profitable for large corporations, so naturally, they continued to be promoted and supported (and subsidized).
One of the most notable examples of water privatization schemes was in Bolivia, the poorest country in South America. In 1998, an IMF loan to Bolivia demanded conditions of “structural reform,” the selling off of “all remaining public enterprises,” including water. In 1999, the World Bank told the Bolivian government to end its subsidies for water services, and that same year, the government leased the Cochabamba Water System to a consortium of multinational corporations, Aguas del Tunari, which included the American corporation Bechtel. After granting the consortium a 40-year lease, the government passed a law which would make residents pay the full cost of water services. In January of 2000, protests in Cochabamba shut down the city for four days, striking and establishing roadblocks, mobilizing against the water price increases which doubled or tripled their water bills. Protests continued in February, met with riot police and tear gas, injuring 175 people.
By April, the protests began to spread to other Bolivian cities and rural communities, and during a “state of siege” (essentially martial law) declared by Bolivian president Hugo Banzer, a 17-year old boy, Victor Hugo Daza, was shot and killed by a Bolivian Army captain, who was trained as the U.S. military academy, the School of the Americas. As riot police continued to meet protesters with tear gas and live ammunition, more people were killed, and dozens more injured. On April 10, the government conceded to the people, ending the contract with the corporate consortium and granting the people to control their water system through a grassroots coalition led by the protest organizers.
Two days later, World Bank President James Wolfensohn stated that the people of Bolivia should pay for their water services. On August 6, 2001, the president of Bolivia resigned, and the Vice President Jorge Quiroga, a former IBM executive, was sworn in as the new president to serve the remainder of the term until August of 2002. Meanwhile, the water consortium, deeply offended at the prospect of people taking control of their own resources, attempted to take legal action against the government of Bolivia for violating the contract. Bechtel was seeking $25 million in compensation for its “losses,” while recording a yearly profit of $14 billion, whereas the national budget of Bolivia was a mere $2.7 billion. The situation ultimately led to a type of social revolution which brought to power the first indigenous Bolivian leader in the country’s history, Evo Morales.
This, of course, has not stopped the World Bank and IMF – and the imperial governments which finance them – from promoting water privatization around the world for the exclusive benefit of a handful of multinational corporations. The World Bank promotes water privatization across Africa in order to “ease the continent’s water crisis,” by making water more expensive and less accessible.
As the communications director of the World Bank in 2003, Paul Mitchell, explained, “Water is crucial to life – we have to get water to poor people,” adding: “There are a lot of myths about privatization.” I would agree. Though the myth that it ‘works’ is what I would propose, but Mitchell instead suggested that, “[p]rivate sector participation is simply to manage the asset to make it function for the people in the country.” Except that it doesn’t. But don’t worry, decreasing water standards, dismantling water distribution, and rapidly increasing the costs of water to the poorest regions on earth is good, according to Mitchell and the World Bank. He told the BBC that what the World Bank is most interested in is the “best way to get water to poor people.” Perhaps he misspoke and meant to say, “the best way to take water from poor people,” because that’s what actually happens.
In 2003, the World Bank funded a water privatization scheme in the country of Tanzania, supported by the British government, and granting the concession to a consortium called City Water, owned by the British company Biwater, which worked with a German engineering firm, Gauff, to provide water to the city of Dar es Salaam and the surrounding region. It was one of the most ambitious water privatization schemes in Africa, with $140 million in World Bank funding, and, wrote John Vidal in the Guardian, it “was intended to be a model for how the world’s poorest communities could be lifted out of poverty.”
The agreement included conditions for the consortium to install new pipelines for water distribution. The British government’s Department for International Development gave a 440,000-pound contract to the British neoliberal think tank, Adam Smith International, “to do public-relations work for the project.” Tanzania’s best-known gospel singer was hired to perform a pop song about the benefits of privatization, mentioning electricity, telephones, the ports, railways, and of course, water. Both the IMF and World Bank made the water scheme a condition for “aid” they gave to the country. Less than one year into the ten-year contract, the private consortium, City Water, stopped paying its monthly fee for leasing the government’s pipes and infrastructure provided by the public water company, Dawasa, while simultaneously insisting that its own fees be raised. An unpublished World Bank report even noted: “The primary assumption on the part of almost all involved, particularly on the donor side, was that it would be very hard, if not impossible, for the private operator [City Water] to perform worse than Dawasa. But that is what happened.” The World Bank as a whole, however, endorsed the program as “highly satisfactory,” and rightly so, because it was doing what it was intended to do: provide profits for private corporations at the expense of poor people.
By 2005, the company had not built any new pipes, it had not spent the meager investments it promised, and the water quality declined. As British government “aid” money was poured into privatization propaganda, a video was produced which included the phrase: “Our old industries are dry like crops and privatization brings the rain.” Actually, privatization attaches a price-tag to rain. Thus, in 2005, the government of Tanzania ended the contract with City Water, and arrested the three company executives, deporting them back to Britain. As is typical, the British company, Biwater, then began to file a lawsuit against the Tanzanian government for breach of contract, wanting to collect $20-25 million. A press release from Biwater at the time wrote: “We have been left with no choice… If a signal goes out that governments are free to expropriate foreign investments with impunity,” investors would flee, and this would, of course, “deal a massive blow to the development goals of Tanzania and other countries in Africa.”
The sixth World Water Forum in Marseilles in 2012 brought together some 19,000 participants, where the French Development Minister Henri de Raincourt proposed a “global water and environment management scheme,” adding: “The French government is not alone in its conviction that a global environment agency is needed more than ever.” A parallel conference was held – the Alternative World Water Forum – which featured critics of water privatization. Gustave Massiah, a representative of the anti-globalization group Attac, stated, “Should a global water fund be in control, giving concessions to multinational companies, then that’s not a solution for us. On the contrary, that would only add to the problems of the current system.”
Another member of Attac, Jacques Cambon, used to be the head of SAFEGE’s Africa branch, a subsidiary of the water conglomerate Suez. Cambon was critical of the idea of a global water fund, warning against centralization, and further explained that the World Bank “has almost always financed large-scale projects that were not in tune with local conditions.” Maria Theresa Lauron, a Philippine activist, shared the story of water privatization in the Philippines, saying, “Since 1997, prices went up by 450 to 800 percent… At the same time, the water quality has gone down. Many people get ill because of bad water; a year ago some 600 people died as a result of bacteria in the water because the private company didn’t do proper water checks.” But then, why would the company do such a thing? It’s not like it’s particularly profitable to be concerned with human welfare.
In Europe, the European Commission had been pushing water privatization as a condition for development funds between 2002 and 2010, specifically in several central and eastern European countries which were dependent upon EU grants. Since the European debt crisis, the European Commission had made water privatization a condition for Greece, Portugal, and Italy. Greece is privatizing its water companies, Portugal is being pressured to sell its national water company, Aguas do Portugal, and in Italy, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Commission were pushing water privatization, even though a national referendum in July of 2011 saw the people of Italy reject such a scheme by 95%.
In this context, among the global institutions and corporations of power and influence, it is perhaps less surprising to imagine the chairman of Nestlé suggesting that human beings having a “right” to water is rather “extreme.” And for a very simple reason: that’s not profitable for Nestlé, even though it might be good for humanity and the earth. It’s about priorities, and in our world, priorities are set by multinational corporations, banks, and global oligarchs. As Nestlé would have us think, corporate and social interests are not opposed, as corporations – through their ‘enlightened’ self-interest and profit-seeking motives – will almost accidentally make the world a better place. Now, while neoliberal orthodoxy functions on the basis of people simply accepting this premise without investigation (like any religious belief), perhaps it would be worth looking at Nestlé as an example for corporate benefaction for the world and humanity.
Nestlé’s Corporate Social Responsibility: Making the World Safe for Nestlé… and Incidentally Destroying the World
As a major multinational corporation, Nestlé has a proven track record of exploiting labour, destroying the environment, engaging in human rights violations, but of course – and most importantly – it makes big profits. In 2012, Nestlé was taking in major profits from ‘emerging markets’ in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. However, some emerging market profits began to slow down in 2013. This was partly the result of a horsemeat scandal which required companies like Nestlé to intensify the screening of their food products.
Less than a year prior, Nestlé was complaining that “over-regulation” of the food industry was “undermining individual responsibility,” which is another way of saying that responsibility for products and their safety should be passed from the producer to the consumer. In other words, if you’re stupid enough to buy Nestlé products, it’s your fault if you get diabetes or eat horsemeat, and therefore, it’s your responsibility, not the responsibility of Nestlé. Fair enough! We’re stupid enough to accept corporations ruling over us, therefore, what right do we have to complain about all the horrendous crimes and destruction they cause? A cynic could perhaps argue such a point.
One of Nestlé’s most famous PR problems was that of marketing artificial baby milk, which sprung to headlines in the 1970s following the publication of “The Baby Killer,” accusing the company of getting Third World mothers hooked on formula. As research was proving that breastfeeding was healthier, Nestlé marketed its baby formula as a way for women to ‘Westernize’ and join the modern world, handing out pamphlets and promotional samples, with companies hiring “sales girls in nurses’ uniforms (sometimes qualified, sometimes not)” in order to drop by homes and sell formula. Women tried to save money on the formula by diluting it, often times with contaminated water. As the London-based organization War on Want noted: “The results can be seen in the clinics and hospitals, the slums and graveyards of the Third World… Children whose bodies have wasted away until all that is left is a big head on top of the shriveled body of an old man.” An official with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) blamed baby formula for “a million infant deaths every year through malnutrition and diarrheal diseases.”
Mike Muller, the author of “The Baby Killer” back in 1974, wrote an article for the Guardian in 2013 in which he mentioned that he gave Peter Brabeck a “present” at the World Economic Forum, a signed copy of the report. The report had sparked a global boycott of Nestlé and the company responded with lawsuits.
Nestlé has also been implicated for its support of palm-oil plantations, which have led to increased deforestation and the destruction of orangutan habitats in Indonesia. A Greenpeace publication noted that, “at least 1500 orangutans died in 2006 as a result of deliberate attacks by plantation workers and loss of habitat due to the expansion of oil palm plantations.” A social media campaign was launched against Nestlé for its role in supporting palm oil plantations, deforestation, and the destruction of orangutan habitats and lives. The campaign pressured Nestlé to decrease its “deforestation footprint.”
As Nestlé has been expanding its presence in Africa, it has also aroused more controversy in its operations on the continent. Nestlé purchases one-tenth of the world’s cocoa, most of which comes from the Ivory Coast, where the company has been implicated in the use of child labour. In 2001, U.S. legislation required companies to engage in “self-regulation” which called for “slave free” labeling on all cocoa products. This “self regulation,” however, “failed to deliver” – imagine that! – as one study carried out by Tulane University with funding from the U.S. government revealed that roughly 2 million children were working on cocoa-related activities in both Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Even an internal audit carried out by the company found that Nestlé was guilty of “numerous” violations of child labour laws. Nestlé’s head of operations stated, “The use of child labor in our cocoa supply goes against everything we stand for.” So naturally, they will continue to use child labour.
Peter Brabeck stated that it’s “nearly impossible” to end the practice, and he compared the practice to that of farming in Switzerland: “You go to Switzerland… still today, in the month of September, schools have one week holiday so students can help in the wine harvesting… In those developing countries, this also happens,” he told the Council on Foreign Relations. While acknowledging that this “is basically child labor and slave labor in some African markets,” it is “a challenge which is not very easy to tackle,” noting that there is “a very fine edge” of what is acceptable regarding “child labor in [the] agricultural environment.” He added: “It’s almost natural.” Thus, Brabeck explained, “you have to look at it differently,” and that it was not the job of Nestlé to tell parents that their children can’t work on cocoa plantations/farms, “which is ridiculous,” he suggested: “But what we are saying is we will help you that your child has access for schooling.” So clearly there is no problem with using child slavery, just so long as the children get some schooling… presumably, in their ‘off-hours’ from slavery. Problem solved!
While Brabeck and Nestlé have made a big issue of water scarcity, which again, is an incredibly important issue, their solutions revolve around “pricing” water at a market value, and thus encouraging privatization. Indeed, a global water grab has been a defining feature of the past several years (coupled with a great global land grab), in which investors, countries, banks and corporations have been buying up vast tracts of land (primarily in sub-Saharan Africa) for virtually nothing, pushing off the populations which live off the land, taking all the resources, water, and clearing the land of towns and villages, to convert them into industrial agricultural plantations to develop food and other crops for export, while domestic populations are pushed deeper into poverty, hunger, and are deprived of access to water. Peter Brabeck has referred to the land grabs as really being about water: “For with the land comes the right to withdraw the water linked to it, in most countries essentially a freebie that increasingly could be seen as the most valuable part of the deal.” This, noted Brabeck, is “the great water grab.”
And of course, Nestlé would know something about water grabs, as it has become very good at implementing them. In past years, the company has been increasingly buying land where it is taking the fresh water resources, bottling them in plastic bottles and selling them to the public at exorbitant prices. In 2008, as Nestlé was planning to build a bottling water plant in McCloud, California, the Attorney General opposed the plan, noting: “It takes massive quantities of oil to produce plastic water bottles and to ship them in diesel trucks across the United States… Nestlé will face swift legal challenge if it does not fully evaluate the environmental impact of diverting millions of gallons of spring water from the McCloud River into billions of plastic water bottles.” Nestlé already operated roughly 50 springs across the country, and was acquiring more, such as a plan to draw roughly 65 million gallons of water from a spring in Colorado, despite fierce opposition to the deal.
Years of opposition to the plans of Nestlé in McCloud finally resulted in the company giving up on its efforts there. However, the company quickly moved on to finding new locations to take water and make a profit while destroying the environment (just an added bonus, of course). The corporation controls one-third of the U.S. market in bottled water, selling it as 70 different brand names, including Perrier, Arrowhead, Deer Park and Poland Spring. The two other large bottled water companies are Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, though Nestlé had earned a reputation “in targeting rural communities for spring water, a move that has earned it fierce opposition across the U.S. from towns worried about losing their precious water resources.” And water grabs by Nestlé as well as opposition continue to engulf towns and states and cities across the country, with one more recent case in Oregon.
Nestlé has aroused controversy for its relations with labour, exploiting farmers, pollution, and human rights violations, among many other things. Nestlé has been implicated in the kidnapping and murder of a union activist and employee of the company’s subsidiary in Colombia, with a judge demanding the prosecutor to “investigate leading managers of Nestle-Cicolac to clarify their likely involvement and/or planning of the murder of union leader Luciano Enrique Romero Molina.” In 2012, a Colombian trade union and a human rights group filed charges against Nestlé for negligence over the murder of their former employee Romero.
More recently, Nestlé has been found liable over spying on NGOs, with the company hiring a private security company to infiltrate an anti-globalization group, and while a judge ordered the company to pay compensation, a Nestlé spokesperson stated that, “incitement to infiltration is against Nestlé’s corporate business principles.” Just like child slavery, presumably. But not to worry, the spokesman said, “we will take appropriate action.”
Peter Brabeck, who it should be noted, also sits on the boards of Exxon, L’Oréal, and the banking giant Credit Suisse, warned in 2009 that the global economic crisis would be “very deep” and that, “this crisis will go on for a long period.” On top of that, the food crisis would be “getting worse” over time, hitting poor people the hardest. However, propping up the financial sector through massive bailouts was, in his view, “absolutely essential.” But not to worry, as banks are bailed out by governments, who hand the bill to the population, which pays for the crisis through reduced standards of living and exploitation (which we call “austerity” and “structural reform” measures), Nestlé has been able to adapt to a new market of impoverished people, selling cheaper products to more people who now have less money. And better yet, it’s been making massive profits. And remember, according to Brabeck, isn’t that all that really matters?
This is the world according to corporations. Unfortunately, while it creates enormous wealth, it is also leading to the inevitable extinction of our species, and possibly all life on earth. But that’s not a concern of corporations, so it doesn’t concern those who run corporations, who make the important decisions, and pressure and purchase our politicians.
I wonder… what would the world be like if people were able to make decisions?
There’s only one way to know.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, with a focus on studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance across a wide spectrum of social, political, economic, and historical spheres. He has been published in AlterNet, CounterPunch, Occupy.com, Truth-Out, RoarMag, and a number of other alternative media groups, and regularly does radio, Internet, and television interviews with both alternative and mainstream news outlets. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, Research Director of Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and has a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
Please consider making a donation to The People’s Book Project
The Financialization of Food and the Profitability of Poverty
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is a brief excerpt from a chapter of The People’s Book Project, covering issues related to food, water, land grabs, environmental destruction, hunger and poverty. This excerpt examines the global food crisis.
There are a few things upon which humanity is entirely dependent for survival: food, water, land and the environment. One of the central questions with which humanity currently has to address its part, past and present, is the ways in which we, as a species, interact with our environment. When it comes to environmental issues, the primary focus is placed upon the issue of climate change, and while this is indeed an important issue, it could be said that this focus almost misses the forest for the trees. Climatic change is here to stay, it is an inevitability, and it is a requirement for humanity to begin the process of adaptation. However, climate change is not “the problem,” it is a symptom of the problems associated with the environment. The source of the problem is how human society – specifically Western state-capitalist society – interacts with the environment at the local and global level. When examining this question, the issues and concerns raised go far beyond climatic changes, though they all interact.
One cannot separate our interaction with the environment from the interaction between power structures and people, whether we are discussing large states, banks, corporations, international organizations, etc. In a global system in which people are themselves treated as commodities, where more than half the world’s population lives in abject poverty, with hunger and starvation increasing, with imperial powers destabilizing countries, bombing communities, supporting coups and waging wars, oppressing, impoverishing, and destroying, environmental issues are inseparable from social, political, and economic issues.
One need only look at the issue of militarization and war to see a clear relationship between these issues: wars are mostly waged by large states – whether directly or indirectly through proxies – against poor populations in weak ‘Third World’ states. Aside from the obvious destruction the physical war takes – through bombs and bullets – a nation’s infrastructure is destroyed, its people impoverished and oppressed. The American military system – by far the largest in the world – through the maintenance of aircraft carriers, ships, jets, equipment, transportation, weapons, with roughly one thousand military bases around the world, foreign occupations and operations, make this single institution known as the Pentagon “the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy” in the world. The United States wages wars to secure resources around the world, to dominate and oppress populations, and in doing so, exploits and plunders those very same resources, destroys the environment, spreads poverty, death, and destruction. Its purpose is to serve minute – yet powerful – interests. Yet, it is devastating for the world’s people and the environment.
If we are truly interested with answering the question of how we move forward as a species in dealing with environmental issues, we must ask the parallel questions of how we deal with issues of poverty, hunger, land, exploitation, oppression, war, empire, and power. It seemingly makes the task harder, but it also makes the answers more plausible, and, indeed, possible.
Again, looking at the issue of climate change, we have seen countless international conferences held by global plutocrats, governments, international organizations, banks and corporations and global NGOs and environmental organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International, whose boards of directors are dominated by individuals from banks, corporations and oil conglomerates. And we phase surprise that nothing productive is done. The ‘solutions’ we are given for complex problems are based around ideas of carbon credits, carbon trading, carbon caps and carbon markets, effectively commodifying the entire atmosphere, turning pollution itself into a profitable enterprise, and thus, making the problems that much worse. We are told that there are ways to simply ‘Green’ the economy, to promote the interests of state-capitalism and the environment simultaneously. But in a system which has always subjugated the environment and the population at large to the powerful interests which dominate, we are fools to assume they have changed their interests.
A great deal of press was given to the 2009 Copenhagen Conference, and the fact that it ended in failure. The focus was on “who” screwed it up: it was China, it was America, it was Canada! Everyone was pointing the finger at one another. The reality, however, was far more revealing, not only of the failure of Copenhagen, but of the true intent and the result of pursuing environmental issues through the institutions of power which have created the environmental problems in the first place.
The Copenhagen conference was viewed by elites as a means to advancing their institutional power to a more global level, as internal UN documents revealed that the focus was on a “green economy,” noting: “moving towards a green economy would also provide an opportunity to re-examine national and global governance structures.” The document stated that “linkages between environmental sustainability and the economy will emerge as a key focus for public policymaking and a determinant of future market opportunities,” and one top official stated that the environmental, food, and economic “crises provide a unique opportunity for fundamental restructuring of economies so that they encourage and sustain green energy, green growth and green jobs.”
It sounds well enough, but its focus on “market opportunities” for the “green economy” ignores entirely the nature of “market opportunities” being one of the most significant factors in creating environmental crises in the first place. With a focus on advancing issues of “global governance” in order to address environmental issues, the role of dominant institutions in creating the environmental crisis is overlooked, and thus, the ‘solution’ is to enhance the power of those very same institutions to global levels, further removing power from populations and communities (where the real solutions to environmental issues lie). In short, if the issue of ‘power’ – and the global distribution of power between institutions and populations – is not addressed, the ‘solutions’ offered are, at best, little more than band-aids on broken arms.
China received a great deal of the blame for the failure of the Copenhagen talks, but there is more to this story. Perhaps the most significant factor was due to what was called the ‘Danish Text,’ a leaked Danish government document written in secret between the rich and powerful nations to serve as a framework for their actions and intentions at the conference. The agreement would have handed more power to the rich nations, and sideline the UN in any final agreement, as well as “setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals.” In other words, with true Western cultural state-capitalist logic: find the problem, acknowledge the problem, then double the problem! The text was drafted by a select coterie of representatives from Denmark, the U.K. and the United States, and the draft “hands effective control of climate change finance to the World Bank; would abandon the Kyoto protocol – the only legally binding treaty that the world has on emissions reductions; and would make any money to help poor countries adapt to climate change dependent on them taking a range of actions.”
Thus, one of the central institutions of world power – the World Bank – which has advanced the interests of Western banks and corporations across the ‘developing’ world, promoting privatization, deregulation, exploitation, resource extraction, and ultimately, environmental degradation, would then be given the responsibility of ‘solving’ the environmental crisis. And how would it do this? The World Bank would be given control over the dispersal of funds in the same way that it has handled the dispersal of loans in the past. Here’s a hint: it comes with “strings attached.”
A senior diplomat at the talks described the Danish Text as “a very dangerous document for developing countries.” Among the many points in the document were to “force developing countries to agree to specific emissions cuts and measures that were not part of the original UN agreement” and to “weaken the UN’s role in handling climate finance,” as well as aiming to “divide poor countries further.” Allowing for the rich countries to increase their emissions, while poor countries face severe restraints, overlooks the fact that the countries with most emissions already are those very same rich countries. Preventing poor countries from producing emissions would prevent them from developing their own resources as they see fit, instead allowing for the rich countries to move in and further dictate policies in their own interests. Ultimately, it was a draft agreement to advance imperial domination of the rich world over the poor world, using the issue of “climate change” as the excuse.
When the Danish text was leaked, representatives of poor nations were “furious that it is being promoted by rich countries without their knowledge and without discussion in the negotiations.” One diplomat noted: “It is being done in secret. Clearly the intention is to get Obama and the leaders of other rich countries to muscle it through when they arrive next week. It effectively is the end of the UN process.” Further, “It proposes a green fund to be run by a board but the big risk is that it will be run by the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility,” a partnership of ten agencies including the World Bank and UN Environment Programme, thus bypassing more democratically accountable and representative institutions, such as the UN itself. This, stated one diplomat, “would be a step backwards, and it tries to put constraints on developing countries when none were negotiated in earlier UN climate talks.” Since poor countries already suffer the greatest burden, not only of poverty, but of environmental devastation and climatic change (not to mention, war, imperialism, and oppression), the notion of the powerful countries exporting their responsibility to the poor and oppressed does not only fail to address the issues, but would inevitably make the problems much worse. We tend to call this “market logic.”
The release of the Danish text prompted the developing nations, represented by the G-77 (the vast majority of the world’s population) to suspend their participation in the negotiations. Days following the conclusion of the Copenhagen conference, the UN’s climate chief wrote in a confidential internal memo that it was the ‘Danish Text’ that led to the ultimate failure of the talks, stating that, “the text was clearly advantageous to the US and the west, would have steamrollered the developing countries, and was presented to a few countries a week before the meeting officially started.” Within days of the leaking of the ‘Danish Text’, developing nations were accusing the rich countries of engaging in “climate colonialism.” The Sudanese diplomat to the conference stated, “This is all based on the dominance and supremacy of developed countries. One could say the Empire has been doing this since the 16th Century, the Empire has always ruthlessly grabbed natural resources – the new resource is the global atmospheric space and carbon space.” One activist and participant called the deal an act of “carbon colonialism.”
The British delegation at Copenhagen further inflamed tensions and calls of colonialism when it suggested the creation of a “climate fund” by diverting western aid budgets from poverty reduction funds into climate change “adaptation.” Thus, “money earmarked for education or health would be diverted into projects such as solar panels and wind farms,” incurring anger from several developing nations. As one commentator with the Guardian explained, Copenhagen was “a disaster for Africa,” the continent that contributes the least amount of carbon emissions in the world, and will disproportionately suffer the consequences more than any other. Several African nations were coerced into signing the final deal, even though they had walked out of negotiations following the Danish Text, with industrial rich nations threatening to withdraw foreign aid if the deal was not signed.
Again, this is but one of many examples of how environmental issues are intimately related to those of poverty, economics, imperialism, and power, more generally. To address one with any substance, we must address all with perseverance. Or, we could just continue to push for international conferences met with the self-congratulations of global elites who pride themselves on having flown around the world on taxpayers’ dollars to stay in five-star hotels and eat gourmet meals while they discuss issues of poverty and environmental protection, amounting to little more than “agreements to agree” at some point in the future, while globally, business as usual, and more accurately, accelerated rates of exploitation and devastation, dominate the decisions and actions of the powerful.
The Financialization of Food and the Profitability of Poverty
The global food crisis hit international headlines in 2008, with “food riots” erupting in dozens of countries around the world, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. By May of 2008, it was reported that food riots had hit roughly 37 countries, with some of the more dramatic taking place in Cameroon, Niger, Egypt, and Haiti. At that time, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) warned: “Food is no longer the cheap commodity that it once was. Rising food prices are bound to worsen he already unacceptable level of food deprivation suffered by 854 million people… We are facing the risk that the number of hungry will increase by many more millions of people.”
Governments and repressive regimes around the world were under threat from the rising tide of food price rebellions (commonly referred to as “food riots”), with the rapidly accelerating costs of life’s necessities driving people to desperation, and even pushing governments to the brink of collapse. A UN adviser and economist, Jeffrey Sachs, noted, “It’s the worst crisis of its kind in more than 30 years… It’s a big deal and it’s obviously threatening a lot of governments. There are a number of governments on the ropes, and I think there’s more political fallout to come.” El Salvador’s president, Elias Antonio Saca, told the World Economic Forum that it “is a perfect storm… How long can we withstand the situation? We have to feed our people, and commodities are becoming scarce. This scandalous storm might become a hurricane that could upset not only our economies but also the stability of our countries.” A former adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture in Indonesia added that “[t]he biggest concern is food riots… It has happened in the past and can happen again.” In Haiti, where roughly 75% of the population earn less than $2 per day, with one in five children chronically malnourished, hunger had become so extreme that one “booming” commodity had become “the selling of patties made of mud, oil and sugar, typically consumed only by the most destitute.”
In Haiti, as protesters approached the presidential palace, United Nations “peacekeepers” fired rubber bullets on the hungry and starving, as well as using tear gas, and several protesters were reported to have been killed in the chaos. Food prices rose by an average of 40% since the middle of 2007, and with the price increases, came increased instability and social unrest. An adviser to the Haitian president commented: “I compare this situation to having a bucket full of gasoline and having some people around with a box of matches… As long as the two have a possibility to meet, you’re going to have trouble.”
The American government scrambled to increase “food aid” to countries around the world, fearful for the stability of its protectorates and puppet governments. A U.S. Senator, Richard Durbin, noted: “This is the worst global food crisis in more than 30 years… It threatens not only the health and survival of millions of people around the world, many of them children, but it also is a threat to global security,” with over 36 countries “now facing food crises [and] requiring help from abroad.”
An analyst at a major risk management agency told the Financial Times in November of 2008 that there had been “food protests in 25 countries in the past year,” adding: “In Indonesia the price of rice is directly correlated to the number of strikes or riots… A sharp increase in prices could cause production problems if there are strikes by workers and civil unrest could damage vital infrastructure like roads or telecoms or the government could impose a political crackdown.” The analyst provided advice for global corporations: “What global companies need to do is to avoid being seen as contributing to or being complicit with an issue. Some governments will blame rising food prices on the west, for example.” An analyst at an insurance conglomerate agreed: “Companies need to be aware of how they are perceived and seek to win hearts and minds.” In other words, what is needed is an excellent public relations campaign to ensure that western corporations do not get their deserved share of the blame for rising food prices. The advice was not to avoid contributing to the crisis, but to “avoid being seen as contributing,” after all.
In the span of a year between 2007 and 2008, the global price of wheat rose by 130%, the price of rice – the staple food for the majority of the world’s population – rose by 74%, going up by more than 10% in one day alone. While rising food prices were causing riots, social unrest, and the instability of governments across the ‘Third World,’ the prices were noticeably increasing within the industrial nations themselves, though by no means to the same degree, or with the same dramatic and devastating effects. The FAO estimated that food prices were likely to remain high for at least a decade. Global droughts, climate change, environmental destruction, massive farm subsidies in the west, population growth, and the development of biofuels (food for fuel), have all contributed to the rising costs of food. Of course, a number of other important factors were involved, such as the liberalization of food production and global markets, largely a staple of the neoliberal era, from the mid-1970s onward, and of enormous importance, the role of financial speculation, with banks, hedge funds, and investors speculating on food costs increasing, and thus, driving up the costs of food.
According to a confidential report by the World Bank in 2008 which was leaked to the Guardian, biofuels forced global food prices up by roughly 75%, contradicting the claims of the U.S. government, the main promoter and developer of biofuels, that their production led to a 3% price rise in the cost of food. Robert Bailey, a policy adviser at Oxfam stated: “Political leaders seem intent on suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor in recent food price rises… It is imperative that we have the full picture. While politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat.” The World Bank estimated that the rising food prices pushed 100 million people worldwide below the poverty line, with government ministers at the G8 conference in Japan describing the food crisis as “the first real economic crisis of globalization.”
The World Bank report contested that: “Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases.” The major droughts in Australia and elsewhere, according to the World Bank report, did not have a significant impact on food prices, with the biggest cause being the US and European drive for biofuels. The report noted: “Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate,” adding that the higher costs of energy and fertilizer contributed to a 15% increase of food costs. Use of biofuels has diverted grain production away from food and toward fuel, with over one-third of U.S. corn used to produce ethanol, and roughly half of vegetable oils in the European Union used to produce biodiesel. Further, farmers have been encouraged to put aside land for use in the production of biofuels instead of food. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the production of biofuels has encouraged financial speculation in food markets, as prices were expected to increase, and thus speculators were set to make enormous amounts of money if and when prices go up. Speculation, of course, is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as speculators betting that prices will go up inevitably pushes the prices up.
The production of biofuels has been a major strategy by North American and European governments in order to reduce dependency on foreign oil and address climate change and environmental issues. A secret report conducted by the British government – the Gallagher Report – released in 2008, reported that the development of biofuels played a “significant” role in the food price increases. All petrol and diesel in Britain had to contain 2.5% of biofuels by 2008, and was aimed to meet a target of 5% by 2010, while the EU was itself contemplating a 10% target for 2020. Naturally, this would increase food prices accordingly, creating much larger and deeper food crises.
For all the contributory factors, not least of which was the development of biofuels, which collectively account for moderate increases in the cost of food, the primary driver of the food prices was financial speculation. This has been made exceedingly evident as the food crisis was not ended in 2008, but has continued to reach new heights, and the crisis has become almost permanent.
At an emergency meeting on food price inflation in 2010, the UN’s special rapporteur on food, Olivier De Schutter, released a paper in which the increase of food prices was blamed on a “speculative bubble” created by pension funds, hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds, and big banks that speculate on commodity markets. The paper noted that beginning in 2001, “food commodities derivatives markets, and commodities indexes began to see an influx of non-traditional investors… The reason for this was because other markets dried up one by one: the dotcoms vanished at the end of 2001, the stock market soon after, and the US housing market in August 2007. As each bubble burst, these large institutional investors moved into other markets, each traditionally considered more stable than the last. Strong similarities can be seen between the price behaviour of food commodities and other refuge values, such as gold.” De Schutter further wrote: “A significant contributory cause of the price spike [was] speculation by institutional investors who did not have any expertise or interest in agricultural commodities, and who invested in commodities index funds or in order to hedge speculative bets.”
As prices nearly doubled between 2007 and 2008, riots erupted in over 30 countries and 150 million more people were pushed into hunger, the majority of commodity prices in 2010 remained well over 50% of their pre-2007 figures, and were set to continue upwards: “Once again we find ourselves in a situation where basic food commodities are undergoing supply shocks. World wheat futures and spot prices climbed steadily until the beginning of August 2010, when Russia – faced with massive wildfires that destroyed its wheat harvest – imposed an export ban on that commodity. In addition, other markets such as sugar and oilseeds [were] witnessing significant price increases.” Gregory Barrow of the UN World Food Program noted: “What we have seen over the past few weeks is a period of volatility driven partly by the announcement from Russia of an export ban on grain food until next year, and this has driven prices up. They have fallen back again, but this has had an impact.” Food prices were rising by roughly 15% per year in India, Nepal, Latin America and China. A British Green Party MP stated: “Food has become a commodity to be traded. The only thing that matters under the current system is profit. Trading in food must not be treated as simply another form of business as usual: for many people it is a matter of life and death. We must insist on the complete removal of agriculture from the remit of the World Trade Organization.”
In December of 2010, food prices reached a new record high, surpassing the 2008 levels, entering what an FAO economist referred to as “a danger territory,” adding that there was “still room for prices to go up much higher.” As John Vidal wrote in the Guardian, “[t]he same banks, hedge funds and financiers whose speculation on the global money markets caused the sub-prime mortgage crisis are thought to be causing food prices to yo-yo and inflate,” as they have taken “advantage of the deregulation of global commodity markets” and are thus “making billions from speculating on food and causing misery around the world.” Food prices were even rising 10% per year in Britain and Europe, with the UN reporting that prices could be expected to rise at least another 40% within the following decade.
In the mid-1990s, “following heavy lobbying by banks, hedge funds and free market politicians in the US and Britain, the regulations on commodity markets were steadily abolished.” What had previously been “contracts” between farmers and traders turned into “derivatives” which were to be bought and sold on international markets between global investors, “who had nothing to do with agriculture.” Thus, a global market of “food speculation” had been born, noted Vidal: “Cocoa, fruit juices, sugar, staples, meat and coffee are all now global commodities, along with oil, gold and metals.” The same institutions which were responsible for creating the massive housing bubble which resulted in the economic crisis, with foreclosures on millions of homes, reacted to the bursting of that bubble by creating a new one in commodity markets, notably food. Except with this bubble, people don’t have to wait for it to burst in order to suffer, as people are driven deeper into poverty and hunger as it inflates, all the while the institutional “investors” make a killing, quite literally.
When banks and investors began moving billions out of the housing market and into new markets, food speculation became especially attractive. Mike Masters, the fund manager at Masters Capital Management testified in the US Senate in 2008 that, “We first became aware of this [food speculation] in 2006. It didn’t seem like a big factor then. But in 2007/08 it really spiked up… When you looked at the flows there was strong evidence. I know a lot of traders and they confirmed what was happening. Most of the business is now speculation – I would say 70-80%.” In other words, roughly 70-80% of the food price increases were determined by speculation, compared to the plethora of other given reasons, combined. Masters warned the Senate: “Let’s say news comes about bad crops and rain somewhere. Normally the price would rise about $1 [per bushel]. [However] when you have a 70-80% speculative market it goes up $2-3 to account for the extra costs. It adds to the volatility. It will end badly as all Wall Street fads do. It’s going to blow up.”
The president of Strategic Investment Group in New York warned that this speculative market has only increased in size, and that “speculative demand for commodity futures has increased since 2008 by 40-80% in agriculture futures.” In 2010, one London-based hedge fund purchased more than 7% of the world’s stocks of cocoa beans, which drove the price of chocolate to its highest price in 33 years. The UN rapporteur on food, Olivier De Schutter agreed: “Prices of wheat, maize and rice have increased very significantly but this is not linked to low stock levels or harvests, but rather to traders reacting to information and speculating on the markets.” Deborah Doane of the World Development Movement noted: “People die from hunger while the banks make a killing from betting on food.”
The World Development Movement (WDM) issued a report in the Summer of 2010 blaming the rising food prices on investors and speculators, just as cocoa spiked to its 33-year high after a London hedge fund purchased massive amounts of cocoa stock. The report noted that “risky and secretive” speculative bets on food prices were exacerbating the conditions of the world’s poor, as well as sparking social unrest. Deborah Doane, director of the WDM, noted: “Investment banks, like Goldman Sachs, are making huge profits by gambling on the price of everyday foods. But this is leaving people in the UK out of pocket, and risks the poorest people in the world starving.” She added: “Nobody benefits from this kind of reckless gambling except a few City [of London] wheeler-dealers. British consumers suffer because it pushes up inflation, because of unpredictable oil and raw material prices, and the world’s poorest people suffer because basic foods become unaffordable.” The WDM estimated that Goldman Sachs likely made a profit of $1 billion in 2009 through speculating on food prices, though Goldman Sachs stated that these profits from poverty and hunger were “ludicrously overstated.”
Even in the establishment journal, Foreign Policy, ever an apologist and advocate for American imperialism and global hegemony, the food price increases were blamed on “Wall Street greed.” Perhaps not surprisingly, it was bankers at Goldman Sachs in 1991 that developed a derivative (speculative bet) based upon 24 raw materials, from metals and energy, to coffee, cocoa, cattle, corn, wheat and soy, known as the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI). In 1999, when futures markets were deregulated, “bankers could take as large a position on grains as they liked, an opportunity which had, since the Great Depression, only been available to those who actually had something to do with the production of our food.” Other banks followed the lead of Goldman Sachs, and found that they too could reap enormous profits from speculating on food prices (and thereby causing mass poverty, hunger, and starvation), including Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Pimco, JP Morgan Chase, AIG, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers. As Frederick Kaufman wrote: “The result of Wall Street’s venture into grain and feed and livestock has been a shock to the global food production and delivery system. Not only does the world’s food supply have to contend with constricted supply and increased demand for real grain, but investment bankers have engineered an artificial upward pull on the price of grain futures.” Speculation thus resulted in a situation where “imaginary wheat dominates the price of real wheat,” as “bankers and traders sit at the top of the food chain – the carnivores of the system, devouring everyone and everything below.”
Alan Knuckman is an analyst with Agora Financials, a consulting firm specializing in commodity investments, which has Knuckman spending his time on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), the world’s largest commodity futures exchange. Knuckman stated: “This is capitalism in its purest form… This is where millionaires are made.” One might add, however, that it’s also where millions more people in hunger are “made.” Knuckman explained: “I trade in anything you can get in and out of quickly… I’m here to make money.” And that’s what he does, and he does it well. Knuckman reflected the view of many in his field, stating: “I don’t believe in politics… I believe in the market, and the market is always right.” When asked if the soaring food prices were the result of financial speculation, something in which he is directly engaged, Knuckman replied: “I don’t see it.”
One is reminded of a bad joke: two fish meet, one asks the other, “how’s the water today?” to which the other replies, “what’s water?” When one is entirely submerged in a specific universe, it requires a great deal of effort to remove one’s perspective to see a wider world view, and their place within it. Alan Knuckman is quite obviously far removed from the everyday struggles of most people, in his own country, let alone the rest of the world. When questioned by Der Spiegel about the high cost of food, he explained: “The age of cheap food is over… Most Americans eat too much, anyway.” While Americans spend roughly 13% of their disposable income, on average, on food, the world’s poor spend roughly 70% of their budget on food, and thus, high food prices for this population, with one billion people on earth classified as living in hunger, and with food prices hitting new record highs almost every passing year, pushing tens of millions more into poverty and hunger, these price-hikes are “life-threatening.” So what did Knuckman have to say about this? He contended that it amounted to “undesirable side effects of the market,” but of course, as he earlier stated, “the market is always right,” and thus, with that logic of thinking, there is nothing “wrong” with one billion people going hungry, nor with more being pushed into poverty and hunger, which are amounted to mere “undesirable side effects.” As he earlier explained, “I’m here to make money,” and obviously, everything else is incidental.
The international food market, which “is always right,” is also incidentally dominated by major banking houses, and the speculative trade in food securities was created and inflated by the very same banks that created, inflated, and profited off of the housing boom in the United States, such as Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan Chase. These banks, hedge funds, and other speculators are able to reap enormous profits as millions are pushed into hunger and poverty, and the brilliance of this scheme is that the investors don’t have to produce a single thing, and never even come into contact with the real food market, whether production or distribution. They trade in “futures,” betting that prices will go up (or possibly down) in the future, and the real prices of food follow the speculative increases and decreases, and when prices go up, the speculators make money. The World Bank estimated that an increase of 10% in worldwide food prices pushes roughly 10 million more people into poverty, and that while there is enough food to feed the world, “many die of hunger simply because they can no longer afford to pay for it.”
In 2011, the annual meeting for Barclays faced protests by anti-poverty campaigners who were raising awareness about the role of Barclays in driving up food prices and profiting off of hunger, as the UK’s largest participant in food commodity trading, and one of the top three banks involved globally, according to information from the World Development Movement (WDM). The other top two banks in global commodity trading are Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Deborah Doane of the WDM noted: “First, it was sub-prime mortgages, now it’s food commodities… The lack of transparency in these markets bears worrying resemblance to the behaviour that led to the 2008 financial crash. Like any irrational asset bubble, the investors pile their money in for short-term profits, in spite of the consequences.” Estimates from WDM put the profits Barclays accumulated from food speculation at 340 million pounds in 2010.
By 2012, it was reported that Barclays had made as much as half a billion pounds in two years from food speculation. An official at Oxfam noted: “The food market is becoming a playground for investors rather than a market place for farmers. The trend of big investors betting on food prices is transforming food into a financial asset while exacerbating the risk of price spikes that hit the poor hardest.”
In an early 2012 interview with Der Spiegel, the head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, stated that, “speculation is indeed an important cause of the heavily fluctuating and very high prices” of food, and “only benefits banks and hedge funds, but not producers, processors and buyers – and certainly not consumers.” Apart from placing “regulations” on food speculation, da Silva suggested that the rich industrial countries should end their agricultural subsidies, noting that when the U.S. ended its subsidies for corn-based biofuels in the summer of 2011, global prices of corn immediately dropped, which “had a direct and positive effect on the food situation.” The FAO is hardly a radical organization, firmly entrenched within global power structures, it continues to promote “market solutions” to problems of hunger and food, though is critical of market “excesses.” Da Silva noted, however, that “there is enough food for everybody, but for many people, especially the poor, it’s simply too expensive. They are going hungry, even with full shelves of food.” Thus, when asked if the food crisis was “really a financial problem,” da Silva replied, “Of course.”
In 2011, speculative investment in agricultural commodities amounted to 20 times the amount of money spent by all countries of the world on food and agricultural “aid.” The three biggest players in agricultural commodity speculation – Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Barclays, respectively – have reaped hundreds of millions and billions in profits in this speculative assault against the world’s poorest billion people suffering from hunger. The UN rapporteur on food, Olivier De Schutter, noted: “What we are seeing now is that these financial markets have developed massively with the arrival of these new financial investors, who are purely interested in the short-term monetary gain and are not really interested in the physical thing – they never actually buy the ton of wheat or maize; they only buy a promise to buy or sell. The result of this financialisation of the commodities market is that the prices of the products respond increasingly to a purely speculative logic. That explains why in very short periods of time we see prices spiking or bubbles exploding, because prices are less and less determined by the real match between supply and demand.”
The UN World Food Programme referred to the 2008-2011 global spike in food prices as a “silent tsunami of hunger,” pushing 115 million more people into hunger and poverty since 2008. This, explained De Schutter, is “an absolute catastrophe” for the world’s poor. In Kenya, an unemployed single-mother looking after her eight-year-old daughter and 83-year old father explained that since the massive food price hikes: “We stopped eating lunch, and saved the little we had to eat for supper. We drank tea without sugar and sometimes we also missed breakfast. I had to travel so much to wash clothes to get money for food, but sometimes I was so weak I fell down. For supper, we had one or two cups of flour mixed with water and salt. Our life was so hard.” It is worth remembering – and reminding yourself continuously – that there is more than enough food in the world to feed the population of the world, yet, stories like this single mother’s are becoming increasingly common among billions of people. If ever there was a clear sign that something is fundamentally wrong with the global system – and “market solutions” – this is it.
In the summer of 2012, the United States experienced the worst draught in decades, contributing to increased speculation in food markets, driving prices up higher and inducing warnings of another major global food crisis on the brink. Chris Mahoney, the head of agriculture at Glencore, a major global commodity trader, let slip some industry honesty when he stated: “The U.S. weather starting mid-May… has been among the worst three or four years of the century, comparable to the dust bowl years of the mid-1930s… In terms of the outlook for the balance [profits] of the year, the environment is a good one. High prices, lots of volatility, a lot of dislocation, tightness, a lot of arbitrage opportunities… I think we will both be able to provide the world with solutions, getting stuff to where it’s needed quickly and timely, and that should also be good for Glencore.” The CEO of Glencore, Ivan Glasenberg, referred to the volatile food market as “a time when industry fundamentals are the most positive they have been for some time.” Put simply, increased food prices, and thus, increased hunger, is “good for Glencore.” Tens of millions more people pushed into abject poverty and hunger? No need to be concerned, that only means that “industry fundamentals are the most positive they have been for some time.”
What can we conclude, therefore, from a global system of ‘markets’ in which poverty and starvation create massive profits for a few select institutions and individuals, at the expense of literally billions of human beings, and entire nations and societies? Does this really reflect, as one trader stated that, “the market is always right”? Or does it reveal a market which benefits few at the expense of many? The answer is, of course, self-evident: so then why is the issue not framed in such a manner? Instead of acknowledging global markets as inherently and structurally (not to mention ideologically) immoral and wrong, we talk about “reforming” and “regulating” these markets as if minor changes would rectify the fundamental problems. The truth – as hard as it may be for many to accept – is that global markets are fundamentally wrong and immoral.
We acknowledge this type of immorality on an individual level, say with the literary character of Ebenezer Scrooge who profited from the misery of others, but when it reaches global institutional and ideological proportions, we often justify and excuse it, or possibly acknowledge that it is “not perfect” and there are “undesirable side effects,” possibly warranting ‘reform.’ Perhaps the institutional ideology could be best summarized by Ebenezer Scrooge when he was asked to donate to a charity to help the poor and hungry who were at risk of dying, to which Scrooge replied, “If they would rather die… they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
At what point is it acceptable to suggest that humanity is in need of an entirely new way of organization and function? In a world of seven billion people, when billions live in poverty, in slums, and with hunger, at what point do we begin to acknowledge that this system simply does not work? Sadly, it seems that people only often recognize this when they are among the poor, within the slums, and starving. By that point, however, their concerns become those of daily survival, not issues of reform or even activism and revolution. Their days are spent toiling and struggling for a meager dollar or two so that they could afford a meager meal, or if lucky, two meals. Looking after other family members, they do not have the luxury of education, information, and the ready capacity for organization and activism that we – who do not live in hunger and absolute poverty – have. If we continue to uphold a world system which has created and sustains and exacerbates the conditions and prevalence of global poverty, slums, and hunger, we doom others – and indeed ourselves – to that same fate.
Future samples from this chapter will focus on environmental degradation, poverty, and the global land grabs. If you found this excerpt of interest, please consider making a donation to The People’s Book Project to help the research and writing continue.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, with a focus on studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance across a wide spectrum of social, political, economic, and historical spheres. He has been published in AlterNet, CounterPunch, Occupy.com, Truth-Out, RoarMag, and a number of other alternative media groups, and regularly does radio, Internet, and television interviews with both alternative and mainstream news outlets. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project and has a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
 Sara Flounders, “Winner of Project Consored top 25 articles for 2009 – 2010 news stories: Pentagon’s role in global catastrophe,” IAC, 18 December 2009:
 UNEP, Background paper for the ministerial consultations, Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme, 14 December 2009: page 3
 John Vidal, Copenhagen climate summit in disarray after ‘Danish text’ leak, The Guardian, 8 December 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/08/copenhagen-climate-summit-disarray-danish-text
 Richard Black, Copenhagen climate summit negotiations ‘suspended’, BBC, 14 December 2009: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8411898.stm
 John Vidal, Copenhagen climate failure blamed on ‘Danish text’, The Guardian, 31 May 2010: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/31/climate-change-copenhagen-danish-text
 Louise Gray and Rowena Mason, Copenhagen summit: rich nations guilty of ‘climate colonialism’, The Telegraph, 9 December 2009: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/copenhagen-climate-change-confe/6771129/Copenhagen-summit-rich-nations-guilty-of-climate-colonialism.html
 Philippe Naughton, Copenhagen Summit: wealthy nations accused of ‘carbon colonialism’, The Sunday Times, 9 December 2009: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6950081.ece
 Ben Webster, Britain angers poor nations with plan to switch cash from health to climate, The Times, 10 December 2009: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6951047.ece
 William Gumede, Copenhagen is a disaster for Africa, The Guardian, 23 December 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/dec/23/copenhagen-africa-climate-change-deal
 Julian Borger, “Crisis talks on global food prices,” The Guardian, 27 May 2008:
 Marc Lacey, “Across globe, hunger brings rising anger,” The New York Times, 18 April 2008:
 Orla Ryan, “Food riots grip Haiti,” The Guardian, 9 April 2008:
 David M. Herszenhorn, “Senate Democrats Calling for More Food Assistance,” The New York Times, 29 April 2008:
 Jane Croft, “Food: Employers may have to become providers,” The Financial Times, 18 November 2008:
 Paul Vallely, “The other global crisis: rush to biofuels is driving up price of food,” The Independent, 12 April 2008:
 Aditya Chakrabortty, “Secret report: biofuel caused food crisis,” The Guardian, 3 July 2008:
 Julian Borger and John Vidal, “New study to force ministers to review climate change plan,” The Guardian, 19 June 2008:
 John Vidal, “UN warned of major new food crisis at emergency meeting in Rome,” The Guardian, 24 September 2010:
 Jill Treanor, “World food prices enter ‘danger territory’ to reach record high,” The Guardian, 5 January 2011:
 John Vidal, “Food speculation: ‘People die from hunger while banks make a killing on food’,” The Observer, 23 January 2011:
 Katie Allen, “Hedge funds accused of gambling with lives of the poorest as food prices soar,” The Guardian, 19 July 2010:
 Frederick Kaufman, “How Goldman Sachs Created the Food Crisis,” Foreign Policy, 27 April 2011:
 Horand Knaup, Michaela Schiessl and Anne Seith, “Speculating with Lives How Global Investors Make Money Out of Hunger,” Der Spiegel, 1 September 2011:
 Felicity Lawrence, “Barclays faces protests over role in global food crisis,” The Guardian, 25 April 2011:
 Tom Bawden, “Barclays makes £500m betting on food crisis,” The Independent, 1 September 2012:
 Spiegel Staff, “UN Food and Agricultural Chief: ‘Speculation Is an Important Cause of High Prices’,” Der Spiegel, 16 January 2012:
 Grace Livingstone, “The real hunger games: How banks gamble on food prices – and the poor lose out,” The Independent, 1 April 2012:
 Vince Heaney, “US drought renews food speculation concerns,” The Financial Times, 19 August 2012:
 Tom Bawden, “Unholy trade of making millions out of misery,” The Independent, 23 August 2012:
Corporate Culture and Global Empire: Food Crisis, Land Grabs, Poverty, Slums, Environmental Devastation and Resistance
Corporate Culture and Global Empire: Food Crisis, Land Grabs, Poverty, Slums, Environmental Devastation and Resistance
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Corporate power is immense. The world’s largest corporation is Royal Dutch Shell, surpassed in wealth only by the 24 largest countries on earth. Of the 150 largest economic entities in the world, 58% are corporations. Corporations are institutionally totalitarian, the result of power’s resistance to the democratic revolution, which was begrudgingly accepted in the political sphere, but denied the economic sphere, and thus was denied a truly democratic society. They are driven by a religion called “short-term profits.” Corporate society – a state-capitalist society – flourished in the United States, and managed the transition of American society in the early 20th century, just as Fascists and Communists were managing transitions across Europe. With each World War, American society – its political and economic power – grew in global influence, and with the end of World War II, that corporate society was exported globally.
This is empire. The American military, intelligence agencies, and national security apparatus operate with the intention of serving U.S. – and now increasingly global – state and corporate interests. Wars, coups, destabilization campaigns, support for dictators, tyrants, genocides and oppression are the products of Western interaction with the rest of the world.
In the same sense that “God made man in his own image,” corporations remade society in their own interest; and with equal arrogance. Corporations and banks created or took over think tanks, foundations, educational institutions, media, public relations, advertising, and other sectors of society. Through their control of other institutions, they extend their ideologies of power – and the variances between them – to the population, to other elites, the ‘educated’ class, middle class, the poor and working class. So long as the ideas expressed support power, it’s ‘acceptable.’ It can extend critiques, but institutional analysis is not permitted. Ideas which oppose institutional power are ‘ideological’, ‘idealist’, ‘utopian’, and ultimately, unacceptable.
Corporate culture dominates our society in the West. Being inherently totalitarian institutions, the culture – and its institutions – become increasingly totalitarian. This is the response by private economic power to undo the achievements in human history which came through increased democracy in the political sphere. Corporations and banks seek to control and consume all things, to dominate without end.
The only reason corporations were and are able to be the defining cultural institution of the 20th and now 21st century, is because of their economic power. This is derived from exploitation: of resources, the environment, labour, and consumers. It is enforced with repression: the job of the state in the state-capitalist society, along with massive subsidies and protectionist measures for corporate and financial interests. As corporate power extended around the world, the rapid destruction of the environment and resources accelerated, and Western powers ‘outsourced’ the environmental devastation our consumer societies ‘require’ to the so-called Third World. We consume, and they suffer; a marriage of inconvenience that we call “civilization.” Corporations and our state keep the rest of the world in a state of poverty and repression, eternally attempting to block the inevitable global revolution to create a human society that acts… humanely. We were busy buying things. Couldn’t be bothered.
Now what our societies have done to the people on whose land we now live, or everyone else in the world, is being done internally, to us. Everything is up for sale! Corporations make record profits, hoard billions and trillions in cash reserves, NOT being invested, but likely waiting until your standard of living is significantly reduced so that your labour and resources are cheaper, and thus, ultimately more profitable. This is called ‘austerity’ and ‘structural reform,’ political euphemisms for impoverishment and exploitation.
Corporations, banks and states have in recent years caused a massive global food crisis, driving food costs to record highs almost every subsequent year from 2007 onward. With billions of people in the world living on less than $2 per day, the majority of humanity spends most of their income on food. Price increases in food, caused primarily by financial speculation (big players include Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Barclays), push tens of millions more people into poverty and hunger. Roughly one billion – 1/7th of the world’s population – live in slums. And they are growing rapidly. Massive urban slums were developed out of the imperialism Western states and corporations imposed upon the rest of the world, pushing people off the land and into the cities, whether induced by poverty or coerced by bombs and guns. All billed to the imperial Western state sponsors of terrorism. We supported (and support) ruthless and tiny elites in the countries we dominate[d] around the world, and now we are just beginning to realize the ruthless and tiny elite which rules over our own domestic lives. Their social function is that of a parasite: to suck the life blood out of all global society.
Food price increases have helped spur a massive global land grab, with Western (as well as Gulf and Asian powers) grabbing vast tracts of land – and water – around the world, for pennies on the dollar. This grab is most extensive in Africa, where in the past several years, mostly Western investors have grabbed land which amounts to an area roughly the size of Western Europe. The land not only contains extensive resource wealth, most importantly water (the Nile is up for sale!), but it is home to hundreds of millions of people, and globally, there are 2.5 billion poor people engaged in small-scale farming. This is primarily done through communal land ownership, something which Western society – with its ‘divine right’ of private property – does not understand. Thus, in international, state, and corporate law – which we designed – we deem communally owned and used land to be legally owned by the state. Our ‘investors’ – banks, hedge funds, pension funds, corporations and states – strike deals with corrupt states across the world to give us 40-100 year contracts for vast tracts of land, paying little or sometimes no rent. Then the “empty land” – as we call it – is cleared (of it’s “emptiness”, no doubt), evicting peoples who have been there for generations and beyond, who depend upon the land and the food it produces for their very lives. These people are being driven to cities, and ultimately, slums.
This is what we call “productive” use of land. So naturally, we then destroy it, eviscerate its environment, poison and pollute, extract, exploit, plunder and profit. Or we simply hold onto the land, not using it at all, just waiting until it goes up in profit. Even major American universities like Harvard are getting involved in the massive land grabs across Africa and elsewhere. This is the largest land grab in history since the late 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’ where Europeans colonized almost the entire continent. When we do use the land for ‘productive use’, we say it will “help the climate” and “reduce hunger.” How? Because we will produce food and biofuels. And in doing so, we will use massive amounts of chemicals, pesticides, genetically modified organisms, deforestation, biodiversity destruction, highly mechanized and heavy fuel-use farming techniques. The food we produce – which is not much, we have more interest in things like biofuels, lumber, minerals, oil, cash-crops, etc. – is then exported to our countries, and away from the poor ones where hunger and poverty are so prevalent. They lose their land, gain more poverty, with the added bonus of extensive food insecurity, hunger, starvation, slum growth, increased mortality rates, disease, and violence. Poverty is violence.
This is how Western states, banks, corporations and international organizations address the issue of “hunger”: by creating more of it. And in a deeply disturbing irony, we call this moving towards “sustainability.” Little did we know that power interests have a different definition of “sustainability” than most people: they simply combined the words sustained and profitability, and called it “sustainability.” And coincidentally, that word already has a meaning to most people, so we simply misinterpreted the meaning. But there are people who take that concept seriously, those who experience the major costs of an unsustainable society.
We are witnessing a massive global resistance to these processes, largely driven by indigenous peoples – in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and now in North America. In Canada, the ‘Idle No More‘ movement began with four indigenous women in Saskatchewan deciding to meet up and discuss their concerns about Steven Harper’s “budget bill,” which, among other things, had reduced the amount of Canada’s protected rivers, lakes, and streams from roughly 2.5 million (as of Dec. 4, 2012) to somewhere around 62 (as of Dec. 5, 2012). Now a large, expanding, and increasingly international social movement led by indigenous peoples is taking place. Less than two months ago, it began with four women having a discussion.
Canada’s Indigenous peoples are showing Canadians – and others around the world – how to stand up against power. And they’ve had practice. For over 500 years, our societies have been oppressing and often eradicating indigenous populations at ‘home’ and abroad. Indigenous peoples, like other oppressed peoples, are at the front lines of the most oppressive nature of our society: they experience and have experienced exploitation, environmental devastation, domination and decimation. With the world’s Indigenous peoples speaking – not only in Canada, but across Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere – it is time that we in the West begin to listen. It is always important to listen to those who are most oppressed; the histories of our ‘victims’ are rarely written or known, at least not to us. Victims remember. And it matters that we begin to listen.
How can we expect to change – or know what and how to change – our societies if we do not listen and learn from those who have experienced the worst of our society? Indigenous people are now giving us a lesson in democratic struggle. If we continue on our current path, Indigenous communities will be completely wiped out; the powers that rule our society will have completed a 500-year genocide.
So we have to ask ourselves the question: should we now listen to, learn from, and join with these people in common struggle for justice and the idea of a humane society, or… are we still too busy buying things?
Perhaps it is time we all should be ‘Idle No More’.
The above was a short summary of roughly three separate chapters currently being researched and written as part of The People’s Book Project. To help the Project continue, please consider spreading the word, sharing articles, or donating.
Kony 2012: War Criminal By Franchise
By: Paulo Wangoola, Founder and President, Mpambo Afrikan Multiversity, Uganda
As I viewed the video my mind wondered and settled far away from Joseph Kony. Kony is a mere case of the numerous questionable leaders, past and contemporary, who have emerged in Afrika, and have actively prosecuted horrendous war on the people, particularly women and children; for example Botha, De Clerk, Mobutu, Savimbi, Kabila, Kagame, Amin, Obote, Museveni, Ben Ali, Hosni Mubaraka, Bokassa, etc, etc. How come all these leaders have gained, consolidated and entrenched their power with the active support of the Coordinate White Republic of Europe and North America? Why is it that as a rule, the Coordinate White Republic is the last to abandon Afrika’s dictators, although even then, only after they have groomed a new and better dictator; that is when they can confidently announce the dictator is dead; long live dictatorship?
In the case of Uganda since 1981, that is for more than thirty years, the people have borne the brunt of war on them by Government and rebel armies; the people have been the grass over which these two generic elephants have fought and made love. Between 1981 and 1986, particularly in the Luwero Triangle, the Government army was commanded by Milton Obote, while the rebel army, NRA, was commanded by Yoweri Museveni. The latter enlisted numerous children in his rebel force. In 1986 Museveni shot himself into power, and the hitherto rebel army, the NRA, became the official Government army, still commanded by Museveni. Numerous rebel armies emerged and waged war on Museveni’s Government. In time the rebel forces collapsed into the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, commanded by Joseph Kony. Kony took a leaf from Museveni’s successful rebellion and, by any means necessary, enlisted numerous children into the LRA, reported to have constituted the majority of the rebel force under Kony’s command. In the case of Northern Uganda therefore, war crimes are the shared responsibility between two armies, one commanded by Museveni, and the other one by Kony. Moreover, Government military victory over a rebel army the majority of whom were abducted children meant the death of hundreds of them on the battle front at the hands of a sitting government.
War crimes by whatever force, the NRA, LRA or Government troops, remain war crimes. For that reason therefore, justice will only be done when the commanders of the two armies, Museveni and Kony, are held to account.
The Kony 2012 video generates a long list of leaders who are alleged to have committed war crimes, and who should be brought to book. Not a single name of a leader from the Coordinate White Republic of Europe and North America appears, except Hitler. Yet it is common knowledge that during the last seventy years there have been numerous wars prosecuted and or fanned and financed by the biggest, most brutal, meanest and most treacherous military machine in human history; that is NATO. All along it has been a case of the mightiest bringing disproportionate force and technology to bear on the weak and the meek; for example in Viet Nam, Granada, Panama, South Afrika, Zimbabwe, Congo, Angola, Somalia, Libya, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Falklands, Tunisia, etc. How can these lands locally generate war criminals without their counterparts in NATO, the Coordinate White Republic of Europe and North America? In fact, the war criminals of the White Republic are the principal, and the ones in the Third World are war criminals by franchise; they are allowed to practice for as long as it is in the overall interest of the big powers. The apparent decision to withdraw Kony’s franchise but maintain Museveni’s must be viewed in this context.
Otherwise the real problem the world faces is to be lumbered with the Eurocentric worldview, its counterpart Arab-centric worldview in its wings, by which white people, under ethnic Anglo-Saxon leadership, believe that the rest of the world owes white gluttony all their own natural resources and other assets, their sweat, blood and whole life; the notion that Western interest supersedes all other interest everywhere, at all times, and that whenever and wherever other people’s interest conflict with the gluttonous interest of the West, the interest of the West shall prevail, by any means necessary. Sounds like fiction; but it is not, in fact it is a case of truth being stranger than fiction! The mind of the white establishment has the spiritual disposition, mind-set and moral high-ground of sorts from which they have developed, acquired and amassed to the level of monopoly, massive means de-voicing, disempowering, dispossessing and disinheriting the peoples of the world. The pursuit of such undemocratic agenda is an act of perpetual war everywhere in its differentiated forms and levels, overt and covert, whose trail of success is a trail of war crimes. For NATO at last to step forward and pretend to save Uganda from Kony can be compared to an arsonist who, having set a house ablaze, leads the people who come running in answer to a fire alarm, works hard in an ineffectual effort to put out the fire, and then turns round and demands or expects a reward, even as he plans other acts of arson.
Paulo Wangoola is the founder and nabyama (president) of Mpambo Afrikan Multiversity, Uganda, an institution that is dedicated to the advancement of indigenous knowledge for community renewal and enrichment. He is also special adviser to the Clans Council of the Busoga Kingdom, Uganda; secretary general of Heritage Trails Uganda; and a member of the Steering Committee of the Uganda History and Reconciliation Committee. Professor Wangoola was convenor of the 2004 Afrikan World Encounter on Building New Futures, Jinja, Uganda. He is the former secretary general of the Afrikan Association for Literacy and Adult Education, Nairobi, Kenya. Professor Wangoola has authored and co-authored several articles and books on a variety of themes, including the political economy of education, community development and progress, African indigenous knowledge systems and spirituality, participatory development, and North/South and South/South development co-operation. He was educated at Makerere University, Kampala, and the University of Southampton, United Kingdom.