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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.
The Great Corporate Colony: Welcome to Canada Inc., A Subsidiary of the American Empire & Co.
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is a sample from the first volume of The People’s Book Project, a crowd-funded initiative to produce a series of books studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance. Please consider donating to help the Project come to fruition.
As one of the most resource-rich countries on earth, and the largest single trading partner with the United States, Canada is strategically positioned to influence the changing nature of global power structures. Do we support – and siphon our resources for the benefit of – the American Empire, co-operating in the wholesale plundering of the world, the oppression and impoverishment of peoples, destruction of global ecology, all for the benefit of an increasingly small class of global corporations and banks… Or, do we become independent and free? Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper once said, “You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.” With multiple “free trade” agreements under way, expanded corporate rights, expropriation of vast amounts of natural resources, Canada is becoming one of the world’s foremost corporate colonies, unrecognizable from what Canadians once imagined our nation to be.
The Plundering Potential of Resource Wealth
Canada is the second largest country by landmass in the world, after Russia, and with roughly 10% of the population of the United States, it is also one of the most resource rich countries on the entire planet. Looking at a list of the ten most resource-rich nations on earth (determined not by the multitude, but rather the ‘market value’ of the resources they contain) is rather revealing. At number ten, and in descending order is: Venezuela, Iraq, Australia, Brazil, China, Iran, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Russia. Canada has one of the largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia and Iran (though these are largely located in the difficult-to-extract Alberta tar sands), as well as having some of the largest mineral resource deposits in the world, with the second-largest proven reserves of uranium and the third largest amount of timber. According to Statistics Canada, the nation’s natural wealth tripled in value between 1990 and 2009, then valued at $3 trillion, largely due to the increased price of oil.
In June of 2012, the United Nations released a major report in which it established a new index to account for and define ‘wealth’ beyond mere reports of GDP. Termed the “Inclusive Wealth Index” (IWI), it determines national wealth based upon three types of assets: “manufactured” (machinery, buildings, infrastructure, etc.), “human capital” (the population’s education and skills), and “natural capital” (land, forests, fossil fuels, minerals, etc.). The study, Inclusive Wealth Report 2012, analyzed 20 different countries, and was intended to take into account depleting resources and sustainability for future generations when determining a nation’s real wealth. While GDP growth has taken place in China, the U.S., South Africa and Brazil, these nations have significantly reduced their natural capital. Between 1990 and 2008, the “natural capital” of the United States declined by 20%, 17% for China, 25% for Brazil, and 33% for South Africa. In fact, 19 out of the 20 countries studied showed a decline in natural capital, offset only by an increase in human capital (education and skills).
Human capital is based upon the average years of schooling, wages that the country’s workers can demand, and how many years they are expected to work before they retire or die. With this measurement, human capital amounts to the largest percentage of a nation’s wealth (except for Nigeria, Russia, and Saudi Arabia), accounting for 88% of Britain’s wealth and 75% of America’s. Canada is of course included among the 19 countries with rapidly declining natural capital.
Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver spoke to a gathering of Canaccord Genuity Corporation (a financial services conglomerate) in Toronto in September of 2012, where he explained that Canada’s “tremendous natural wealth” included “huge capacities and reserves of energy, including the third-largest proven oil reserves in the world,” as well as “tremendous hydroelectric capacity, massive tracts of forests and an abundance of minerals and metals.” He added, however: “it’s not enough to have the resources… You have to do something with them.” Oliver listed some of the many resources which Canada has and produces in abundance: oil, natural gas, hydroelectricity, uranium (second largest producer in the world), more than 200 mines turning out more than 60 minerals, “including more potash than anyone else,” as well as aluminum, cobalt, diamonds, nickel, platinum group metals, titanium concentrate, tungsten, chromite, the second-largest exporter of primary forest products, and is the “biggest exporter of wood pulp, newsprint and softwood lumber.” The resource sector, explained Oliver, “is the cornerstone of our economy, our long-term prosperity and our quality of life.”
Oliver explained that the energy, forestry, metals and minerals industries accounted for roughly 15% of Canada’s nominal GDP, the “direct contribution” to the Canadian economy, while the indirect GDP (taking into account “goods and services purchased from other sectors – construction, machinery and equipment, business and professional services”) takes the number up to roughly 20%. The key areas and industries are oil in Alberta, forestry in British Columbia, potash and uranium in Saskatchewan, mining in Ontario and hydro-power in Quebec. Oliver told the assembled crowd in the heart of Toronto’s finance industry that there was “about $650 billion invested in over 600 major resource projects currently underway in Canada or planned in the next 10 years.” He added: “Countries in the Asia-Pacific region are especially hungry for the energy and minerals and metals and forest products they need to fuel their growth and build a better quality of life for their citizens.” There were, he acknowledged, still inherent problems with the global economy which could effect this outlook, but suggested that what the Canadian government can – “and is doing – is establish a competitive business climate so the private sector can capitalize on our enormous potential.” In other words, the Canadian government will establish a highly protective and subsidized market for multinational corporations to more effectively plunder the natural resources. All for altruistic intentions, of course!
Canada’s highly influential big business dominated think tanks have not been far behind in promoting resource plundering by multinational corporations. The Conference Board of Canada published a report in June of 2012 arguing that “Canada’s trade strengths are concentrated in industries that extract natural resources and process raw materials,” including agricultural and food products, minerals and metals, forest products, and electricity exports. In the report, Adding Value to Trade: Moving Beyond Being Hewers of Wood, Michael Burt wrote: “These industries rely heavily on natural resource wealth such as land, water, forests, and mineral products. The abundance of these resources gives Canada a robust comparative advantage in the industries that extract and process them.” Thus, it would be desirable to promote the “development and use of our natural resources, and industries that support the primary sector are competitive with world standards.” The board of directors of the Conference Board of Canada includes executives and/or board members of the Business Development Bank of Canada, EPCOR Utilities, CGI Group, GE Canada, Canada Post Corporation, TransAlta Corporation, ICICI Bank Canada, Cisco Systems Canada, Desjardins Group, IBM Canada, Shell Canada, Xerox Canada, SaskTel, SaskPower, and John Manley, the President and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), the main business interest group in Canada, made up of the top 150 corporate CEOs in the country.
In October of 2012, the Canadian International Council (CIC) – the Canadian counterpart to the Council on Foreign Relations in the U.S. – published a report entitled, Becoming a Resource Superpower, in which the author, Madelaine Drohan (the Canada correspondent for The Economist) argued that, “without strong leadership and collaboration we risk losing an opportunity to become a real resource superpower.” A series of recommendations were laid out, including the possibility of establishing a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) to pool and invest money made from resources, encouraging the provincial and federal governments in Canada to “stop treating” revenue from resources “as income to be spent and start treating them as capital to be saved or invested.” In other words, the money made from resources should not go back to benefit Canadians, but rather be used to exclusively benefit the investor class.
Other recommendations focused on expanding the relationship between government, business, and academia (as if we don’t have enough of this already): “To do this, federal and provincial governments must concentrate their funding for research and development on collaborative projects between groups of companies and academic institutions.” Another recommendation focused on expanding “trade” networks and energy customers, specifically in the Asia-Pacific, noting: “Canada should focus on negotiations involving the largest possible number of countries, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and look beyond China so we do not repeat the error of putting all our eggs in one basket.” The report then recommended the government to establish highly protectionist trade agreements for corporations, writing: “Government can help companies plug into global value chains by removing impediments and securing the right trade and investment deals.” By definition, that is the opposite of “free trade,” which is why it is important that we call it “free trade,” when in actuality, it is highly protectionist, involving state intervention designed to undermine the ‘market’ and give corporations a subsidized advantage, thus, undermining competition. The last major recommendation was for federal, provincial, and territorial governments to “collaborate on a national blueprint for resource development that identifies the gaps to be filled – including in infrastructure, environmental protection, trade diversification, education, immigration, technology, and supporting sectors – and sets out how to address them, with achievable goals and deadlines.” In other words, massive state-capitalist planning and plundering is required.
The board of directors of the Canadian International Council (CIC) includes the president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Chair of the Atlantic Council of Canada, Raymond Chrétien (nephew of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien), while the chief sponsors of the CIC include: Bennett Jones, Power Corporation of Canada (owned by the Desmarais family, Canada’s Rockefellers), the Royal Bank of Canada, AGF, Barrick Gold, BMO Financial Group, Sun Life Financial, Scotiabank, and TD Bank. So naturally, it has everyone’s interests at heart, and by ‘everyone’, I mean, everyone that matters to the investor class (i.e., the investor class).
So, as Canada increases production of oil from Alberta’s tar sands, the government is seeking to expand the major pipelines to the coast in the hopes of acquiring China as a major trading partner, instead of just the United States. Canada sits atop “unknown quantities” of natural gas reserves, what The Economist calls an “unconventional bonanza,” adding: “Just as the 20th century was the age of oil, the 21st could prove to be the century of gas.” However, in August of 2012, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared that Canada’s future economic hopes depend upon the natural resources of the Arctic, which has been the focus of a new global grab for resources since the Arctic ice has begun to break up more rapidly. On a visit to the region, Harper stated, “Obviously, there is a tremendous economic opportunity here. The fact that we are attracting investment not just domestically, but from around the globe speaks very highly to the future.” As revealed by documents released to the press, in late 2011, the Mining Association of Canada was lobbying the Environment Minister Peter Kent “to change regulations and allow non-metal mines, such as diamonds, oilsands and coal, to discharge potentially polluted water under federal guidelines.”
In other words, now that the ice is breaking and resources are being readied for plunder, the major mining conglomerates want the government’s permission to treat the Canadian environment the way they treat the environment in the rest of the world, notably, in poor, conflict-ridden countries like Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. After all, what is plundering without the added bonus of environmental devastation? It’s not just a matter of extracting and exploiting all available resources, from which to gain massive profits, but it’s also important for corporations to destroy the surrounding environment so that little, if anything, can flourish and replenish. That is plundering at its most profitable. In October of 2012, it was reported that Canada was going to claim ownership of a massive size of undersea territory in the Arctic, larger than the size of the province of Québec, and roughly equal to 20% of the country’s surface area.
In 2013, Canada will begin chairing a two-year term of the Arctic Council, a grouping of eight nations working together to manage the development of the Arctic as an economically and strategically important global region. With the opening of new and large opportunities for economic exploitation and resource plundering, the states with territory in the Arctic have become increasingly aggressive in their military posturing in the region, “increasingly designed for combat rather than policing,” according to a study by the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions. The report noted: “Although the pursuit of co-operation is the stated priority, most of the Arctic states have begun to rebuild and modernize their military capabilities in the region.”
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been publicly making aggressive statements about competition in the Arctic, particularly in relation to Russia. In private, however, Harper had been making different claims. As revealed by Wikileaks, Harper expressed the message to the Secretary-General of NATO that there was no real military threat in the Arctic, instead expressing the perspective that, “Canada has a good working relationship with Russia with respect to the Arctic, and a NATO presence could backfire by exacerbating tensions.” Harper added, according to the released cables, “that there is no likelihood of Arctic states going to war, but that some non-Arctic members favoured a NATO role in the Arctic because it would afford them influence in an area where ‘they don’t belong’.” All the public statements and aggressive military stances in the region have, however, helped to sway public opinion into believing that there is a “security or sovereignty threat to the northern border,” and thus justify increased expansion into the region for exploitation. The issue is not one of security, but of securing resources (for corporations, no doubt). One released cable from 2009 relayed this point accurately, noting that Canada’s defense plan to build six Arctic Patrol ships for the navy was “an example of a requirement driven by political rather than military imperatives, since the navy did not request these patrol ships. The Conservatives have nonetheless long found domestic political capital in asserting Canada’s ‘Arctic Sovereignty’.” By the summer of 2012, the aggressive rhetoric had essentially vanished, and Harper’s missions to the Arctic were entirely diplomatic and aimed at exploiting the region’s vast natural resources. The Obama administration has also identified the Arctic as “an area of key strategic interest.”
Canada For Sale: “Free Trade” Fanaticism
Canada has been pursuing a vast array of so-called “free trade” agreements with specific countries around the world, as part of the overall program of plundering resources and giving multinational corporations unprecedented control over society. Since the 1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Canada has pursued agreements with several countries, including Israel, Jordan, Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras, Panama, Peru and is in talks with the European Union and Japan, as well as China and India.
On August 15, 2011, the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement – a highly protectionist corporate-driven agreement (like all “free trade” agreements) – came into effect. The agreement was reached in 2008, receiving “royal assent” in 2010, and is sure to benefit major corporations and help finance a state which is responsible for the greatest human rights violations in the Western Hemisphere. Canada’s top five exports to Colombia include wheat, newsprint and paper, machinery and equipment, dump trucks as well as beans, peas, and lentils. Colombia’s top five exports to Canada include coal, coffee, bananas, fuel oil and cut flowers (note: this list excludes illicit trade products like cocaine, of which Colombia is a major global exporter).
As critics of the deal pointed to Colombia’s record on human rights abuses, Stephen Harper commented, “No good purpose is served in this country or in the United States by anybody who is standing in the way of the development of the prosperity of Colombia,” by which he means to say that human rights are irrelevant so long as multinational corporations are making large profits. And indeed, policies fit that paradigm very well. Harper added: “Colombia is a wonderful country with great possibility and great ambition. And we need to be encouraging that every step of the way. That’s why we have made this a priority to get this deal done. We can’t block the progress of a country like this for protectionist reasons.” In this sense, the word “protectionist” refers to any impediments, regulations, or barriers to the unhindered exploitation and plundering of a country by multinational corporations. When agreements are protectionist in favour of corporations, securing and enforcing their unhindered monopolization of markets and exploitation of resources, this is called “free trade.”
With more than 70 Canadian corporations in Colombia, from oil and mining to finance, the agreement will open up more access for major companies. For those who mention human rights abuses, Harper had this to say: “I think there are protectionist forces in our country and in the United States that don’t care about development and prosperity in this part of the world. And that’s unfortunate.” Chris Spaulding of Talisman Energy, a Canadian corporation doing business in Colombia, commented that, “It’s very business friendly. They want foreign investment. The labor force is very good. The resources are there.”
According to the Globe and Mail, Colombia has “near bullet-proof potential for rapid growth,” due to low wages, abundant resources, and with the return of “order” (a euphemism for state oppression and control), though the country still has a high murder rate, five times the rate of the United States. Colombia not only signed a free trade agreement with Canada, but also with the U.S., and has received top rates from the World Bank for fostering a good “business climate.” Scotiabank, one of Canada’s big five banks, made a $1 billion purchase of a 51% stake in Colombia’s fifth largest bank, Banco Colpatria. Rick Waugh, the CEO of Scotiabank, declared that, “Colombia is very important to us.”
Toronto-based mining company Gran Colombia Gold Corp has been seeking to remove an entire town, a 500-year old community, to make way for an open-pit mine. When the Colombian government was preparing to displace the town, villagers in the community formed a committee to defend themselves. One of the organizers, a local priest, Father José Reinel Restrepo, publicly denounced the plan to move the town for the benefit of a foreign corporation, even giving television interviews in which he denounced “Canadian imperialism.” He explained: “If they are going to drive me out of here, I would tell them they would have to expel me by way of bullets or machetes – but they can’t oblige me to leave.” Four days later, Father Restrepo was shot dead while traveling to visit his family.
Colombia has a long history with powerful business interests allying themselves with paramilitary outfits to “silence opponents and displace rural populations living atop natural resources.” Under the guise of the “war on drugs,” Colombia’s military, with billions in “aid” from the United States, has co-operated with big business interests and criminal paramilitary groups, purportedly to fight rebel groups (notably FARC), but mostly to clear rural communities to allow for corporate plundering of the resources upon which they sit. In recent decades, some four million people have been displaced by such actions, leaving the country with Latin America’s “most inequitable distribution of wealth.” On top of that, Colombia is a major narco-state, with state, paramilitary and rebel groups all participating in the massive cocaine trade. Many historians have described Colombia as “the world’s most enduringly violent country,” with over five decades of constant internal warfare. With over 20 major Canadian companies holding major investments in Colombia, it’s no wonder that the World Bank rated the country as the best investment climate in Latin America.
The brand of “order” that the government of Colombia has enforced in recent years represents a continuation of the policies of several administrations before it. The human rights and humanitarian crisis in Colombia is “staggering in scale,” with millions displaced, killed, tortured, raped, kidnapped or “disappeared,” more than 280,000 people had to flee their homes in 2010 alone. State, paramilitary and rebel groups have all routinely been accused of vast human rights abuses and war crimes. While the new government of President Santos promised to prioritize human rights when he came to power in 2010, the reality, according to Amnesty International, was that “threats against and killings of leaders of displaced communities and of those seeking the return of lands misappropriated during the conflict, mainly by paramilitary groups, have increased during the Santos government.” In criminal investigations of human rights abuses, witnesses, victims, lawyers, and judges have continuously been threatened or even killed. Threats and murders have also increased for human rights activists, trade unionists, and community leaders.
Canadian law demands that the government table a human rights report for Parliament on the impact of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Instead of submitting the report, the Canadian government decided, in May of 2012, that it would not even adhere to Canadian law, and refused to submit any such report, instead stating that it would produce a report for May of 2013. With more than 259,000 people displaced from their homes in Colombia in 2011 (on top of the 280,000 displaced in 2010), human rights abuses and war crimes will continue, with the tacit (and perhaps active) cooperation of Canadian corporations, notably mining companies. The Canadian government has effectively given the green light for such abuses to continue. While Colombia’s Constitutional Court identified 34 Indigenous nations in the country that were in “grave danger of extinction,” Canadian indifference continued. Alex Neve, the Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada declared that, “Canada must not turn its back on the human rights crisis in Colombia for yet another year… The crucial question that should not be postponed is what role is Canadian investment playing with regard to this emergency?” Neve added: “Failure to carry out a full impact assessment violates Canada’s responsibility of due diligence under international law and denies Canadian corporations working in Colombia the information they need to avoid implicating themselves in grave human rights violations.”
The website for the Canadian ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Trade declared that the Canada-Colombia FTA provided “a key boost for Canadian companies in five important sectors: agriculture, information and communication technologies, mining, oil and gas, and services.” Noting that Canada’s interest in the narco-state was “growing strongly,” the ministry website added that Colombia had “undergone important economic and legal reforms, spurring democracy and global direct investment.” The business climate, it declared, was “now stable and predictable, making Colombia a secure business partner and a solid investment destination.” With that in mind, Canada’s Defence Minister Peter MacKay signed an agreement with the Colombian military in November of 2012 to strengthen its “military relationship with Colombia,” which MacKay stated, “represents a natural evolution in our relationship… And we look forward to continuing to build our ties with the Colombian Armed Forces.” No doubt, as they continue to displace hundreds of thousands of innocent people in order to clear the land for foreign corporations, and of course, to help advance the profits of the international illicit drug trade.
Scotiabank decided to expand its operations further in Colombia, with the purchase of a majority stake in one of Colombia’s largest pension fund companies. Scotiabank has taken on a major role in “financing Colombia’s energy and mining sectors,” with the bank’s head of global wealth management stating, “We look to continue the growth and expansion of this business.” Another executive at Scotiabank stated, “We continue to invest in Colombia because we see this as a market with great potential for growth.” Interestingly, the Canadian Embassy in Colombia is located in the new Scotiabank Tower in Bogota.
Canada continues to pursue further “free trade agreements” with other countries as well, notably, Japan and China. In March of 2012, Canada and Japan agreed to begin free trade talks, already steadfast trading partners. On top of “free trade,” the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced that Canada and Japan would also be advancing defence and security “co-operation.” At the announcement, Harper declared that, “This is a truly historic step that will help create jobs and growth for both countries.” Jayson Myers, the president of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters association stated, “Japan is a strategic commercial partner… However, it is also a country with whom we’ve had a persistent trade deficit when it comes to manufacturing. These negotiations provide the appropriate forum to resolve ongoing concerns.”
As revealed by secret documents obtained by the media, the Canadian government had been lobbying the United States to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement for the main reason of gaining more access to Japan, with one document noting that the TPP without Japan “does not excite us.” In November of 2012, it was reported that Japan was likely to follow Canada’s entrance into the TPP, the largest and most secretive trade agreement in history, involving 11 Pacific rim countries, and negotiated in cooperation with over 600 corporations. The TPP is highly controversial within Japan, since it could potentially – and likely would – lead to reduced protections and subsidies for the Japanese agriculture sector, an area long considered untouchable. A spokesperson for the Canadian department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade stated, “We welcome Japan’s interest in joining the TPP. Japan’s participation in the TPP would further strengthen Canada and Japan’s strong trade and investment relationship. We are already working closely with Japan towards a bilateral free trade agreement that will bring new jobs and increased prosperity to Canadians and we would welcome the opportunity to also work together in the TPP.”
(For more information on the TPP, please see my three-part series here: The Trans-Pacific Partnership)
Canada has also begun talks with India and hoped to sign a free trade deal with the country by the end of 2013, with Stephen Harper stating, upon a visit to India, “I think I am very clear that we need to go farther and faster.” Stephen Harper lamented against the fact that India has democratic institutions, and thus, undemocratic policies are harder to implement. He stated: “What we do have to realize when we deal with India, as opposed to some other countries that we’re dealing with in the developing world – this country is a democracy… And that means that governments cannot simply dictate a whole set of policy changes to happen the next day. That means governments must develop consensus behind policy changes. And that, in this country is not easy. We understand that.” Luckily for Harper, he doesn’t have to face any such problems at home, with a majority government, tearing the country to pieces day-by-day. Stephen Harper once boasted many years ago, that if he was given the chance to become Prime Minister, “You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.” Indeed, that turns out to be quite true. Indeed, back in 1997, Harper wrote an article in which he referred to Canada as “a benign dictatorship,” though there seems to be little ‘benign’ about his majority-government rule.
In September of 2012, Stephen Harper signed an investment treaty with China (as a precursor to a potential free trade agreement), called the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA). The details of the agreement were kept secret until the deal was tabled in the Canadian Parliament in late September, but the agreement is not to be debated in Parliament because treaty making “is a royal prerogative,” and can thus become law through the initiative of the Prime Minister’s cabinet alone, so long as the treaty is ‘tabled’ in Parliament. Canada already had roughly 24 FIPAs in operation, with roughly a dozen more in the works. FIPAs are not “free trade agreements,” but are designed to simply “protect and promote” foreign investment in legally-binding agreements. In essence, they are quicker and smaller versions of “free trade” agreements, and designed with a similar purpose: to advance corporate rights and the expense of democratic rights.
China’s ambassador to Canada stated that the two countries should move quickly toward a free-trade agreement within a decade, adding, “It’s time to open each other’s markets.” The comments came as a major Chinese state-owned corporation was seeking to take over a Canadian energy company, which would be the first direct foreign takeover of a major actor in Canada’s energy sector, a major concern for Canadians who fear Canada’s resource wealth will not benefit Canadians. On this issue, the Chinese ambassador noted, “Business is business. It should not be politicized… If we politicize all this, then we can’t do business.” The ambassador told a Canadian journalist, “We are not coming to control your resources.” No, of course not, they’re just coming to take the resources. Within a couple months, Prime Minister Harper approved of the Chinese takeover of the Canadian energy company Nexen, as well as another takeover by a Malaysian company in the Canadian energy sector. However, Harper then stated that there would be restrictions on foreign governments buying some of Canada’s largest energy conglomerates (just not these ones in particular). At a press conference, Harper stated, “When we say that Canada is open for business, we do not mean that Canada is for sale to foreign governments.” Except, of course, for all the exceptions to that rule.
Critics of the Canada-China FIPA warned that it would reduce Canada to little more than a “resource colony,” which would bind Canada to new investment rights with China for 30 years. Not only does it allow China to gain an increased foothold in Canada’s economy, and specifically, in purchasing Canadian resources, but it also acts “to protect Canadian capitalists when they go into China.” What more could someone ask for? The Council of Canadians, a public interest organization, referred to the Canada-China FIPA as a “corporate rights pact” that would have serious repercussions on Canadian environmental, energy, and financial policies. This is because the deal would allow for lawsuits against the Canadian federal and provincial governments for having “barriers” to investments, which could then be overturned.
Canada is also in the final stages of negotiating a trade agreement with the European Union, called the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), designed to reduce tariffs and open up “new markets,” having major impacts upon agriculture, intellectual property rights (copyright and patent laws), with drug prices likely to increase “significantly,” as well as allowing for more “labour mobility,” a euphemism for increased labour exploitation. The agreement, which has been in negotiations for years, would “deal another blow to Canada’s already battered manufacturing sector,” with roughly 28,000 jobs under threat, deemed to be the “best-case scenario” by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The “worst-case” scenario could see up to 152,000 jobs being “vaporized.”
As is typical, the negotiations are “behind closed doors” and barely deal with actual “trade.” CETA is, much like the TPP, termed a “next generation” free trade agreement, negotiated since May of 2009, and would further deregulate and privatize the Canadian economy, and of course, therefore, increase corporate power, and thus at the expense of democratic accountability. The agreement could restrict how local and provincial governments could spend money, even banning “buy local” policies, increase the cost of drugs by $3 billion, increase Canada’s trade deficit with the EU, allow for European corporations to attack environmental and health protections within Canada as “barriers to investment,” potentially even apply pressure to privatize water, transit, and energy, and even prevent farmers from saving their seeds, as a major gift to GMO manufacturers. Where corporate rights are advanced, democratic rights are dismantled.
A leaked document from the European Commission dated November 6, 2012, revealed that the practice of Canadian municipalities “buying locally” would disappear with the Canada-EU CETA, and that “provincial development programs could go with them.” Canadian municipalities were offering better terms for European access to municipal contracts that those which Canadian provinces give each other. The document, prepared for the European Commission’s Trade Policy Committee noted that the agreement is “the most ambitious and comprehensive offer Canada and its provinces have made to any partner, including the U.S.” EU negotiations will, however, continue to press for more access to energy sectors. Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians noted: “The amount of room our provinces, municipalities and local communities have to support local farmers and otherwise create the jobs of tomorrow is threatened again by a Canada-European Union free trade deal that will forever prohibit these kinds of economic strategies.” The province of Ontario could alone lose between 13,000 and 70,000 jobs as a result of the agreement, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Openly acknowledged by European politicians was that Canada would be getting the short end of the stick in the CETA deal, as a Danish member of the European Parliament stated, “At the moment Europe will be able to export more than what Canada will be exporting.” Another European official closely linked to the negotiations stated, “We will gain a bit more.” Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast said, “[t]he potential benefits to Canadians under a free trade agreement with the European Union are immense,” though he forgot to acknowledge that the ‘Canadians’ he was referring to are largely corporations, and the elite class that owns them. Michael Hart, a trade expert at Carleton University noted, “[t]rade agreements do not create jobs. Never have. Never will. But ministers have never accepted that economic insight.” And understandably so, after all, it’s rather challenging to sell a trade deal to the public if one openly declares it is for the singular purpose of advancing corporate rights, domination, and plundering. So instead, politicians must always mutter the magical word of “jobs,” which in political language, translates accurately into “profits,” as Noam Chomsky has suggested in the past. Thus, when politicians say that trade agreements will “create jobs,” which they never do, what they are actually saying is that such agreements will “create profits,” and exclusively for major multinational corporations, which they always do.
Canada’s trade agenda is of course driven by big business, whose interests will be served by such “free trade” agreements. In regards to CETA, the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business (CERT) was established in 1999 to contribute “recommendations on trade and investment to government officials and hosting thematic, high-level meeting focused on developing strategic relationships between company executives and with government officials,” according to the website for CERT. A declaration of support in 2008 for a Canada-EU trade agreement was signed by over 100 executives in Europe and Canada, urging Canadian and EU leaders to “design a new type of forward-looking, wide-ranging and binding bilateral trade and investment agreement.” Such an agreement, the document stated, “will provide European companies with a gateway into the vast North American free trade area, while increasing Canadian opportunities in the European Common Market,” serving as “a strategic and important step towards the eventual creation of a comprehensive transatlantic trade and investment area.” Among the signatories to the statement were top executives at the following companies: Anglo American plc, AstraZeneca, Barrick Gold Corporation, BASF, Bayer, Bertelsmann, BNP-Paribas, Bombardier, British Airways, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, CN, Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, E.ON AG, Gaz de France, GlaxoSmithKline, Lafarge, Manulife Financial, Merck, Monsanto Canada, Munich Re, Pfizer Canada, Power Financial Corporation, Rio Tinto plc, Royal Dutch Shell, Siemens, SNC-Lavalin, Société Générale, SUEZ, Suncor, ThyssenKrupp, TOTAL SA., TSX Group, Ubisoft Entertainment, and Volkswagen, among many others.
In late October 2012, a number of European and Canadian big business lobbying groups, including BusinessEurope, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business (CERT), sent a letter to the Canadian and European trade negotiators, Ed Fast and Karel de Gucht, respectively, urging them to push through on the CETA. The signatories called for Canada and the EU to reach “an ambitious and successful conclusion to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations by the end of 2012.” The letter said it was “imperative” to “maintain a high level of ambition” in key areas which would benefit Canadian and European corporate interests. Among the many areas for which the letter suggested “a high level of ambition” were in recommending the “full and rapid dismantling of tariffs for all industrial goods,” and “[a]ccess to raw materials and energy products,” the removal of barriers and “discriminations” in service sectors, “full access” to the agricultural sector, including “a satisfactory path forward on the bio-tech issues that have caused trade impediments,” by which is meant to advance the interests of GMO manufacturers. Further recommendations included “access to government procurement” which removes all barriers and allows for increased privatization, and of course, “[r]obust protection and enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights in both markets,” which would include “the targeting, seizing and destroying of counterfeit imports and exports,” so as to undermine competition and protect monopoly and oligopoly corporations. Finally, the letter stated that the Canada-EU agreement “must also ensure improved labour mobility,” which would allow for increased labour exploitation, enhancing competition between the labour forces of Europe and Canada, which always results in lost jobs, lower wages, and reduced protections and benefits. These are, of course, all very good things for multinational corporations. Since they are terrible things for the populations, they have to be coded in political and economic language, so instead of saying, “we want easily exploitable and cheap labour,” they suggest, “improved labour mobility,” which is also at times referred to as “labour flexibility” (i.e., making labour “flexible” to the interests of multinational corporations).
The Great Canadian Corporate Colony
Such letters from corporate leaders are necessary in order to remind political leaders whose interests they are in office to serve. The Canadian government ensured that it would serve big business interests through trade policy by appointing, in May of 2012, a new ‘advisory panel’ which would “help guide Canada’s ambitious, pro-trade plan in large, dynamic and fast-growing priority markets.” Speaking at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, International Trade Minister Ed Fast stated: “Our government’s top priority is the economy – creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for Canadian workers, businesses and families… We understand the importance of trade to our economy… That is why we are deepening Canada’s trading relationships in priority markets around the world.”
Ed Fast announced the formation of the new advisory panel at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. The members of the panel include: Murad Al-Katib, president and CEO of Alliance Grain Traders Inc.; Paul Reynolds, president and CEO of Canaccord Financial; Kathleen Sullivan, executive director of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance (CAFTA), representing 80% of Canada’s agri-food sector; Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, former president and CEO of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, former president and CEO of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporations (CBC), and former government minister; John Manley, former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, former Foreign Affairs and Finance Minister, and currently president and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), a corporate interest group made up of Canada’s top 150 CEOs; Catherine Swift, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses; Jayson Myers, president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters; Brian Ferguson, president and CEO of Cenovus Energy Inc, a major Canadian oil company; Serge Godin, founder and executive chairman of the board of CGI Group Inc, one of the largest information technology businesses in the world; and Indira Samarasekera, president of the University of Alberta. Upon the announcement of this panel, Ed Fast stated: “I look forward to receiving advice from these knowledgeable Canadian leaders.”
So we return to the statement once made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.” Sadly, this is quite true as Harper Inc. advance Canada to the status of one of the world’s premier corporate colonies, where plundering for profits, environmental degradation, mass privatization, deregulation, and democratic devastation are the rules of the day. A Canada once thought of as democratic, free, and peaceful, is ever-advancing toward a fully privatized outpost of global corporate tyranny: Canada Inc., a subsidiary of the American Empire & Co.
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.
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