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Friday, June 29, 2012

Comment Ashton saurait-elle ce qui est bon pour l’Irak ?

Les dernières nouvelles ont souvent besoin d'un avertissement. Dans un souci de transparence, les mots « il s'agit d'un communiqué de presse réchauffé » devrait apparaître au début de nombreux articles dans les journaux et les sites Web appartenant aux grands médias. Les bulletins télévisés devraient s'ouvrir avec une annonce disant : « une grande partie de ce que vous allez entendre reflète les intérêts des plus puissants".

En début de ce mois l'Union européenne a signé un accord de "partenariat et de coopération" avec l'Irak. D'après mes recherches, il semble que presque tous les rapports de presse sur l'accord ont été basés principalement, sinon exclusivement, sur une déclaration publiée par Catherine Ashton, Haut Représentant de l'UE pour les affaires étrangères. Cette déclaration nous informe que l'accord serait "bon pour l'Irak".

Tous les journalistes qui ont écrit sur cet accord l'ont fait sans en connaitre les détails. Quand j'ai demandé au porte-parole de Mme Ashton une copie du texte, il m'a dit qu'il n'est pas encore "accessible au public". Ashton et son équipe ont avancé leur version de l'histoire avant que quiconque ait une chance de les contredire.

Pourquoi devrait-on faire confiance à Catherine Ashton ? Ashton était un ministre du gouvernement britannique en 2003. Son patron à l'époque, Tony Blair, a décidé (avec George Bush) d’envahir l'Irak en violation de la Charte des Nations Unies, qui interdit expressément les guerres d'agression.

« Se prononçant » sur son emploi actuel en 2010, Ashton a déclaré aux députés qu'elle croyait que les bombardements en Irak étaient "la bonne chose à faire en fonction de ce que je savais à l'époque". Elle n'a à aucun moment présenté des excuses pour avoir soutenu cette guerre ni cherché à prendre ses distances d'aucune manière avec Blair. En effet, elle entretient des contacts réguliers avec ce criminel de guerre dans son rôle actuel d’« envoyé pour la paix internationale" (le titre que lui ont conféré les médias britanniques) pour le Moyen-Orient.

Comment Ashton pourrait-elle savoir ce qui est « bon pour l'Irak" quand elle a soutenu une occupation illégale qui a dévasté ce pays ? Tommy Franks, l'un des militaires « cerveaux » à l’origine de cette guerre, fit cette célèbre déclaration « nous ne comptons pas les corps ». Mais le nombre de morts était certainement énorme. Une étude réalisée en 2006 par The Lancet, une revue médicale faisant autorité, a estimé que la guerre avait causé 600.000 morts parmi les civils. L'organisation Just Foreign Policy avance aujourd'hui le chiffre de plus de 1,4 millions. Wikileaks a révélé comme malhonnête l'affirmation de Franks en relâchant les câbles diplomatiques qui prouvent que les Etats-Unis ont gardé un œil sur les victimes. Le Iraq War Logs, publié par Julian Assange et ses accolytes en 2010, recense 109.000 morts violentes dans la période 2003 à 2009. Plus de 66.000 des victimes ont été classées comme étant des civils.

Que savait exactement Ashton en 2003 ? Comme elle était ministre dans le département de l'éducation et des compétences, je suppose alors qu'elle n'était pas au courant de toute l' "intelligence" à la disposition de M. Blair. Cependant, elle aurait été extrêmement naïve si elle croyait que la guerre était vraiment motivée par ces armes de destruction massive que Saddam était supposé cacher.

L'an dernier, The Independent a révélé que des réunions ont eu lieu entre les représentants du gouvernement britannique, Shell et BP dans les derniers mois de 2002. Les enregistrements de ces discussions révèlent que BP était « désespéré » de mettre ses griffes sur les réserves pétrolières de l'Irak. Le bureau des affaires étrangères a pris l'engagement de faire pression sur Washington pour s'assurer que les entreprises britanniques ne perdraient pas quand les contrats seront partagés après l'invasion.

Ashton a juste signé un accord qui est présenté comme « bon pour l'Irak ». Voulait-elle dire en réalité qu'il était bon pour BP et Shell ?

Une note explicative sur le site du « Service d'Action Extérieure » de l'Union européenne, que Ashton commande, déclare que l'Union vise à assurer un niveau minimum de « prévisibilité » et de « sécurité légale » pour les entreprises travaillant en Irak. Le nouvel accord fait suite au "Protocole d'accord » de 2010 entre l'UE et l'Irak sur les questions énergétiques, et qui a promis un « cadre d'investissement transparent ».

Ces termes pourraient sembler anodins. Mais s’ils sont placés dans le contexte plus large de la politique commerciale de l'UE, ils prennent un sens plus sinistre. L’ « Europe Globale » modèle défendu par cet autre acolyte de Blair, Peter Mandelson, quand il était commissaire au commerce de l'UE, a soutenu que tout obstacle rencontré par les entreprises faisant affaires à l'étranger doit être surmonté. A défaut de preuve du contraire, il faut donc en conclure que Mme Ashton veut exploiter les réserves de pétrole et de gaz de l'Irak d'une manière qui apporterait beaucoup plus de bénéfices aux sociétés occidentales qu’à la population irakienne.

En Juin 2011, le Wall Street Journal a rapporté qu’une loi sur l'investissement introduite en Irak exemptait de nombreux investisseurs d'impôt sur les sociétés pour une période allant jusqu’à 15 ans et leur permettait de rapatrier les bénéfices. Une interdiction constitutionnelle de la privatisation des principaux biens publics a été annulée par l'Autorité Provisoire de la Coalition, l'organisme américain qui a supervisé le pillage systématique de l'économie irakienne en 2003 et 2004. Un total de 47 entreprises se prépare à une vente aux enchères des licences d'exploration pétrolière en Irak le 30 mai, selon Bloomberg. L'Irak est en bonne voie pour être le deuxième plus grand producteur de l'Organisation des Pays Exportateurs de Pétrole d'ici la fin de l'année, déclare l'agence.

La presse économique n'est pas à l'abri des charmes des « spindoctors ». Mais elle publie des faits utiles. Lisez-les attentivement et vous obtenez une vue plus précise de la façon dont le monde fonctionne plutôt que de copier-coller la propagande de Catherine Ashton.

Comment quelqu'un qui a soutenu une guerre illégale ose-t-il revendiquer savoir ce qui est bon pour l'Irak.

●Traduction: www.michelcollon.info

Monday, June 25, 2012

Shock and awe is back: arms dealers set EU technology agenda

We would speak in hushed tones whenever a Rolls-Royce pulled in across from the house where I grew up. It could only mean one thing. Tony O’Reilly, one of Ireland’s richest men, was visiting his aunt, who ran the local post office. To the best of my recollection, the vehicle was pale green. I was too young to understand that O’Reilly had amassed a fortune from newspapers and baked beans. But the stir created by his arrival made me feel I was in close proximity to greatness.

The Rolls-Royce is a symbol of shock and awe. By driving one – or being driven around in one - its owner is asserting a sense of superiority over the rest of us mere mortals. How fitting, then, that the Rolls-Royce corporation is assisting the US military establishment to perfect its tactics of shock and awe (as Donald Rumsfeld called them) and assert its sense of superiority over the rest of the world.

In March, Rolls-Royce announced it had won contracts worth $275 million to provide “service support” for the engines of America’s warplanes, among other things. This followed its provision of “back shop support” to the Typhoon bombers used by the British air force in last year’s offensive against Libya.

Don’t trust the official narrative

Given its stated desire to grow the military side of its business, it might seem odd that Rolls-Royce has helped prepare a new European Commission strategy on “key enabling technologies” for industries of the future. Since I started writing about the EU’s scientific research activities in 2009, the Commission’s representatives have repeatedly told me that they only authorise funding for projects of a civilian nature. I don’t trust them.

Rolls-Royce was one of several firms heavily involved in the arms trade to take part in a “high-level” group that identified the priorities listed in the Commission’s new “strategy”. It focuses largely on nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter at a size so tiny it is measured in nanometres. (A nanometre is one billionth of a metre).

A strong indication that nanotechnology is being used to develop weapons for future wars came after Israel’s 33-day attack on Lebanon in 2006. Shimon Peres, then Israel’s deputy minister, wrote a syndicated opinion piece after the attack in which he seemed to be aroused about the potential killing power of “miniaturised arms” and “remote-controlled robots”. Given how Israel frequently tests its weapons on Palestinian women and children, there is no reason to think it would behave any differently with nanotechnology in its arsenal.

Intel, another corporation taking part in the Commission’s “high level” group, has a major production facility at Kiryat Gat, a site built on Palestinian villages ethnically cleansed when the state of Israel was founded in the late 1940s. This crime scene is today being used for the development of a 22-nanometre processor called Ivy Bridge for the computers of tomorrow. Intel already uses Kiryat Gat for the manufacturing of Atom processors; a brochure available on the corporation’s website promotes these processors as vital to “leading-edge commercial technology for the defence and government agencies”.

Under surveillance

QinetiQ, too, belongs to the Commission’s “high level” group. This company was formed as a result of reforms to an agency run by the British Ministry of Defence in 2001 and has numbered George Tenet, former head of the CIA, among its senior figures. As well as “working closely” with the US army (in the company’s own words), it is providing equipment to British troops fighting a war of aggression in Afghanistan. Last year, QinetiQ gloated at how it was supplying almost 100 Dragon Runner robots to that war effort. While the firm’s announcement emphasised that these small robots can be used to detect landmines and other unexploded devices, it acknowledged they can also be used for surveillance.

It is significant that the Commission’s 27-strong “high-level” group did not contain a solitary individual known to be critical of the arms industry or nanotechnology. This makes a mockery of claims from the EU executive that it is open to dialogue from all sides.

A report that the group has presented to Antonio Tajani, the EU’s industry commissioner, depicts nanotechnology as beneficial to human health and the environment. With potential applications in solar energy, it is sold as “crucial in the battle against climate change”.

It is notable that green activists do not share this faith. The European Environmental Bureau has voiced concerns that about the idea the problems relating to global warming can be solved with a “technological fix”, when social and political changes are needed to address underlying questions of resource exploitation and how energy is generated. The EEB, a broad coalition of campaign groups, has cited studies which indicate that the ecological costs of producing nanomaterials may outweigh any eventual benefits. Their production involves high levels of energy and water use, as well as toxic chemicals and solvents like benzene.

The jury might still be out on the environmental effects of nanotechnology. But it is certain that the way the EU is approaching this issue is anti-democratic. Private companies likely to be recipients of the EU’s research subsidies are invited to set the priorities for this research; alternative perspectives are ignored. The European Commission relies on taxpayers to pay its bills, yet its policy-making has been captured by corporations. And besides, when the arms industry says that small is beautiful, there’s a strong likelihood it’s telling a big lie.

●First published by New Europe, 24-30 June 2012.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

International Crisis Group: craving approval from a blood-soaked elite

The International Crisis Group does not deserve to be taken seriously.

For a large part of its 15-year history, this Brussels-based “think tank” was led by Gareth Evans, previously Australia’s foreign minister. Evans is a promoter of the concept of “responsibility to protect” civilians from atrocities and was appointed by Kofi Annan to sit on a UN committee on genocide prevention in 2006. The same Evans was a staunch ally of the Indonesian military ruler Suharto. With his reign of terror in East Timor, Suharto conducted one of the twentieth century’s worst acts of genocide. About 200,000 – one third of the island’s population – were wiped out. In 1989, Evans signed an agreement enabling Australia and Indonesia to jointly exploit the oil resources in the Timor Gap. Not only did Evans turn a blind eye to the suffering of the Timorese people, he pilfered their resources.

Wearing his “responsibility to protect” (R2P) hat, Evans continues to speak about the need to avoid another Srebrenica. Yet, as John Pilger recalled recently, Evans whitewashed Indonesia’s massacre of more than 200 people at the Santa Cruz massacre in Dili, the Timorese capital. According to Evans, this act of mass slaughter in 1991 was no more than an “aberration.”

On Friday, The New York Times published an article from Nathan Thrall, the Crisis Group’s Middle East analyst. Arguing that a third intifada is inevitable, Thrall refers to “instability” in the occupied West Bank, citing the hunger strikes by Palestinian political prisoners as an example. The “root cause of this instability is that Palestinians have lost all hope that Israel will grant them a state,” he writes.

Thrall is wrong. The “root cause” of the problems in Palestine – of which the recent “instability” is a symptom – is Zionism. Most Palestinians I know are horrified by the notion that a sliver of historic Palestine will handed to them and labelled a state. For a solution to be just, it must challenge the racist nature of Zionist ideology and dismantle the apartheid system that Israel continues to build.

No mention of apartheid

The word “apartheid” did not appear in Thrall’s analysis. No surprise there: the International Crisis Group is financed by companies that helped prop up white minority rule in South Africa. Anglo American, the mining corporation, bragged that it provided a “stabilizing influence” by remaining active in South Africa while other firms withdrew from the country in the 1980s. Fellow Crisis Group donor BP also stayed put in South Africa as the global campaign to isolate its racist regime grew.

I’m not suggesting that executives of Anglo American or BP vetted Thrall’s piece. Rather, I’m contending that the Crisis Group should be recognized for what it patently is: a bunch of privileged Western “analysts” who crave appreciation from a blood-soaked elite. A potted history of the group on its website makes this clear: among those who praise the organization’s work are Madeleine Albright. As secretary of state in the Clinton administration, Albright contended that causing the deaths of 600,000 Iraqi children by depriving them of essential medicines was a price worth paying.

Reluctantly, I admit that Thrall made some valid points. His prediction of a third intifada could well turn out to be accurate; and he was correct to underscore, if subtly, that Salam Fayyad lacks any democratic mandate to act as prime minister in the Palestinian Authority.

Cornered

Yet I learned more about reality in Palestine this weekend from attending a talk by Sheerin al-Araj from al-Walaja in the West Bank yesterday than I did from Thrall’s article.

Al-Araj showed us images of how Israel’s apartheid wall separates her village from Jewish-only settlements. “If you corner a nation with no options, you don’t know what they will do,” she said. “They are just being driven insane.”

A vivid illustration of the dispossession of Palestinians can be seen in the case of her neighbor, Omar. He already lives next to the apartheid wall but Israel’s “plan for Omar is to encircle him with his own private wall,” she explained. Omar owns 35 dunums of land (a dunum equals one quarter of an acre). Once Israel’s plans are put into effect, he will be left with half a dunum.

An avowed feminist, al-Araj is a leading member of a “popular committee” that organizes regular protests against the Israeli occupation. In his New York Times article, Thrall was dismissive of the “small weekly protests [in the West Bank] so beloved by foreign activists and the Western press.”

His insinuation that the demonstrations are futile was clearly not shared by al-Araj. On the contrary, she believes that when confronted by a heavily-armed force, it is strategically clever to resist by means of direct, unarmed action.

“What we have to do is neutralize the fourth largest army in the world,” she said. “The Israelis don’t know the concept of non-violence. They don’t know what to do.”

Around this time last year, I spent a few days with Mazin Qumsiyeh, the Palestinian scientist and writer, who works closely with al-Araj. More than once, he referred to how Buddhist teaching calls for “joyful participation in the sorrows of this world,” indicating that this philosophy is directly applicable to Palestine.

Listening to al-Araj, I understood what he meant. Here is someone who refuses to have her spirit or sense of humor crushed. The biggest laugh during her talk came when she told us how the people of al-Walaja have renamed a path in their village Wall Street. The best insight into her resilience came when she replied to a query from a European woman about the effectiveness of unarmed resistance. “Losing hope is a luxury you have,” al-Araj said. “I don’t.”

●First published by The Electronic Intifada, 24 June 2012.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Quand l’Allemagne prend la Grèce en otage...

Quel pays réduit le plus les ressources de l'économie européenne : la Grèce ou l'Allemagne ? En dépit d'une différence au niveau de leur superficie, ces deux économies sont « renflouées » avec un niveau presque identique de liquidités.

Bloomberg, une agence de presse pas tout à fait bolchévique, a récemment mis en évidence les raisons pour lesquelles il ne nous faudrait éprouver aucune sympathie pour les banquiers de Francfort et de Berlin. Les éditeurs de cette agence ont évalué à 284 milliards d'euros le montant que l'Allemagne a emprunté aux autres pays de la zone euro de 2009 à la fin de l'année dernière. Quant à la Grèce, elle s'est vue emprunter 340 milliards d'euros suite à la crise ; de cette somme, seuls 15 milliards ont été prêtés par l'Allemagne.

Il y a bien évidemment une différence fondamentale dans la manière dont ces transferts se déroulent. À l'exception d'une décote occasionnelle, les banques allemandes ne se sont pas vues pénaliser pour les prêts abusifs qu'elles ont octroyés ; au contraire, on leur rembourse leurs prêts en y incluant les intérêts. Quant à la Grèce, on exige d'elle qu'elle mette en péril et détruise sa société afin de satisfaire aux conditions fixées par la Commission européenne, la Banque centrale européenne et le Fonds monétaire international.

Un fonctionnaire allemand s'est vu confier la responsabilité de mener et de gérer l'intervention en Grèce, comme s'il s'agissait là de mettre en évidence la nature impériale de cette intervention.

Le nom de Horst Reichenbach, directeur de la « Task force » pour la Grèce, a été mentionné dans la presse récemment au sujet d'une voiture qu'utilisait son épouse, très ancienne membre du Parlement européen, et qui a été incendiée devant leur domicile à Potsdam. Je condamne cet acte de violence sans aucune hésitation et suis soulagé de voir que cet incendie n'a causé aucun blessé.

Néanmoins, cette attaque ne devrait pas distraire notre attention du mal qu'inflige Reichenbach à la population grecque. Les patients souffrant de maladies rares doivent à présent payer le prix plein pour leur traitement alors que celui-ci était, auparavant, subsidié par l'Etat. Pourquoi ? Parce que c'est Reichenbach et ses marionnettistes qui ont exigé une réduction de 10% dans les dépenses publiques de santé. Cette mesure va causer bien plus de souffrance humaine que l'incendie d'une BMW vide.

La nationalité de Reichenbach n'est pas le seul facteur qui remette en question sa neutralité. Son curriculum vitae en dit long.

Il a été fonctionnaire à la Commission européenne pendant une trentaine d'années et y a gravi les échelons de la hiérarchie pour devenir le Directeur-Général entreprises et industrie. En occupant ce poste, il a présidé un département qui est secret à de nombreux égards. Toutefois, il y a une chose que ce fief ne dissimule pas : les intérêts des grandes entreprises sont pris en considération avant toute autre chose.

Encore plus problématique, concernant le curriculum de Reichenbach, est son arrivée à la Banque européenne de reconstruction et de développement en tant que vice-président.

Afin de garantir une certaine transparence, la BERD devrait publier les détails relatifs à toutes les interactions ayant eu lieu entre Reichenbach, les banques allemandes, le gouvernement de Berlin, et l'institution basée à Londres (BERD) durant les six dernières années. Le site internet de la BERD répertorie une liste de 57 institutions financières – ou de filiales d'institutions financières – en Allemagne qui sont décrites comme des « banques de confirmation » pour son « programme d'appui à la facilitation du commerce ». Reichenbach est-il venu en aide à ces banques d'une quelconque manière ? Si oui, il pourrait y avoir un conflit d'intérêts dû au poste qu'il occupe actuellement, et pour lequel l'agenda qu'il suit dépend des banques allemandes.

La BERD attire rarement l'attention des journalistes. La plupart d'entre nous n'ont qu'une idée floue consistant à penser qu'elle a contribué à la transition suite à l'effondrement du communisme en Europe centrale et en Europe de l'est. Ce que nous ignorons, c'est ses objectifs idéologiques assez obscurs.

L'organisme Bankwatch a montré comme la BERD s'est entichée du concept de partenariats entre les secteurs privé et public élaborés pas le gouvernement conservateur de Grande-Bretagne dans les années 1990. Le but poursuivi par ces plans consiste à conférer aux entreprises dont la principale motivation est le profit, un rôle plus important dans la procuration de services qui étaient jusque là assurés par le secteur public.

Les défenseurs des « partenariats » ont tendance à avancer que ces plans-là garantissent une plus grande efficacité. L'expérience, en revanche, nous montre que leur objectif véritable consiste à permettre aux capitalistes rapaces de prendre le contrôle de l'argent du contribuable. Tel a été le cas d’un grand nombre de « partenariats » financés par la BERD. Un plan concernant la mise en place d'une centrale d'épuration des eaux usées pour Zagreb (capitale de la Croatie), pour lequel la BERD avait accordé un prêt de 55 millions d'euros en 2001, n'a fait l'objet que d'ajournements et de reports. Alors que la population croate a tout perdu, les entrepreneurs impliqués (appartenant en partie au distributeur d'énergie allemand RWE) n'ont cessé d'être rémunérés, et ce avec un montant bien plus supérieur à celui prévu initialement. (La valeur du projet est passée de 176 millions d'euros à presque 327 millions d'euros entre 2001 et 2007).

Récemment, la BERD s'enthousiasmait à l'idée de s'étendre au Moyen-Orient et en Afrique du Nord. À l'issue d'une évaluation menée en Egypte par la Banque, les projets garantissant une « croissance durable qui serait assurée par le secteur privé » constituent le seul critère pour les activités que la Banque pourrait financer. Ceci indique que la BERD partage bien mieux les idées du dictateur méprisé Hosni Moubarak que celles des courageux manifestants qui ont causé la chute de ce même dictateur l'année dernière. Moubarak poursuivait également les mêmes buts afin de calmer ses potes occidentaux. L'application du « programme d'ajustement structurel » qui avait été requis en Egypte par le FMI en 1991 a doublé la proportion de la population qui survit avec moins de 2 dollars par jour.

En ce moment, la Grèce subit également un « ajustement structurel ». Christine Lagarde, qui est actuellement à la tête du FMI, dit s'inquiéter plus du sort des enfants pauvres en Afrique qu'en Grèce. Son attitude est méprisable. Ce sont bel et bien les prescriptions économiques qu'elle approuve qui aggravent la pauvreté dans le monde. C'est bien grâce à elle et à Reichenbach que des expériences s'étant déjà révélées désastreuses sont en train d'être renouvelées.

●Traduction: www.michelcollon.info

Monday, June 18, 2012

Barroso wears economic blinkers in Mexico

Los Cabos sounds like a splendid destination. The tourism website TripAdvisor promises “old-fashioned fun in the sun” at Lovers’ Beach and the “more tempestuous” Divorce Beach. Whales can be spotted around El Arco, a geological formation designated as a world heritage site.

I hope that José Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy will enjoy their stay in this resort during the forthcoming G20 summit. Yet I fear that the guaranteed luxury treatment will prevent them from exploring the real Mexico. To compensate for this wasted opportunity, they should pack a copy of Walden Bello’s book The Food Wars into their suitcases, alongside their swimming trunks.

If they read Bello carefully, they might realise that Mexico has undergone the kind of brutal economic transformation now being undertaken in parts of Europe.

To service its massive debts in the 1980s, Mexico received a multi-billion dollar “bail-out” from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. This meant that its debt became more onerous, with the rate of interest charged on repaying the “bail-out” loans climbing from 19% in 1982 to an outrageous 52% in 1988. Half the population was driven below the poverty line largely as a consequence of the conditions set by the IMF. Health expenditure was slashed from 4.7% of overall public spending to 2.7%; infant mortality linked to inadequate nutrition rose to three times the level it was in the 1970s.

“Structural adjustment” was the term that Washington-based economists used to bracket the various measures together. “Fiscal consolidation” is the term now in vogue to describe comparably cruel measures being inflicted on a number of European countries. Both mean the same thing in the real world: the rich soak up the rays in Los Cabos or sip cocktails in Cannes; the poor are stopped from realising their full potential.

The tortilla question

Barroso has been known to take holidays on a billionaire’s yacht and to implement policies that delight tycoons. Doubtless, then, Barroso knows of Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man. Slim made a fortune from the privatisation of telecommunications in Mexico and now seems keen to increase his investments in Europe’s mobile phone market.

The question of how Slim got so wealthy is fascinating: could his close relationship with a globe-trotting political elite make him a poster boy for crony capitalism? But there is a more fascinating question about Mexico and it is one posed in Bello’s book. How did the land of the tortilla become dependent on imported corn?

The answer has a lot to do with NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. After this accord came into effect in 1994, US corn flooded into Mexico, forcing a sharp reduction in the prices commanded by Mexican farmers. The concept of “free trade” was perverted as Mexico slashed its farm subsidies dramatically, while America’s aid to its corn sector was stepped up.

As peasants saw their incomes fall, the prices that Mexicans pay for tortillas in towns and villages has increased in recent years. This has partly been the result of the biofuels craze, whereby corn is used to power SUVs rather than to feed people. Barroso continues to favour the greater use of biofuels on Europe’s roads, despite evidence – gathered by reputable bodies like the World Food Programme - that his support for this environmentally destructive source of energy has increased global hunger.

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t bet on EU leaders being receptive to Bello’s analysis. When the Philippino scholar and politician flew into Brussels from New Jersey last month, he was refused entry to Belgium and put on the first available flight back to the US. The reason given for his expulsion – that he lacked a visa - was spurious; Bello has a diplomatic passport, so doesn’t need a visa to travel here.

Are left-wing academics now banned from visiting Europe?

Lethal ideology

There is one thing that might prevent the EU delegation from enjoying the scenery in Los Cabos: a tendency to wear blinkers. The letter that Barroso and Van Rompuy sent to other G20 participants ahead of the summit could only be written by those who are blinkered by an ideology that is outdated, yet remains lethal.

In their epistle, the two presidents decry the “surge in protectionism” that they observed through their blinkers. Their gripe is based on a recent report from the European Commission, which complains that some countries are erecting obstacles to trade and foreign investment as a deliberate policy. One major bugbear for the EU executive is Argentina’s decision to expropriate a 51% shareholding owned by the Spanish company Repsol in the energy firm YPF.

YPF was established as a state enterprise in 1922 but privatised 70 years later. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the Argentinian president, is now taking steps to renationalise it. By contesting her efforts, the European Commission is saying that Argentina’s energy policy should be decided in Madrid boardrooms, not by elected representatives in Buenos Aires.

There is a subtext here. With some exceptions (Colombia), Latin America is not swallowing the economic medicine prescribed for it by the US and the European Union. By announcing the largest debt default in history in 2001, Argentina has proven that it is possible to reject the strictures of Western institutions like the IMF and survive. Argentina is in many respects a beacon for everyone seeking alternatives to what the EU demands of troubled economies. To see the beacon, you have to take off your blinkers.

●First published by New Europe, 17-23 June 2012.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Barack Obama: a violent extremist mollycoddled by Europe

I’m beginning to wonder if I have masochistic tendencies. Every so often I read academic and “think tank” literature on the EU’s foreign policies and have been known to enjoy the experience. The reason why I derive pleasure is probably because these papers provide an escape from the real world, much like techno music or abstract painting. It is rare that scholars and “experts” are willing to decode the Union’s doublespeak and examine how it abets the crimes of the United States.

A prime example of this duplicity was provided by Catherine Ashton’s visit to Pakistan this month. Ahead of her trip, the EU’s foreign policy chief gave an interview to the newspaper Dawn. To underscore how committed she was to Pakistan, Ashton stated that the EU had recently presented the Islamabad authorities with an action plan to “counter violent extremism”.

Surely, Ashton sent the plan to the wrong address. The real source of violent extremism affecting Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan is the United States of America. Barack Obama has, in some respects, been more violent and more extreme than his predecessor George W Bush. Whereas Bush authorised the rounding up of young men and their torture in Guantanamo Bay, Obama prefers to kill them with unmanned drones.

In the few days before Ashton’s arrival, America used its drones to kill around 30 people in Pakistan. Reuters, a stenography service for the powerful masquerading as a newswire, reported that at least 14 of the victims were “suspected militants”, citing unnamed US sources.

Silent on massacre

Reuters did not explain that “suspected militant” is effectively a catch-all category. A week earlier, The New York Times revealed that all men of an age range that would allow them serve in the military are considered combatants in any zone where US bombs fall. Sometimes the description is applied to younger boys. On one occasion last year, America gloated at how it had eliminated “four militants”: the truth was that it had killed 16-year-old Tariq Aziz, who had expressed an interest in human rights monitoring a few days earlier, and his 12-year-old cousin.

Was Ashton outraged by how her first official visit to Pakistan was preceded by an American-ordered bloodbath? The statement released upon her arrival voiced sympathy with Pakistan for “what has happened in this country, both in terms of terrorist activity but also the terrible floods”. Not a word was directed at the terrorism inflicted on Pakistan by the US. In the words of the investigative historian Mark Curtis, the victims of American terrorism are “unpeople”. Ashton can behave as if they do not exist or that 12-year-old boys are “suspected militants”. She can gloss over how more than 800 civilians have been killed by US drones strikes in Pakistan since 2004, some 535 on Obama’s watch. At her next appearance before the European Parliament, Ashton is scheduled to speak on a “new strategy on Afghanistan”. This is part of a follow-up exercise to a position taken by the Parliament in 2010, in which it recognised that there is no military solution to Afghanistan’s problems. (I hope MEPs are not expecting any kudos for drawing a conclusion that should have been blindingly obvious decades ago: the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan proved disastrous, why should the only remaining superpower be expected to fare better?).

Whenever Ashton refers to Afghanistan, she expresses pride in how the EU gives it €1.2 billion a year in aid (this is a combined sum for donations from the Union’s 27 governments and the European Commission). The insinuation of generosity is nauseating. Britain spent £11.1 billion pounds (€13.7 billion) on the war in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2010. Ashton was a representative of the British government during that period; she supported the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. If she was seriously interested in justice and the rule of law, as she pretends to be, she would be demanding that Britain pays massive reparations to Afghanistan for the misery it has caused, not patting herself on the pack for the “aid” that she administers.

Deference

Over one-quarter of all foreign troops now in Afghanistan are from EU countries. Even supposedly neutral states like Ireland and Sweden have contributed to the NATO-led “stabilisation” force. WikiLeaks has exposed how young European soldiers have been sent to Helmand and Kandahar out of “deference” to the US, in the words of Herman van Rompuy, the EU’s unelected president.

The word “deference” sums it up. Regardless of whether Obama remains in the White House or whether Mitt Romney triumphs in November, Europe will remain subservient to America. Ashton will keep on shedding public tears over human rights abuses in enemy states like Iran, while ignoring the abuses of her allies.

Mid-way through writing this piece I received a new publication on Afghanistan by the “think tank” Security and Defence Agenda (SDA). “We believe it is time to focus on Afghanistan’s people,” the policy analyst Shada Islam says on its first page. SDA is partly financed by Lockheed Martin, the maker of Hellfire missiles. It was those missiles that America used when it took the lives of Tariq Aziz and his 12-year-old cousin. Lockheed claims its speciality is developing “smart” weapons.

The people of Pakistan and Afghanistan are already the focus of the West. Too many of them have been the target of drone operators sitting at computer screens. Too many of them have been murdered by remote control.

●First published by New Europe, 10-16 June 2012.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Germany is holding Greece to ransom

Which country is a bigger drain on the European economy: Germany or Greece? Their differences in size notwithstanding, both economies are being “bailed out” with almost equal amounts of cash.

Bloomberg, not exactly a Bolshevik press agency, recently highlighted why we should have zero sympathy for the bankers of Frankfurt and Berlin. Its editors cited estimates that Germany took more than €284 billion from other countries in the single currency bloc between 2009 and the end of last year. Greece has so far received €340 billion in loans as a response to the financial crisis; just 15 billion euros of that sum came directly from Germany.

There is, of course, a fundamental difference in the way these transfers are taking place. With the exception of an occasional “haircut”, German banks have not been penalised for predatory lending; on the contrary, they are having their loans repaid at interest. Greece, on the other hand, is being required to destroy its society in order to fulfil the conditions set by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

As if to emphasise that the intervention in Greece is of an imperial nature, a German civil servant has been given responsibility for administering it.

Horst Reichenbach, head of the EU’s “task force” for Greece, was in the news recently because a car used by his wife, the veteran MEP Dagmar Roth Behrendt, was set on fire outside their home in Potsdam. I condemn that act of violence without hesitation and am relieved that nobody was hurt as a result.

Human pain

That attack should not be allowed distract attention from the harm that Reichenbach is inflicting on the people of Greece. Patients with rare diseases are being charged the full price for medical treatment that was previously subsidised by the state. The reason? A 10% cutback in health expenditure that Reichenbach and his puppeteers have demanded. This measure will cause far more human pain than the burning of an empty BMW.

Reichenbach’s nationality isn’t the only thing that undermines his neutrality. His curriculum vitae does, too.

For some 30 years, he was an official in the European Commission, where he climbed the hierarchical ladder until he became its director-general for enterprise and industry. In that position, he presided over a department that is secretive in many ways. Yet one thing the internal fiefdom does not conceal is that it puts the interests of big business ahead of all other considerations.

Even more problematic is that Reichenbach went on to be a vice-president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

In the interests of transparency, the EBRD should publish details of all interactions that Reichenbach had with German banks and the Berlin government during his six years with the London-based institution. The EBRD’s website gives a list of 57 financial institutions - or branches of financial institutions – in Germany that are described as “confirming banks” for its “trade facilitation programme”. Did Reichenbach help these banks in any way? If so, there could be a conflict of interests with his current job, where the agenda he follows panders to German banks.

The EBRD rarely comes under scrutiny from journalists. Most of us probably have a fuzzy idea that it has helped transition occur in central and Eastern Europe following the collapse of communism. What we don’t know is that it has sinister ideological objectives.

The organisation Bankwatch has tracked how the EBRD is infatuated with the concept of public-private partnerships hatched by the Conservative government in Britain during the 1990s. The purpose of these schemes is to give firms motivated by profit a bigger role in providing services that were previously under public management.

In tune with tyrants

Defenders of the “partnerships” tend to argue that they bring greater efficiency. Experience indicates that their real purposes is to allow rapacious capitalists get control of taxpayers’ money. That has been the case with many of the “partnerships” financed by the EBRD. A sewage treatment plant for the Croatian capital Zagreb, earmarked a €55 million loan from the EBRD in 2001, has been plagued by delays. While the Croatian people have lost out, the private contractors (partly owned by the German energy company RWE) involved have still been paid – much more than was originally budgeted. (The price tag for the project rose from €176 million to almost €327 million between 2001 and 2007). Recently, the EBRD has been eager to expand into the Middle East and North Africa. An assessment on Egypt carried out by the bank identifies “private sector-led, inclusive growth” as the central priority for any activities it may finance. This indicates that the EBRD is more in tune with the reviled dictator Hosni Mubarak than with the valiant demonstrators who caused his downfall last year. Mubarak also pursued the same goals to placate his chums in the West. A “structural adjustment programme” that the IMF required Egypt to implement in 1991 led to a doubling of the proportion of the population who struggled to survive on less than $2 a day.

Greece is now undergoing “structural adjustment”. Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s current chief, says she is more concerned with poor children in Africa than in Greece. Her attitude is despicable. It is the economic prescriptions that she signs that aggravate poverty throughout the world. It is thanks to her and Horst Reichenbach that experiments proven to devastate are now being repeated.

●First published by New Europe, 3-9 June 2012.