A game as old as empire

Article 30 May 2007 admin

Economic hit men (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and other foreign “aid” organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources… I should know; I was an EHM. Thus wrote John Perkins in the opening paragraph of his 2004 book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman. The book became a bestseller, selling more than 500 000 copies in the USA alone. Now, twelve authors – including former economic hitmen, journalists, researchers and activists – tell their stories in the sequel, A Game As Old As Empire.Two chapters are co-written by PLATFORM – This article was first published in Platform’s Carbon Web Newsletter, Issue 7.

Dan Witt is an unlikely economic hit man. A short, enthusiastic American with round spectacles and neatly combed hair, his looks would be almost schoolboyish if it weren’t for his sharp suits.

Witt heads the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC), pushing for corporate-friendly policies in developing countries. Kent Potter, a vice president of Chevron, captured ITIC’s role by commenting, “In many ways, ITIC is like a private-sector version of the OECD or IMF.”

ITIC began in the 1990s, aiming to write policies for the newly independent former Soviet republics, together with 85 of the world’s largest multinational corporations. In summer 2003, Witt saw a similar opportunity in the restructuring of Iraq.

“What we started in ’93, ’94 with the Kazakhs; let’s take some pages out of that playbook with the Iraqis,” he mused.

With financial backing from six oil companies – BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Total and ENI – Witt began pushing for Iraq to offer long-term contracts, production sharing agreements, which could net the companies hundreds of billions of dollars.

While insisting that all he was offering was “advice” and “best practice”, Witt worked closely with British diplomats, who arranged lobbying meetings between the companies and Iraqi ministers. When backed up by thousands of troops, such “advice” becomes hard to refuse. Now, an oil law is being considered by the Iraqi parliament, incorporating much of what Witt called for. But increasing numbers of Iraqis are against the plans. Even Witt concedes, “It’s a very politically sensitive matter, to have foreigners come in and extract hydrocarbons.” You bet it is, Dan.

“I like Nigeria. I like the pulse of Africa. It is very stimulating. I will miss it.” Nigel Watson-Clark’s job was certainly stimulating: three and a half years, as a security officer defending Shell’s offshore Echo Alpha oilfield. He was essentially a front-line soldier in the web of oil exploitation. His job was at the centre of a vortex of violence, the heart of the crisis that is oil – who controls it, who benefits and who suffers.

On 11th January 2006, Watson-Clark spotted three speedboats approaching fast. His unit opened fire, but was outgunned. Forced to surrender, he became a hostage. Watson-Clark’s
captors were from MEND, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, a group that represents youths radicalised in the struggle for a just distribution of the proceeds from oil.

That same day, China’s foreign minister, Li Zhaoxing, arrived in Africa for a weeklong tour aimed at supplying China’s growing need for oil and gas. Chinese moves into Africa have ruffled feathers in Washington. The conservative Heritage Foundation, long a supporter of repression when aligned with US corporate interests, complained that the USA’s “vision of a prosperous Africa governed by democracies that respect human rights and the rule of law and that embrace free markets is being challenged by the escalating Chinese

Watson-Clark was held for nearly three weeks. Two weeks after his release Nigerian military helicopters attacked the area, killing twenty people. The helicopters used an airstrip belonging to Shell.

The following month, Charles Dragonette, senior analyst at the US Office of Naval Intelligence, admitted that Shell had asked for US military protection. Dragonette was well-placed to observe that “Nigeria’s Delta situation is not going to improve, certainly not anytime soon”.

Buy the book for 11.19 pounds (RRP 15.99 pounds)

A Game As Old As Empire: The Secret World of Economic Hitmen and the Web of Global Corruption
Ed. Steven Hiatt.
ISBN 9781576753958


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