"Economic hit men,” John Perkins writes, “are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder.”
John Perkins should know—he was an economic hit man. His job was to convince countries that are strategically important to the U.S.—from Indonesia to Panama—to accept enormous loans for infrastructure development, and to make sure that the lucrative projects were contracted to U. S. corporations. Saddled with huge debts, these countries came under the control of the United States government, World Bank and other U.S.-dominated aid agencies that acted like loan sharks—dictating repayment terms and bullying foreign governments into submission.
This New York Times bestseller exposes international intrigue, corruption, and little-known government and corporate activities that have dire consequences for American democracy and the world. It is a compelling story that also offers hope and a vision for realizing the American dream of a just and compassionate world that will bring us greater security.
|Publisher:||Blackstone Audio, Inc.|
|Edition description:||Unabridged, 8 CDs, 9 hrs. 30 min.|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 5.00(h) x 1.93(d)|
About the Author
John Perkins currently writes and teaches about achieving peace and prosperity by expanding our personal awareness and transforming our institutions. He founded an alternative energy company that successfully changed the U.S. utility industry. From 1971 to 1981 he worked for the international consulting firm of Chas. T. Main, where he held the titles of Chief Economist and Manager of Economics and Regional Planning but in reality was an economic hit man. He continued to play out his EHM role until the events of 9/11 convinced him to expose this shadowy and secret side of his life.
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Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
By John Perkins
Berrett-Koehler PublishersCopyright © 2006 John Perkins
All right reserved.
PrologueQuito, Ecuador's capital, stretches across a volcanic valley high in the Andes, at an altitude of nine thousand feet. Residents of this city, which was founded long before Columbus arrived in the Americas, are accustomed to seeing snow on the surrounding peaks, despite the fact that they live just a few miles south of the equator. The city of Shell, a frontier outpost and military base hacked out of Ecuador's Amazon jungle to service the oil company whose name it bears, is nearly eight thousand feet lower than Quito. A steaming city, it is inhabited mostly by soldiers, oil workers, and the indigenous people from the Shuar and Kichwa tribes who work for them as prostitutes and laborers.
To journey from one city to the other, you must travel a road that is both tortuous and breathtaking. Local people will tell you that during the trip you experience all four seasons in a single day. Although I have driven this road many times, I never tire of the spectacular scenery. Sheer cliffs, punctuated by cascading waterfalls and brilliant bromeliads, rise up one side. On the other side, the earth drops abruptly into a deep abyss where the Pastaza River, a headwater of the Amazon, snakes its way down the Andes. The Pastaza carries water from the glaciers of Cotopaxi, one of the world's highest active volcanoes and a deity in the time of the Incas, to the Atlantic Ocean over three thousand miles away.
In 2003, I departed Quito in a Subaru Outback and headed for Shell on a mission that was like no other I had ever accepted. I was hoping to end a war I had helped create. As is the case with so many things we EHMs must take responsibility for, it is a war that is virtually unknown anywhere outside the country where it is fought. I was on my way to meet with the Shuars, the Kichwas, and their neighbors the Achuars, the Zaparos, and the Shiwiars-tribes determined to prevent our oil companies from destroying their homes, families, and lands, even if it means they must die in the process. For them, this is a war about the survival of their children and cultures, while for us it is about power, money, and natural resources. It is one part of the struggle for world domination and the dream of a few greedy men, global empire.
That is what we EHMs do best: we build a global empire. We are an elite group of men and women who utilize international financial organizations to foment conditions that make other nations subservient to the corporatocracy running our biggest corporations, our government, and our banks. Like our counterparts in the Mafia, EHMs provide favors. These take the form of loans to develop infrastructure -electric generating plants, highways, ports, airports, or industrial parks. A condition of such loans is that engineering and construction companies from our own country must build all these projects. In essence, most of the money never leaves the United States; it is simply transferred from banking offices in Washington to engineering offices in New York, Houston, or San Francisco.
Despite the fact that the money is returned almost immediately to corporations that are members of the corporatocracy (the creditor), the recipient country is required to pay it all back, principal plus interest. If an EHM is completely successful, the loans are so large that the debtor is forced to default on its payments after a few years. When this happens, then like the Mafia we demand our pound of flesh. This often includes one or more of the following: control over United Nations votes, the installation of military bases, or access to precious resources such as oil or the Panama Canal. Of course, the debtor still owes us the money-and another country is added to our global empire.
Driving from Quito toward Shell on this sunny day in 2003, I thought back thirty-five years to the first time I arrived in this part of the world. I had read that although Ecuador is only about the size of Nevada, it has more than thirty active volcanoes, over 15 percent of the world's bird species, and thousands of as-yet-unclassified plants, and that it is a land of diverse cultures where nearly as many people speak ancient indigenous languages as speak Spanish. I found it fascinating and certainly exotic; yet, the words that kept coming to mind back then were pure, untouched, and innocent. Much has changed in thirty-five years.
At the time of my first visit in 1968, Texaco had only just discovered petroleum in Ecuador's Amazon region. Today, oil accounts for nearly half the country's exports. A trans-Andean pipeline built shortly after my first visit has since leaked over a half million barrels of oil into the fragile rain forest-more than twice the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez. Today, a new $1.3 billion, three hundred-mile pipeline constructed by an EHM-organized consortium promises to make Ecuador one of the world's top ten suppliers of oil to the United States. Vast areas of rain forest have fallen, macaws and jaguars have all but vanished, three Ecuadorian indigenous cultures have been driven to the verge of collapse, and pristine rivers have been transformed into flaming cesspools.
During this same period, the indigenous cultures began fighting back. For instance, on May 7, 2003, a group of American lawyers representing more than thirty thousand indigenous Ecuadorian people filed a $1 billion lawsuit against ChevronTexaco Corp. The suit asserts that between 1971 and 1992 the oil giant dumped into open holes and rivers over four million gallons per day of toxic wastewater contaminated with oil, heavy metals, and carcinogens, and that the company left behind nearly 350 uncovered waste pits that continue to kill both people and animals.
Outside the window of my Outback, great clouds of mist rolled in from the forests and up the Pastaza's canyons. Sweat soaked my shirt, and my stomach began to churn, but not just from the intense tropical heat and the serpentine twists in the road. Knowing the part I had played in destroying this beautiful country was once again taking its toll. Because of my fellow EHMs and me, Ecuador is in far worse shape today than she was before we introduced her to the miracles of modern economics, banking, and engineering. Since 1970, during this period known euphemistically as the Oil Boom, the official poverty level grew from 50 to 70 percent, under- or unemployment increased from 15 to 70 percent, and public debt increased from $240 million to $16 billion. Meanwhile, the share of national resources allocated to the poorest segments of the population declined from 20 to 6 percent.
Unfortunately, Ecuador is not the exception. Nearly every country we EHMs have brought under the global empire's umbrella has suffered a similar fate. Third world debt has grown to more than $2.5 trillion, and the cost of servicing it-over $375 billion per year as of 2004-is more than all third world spending on health and education, and twenty times what developing countries receive annually in foreign aid. Over half the people in the world survive on less than two dollars per day, which is roughly the same amount they received in the early 1970s. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent of third world households accounts for 70 to 90 percent of all private financial wealth and real estate ownership in their country; the actual percentage depends on the specific country.
The Subaru slowed as it meandered through the streets of the beautiful resort town of Baños, famous for the hot baths created by underground volcanic rivers that flow from the highly active Mount Tungurahgua. Children ran along beside us, waving and trying to sell us gum and cookies. Then we left Baños behind. The spectacular scenery ended abruptly as the Subaru sped out of paradise and into a modern vision of Dante's Inferno A gigantic monster reared up from the river, a mammoth gray wall. Its dripping concrete was totally out of place, completely unnatural and incompatible with the landscape. Of course, seeing it there should not have surprised me. I knew all along that it would be waiting in ambush. I had encountered it many times before and in the past had praised it as a symbol of EHM accomplishments. Even so, it made my skin crawl.
That hideous, incongruous wall is a dam that blocks the rushing Pastaza River, diverts its waters through huge tunnels bored into the mountain, and converts the energy to electricity. This is the 156-megawatt Agoyan hydroelectric project. It fuels the industries that make a handful of Ecuadorian families wealthy, and it has been the source of untold suffering for the farmers and indigenous people who live along the river. This hydroelectric plant is just one of many projects developed through my efforts and those of other EHMs. Such projects are the reason Ecuador is now a member of the global empire, and the reason why the Shuars and Kichwas and their neighbors threaten war against our oil companies.
Because of EHM projects, Ecuador is awash in foreign debt and must devote an inordinate share of its national budget to paying this off, instead of using its capital to help the millions of its citizens officially classified as dangerously impoverished. The only way Ecuador can buy down its foreign obligations is by selling its rain forests to the oil companies. Indeed, one of the reasons the EHMs set their sights on Ecuador in the first place was because the sea of oil beneath its Amazon region is believed to rival the oil fields of the Middle East. The global empire demands its pound of flesh in the form of oil concessions.
These demands became especially urgent after September 11, 2001, when Washington feared that Middle Eastern supplies might cease. On top of that, Venezuela, our third-largest oil supplier, had recently elected a populist president, Hugo Chávez, who took a strong stand against what he referred to as U.S. imperialism; he threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States. The EHMs had failed in Iraq and Venezuela, but we had succeeded in Ecuador; now we would milk it for all it is worth.
Ecuador is typical of countries around the world that EHMs have brought into the economic-political fold. For every $100 of crude taken out of the Ecuadorian rain forests, the oil companies receive $75. Of the remaining $25, three-quarters must go to paying off the foreign debt. Most of the remainder covers military and other government expenses-which leaves about $2.50 for health, education, and programs aimed at helping the poor. Thus, out of every $100 worth of oil torn from the Amazon, less than $3 goes to the people who need the money most, those whose lives have been so adversely impacted by the dams, the drilling, and the pipelines, and who are dying from lack of edible food and potable water.
All of those people-millions in Ecuador, billions around the planet-are potential terrorists. Not because they believe in communism or anarchism or are intrinsically evil, but simply because they are desperate. Looking at this dam, I wondered-as I have so often in so many places around the world-when these people would take action, like the Americans against England in the 1770s or Latin Americans against Spain in the early 1800s.
The subtlety of this modern empire building puts the Roman centurions, the Spanish conquistadors, and the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European colonial powers to shame. We EHMs are crafty; we learned from history. Today we do not carry swords. We do not wear armor or clothes that set us apart. In countries like Ecuador, Nigeria, and Indonesia, we dress like local schoolteachers and shop owners. In Washington and Paris, we look like government bureaucrats and bankers. We appear humble, normal. We visit project sites and stroll through impoverished villages. We profess altruism, talk with local papers about the wonderful humanitarian things we are doing. We cover the conference tables of government committees with our spreadsheets and financial projections, and we lecture at the Harvard Business School about the miracles of macroeconomics. We are on the record, in the open. Or so we portray ourselves and so are we accepted. It is how the system works. We seldom resort to anything illegal because the system itself is built on subterfuge, and the system is by definition legitimate.
However-and this is a very large caveat-if we fail, an even more sinister breed steps in, ones we EHMs refer to as the jackals, men who trace their heritage directly to those earlier empires. The jackals are always there, lurking in the shadows. When they emerge, heads of state are overthrown or die in violent "accidents." And if by chance the jackals fail, as they failed in Afghanistan and Iraq, then the old models resurface. When the jackals fail, young Americans are sent in to kill and to die. As I passed the monster, that hulking mammoth wall of gray concrete rising from the river, I was very conscious of the sweat that soaked my clothes and of the tightening in my intestines. I headed on down into the jungle to meet with the indigenous people who are determined to fight to the last man in order to stop this empire I helped create, and I was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt. How, I asked myself, did a nice kid from rural New Hampshire ever get into such a dirty business?
Excerpted from Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins Copyright © 2006 by John Perkins. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
PART I: 1963 – 1971
1. An Economic Hit Man Is Born
2 “In for Life”
3 Indonesia: Lessons for an EHM
4 Saving a Country from Communism
5 Selling My Soul
PART II: 1971 – 1975
6 My Role as Inquisitor
7 Civilization on Trial
8 Jesus, Seen Differently
9 Opportunity of a Lifetime
10 Panama's President and Hero
11. Pirates in the Canal Zone
12 Soldiers and Prostitutes
13 Conversations with the General
14 Entering a New and Sinister Period in
15 The Saudi Arabian Money-laundering Affair
16 Pimping, and Financing Osama bin Laden
PART III: 1975 – 1981
17 Panama Canal Negotiations and Graham Greene
18 Iran's King of Kings
19 Confessions of a Tortured Man
20 The Fall of a King
21. Colombia: Keystone of Latin America
22 American Republic versus Global Empire
23 The Deceptive Résumé
24 Ecuador's President Battles Big Oil
25 I Quit
PART IV: 1981 – PRESENT
26 Ecuador's Presidential Death
27 Panama: Another Presidential Death
28 My Energy Company, Enron, and George W. Bush
29 I Take a Bribe
30 The United States Invades Panama
31. An EHM Failure in Iraq
32 September 11 and its Aftermath for Me, Personally
33 Venezuela: Saved by Saddam
34 Ecuador Revisited
35 Piercing the Veneer
What People are Saying About This
“[A] gripping tell-all book.” —The Rocky Mountain News
“Astonishing.” —Boston Herald
“This riveting look at a world of intrigue reads like a spy novel...Highly recommended.” —Library Journal
“Here are the real-life details—nasty, manipulative, plain evil—of international corporate skullduggery spun into a tale rivaling the darkest espionage thriller.” —Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy
Reading Group Guide
"Economic hit men (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the world out of trillions of dollars...I should know; I was an EHM." —Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
Following the treacherous road that winds down the Andes mountain range from the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, a Subaru Outback makes a Dante-esque descent into the heart of the Amazonian jungle, where an American oil company has transformed the once-lush rainforests into "flaming cesspools" awash with "oil, heavy metals, and carcinogens." Riding in the car, John Perkins feels a special connection to Ecuador, having first visited this Latin American nation decades earlier. He also bears a special guilt for the country's catastrophic decline over the thirty-five years that followed—after all, his work was instrumental in making it happen.
As the title promises, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is the detailed mea culpa of a man with many transgressions to reveal. A social outsider who grew up envying the wealth and status of his affluent classmates at a prestigious New Hampshire prep school, Perkins found himself easily seduced into the ranks of "Economic Hit Men" (EHMs)—corporate professionals who employ "fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder" to mire developing nations in unserviceable debt and bring them under the control of American financial interests.
Recruited first by the National Security Agency (NSA)—which identified his greed and vanity as exploitable personality traits—Perkins instead followed his more altruistic impulses and joined the Peace Corps. Assigned to Ecuador, he was enchanted by the untouched beauty of the land and fascinated by the ancient cultures of its many indigenous peoples. It is here that he met Einar Greve of the MAIN Corporation, an international consulting firm charged with assessing the economic potential of developing nations in order to qualify them for loans from the World Bank and other institutions. Seeing an opportunity to help countries like Ecuador join the modern world—and to gain the wealth and prestige he so craves—Perkins accepted a job as an economist at MAIN in early 1971.
In a twist that might have been lifted from a novel by Graham Greene, one of his literary heroes, Perkins was soon approached by Claudine Martin, a beautiful "consultant" to MAIN, who had been asked to assist in his training. Playing on his NSA-identified weaknesses for women and money, she laid out the true nature of his job: to develop wildly optimistic economic forecasts that justify oversized loans to third world nations, the funds from which are then routed back to U.S. engineering firms, which receive exclusive construction contracts as a condition of these loans. Furthermore, when these nations inevitably default, they will then be under perpetual obligation to their creditors—the United States government and its corporate and financial institutions.
Over the next decade, Perkins traveled around the world under the auspices of MAIN, carrying out his clandestine agenda and manipulating statistics to serve the interests of the American "corporatocracy." He became a rising star, catapulting up the corporate ranks at unprecedented speed and indulging in all the perks and privileges that come with it. But at the same time, his natural affinity for foreign cultures led him to explore the dark side of his profession: the widening gap between rich and poor, the virtual enslavement of native populations, the ruthless elimination of any foreign leader who dared refuse the Faustian bargain offered by the EHMs.
As his status continued to rise, so did his discomfort with the role he was playing in the creation of this new type of empire. Through a series of encounters—a secret meeting with a mutilated Iranian dissident, a chance run-in with Graham Greene, an affair with a Colombian woman whose brother is an anti-American guerrilla, an audience with Omar Torrijos, the principled leader of Panama—Perkins began to grasp the true magnitude of the damage that he and his fellow EHMs have wrought around the world. Ignoring Claudine's long-ago warning that "Once you're in, you're in for life," Perkins resigned from MAIN in 1980.
After being persuaded to remain silent for almost a quarter of a century, the events of September 11, 2001, convinced Perkins to finally share his story with the world. This Confession is not simply the clearing of one man's conscience; it is a call to action. "It is your story too," he writes, "the story of your world and mine, of the first truly global empire. History tells us that unless we modify this story, it is guaranteed to end tragically. . . . It is now time for each and every one of us to step up to the battle line, to ask the important questions, to search our souls for our own answers, and to take action."
ABOUT JOHN PERKINS
John Perkins is founder and president of the Dream Change Coalition, which works closely with Amazonian and other indigenous people to help preserve their environments and cultures. From 1971 to 1981 he worked for the international consulting firm of Chas.T. Main, where he became chief economist and director of economics and regional planning. Perkins has lectured and taught at universities and learning centers on four continents and is a regular lecturer for the Omega Center.
A CONVERSATION WITH JOHN PERKINS
In your introduction, you admit that you put off writing this book at least in part because you feared for your life. Have you received any direct or indirect threats in response to its publication?
Jackals don't threaten you; they kill without warning.
And yes, I have been threatened. While the vast majority of the hundreds of letters and emails I have received are very supportive, there have been a few menacing ones—mostly from people who do not identify themselves. The "official" position of government and other organizations like the World Bank seems to be "no comment." I certainly understand this because, as an EHM, I was trained to ignore opposition whenever possible. We were taught: "Don't give it energy and it may go away." However, as I said, jackals don't issue threats. The fear is of the "crazy" person who comes up to you after a speech and shoots you without warning. "Crazy" people killed John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lennon. We never learned who sponsored them. These types of assassinations have been highly effective at stopping progressive movements in the U.S.
You write at length about the "coincidences" that help determine the course of our lives. Have you ever considered what course your life might have taken had you never met Ann—an event that led indirectly to your career as an EHM?
I used to wonder about such things, but I came to understand that it is the way we react to the coincidences that makes the difference. Meeting Ann was a coincidence. Given that, I had many choices. I decided to ask her to marry me and then to seek her father's help and get an interview with the National Security Agency. I chose to go into the Peace Corps and to accept a job with MAIN. Coincidences may have opened the door, but I chose to become an EHM.
As you point out, Jimmy Carter is the only president in recent memory who seemed interested in steering the U.S. away from empire-building. Given today's political climate, do you think there is any hope for another Carter-like presidency in the near future?
Jimmy Carter seemed to have this potential; however, he never defined a vision that stirred the American people. He was unable to mobilize enough support to get any sort of movement going, assuming that was his desire. Unfortunately, the fact is that during the Carter Administration the corporatocracy made great strides.
What we need right now is someone who is not afraid to articulate a new vision—one that truly promotes justice, equality, environmental stewardship, and a commitment to creating a better world for our children—and is willing to fight to turn this vision into reality. We need leaders who are truthful with us, who honestly define the terrible crises we face, including global warming, overpopulation, the extreme gap between the few rich and the multitudes of poor, the anger and hatred directed at the U.S. by people who feel exploited and enslaved, and the irresponsible use of power by corporate and government officials. We need leaders who challenge us to make sacrifices now so that future generations may survive. In summary, the type of leaders who can save us from going the way of all past empires are ones who will honestly expose the problems, come up with a new vision, and inspire us to move forward. We've had plenty of leaders like that over the years—Tom Paine, Abraham Lincoln, Maria Stewart, the Grimké sisters, Rachal Carson, and Martin Luther King Jr., to name a few.
After listing the many inequities that the American "empire" has created throughout the world, you ask, "And we wonder why terrorists attack us?" Some would label you a traitor for suggesting that we are somehow responsible for the events of 9/11. How would you respond?
I am a loyal American. I believe we are a great country and I am committed to doing my part to uphold those values I was raised to respect as deeply American. Anyone who would deny that we have created inequalities has not traveled to the areas of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East that have been destroyed by U.S. oil companies, has not visited the shantytowns where people live who slave in sweatshops that produce tennis shoes and plastic goods for corporations whose executives zip around in private jets, and has not read about our opposition to international courts of law and environmental protocols. Such inequalities generate hatred. Hatred that has no other recourse breeds terrorism.
A traitor is someone who abets attempts to destroy his country or erode its principles. Corporate executives, politicians, and government officials who place personal greed above the American ideals of justice, equality, and liberty for all—or who contribute to creating conditions that spawn terrorism—are traitors.
The type of hatred that resulted in 9/11 is on the rise not because authors like me write about abuses on the part of the corporatocracy, but because millions of people are impoverished and have been exploited by the international business, banking, and governmental communities, including the World Bank, IMF, and branches of the U.S. government.
Your view of the media—especially your admonition to "read between the lines" of mainstream reporting—strongly echoes Noam Chomsky. Would you consider him a kindred spirit?
The very idea of democracy is based on the assumption that its members are educated. True education—as opposed to propaganda posing as education—requires that we question our leaders. We must constantly demand that they explain themselves, their motives, and their policies. Noam Chomsky is one of the voices seeking to educate us. I haven't met him personally and have no idea whether or not he is a kindred spirit, but I certainly encourage him to continue to ask questions and demand accountability on the part of our leaders.
What are your thoughts on the work of George Soros and the Open Society Institute? Is this an example of a member of the corporatocracy using his power to change the system, or of one (however well-intentioned) who is simply perpetuating it through other means?
Unlike the World Bank, many corporations, and branches of the U.S. government, I have never been involved with George Soros or the Open Society Institute. I try to limit my discussions to things I know about through personal experience. Anything I might say about Soros or the Institute would be speculation.
Do you have any desire to follow in the footsteps of Graham Greene and write novels based on your experiences?
You honor me by asking this question. Graham Greene was a great writer whose novels educated millions of people about conditions in many parts of the world. All my books have been nonfiction and I am hard at work on another, a follow-up to Confessions that goes into detail about things each of us can do to diminish the impact of the corporatocracy, transform the U.S. from empire-builder to a model for democracy, and make the world a better place for our children. For now, I think I should stick to writing about the facts as I know them. When I talked with Graham Greene in Panama, he advised me to write about "things that matter"; I have tried to follow his advice and will continue to do so.