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Column: Colombia provides a case study for evils of corporate globalization

By Brian T. Watson
Issue: 5/10/05
The Salem News

When Ross Perot ran for president in 1992 and 1996, he warned that Americans were unaware of what market globalization and "free trade" had in store for us.

Who can forget his startling pie charts and his pitch-perfect evocation of "the giant sucking sound" that would be made by all of the jobs rushing out of America?

Today, Tony Judt, public intellectual at New York University and a frequent foreign affairs essayist for the New York Review of Books, opines that most people still don't know how the world works.

Judt is concerned especially by our inadequate grasp of the workings of corporate globalization and its troubling effects on national sovereignty, democracy, and a slew of areas such as the economy, the environment, jobs, human rights and military obligations.

Slowly, however, we are learning about the new economic order. We're aware of the proliferation of Third World sweatshops, the stripping of natural resources in developing countries, and the many poor nations saddled with debt.

We are hearing more about the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, whose policies usually benefit wealthy interests and corporate powers while damaging small entrepreneurs and the Third World. The imposition of austerity programs, the reduction of public services, the privatization of state-owned enterprises and resources, the erosion of democratic accountability, and a missionary belief in the absolute supremacy of "unregulated" (but actually, rigged) markets, all are accompanying the ongoing spread of corporate globalization across the nations of the world.

Although the transnational companies that help drive globalization are loyal to no nation, their interests are being well served by the policies of the United States. The Bush administration — filled with former business lobbyists and chief executive officers — promotes an aggressively corporate agenda at home and abroad that distorts large parts of the economies of many countries.

Our disgraceful involvement in Colombia illustrates that point.

Colombia, a mostly poor and struggling oligarchy afflicted with serious civil violence for the past 57 years, possesses valuable mineral resources and oil, coal and gas deposits. U.S. and multinational corporations — taking advantage of the weakness, lawlessness and desperation of the country — have been maneuvering themselves into powerful positions in the Colombian economy.

Since 1999, the United States has been sending substantial military aid to Colombia. Ostensibly for the purposes of fighting guerrillas and terrorists and for eradicating illegal drug crops, the aid also substantially funds the paramilitaries and security forces that protect corporate interests and infrastructure.

Because the partially corrupt Colombian military actually includes some of the paramilitaries, U.S. dollars often pay for violence against innocent peasants who are simply living in the way of expanding corporate enterprises. Three million people have been forcibly displaced in Colombia since 1985. As corporations - with the complicity of crooked officials - enlarge mines, build pipelines, divert water and log forests, their paramilitaries and mercenaries threaten, torture, kill and abduct the local inhabitants as needed to clear an area.

Similarly, paramilitaries often intimidate or murder journalists, clergymen and women, union organizers, judges and any other activists who attempt to resist or point out the abuses being perpetrated.

The corporate connections to violence appear so blatant that they are precipitating lawsuits. Occidental Petroleum stands accused of sponsoring attacks on a peasant village and killing many adults and children.

Drummond coal company is in court on charges of assassinating union officers. Coca-Cola is being sued for alleged involvement in the deaths of eight labor leaders. Legal action has been brought against Exxon and Conquistador Mines for human rights abuses.

A new book by Francisco Ramirez Cuellar, "The Profits of Extermination," explains how corporate power is harming Colombia and how Plan Colombia (the name of the U.S. aid program) "achieves a huge military cover for the positioning of paramilitaries, who are ultimately in charge of protecting the interests of the U.S. companies."

Ramirez, president of the Colombian mining workers union, also describes how perverted laws, toothless tax codes, and the giveaway privatization of Colombia's industries are allowing multinationals to absolutely loot the resources and wealth of the country.

The long-standing misery in Colombia is being made worse by the ruthless character of corporate globalization. The operation of the global marketplace today is more biased than ever toward big, mobile capital and unaccountable megacorporations. Colombia - victim of a runaway economic model that values profits way above people and communities - is a vivid illustration of how the Third World subsidizes the affluence of the powerful.

The Bush administration employs a subterfuge when it uses the drug war and Colombia's substantial cocaine and heroin production to rationalize America's growing involvement in the country's civil war. Actually, our intervention mostly supports a lot of counterproductive and repressive violence.

And worst of all, our actions in Colombia are in service to corporate globalization, a phenomenon that is increasingly being revealed as a multipronged assault on the environment, labor, diverse cultures, indigenous peoples, democracy, and the very notions of justice, equality and healthy living.

Brian T. Watson, a Salem architect, is a regular Viewpoint columnist.

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