AlterNet | June 21, 2011
5 WikiLeaks Revelations Exposing the Rapidly Growing Corporatism Dominating American Diplomacy Abroad
One of the most significant scourges paralyzing our democracy is the merger of corporate power with elected and appointed government officials at the highest levels of office. Influence has a steep price-tag in American politics where politicians are bought and paid for with ever increasing campaign contributions from big business, essentially drowning out any and all voices advocating on behalf of the public interest.
Millions of dollars in campaign funding flooding Washington’s halls of power combined with tens of thousands of high-paid corporate lobbyists and a never-ending revolving door that allows corporate executives to shuffle between the public and private sectors has blurred the line between government agencies and private corporations.
This corporate dominance over government affairs helps to explain why we are plagued by a health-care system that lines the pockets of industry executives to the detriment of the sick; a war industry that causes insurmountable death and destruction to enrich weapons-makers and defense contractors; and a financial sector that violates the working class and poor to dole out billions of dollars in bonuses to Wall Street CEO’s.
The implications of this rapidly growing corporatism reach far beyond our borders and into the realm of American diplomacy, as in one case where efforts by US diplomats forced the minimum wage for beleaguered Haitian workers to remain below sweatshop levels.
In this context of corporate government corruption, one of WikiLeaks’ greatest achievements has been to expose the exorbitant amount of influence that multinational corporations have over Washington’s diplomacy. Many of the WikiLeaks US embassy cables reveal the naked intervention by our ambassadorial staff in the business of foreign countries on behalf of US corporations. From mining companies in Peru to pharmaceutical companies in Ecuador, one WikiLeaks embassy cable after the next illuminates a pattern of US diplomats shilling for corporate interests abroad in the most underhanded and sleazy ways imaginable.
While the merger of corporate and government power isn’t exactly breaking news, it is one of the most critical yet under-reported issues of our time. And WikiLeaks has given us an inside look at the inner-workings of this corporate-government collusion, often operating at the highest levels of power. It is crystal clear that it’s standard operating procedure for US government officials to moonlight as corporate stooges. Thanks to WikiLeaks, here are five instances that display the lengths to which Washington is willing to go to protect and promote US corporations around the world.
1. US officials work as salespeople for Boeing. The merger of state and corporate power is striking in a slew of cables detailing US State Department officials acting as marketing agents on behalf of one lucky corporation. Earlier this year the New York Times revealed details about how US diplomats have actively promoted the sale of commercial jets built by the US company Boeing.
Hundreds of cables from WikiLeaks show that Boeing had a sales force of US diplomats that went up to the highest levels of government, even going as far as sabotaging sales for Boeing’s European rival Airbus. Enticing deals for the jetliners were offered to heads of state and airline executives in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Turkey and other countries. The WikiLeaks documents also suggest that demands for bribes, or at least payment to suspicious intermediaries, still take place.
In a deal that was valued at about $3.4 billion, the US Embassy in Istanbul pushed for the sale of Boeing jetliners to Turkish Airlines (THY), according to a cable from January 2010. In return, the president of Turkey asked the Obama administration to let a Turkish astronaut sit in on a NASA space flight.
The most puzzling and ironic tidbit in the cable is the US ambassador’s bewilderment at the "conflation of USG-GOT interactions and what is ostensibly a commercial sale between private firms," which he complains is "an unwelcome, but unsurprising degree of political influence in this transaction." The accusation that inappropriate political influence exists among the Turkish government and a private airline is laughable considering that the US State Department is the one pitching the sale on behalf of a private firm.
The cable goes on to say, “We probably cannot put a Turkish astronaut in orbit, but there are programs we could undertake to strengthen Turkey’s capacity in this area that would meet our own goals for improved aviation safety. In any case, we must show some response to the minister’s vague request if we want to maximize chances for the sale.”
In November of last year, Saudi Arabia announced a deal with Boeing to buy more than $3.3 billion worth of airliners, a deal that WikiLeaks reveals was preceded by years of intense lobbying by American officials of the highest order.
In late 2006, then President George W. Bush wrote a personal letter he had hand-delivered to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, practically begging the king to buy as many as 43 Boeing jets to modernize Saudi Arabian Airlines and 13 jets for the Saudi royal fleet.
King Abdullah responded by asking the US government and President Bush to trick out his private airplane with the same high-tech equipment used on Air Force One. He hinted that if the US fulfilled his request, he would make a large purchase of Boeing planes for the royal family’s fleet and Saudi Arabian Airlines. And lo and behold, King Abdullah got his airplane upgrade, and Boeing made billions.
A cable from early 2008 details a plan that successfully sabotaged an Airbus sale. In December 2007, the Bahrain-owned airline Gulf Air announced plans to buy a new fleet of Airbus planes. Boeing officials alerted the State Department, which immediately intervened urging them to buy from Boeing instead. Following months of intense lobbying by the ambassador, the crown prince and king of Bahrain agreed to kill the Airbus purchase. They ordered Gulf Air to reopen negotiations with Boeing, ultimately winning the deal valued at $6 billion, which was signed while President Bush was visiting Bahrain.
2. US diplomats by day — Monsanto henchmen by night. Boeing isn’t the only multi-billion-dollar corporation US diplomats have been shilling for. In a cable from late 2007, former ambassador to France, Craig Stapleton, advised Washington to launch a military-style trade war against any European Union country that opposed genetically modified (GM) crops.
"Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits. The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory," he wrote.
Stapleton was reacting to efforts by France to ban a Monsanto GM corn variety. He specifically asked Washington to punish the EU countries that did not support the use of GM crops.
"Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices."
An embassy cable from 2009 written by the ambassador to Spain directly cites meetings with Monsanto executives, showing that US diplomats were taking orders directly from GM companies.
Monsanto’s director for biotechnology for Spain and Portugal briefed embassy officials about the region, complaining that "Spain is increasingly becoming a target of anti-biotechnology forces within Europe. If Spain falls, the rest of Europe will follow."
In a random insult thrown into the cable, the ambassador says, "Within the agriculture sector, only left-wing farmers’ unions have negative opinions of GMOs."
The cable ends with a dramatic call for intervention by the US government on behalf of Monsanto: "ACTION REQUESTED: In response to recent urgent requests by [Spanish rural affairs ministry] State Secretary Josep Puxeu and Monsanto, post requests renewed US government support of Spain’s science-based agricultural biotechnology position through high-level US government intervention."
3. Pharmaceuticals + US diplomats = best friends forever. In October 2009, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa issued a decree to improve access to medicines and support public health programs through a protocol that would reduce drug costs. Cables from US embassy personnel in Ecuador to the U.S. Department of State show the United States, multinational pharmaceutical companies, and three ministers within the government shared information and worked to undermine Ecuador’s emerging policy.
In a cable dated October 13, 2009, before the decree was issued, the US ambassador was troubled by Correa’s plans because it would prioritize local production and eliminate pharmaceutical patents. In other words, Ecuador was about to makes changes that would negatively impact the profits of US pharmaceutical companies.
Immediately following word of Correa’s plans, the US embassy staff met with local representatives of US pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Merck, Sharp and Dohme, Scering-Plough, and Wyeth to share strategies that would prevent or limit Ecuador’s licensing changes.
US concerns intensified as revealed by a cable written days later, which refers to meetings with "well-placed contacts" with "potentially sympathetic ministries." In what sounds like attempted blackmail, Minister of Health Caroline Chang — one of the "well-placed contacts" described as an ally — assured multinational pharmaceuticals that she was looking into financial irregularities and business dealings of some of the local producers with the intent of gaining some leverage.
Despite efforts to undermine Ecuador’s access protocol, Ecuador issued its first compulsory license in April 2010, enabling generic imports of the HIV/AIDS drug ritonavir.
4. Washington ’hearts’ abusive mining companies in Peru. From Bolivia to Venezuela to Peru, American diplomats are obsessed with securing the profits of multinational mining corporations at the cost of indigenous rights and the environment. At least that is the impression given by WikiLeaks cables that detail the eruption of anti-mining protests near the Ecuador border against the mining firm Minera Majaz.
In August 2005, a group of protesters in northern Peru marched to the site of a copper mine operated by the firm Minera Majaz, a subsidiary of the British mining company Monterrico Metals. Of the hundreds of people who converged at the mine site from the surrounding communities, 28 were brutally tortured and three were shot, one of whom bled to death.
But you wouldn’t know this from the WikiLeaks US embassy cables that describe the protests. The tone is one of sympathy for the mining company, while depicting the protesters as dark and sinister "militant anti-mining protesters" maliciously sabotaging Majaz.
In a cable following the protests, J. Curtis Struble, the former US ambassador to Peru, toes the Majaz line that communists and unions were to blame for sowing the seeds of rebellion, an accusation that reeks of Washington’s typical red-baiting of anything opposed to abusive corporate practices in the developing world.
"The anti-mining forces in action in Majaz represent a strange group of bedfellows indeed — the Catholic church, violent radical leftists, NGOs, ronderos and perhaps narcotraffickers. Working behind the scene are a combination of the Peruvian Communist Party/Patria Roja, national teachers, union SUTEP and perhaps opium poppy traffickers," says Struble.
Struble’s glowing profile of the mining company reads: "Majaz has spent $20 million exploring for copper for over a year, building roads and providing services and employment to area residents. Militants still deny access to most of the pipeline route."
Not once does Struble acknowledge the long history of devastation that mining companies have caused throughout the region, such as pollution of the local water supply and land, the use of brutal paramilitaries in assassinating indigenous leaders who challenge them, or the displacement caused by theft of indigenous lands.
Just days after the blatant human rights violations committed against the protesters, another cable reveals that the US and Canadian ambassadors hosted a meeting with representatives from several international mining companies in Peru. Struble expresses his pan to reinforce security in the mines, to avoid the closing of highways by demonstrators which would disrupt commerce, and to encourage the Peruvian government to prosecute the protesters.
5. Diplomats as corporate spies. A more recent US embassy cable dated March 17, 2008, reveals that US diplomats spied on indigenous activists and their supporters who were organizing anti-summit protests against the European Union-Latin American Heads of State summit that was scheduled in Lima that year.
US ambassador to Peru James Nealon identified specific indigenous activists and tracked the involvement of Bolivian President Evo Morales, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Bolivia Ambassador Pablo Solon, prominent Quechua activist Miguel Palacin Quispe and other influential community leaders.
What do all these people have in common? Their unwavering support for indigenous rights and the environment along with their successful organizing tactics and popularity among indigenous populations, which has Washington’s corporate masters shaking in their boots.
Nealon describes the anti-summit groups as "a variety of radical Peruvian social movements and European anti-globalization NGOs," citing specific peasant and indigenous groups along with the names of prominent organizers who the US embassy was keeping tabs on. The cable is riddled with insulting references to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, particularly Morales and his supporters. One Bolivian social leader is described as a "pro-Morales ideologue" and another as a "top Evo Morales adviser and anti-free trade and globalization guru."
In almost all of the Peru cables, the US government interprets the enemies of corporate power as being enemies of the United States. As a result, leftist activists and community organizers, particularly those who threaten corporate profits, are regularly targeted. Unions, environmentalists and indigenous communities that challenge multinationals are consistently regarded with disdain and viewed as hostile villains. The US government’s propensity at conflating threats to corporate interests as threats to US interests should alarm anyone who values democracy.
What don’t we know about?
Besides getting a good laugh at watching pathetically corrupt diplomats whore themselves out to corporate executives, these cables give us a rare glimpse at American diplomatic subservience to corporate behemoths regardless of the costs to people and the environment.
It appears that the collusion between corporate executives and US diplomats is taking place at an ever accelerating rate around the globe, yet more and more, these shady endeavors are shrouded in secrecy. Transparency and accountability have taken such a devastating blow over the past decade, that whistleblowers and media outlets such as WikiLeaks are the only mechanisms left still capable of shedding light on the consequences of the unbridled corporate influence infecting our government.
With tens of thousands of WikiLeaks embassy cables still waiting to be published, there’s sure to be hundreds if not thousands of episodes involving US corporate and government collusion that have yet to be discovered.
Rania Khalek is a progressive activist. Check out her blog Missing Pieces or follow her on Twitter @Rania_ak. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.