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Confessions of an Economic Hitman

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Issue: 24 Section: Labour

December 19, 2004

Confessions of an Economic Hitman

Democracy Now! interviews John Perkins

by Amy Goodman

The following interview originally appeared on DemocracyNow.org. It is partically reprinted here with permission. John Perkins is the author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: How the US Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of Trillions. --ed Amy Goodman: Explain this term, "economic hit man," e.h.m., as you call it.

John Perkins: Basically what we were trained to do and what our job is to do is to build up the American empire. To create situations where as many resources as possible flow into this country, to our corporations, and our government. In fact, we've been very successful. We've built the largest empire in the history of the world. It's been done over the last 50 years since World War II with very little military might. It's only in rare instances like Iraq where the military comes in as a last resort. This empire, unlike any other in the history of the world, has been built primarily through economic manipulation, through cheating, through fraud, through seducing people into our way of life, through the economic hit men. I was very much a part of that.

How did you become one? Who did you work for?

My job... was giving loans to other countries, huge loans, much bigger than they could possibly repay.
Well, I was initially recruited while I was in business school back in the late sixties by the National Security Agency [NSA], the nation's largest and least understood spy organization; but ultimately I worked for private corporations. The first real economic hit man was back in the early 1950s, Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of Teddy, who overthrew of government of Iran, a democratically elected government. [Prime Minister] Mossadegh's government--he was Time's magazine person of the year. Roosevelt was so successful at doing this without bloodshed--well, there was a little bloodshed, but no military intervention, just millions of dollars spent--and we replaced Mossadegh with the Shah of Iran. At that point, we understood that this idea of economic hit man was an extremely good one. We didn't have to worry about the threat of war with Russia when we did it this way. The problem with that was that Roosevelt was a CIA agent. He was a government employee. Had he been caught, we would have been in a lot of trouble. It would have been very embarrassing. So, at that point, the decision was made to use organizations like the CIA and the NSA to recruit potential economic hit men like me and then send us to work for private consulting companies, engineering firms, construction companies, so that if we were caught, there would be no connection with the government.

Okay. Explain the company you worked for.

Look, you're not able to repay your debts, so give our oil companies your Amazon rain forest, which is filled with oil.
Well, the company I worked for was a company named Chas. T. Main in Boston, Massachusetts. We were about 2,000 employees, and I became its chief economist. I ended up having fifty people working for me. But my real job was deal-making. It was giving loans to other countries, huge loans, much bigger than they could possibly repay. One of the conditions of the loan--let's say a $1 billion to a country like Indonesia or Ecuador--was that the country would then have to give ninety percent of that loan back to US companies, to build the infrastructure--companies like Halliburton or a Bechtel. Those companies would then go in and build an electrical system or ports or highways, and these would basically serve just a few of the very wealthiest families in those countries. The poor people in those countries would be stuck ultimately with this amazing debt that they couldn't possibly repay. A country today like Ecuador owes over fifty percent of its national budget just to pay down its debt. And it really can't do it. So we have them over a barrel. When we want more oil, we go to Ecuador and say, "Look, you're not able to repay your debts, so give our oil companies your Amazon rain forest, which are filled with oil." And today we're going in and destroying Amazonian rain forests, forcing Ecuador to give them to us because they've accumulated all this debt.

So we make this big loan, most of it comes back to the United States, the country is left with the debt plus lots of interest, and they basically become our servants, our slaves. It's an empire. There's no two ways about it.

How closely did you work with the World Bank?

Very, very closely. The World Bank provides most of the money that's used by economic hit men, along with the [International Monetary Fund]. But when 9/11 struck, I had a change of heart. I knew the story had to be told, because what happened at 9/11 is a direct result of what the economic hit men are doing. And the only way that we're going to feel secure in this country again and that we're going to feel good about ourselves is if we use these systems we've put into place to create positive change around the world. I really believe we can do that. I believe the World Bank and other institutions can be turned around and do what they were originally intended to do, which is help reconstruct devastated parts of the world. Help--genuinely help poor people. There are twenty-four thousand people starving to death every day. We can change that.

» Democracy Now: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of Trillions

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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