Africa

The loans of mass destruction

Patrick Bond
CounterPunch
March 8, 2006

A few weeks ago, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff in the State
Department, Lawrence Wilkerson, revealed to a PBS NOW audience
something we all knew anyway about Saddam Hussein’s weapons arsenal: ‘I
participated in a hoax on the American people, the international
community, and the United Nations Security Council.’ A chief planner of
that hoax was Paul Wolfowitz. Is he now carrying out another – telling
the world that he’s ridding the Third World of corruption?

‘I would
certainly counsel Paul Wolfowitz to put himself in the hands of the
professionals who run the World Bank’s external-relations department:
he needs an extreme makeover,’ former IMF chief economist Kenneth
Rogoff advised shortly after his appointment last April. He got one. By
September, a Los Angeles Times editorial remarked, ‘Wolfowitz’s most
valuable contribution to date may simply be his role as a cheerleader.
Amid an agency and a US public that is cynical about the value of
foreign aid, Wolfowitz has continually pointed out that things are
changing for the better in Africa and that the world’s contributions
are making a difference.’ Commentator Ariana Huffington observed last
November, ‘Talk about your Extreme Political Makeover. Wolfie has gone
from war hawk to the second coming of Mother Teresa – all without
having to make any kind of redemptive pit stop in political purgatory
or having to apologize for being so wrong about Iraq.’ Added Washington
Post journalist Dana Milbank in December: ‘Being Wolfie means not
having to say you’re sorry. Since taking the World Bank job six months
ago he has found a second act. He has toured sub-Saharan Africa, danced
with the natives in a poor Indian village, badgered the United States
to make firmer foreign aid commitments and cuddled up to the likes of
Bono and George Clooney.’ There is no question that Wolfowitz quickly
learned to talk ‘left’ about unfair trade subsidies, meagre US aid and
corruption. Whether this was merely superficial rhetoric, veiling the
sinister agenda of the petro-military complex, would soon be tested.
Last August in Ecuador, the centrist government employed a Keynesian
finance minister, Rafael Correa, who renewed Ecuador’s long-standing
$75 million tax-avoidance complaint against Occidental Petroleum. In
addition, a new Ecuadoran law aimed to redirect 20% of an oil fund
towards social needs and 10% for national development in science and
technology, instead of debt servicing to foreign banks. (The windfall
from the oil price rise from $18/barrel when the fund was set up, to
$70/barrel in 2005, was being funnelled to Ecuador’s creditors.) Correa
aimed to rescind Occidental’s control of the oilfields, as the original
contract allowed for under conditions of non-performance. But next door
to Ecuador, in Colombia, Wolfowitz had helped Occidental defend one of
the most productive oil fields in the world, Cano Limon, whose pipeline
runs through jungle adjacent to guerrilla controlled territory. The
Pentagon established a Colombian ‘Pipeline Brigade’ with a $150 million
grant arranged by Wolfowitz when he was the second-ranking military
official. A senior financier explained in MRzine: ‘Wolfowitz’s decision
provoked a crisis in the government of president Alfredo Palacio who,
especially with a weak government, has indicated his reluctance to
confront the United States. After discussions with the president,
finance minister Correa was obliged to resign and the head of the
national petroleum company has been sacked. The new head of the
petroleum company, Luis Roman, held the same post in the 1990s and
helped Occidental into its current position. In fact, he is a supporter
of further privatizing the oil fields.’ A few months later, a seemingly
opposite case arose in Africa, namely a redirection of the
controversial Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline’s funds away from social
programmes into the military.

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