Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on organized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.
Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help corporations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local community forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.
What emerges through Loewenstein’s reporting is a dark history of multinational corporations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valuable commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.
Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar.
Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?
We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.
Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.
Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sake, published in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution.
Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably.
This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed.
Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine?
Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so.
Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments.
Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change.
The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it.
It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
I’ve been interviewed by US Rolling Stone magazine by journalist Elisabeth Garber-Paul:
Australian journalist Antony Loewenstein recently made the 30-hour trip from South Sudan to New York City after spending the better part of a year in the world’s newest nation, which he calls both “broken” and “a pretty fascinating place.”
“It’s easily dismissed as just another African civil war, and there’s elements of truth in that,” he says of the situation in that country, which has been embroiled in ongoing armed struggles since 2013, after winning independence from Sudan in 2011. “But there’s also a lot of complicity in how the world, especially the U.S., helped the country get born four years ago, and it’s all fallen apart.”
The way wealthy nations and their private interests influence and profit from poorer nations is the subject of a new book, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe, which Loewenstein published this fall. But South Sudan, despite its devastation, didn’t even make it as a main subject in the book. “I could have chosen South Sudan, where resource exploitation is rampant,” he says. “I could have chosen Mongolia, where in the last year it’s had the fastest growing economy in the world because of resources, and the vast majority of people are simply not benefitting.”
Instead, he singled out a few specific countries – Australia, the U.K. and the United States on one side; Afghanistan and Pakistan, Greece, Haiti and Papua New Guinea on the other – to detail just how many entities profit from natural and man-made crises across the globe. “The reason I started this book five years ago was my belief that there was too little discussion in the Western press of corporations behaving badly, not in just developing countries, but our own countries,” he says. From for-profit prisons, to bloated NGOs, to economic development projects designed to benefit multinational corporations, he argues that a handful in the West are thriving off the pain of the global poor.
The problem, he says, is that we’ve accepted this as the global norm. The Bush Administration wasn’t necessarily motivated by potential profit when it invaded Afghanistan and Iraq – but the administration happily helped private companies like Halliburton reap the rewards when the contracts came up. Loewenstein says that President Obama has continued down the same path: “Only a few years ago, you had the same politicians and intellectuals arguing for a so-called humanitarian intervention in Libya to overthrow Gaddafi. Virtually as soon as that happened, the country descended into chaos.” Now, he says, the same people are supporting the same sort of military solutions in Syria. “This, to me, is deeply problematic. If you don’t look at the last 10 years and wonder if that’s the case, then you have rocks in your head.”
The effects of Western policy decisions have been playing out on a large scale in the recent Syrian refugee crisis, a problem that Loewenstein believes Europe is handling with the same misguided methods that have been employed for the past decade. In the U.K., for example, some of the privatized detention centers that have been criticized by watchdog groups for their treatment of asylum seekers still hold contracts to house incoming refugees, and Loewenstein sees the plans being rolled out across Europe as efforts “to warehouse refugees rather than addressing the root causes of the problem…taking only a tiny percentage of refugees, attempting to send many back to their war-torn nations and spending billions of dollars on surveillance instead of resettlement. It’s a drop in the ocean, and the reason is that there is no serious acknowledgement of the reasons why these people are fleeing” – i.e., wars that have been “fundamentally fueled by Western foreign policy.”
In addition to the book, Loewenstein is working with documentarian Thor Neureiter to make a Disaster Capitalism film, which he hopes to have finished within a year. “The idea behind the film is to use three examples” – Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea and Haiti – to show “how the use of U.S. and foreign aid has not helped those countries, but in fact hindered them,” he says, noting how poorly NGOs tracked the flood of money into Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. “The argument is that exploitation either through resources or aid is the way to bring prosperity to the people,” he says. “But the facts on the ground simply do not bear that out. In fact, the opposite happens and there is massive corruption, insecurity, and violence. And that in turn brings profound resentment.”
Yesterday I was interviewed in London by Aaron Bastani from Novara FM. Perceptive and curious, Novara Media is one of Britain’s most interesting and progressive media outlets. During the interview we spoke about my new book, Disaster Capitalism, the state of the media and funding investigative and independent journalism:
Monetising the waves of refugees surging into Europe is not the most common human response to tragedy. One of the greatest mass movements of people in modern history has caused a huge outpouring of solidarity with those on the move. But it has also created anger, suspicion and violence.
A grim reality of the current migrant crisis sweeping Europe – a continent that prefers surveillance over humanitarian support – is the growing number of corporations seeing financial opportunity in the most vulnerable people. Refugees become numbers to be processed; the profit motive is paramount in the minds of many multinationals.
Immigration is big business. Globally, companies’ like European Homecare and ORS Service have grim records — treating both inmates and guards with contempt. There’s no financial incentive for the firm to provide the best training, healthcare, food or mental health. I’ve witnessed this firsthand in detention centres in both the US and Australia.
Politically, the arrangement also suits both the company and the government, blaming the other when something inevitably goes wrong. Publicly run detention centres and prisons are hardly utopian and remain replete with problems— but at least there’s one level of public accountability.
In Europe, today, many nations are struggling to cope with the influx of refugees. Some citizens in Greece have seen an opportunity to turn a profit and are asking new arrivals for far too much money for water and to charge their smartphones. More significantly, private housing firms in Sweden are massively overcharging for properties. Companies have been accused of profiteering in a country that takes large numbers of refugees, including unaccompanied children. Some private sector contractors are “cowboys who are only there because they want to make heaps of money”, Marie Sallnäs, professor of social work at Stockholm University, told the Guardian.
In Germany, housing company European Homecare is working for the government to provide refugee shelters. “We’re doing something some people consider dirty: we make money,” said company spokesman Klaus Kocks. With 1000 staff caring for 15,000 refugees across the state, the company has become a major player in the immigration industrial complex. Cash starved mayors and officials often find a privately run-company more attractive because costs are initially lower. But examples in other nations, such as America and Australia — where vast parts of the refugee network has been outsourced — shows that human rights are breached when the profit motive is the primary, determining factor.
ORS Service, a Swiss company running migrant reception centres, is doing well. Run by London-based private equity firm Equistone Partners Europe Ltd, it now operates in Germany and Austria and recorded $99 million in revenue last year. ORS Service has thrived on Europe’s inability to cope with the refugee crisis.
Traiskirchen camp in Austria, the largest migrant facility in the country, has seen food shortages, poor hygiene and overcrowding. The United Nations refugee agency said it was “beneath human dignity.” Responding to this claim, the Chief Executive of ORS said that the company is working to improve conditions. “Any professional would be brought to the limits of what is possible,” he said. “The team there does its very best, and in extremely difficult conditions.” Still, those conditions are unsurprising and unacceptable for anybody who has seen unaccountable and secretive privatised detention camps in America, Britain or Australia.
My following letter was published this week in South Sudan’s newest newspaper, The National Today, and the editors both published my photo without permission or accreditation and edited out my criticisms of the country’s brutish government. Furthermore, some of the edits below don’t make sense but I’ll leave them in for your reading pleasure. Welcome to South Sudan:
“South Sudan continues to suffer from immense suffering amongst its people. After the joy of the 2011 independence vote, the population deserves far better. I lived in South Sudan in 2015 and found a situation that routinely ignored the most basic humanitarian standards; a number of ills are meted at will. Serious and accountable reporting would help to account for such in an up-coming society. Name the ills and Highlight them to help the country move forward. Demand action against those involved. South Sudan has remarkable people with focus to the country. Courageous reporting could be one step towards taking the country out of its current crisis.”
Antony Loewenstein, independent journalist and Guardian columnist
My original letter is here:
“South Sudan continues to suffer from immense suffering amongst its people. After the joy of the 2011 independence vote, the population deserves far better. I lived in South Sudan in 2015 and found a political and military leadership that routinely ignored the most basic humanitarian standards, murdering, raping and injuring at will. Serious and accountable journalism would hold such perpetrators to account. Name them. Shame them. Highlight how they are making money from the ongoing war. Demand action against those involved in killing journalists. South Sudan has remarkable people who are being abused by their own government. Courageous reporting could be one step towards taking the country out of its current crisis.”
“No Palestinian state will exist here beside the State of Israel,” he said. He argued that Israel was beginning “its inexorable slide toward eventually becoming a Muslim state.” Issacharoff feared this outcome because he believed “separation” was the only way for Israel to survive as a Jewish-majority entity.
The unspoken reality, however, has always been that a two-state arrangement, if it ever came to fruition, would disproportionately discriminate against Palestinians, including Palestinian citizens of Israel. Moreover, a true democracy doesn’t divide itself along ethnic or religious lines unless it wants to resemble apartheidSouth Africaor the Jim Crow south in the United States.
And nobody truly believes that hundreds of thousands of Israeli colonists will be moved from their places of residence without causing a Jewish civil war in Israel.
These realities require more imaginative thinking towards a viable outcome for an oppressed Palestinian population.
This book by Cherine Hussein, deputy director and research fellow at the Council for British Research in the Levant’s Kenyon Institute in East Jerusalem, aims to correct the myriad of misconceptions about the one-state solution. She frames her argument around the celebratory mood after the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993 and posits a more realistic alternative.
“Since then, the two-state solution has continued to both dominate, and frustrate, the official search for peace” she explains. “In parallel to this however, a more obscured struggle of resistance — centered upon the single state idea as a more liberating pathway towards justice — has re-emerged against the hegemony of Zionism and separation, and the shrinking territorial space for a viable two-state solution in the contested land.”
For Hussein, this struggle is personal. She writes that being an Egyptian “played a big role in establishing an easy rapport based upon a natural solidarity with the Palestinian people.”
She wants to know “whether or not the single state solution simply represented the resurfacing of an idea within the corridors of academia; to illuminate the kind of phenomenon the single state idea could be in the process of becoming; and to inform the understandings of political and social transformation deployed within it.”
Hussein aims to illuminate questions relevant to the scholarly field of International Relations, but her project also aims to be forward-looking, and to “explore the possibility of a single-state movement seriously.”
Over the course of the book, it becomes clear that Hussein had only limited access to Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories. It’s an unfortunate gap, despite the author blaming “geographical accessibility and limited sources of information.”
Modern communication technology surely renders these excuses redundant. After all, decades of futile negotiations between a complicit Palestinian Authority and Israel has led to growing support within Palestine for a single state. We need to hear these voices.
Hussein offers a pithy history of how the one-state option entered the public consciousness, highlighting a number of articles in American literary publications and surely more importantly “the extent to which ‘the facts on the ground’ created by Israel were irreversible, and how profoundly this reality had transformed the search for workable solutions and viable futures.”
Importantly, she stresses that “the broad ideological orientations of single-state intellectuals are located within the realm of the secular” despite the majority of Palestinians being either proud Christians or Muslims. The challenge of including, say, Hamas in a one-state imagination, a group wanting an Islamic entity, is acknowledged.
How to mainstream the one-state solution, to generate widespread support among Palestinians in the diaspora and in Palestine itself is a key question without any set answers. Hussein writes that, “while it is Palestinian-Israelis [Palestinian citizens of Israel] who are acknowledged to be the central energy behind the re-emergence of the single-state idea, Diaspora Palestinians are its fastest growing force.”
Deepening Israeli racism, occupation and intransigence are arguably the best weapons one-state advocates have and there’s every indication Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government will continue delivering on that front.
The surging boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is intricately linked to this shift in political alignment. Hussein correctly concludes that, “while the BDS movement may not take an open stand on political solutions … its practices of resistance remain interlinked with the tactics of the single-state conception of the world.”
However, the short-term impediments to the one-state movement and Palestinian political elites joining forces are clear: “no official Palestinian body or faction has openly supported the single-state solution as the desired Palestinian solution as of this writing. As such, single-state intellectuals are obstructed by this obstacle in openly calling for a single-state solution within diverse theaters of international civil society.”
Hussein is presumably referring to the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, two leading political bodies with a desultory record of adherence to human rights.
This book would have been greatly enhanced by Hussein spending far more time on the ground in Palestine rather than overly relying on (often) years-old sources and writings. This is an academic text and sometimes feels burdened with impenetrable language. The aim is clearly a scholarly readership.
The urgency in Palestine for solutions has never been clearer. The author has written a summary of the key events in modern Palestine and why the one-state solution is a just outcome to the conflict.
Insightful analysis is vital in an age of cheap and predictable opinions, and Hussein reviews the record comprehensively. It would have been helpful for the author to provide more concrete thoughts on how more Palestinians (and Israelis, for that matter) would embrace a truly democratic, one-state solution, but perhaps that’s a task for another book.
US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is on the warpath against private prison contractors. “Corporations should not be allowed to make a profit by building more jails and keeping more Americans behind bars,” he wrote on Facebook in August. The following month he introduced a bill in the Senate, the justice is not for sale act, which would block the federal government from collaborating with these private firms.
“We cannot fix our criminal justice system if corporations are allowed to profit from mass incarceration,” Sanders argued.
America imprisons more people than any other country in the world. 2.3 million are currently in prison, a 500% increase over the last 30 years. African-Americans and Hispanics are disproportionality represented and private companies are reaping the rewards.
The major corporations involved, CCA and Geo Group, have had minimum occupancy requirements signed into their contracts in many states’ facilities. Serious prison and immigration reform is not in their interests. ButSanders is determined to eradicate a business model that guarantees huge numbers of prisoners and immigrants remain little more than dollar signs.
The industry has deep pockets and well-placed connections. Two leading presidential candidates, Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Hillary Clinton, are close to lobbyists for CCA and Geo. Without taking financial incentives out of the justice equation, it’s impossible to imagine meaningful reform and serious reduction for the most vulnerable locked up every night.
Australians should look at the prisons debate in America with envy. Although its incarceration rates are far lower – except for Indigenous men, where the rate per capita is worse than during apartheid South Africa – the public discussion around the issue is poor and predictable.
Neither the Liberal government nor Labor opposition talk about it. The closest we came was under Kevin Rudd who pledged (and failed) in 2007 to return immigration detention to public ownership when he took government.
Today, British multinational Serco runs all the mainland detention centres while off-shore sites are managed by Transfield. Growing numbers of states are seduced by the false allure of outsourcing their prisons to overseas corporations. This message is propagated by some sections of the media.
And in New Zealand, a Serco-run prison in Mt Eden is under investigation in relation to allegations of mismanagement. A majority of New Zealanders now want Serco kicked out of the country despite prime minister John Key defendingthe company. The private sector had a role to play he argued, because otherwise the public service would be “fat and happy, and that wouldn’t deliver the services Kiwis want”.
Both conservative and some progressive politicians continue to falsely argue that outsourced facilities improve “efficiency” yet evidence from Australia and the USshows that workers rights, pay and benefits, let alone decent healthcare, food and conditions for inmates, often deteriorates when a private firm runs a facility. There’s no incentive to improve conditions when these benefits will negatively harm the bottom line.
This is why the Bernie Sanders message of ending secret connections between prison corporations and the state within three years is a challenge to the Australian political and media class.
Divestment campaigns in firms profiting from detention or prisons are growing locally and globally. It’s time for serious public debate, as is occurring in the US, on the benefits of rehabilitation and community service over imprisonment. Where is the Australian Bernie Sanders?
Jimmy Mubenga died of cardiac arrest whilst waiting to be deported on board an Angola-bound plane at Heathrow airport on 12 October 2010. Fellow passengers heard Mubenga scream, “I can’t breathe” as he was restrained and pinned down in his seat. G4S guards forced his head down and restricted his breathing, despite Mubenga already being handcuffed from behind.
On 16 December 2014, three G4S guards were found not guilty of manslaughter. This Black History Month, we remember Jimmy Mubenga and publish an extract from Antony Loewenstein’sDisaster Capitalism exposing the institutional racism that acquitted Mubenga’s killers, and the government-approved, corporate unaccountability that means G4S still secures massive contracts, earning £6.8 billion last year.
“Racism had become endemic within an economic system that produced dehumanization while suppressing transparency and neglecting proper training.”
Photograph: Guardian, Graeme Robertson
Jimmy Mubenga was an Angolan man killed by G4S on a British Airways flight in 2010 as he was being deported from Britain. Three G4S guards were charged with manslaughter and acquitted, despite evidence emerging at their 2014 trial that they had forcibly held Mubenga down while he screamed: “I can’t breathe.” G4S whistle-blowers told a Home Office committee after Mubenga’s death that the company routinely hired individuals who were not trained appropriately, or who showed insensitivity towards vulnerable detainees. The potentially lethal technique used to restrain Mubenga had been flagged as dangerous, but this had been ignored by management. Other deportees also complained of rough handling by G4S employees, including a Zimbabwean man who alleged that he had been punched and kicked while handcuffed and wearing leg locks.
The Mubenga case was a perfect example of corporate unaccountability. At the end of the 2014 trial, Mubenga’s widow, Adrienne Makenda Kambana, pledged to pressure the Home Office “to make sure there is an independent monitor on each deportation so they can observe what is going on. I can’t stand by and watch this happen to another family. I have to do that for Jimmy.” After four years of investigations and public shaming of G4S, Amnesty International commented that it was still impossible to “know which of these [dangerous restraint techniques] are still being used today or if the UK government has actually delivered on its promise to introduce new and safer methods and training. Once again a migrant has lost their life in detention, and once again no one will ultimately be held to account.”
At the heart of this tragedy was the role of G4S and its hiring practices. Although, at the 2014 trial, text messages from the guards had inexplicably been deemed not to have “any real relevance”—as was the testimony of a whistle-blower who told an earlier inquiry that a form of banned restraint known as “carpet karaoke” was used to forcibly restrain Mubenga and push his head down—two of the three defendants had sent dozens of messages that displayed hatred towards Muslims, Asians, and Africans. One of the guards, Stuart Tribelnig, 39, had written: “Fuck off and go home you free-loading, benefit grabbing, kid producing, violent, non-English speaking cock suckers and take those hairy faced, sandal wearing, bomb making, goat fucking, smelly rag head bastards with you.”
(Photograph: Guardian, Lauren Hurley. Terrence Hughes had 76 texts on his phone in which he abused Africans, Asians and Muslims. He was acquitted of killing Jimmy Mubenga)
With so many cases of G4S having hired racist employees, and report after report having found that the company had employed a disproportionate number of staff who displayed a callous disregard for people of color, it was reasonable to ask why the firm was not charged with corporate manslaughter when a person died in its care.
Racism had become endemic within an economic system that produced dehumanization while suppressing transparency and neglecting proper training. An anonymous account of a Serco guard working at the remote Curtin detention center, in Western Australia, explained: “If you start off a bit of a cunt when you arrive, you’re a major cunt by the time you leave.” As for the G4S guards hired to transport Mubenga, poorly vetted and intolerant, an aggressive attitude and a contempt for non-whites was often a prerequisite. Although guards dealt every day with the most vulnerable members of the community, they were, the Australian guard said, there because they “need[ed] a job that will last a few months, pay well, employ immediately, and requires no expertise.”
Mubenga’s coroner, Karon Monaghan QC, understood what outsourcing meant in reality. In a far more humane assessment of the case in 2013, which forced a criminal trial after the initial inaction of the Crown Prosecution Service, Monaghan wrote, after reading the racist texts, that “the potential impact on detainees of a racist culture is that detainees and deportees are not ‘personalized.’” The sheer scale of the problem, exacerbated by years of state inaction, was revealed in a 2015 Institute of Race Relations report, Dying for Justice, identifying Mubenga as one of over 500 minority individuals who had died after an interaction with the police, prison, or immigration services, or one of their privatized proxies, since 1991.
The Australian writer Antony Loewenstein is no stranger to this site. His incisive, courageous questioning of pro-Israel orthodoxy got our attention back in 2007, and he has published two well received books on the subject: My Israel Question, and After Zionism, (which he co-edited with Ahmed Moor, another close friend of this site).
Loewenstein is a bold, energetic journalist, who will go anywhere to report first-hand. His latest book, just out from Verso, is entitled Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of a Catastrophe, and even experienced world travelers will be impressed by his explorations. Among other places, he visits a remote part of Papua New Guinea, to chronicle a long, little-known struggle between the local people and a big, polluting copper mine, and he spends time in Pakistan and Afghanistan, to explain how Private Military Companies, better known as mercenaries, are making millions off war and misery.
His great strength is that he gets telling details to make stories come alive. Most people know in general that Greece has been suffering under German-imposed austerity, but the truth is more compelling when you read that, “In the heart of Europe, malnutrition was rampant among schoolchildren; a cabbage-based diet was now a reality for many middle-class Greeks.” Even more chilling, a few pages later he describes a 54-year-old man who was lying in the operating room, waiting to have a heart pace-maker installed — until an accountant said he had not provided the necessary documents. (Fortunately, after pressure, the man did have the life-saving surgery the next day.)
Loewenstein’s look at post-earthquake relief in Haiti is particularly useful. Bill Clinton, who co-chaired the international relief effort while reporting to his wife, the secretary of state at the time, promised “to build back better” but characteristically did not follow through. The hundreds of millions of aid went mostly to U.S. and other corporations of doubtful competence, which were “spending too much of their resources on salaries, accommodation, and transport for foreign aid workers.”
Antony Loewenstein travels up to the Caracol Industrial Park in northern Haiti, a cherished pet project of Bill and Hillary Clinton. He discovers, as have other reporters, that the project had evicted 300 small farmers but is years behind schedule, and, as he quotes the Haiti expert Alex Dupuy, even if it is ever finished it “has absolutely nothing to do with creating a sustainable growth economy in Haiti.”
The Haiti Relief Debacle should become an issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, raising serious doubts about the competence of both Clintons. The first-hand evidence in Antony Loewenstein’s important new book is part of the indictment.
The detainees were all desperate to speak to us. They were all Afghan men under thirty, mostly from the Hazara ethnic group, though I saw a few older men with gray beards standing behind the others. The police had picked them all up in Athens, after they had lived free in the community for different periods of time. Some told me that they had been inside detention centers for more than eighteen months — the maximum time allowed, until the law changed in 2014, that the Greek state could indefinitely detain a refugee. Some had been detained for more than two years.
The Greek Council for Refugees argued that this new directive was in breach of Greek, European, and international law. In such a toxic political climate, it was left to this group to manage the huge load on the Greek system. Spokesperson Elina Sarantou was angry about her country’s attitude towards refugees. The European Refugee Fund, as well as national and international foundations, supported her group. With around sixty staff and little public trust in NGOs after some high-profile scandals, its profile was small and funds were limited. As a consequence, the council was overwhelmed by the demand. It had only twelve lawyers and twelve social workers in a country that needed thousands more— they saw over 8,000 refugees annually. “We are running programs of legal support for victims of racist violence, by police, far-right thugs, and others,” Sarantou said, “though 80 percent of these victims don’t have legal papers so are scared of taking the cases to court.”
The sheer number of asylum seekers arriving on Greek shores has given Greece an opportunity to use both its head and its heart. Sarantou explained how the government started an Asylum Service in 2013—a small and positive step towards addressing the abuses in arbitrary detention. The UNHCR praised the move. Despite this, she said, police still saw asylum seekers as “clandestines”; the police still had an “Aliens Department.” The service was mostly funded by the UN and remained in need of more backing. The EU’s border management agency, Frontex—condemned by Human Rights Watch in 2011 for “exposing migrants to inhuman and degrading conditions”—said that eight out of ten refugees coming to Europe were entering through Greece.
The Greek infrastructure of control for asylum seekers included a first-reception center in Evros, on the land border with Turkey, which was funded by the UNHCR and the EU. It had a maximum stay of twenty-five days, and claims were assessed in that time if possible. “It’s a decent place,” Sarantou said, “though still like a prison, and you can’t leave. We oppose these facilities, as there are few rights. The state has laws that put Greeks first for employment and asylum seekers last. They should provide protection for those in need—especially minors, single-parent families, and those with health and psychological problems.”
Instead, Athens announced in 2012 that it had opened thirty new camps for immigrants on disused army sites. With countless refugees living in squalor in and around Athens—I saw many sleeping rough and in need of a good meal and a wash—it was unsurprising that the government announced the decision as a response to rising levels of violent crime. With unemployment soaring and the youth jobless rate reaching well above 50 percent, the state reacted according to a tradition of impulsiveness, lacking any long-term plan.
“Hundreds of thousands of people are wandering aimlessly through the streets,” said the former citizens’ protection minister, Michalis Chrysohoidis, “being forced to break the law, being exploited by criminal networks and deterring legitimate immigrants from staying in the country.” Authorities announced that migrants would be moved into shabby “closed hospitality centers,” to keep them off the streets and out of sight of angry Greek voters.
In mid 2014, Global Detention Project released a comprehensive list of Greek facilities that itemized over thirty central and remote locations that were mostly staffed by police—a group with a long history in Greece of assaulting refugees.
It was a strange and sad experience, standing on one side of the Corinth fence, under the glaring sun, unable to get inside the center, and exchanging halting words with caged men. Everyone wanted to talk to us—to share their stories, explain their pain, and protest their detention. “We are suffering in here,” they said. A mass hunger strike by detainees occurred in June 2014 to protest a new ministerial order allowing indefinite detention, unofficially supported by harsh European Union directives. The facility was hit with riots in 2013. A statement released by the migrants read in part: “With the systematic and open-ended detention, the Greek government is massacring us. They are wasting our lives and killing our dreams and hopes inside the prisons. All of that while none of us has committed a crime.”
Chaman translated for me. None of the men wanted to return to Afghanistan because they feared persecution or worse. They all hated Greece for the way it treated refugees. They wished to get to Germany, or other European nations with better conditions. One man showed me a bullet lodged in his foot since he had been shot by guards while trying to escape. He had asked for surgery to remove it but was refused. All the men stated that the police regularly beat them, and that conditions inside were awful. The European Court of Human Rights had condemned conditions inside Greek detention centers eleven times, as had many Greek courts when considering excessive periods of detention. The UN opposed extended periods of administrative detention as “standard practice aimed at discouraging irregular entry or stay in the country.”
After one minute, the guards wanted us to leave. We refused and said we needed more time. I passed the tea and sugar to the detainees, and after ten minutes we were directed to leave. The fence was firmly shut. The smell of sweat hung in the air from men cooped up in the searing heat. Chaman told me that he felt obliged to help his fellow Afghans and visit them in detention, taking them to lawyers and doctors in Athens when they were released. “It’s part of my mission,” he said.
AMYGOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. When disaster strikes, who profits? That’s the question asked by journalist Antony Loewenstein in his new book, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe. Traveling across the globe, Antony examines how companies, such as G4S, Serco, Halliburton, are cashing in on calamity. He describes how they’re deploying for-profit private contractors to war zones and building for-profit private detention facilities to warehouse refugees, prisoners, asylum seekers. Now Loewenstein has teamed up with filmmaker Thor Neureiter for an upcoming documentary by the same name that chronicles how international aid and investment has impacted communities from Haiti to Afghanistan to Papua New Guinea and beyond. This is the trailer.
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: For three years, I’ve investigated what happens after the spotlight fades from disasters in developing countries. What comes when the money and goodwill ends?
UNIDENTIFIED: This country is like a republic of NGOs. And these people, as employees, they are getting paid very fat salaries.
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: Often these natural and man-made disasters create an atmosphere reliant on foreign money.
UNIDENTIFIED: They say first we should bring security, then investment. I say first we should invest, then security will come.
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: When aid runs out and most NGOs move on to the next disaster, pro-business policies are created in the name of recovery. This investigation has taken me to the streets of Haiti, the mountains of Afghanistan and the lush forests of Papua New Guinea, where I’ve met the people caught up in a struggle between recovery and the policies that cater to foreign interests.
UNIDENTIFIED: When you talk about disaster capitalism and the capitalists coming in and sweeping up and taking over, they don’t need a conspiracy, because those are the interests that prevail, and they’re going to get their way.
AMYGOODMAN: The trailer for the forthcoming documentary based on Antony Loewenstein’s new book, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe. Well, journalist and author Antony Loewenstein joins us now in studio, also a columnist for The Guardian.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: Thanks for having me.
AMYGOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us, Antony. So, explain disaster capitalism.
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: People who make money from misery. So, one of the reasons—I was inspired by Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, and she coined the term “disaster capitalism” in 2007. For me, it was really about deepening and widening that definition. So I focus particularly on Afghanistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, U.S., U.K., Greece and Australia. Immigration is a key part of that. So, the fact that—as you said in your introduction, there are key companies—G4S, Transfield, Serco and others—who are very happy about the massive influx of refugees. Warehousing refugees is huge profit-making business. So I was focusing on that, going to these places and actually seeing the effects of that on both immigrants and also those who work in those centers; looking at, say, in Haiti, the issue of aid and development after the earthquake in 2010, which was a key reason why the U.S. government, as WikiLeaks documents showed, were keen for U.S. contractors to make a fortune; in Papua New Guinea, a country near my own country, Australia, a situation where you have massive mining interests—Rio Tinto and others—again, making a fortune from mining and misery. So, for me, it was about making the connections between various different countries and corporations, and saying—I’m not arguing that Afghanistan is the same as Greece, of course they’re different, but ultimately often the same corporations are at play, and the fact that the corporation has become more powerful than the state, which, to me, is a problem.
AMYGOODMAN: I want to ask you about a place some call the Guantánamo Bay of the Pacific. The Manus Island detention center is paid for by the Australian government and run by an Australian contractor, Transfield Services, but located offshore on Papua New Guinea’s soil. The prisoners are not accused of any crimes; they’re asylum seekers from war-ravaged countries who are waiting indefinitely for their refugee status determination. Earlier this year, Democracy Now! spoke to Australian human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson about Manus Island.
JENNIFERROBINSON: I’ve been to PNG, and I’ve spent times in West Papuan refugee settlement camps, so I can speak with first-hand experience that PNG is not a state that is capable of accepting our asylum seekers and refugees. Ninety percent of these people who come by boat to Australia have been determined to be refugees in the past. The conditions in PNG are terrible. Australia is—it is unlawful for Australia to be continuing to send asylum seekers to conditions the U.N. has found to amount to inhuman, degrading treatment. We are in breach of our international obligations.
AMYGOODMAN: That’s Australian human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson. Antony Loewenstein?
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: It’s a problem. I mean, one of the things also we should also say is there’s Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, but also Nauru, which is a Pacific island. So, Australia for the last years has been sending thousands of refugees to essentially prison camps in these islands, as you rightly say. They run for profit. It was G4S, it’s now Transfield. In a recent Australian Senate report, it was found, clear evidence, that often refugees are being raped and tortured. This is not an allegation, this is a fact. There was one allegation by a guard that he saw evidence of waterboarding. So, ultimately we have a situation where the Australian government, which increasingly, I might add, is being used by the European Union as inspiration in potentially how to deal with their refugee crisis—the key point about the offshore detention camps, and indeed onshore in Australia, is that they’re privately run. And the key problem—it wouldn’t make a difference if it was publicly run. I mean, it shouldn’t be there in the first place. But Australia wants an unaccountable system. Journalists can’t get there, as Jennifer rightly said. You essentially have a—it’s a black site. The journalists can’t get in there, human rights workers can’t get in there. You can visit Manus Island as a tourist, but you can’t get into the center. Nauru charges $8,000 to apply for a visa. And if you don’t get the visa, which you wouldn’t, you don’t get that money back. So, essentially, many Australians—and sadly, I would argue, only a minority of Australians are outraged by this. But the truth is, like in Europe and like in the U.S., after decades in my country have privatized detention camps, sadly, a lot of people regard those people as a threat who need to be essentially seen as silenced and as a number, that’s all. It’s a massive problem, and I write about that in the book.
AMYGOODMAN: I want to go to the larger issue of for-profit prisons. Last month, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate—
AMYGOODMAN: —introduced new legislation aimed at banning government contracts with private prisons. Sanders said banning for-profit incarceration is the first step to ending the system of mass incarceration.
SEN. BERNIESANDERS: As a first step, we need to start treating prisoners like human beings. Private companies, private corporations should not be profiteering from their incarceration.
AMYGOODMAN: That’s presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, also a senator.
AMYGOODMAN: So he’s introduced legislation.
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: So encouraging. I mean, one of the things that is less talked about in the U.S., Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio have taken massive amounts of money from the private prison industry. I’m not saying that their policies are solely based around that, but it’s an important part. In the book, I visit some private detention camps in Georgia, particularly run by CCA, which is the largest American privatized corporation running prisons and detention camps. In these centers, human rights are awful. Healthcare is bad. Food is bad. Mental health is bad. And ultimately, like we see in Australia and the U.K. and elsewhere—
AMYGOODMAN: And CCA is Corrections Corporation of America.
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: Indeed, indeed. And ultimately, I think one of the things is, these corporations have no incentive to provide decent care. I mean, that’s the bottom line. Profit, of course, is the most important. So putting aside the rights of refugees and immigrants themselves, what I find also in the book is that the guards who are working in those centers, without proper training, they’re almost by definition going to abuse refugees. That’s part of the problem. I think Bernie Sanders’ call was an important one, but sadly, no other major candidate has come out and agreed. And I think one of the interesting things in the U.S., as we move forward with your presidential campaign, someone like a Donald Trump, who talks, as we know, about potentially getting rid of 11 million undocumented migrants, the private prison industry is very excited about his presidency, and they’re scared of any serious reform in the U.S. One of the things that CCA and GEO Group, the two major companies, talk about in their annual reports are that serious reform—in other words, less people locked up—is bad for business. And they’ve spent over the last 20 years at least $30 million to $40 million. One of the things that comes out in my book, in my investigations, is that this is legalized corruption, that it’s nothing—it’s not illegal for CCA to assist a congressman or woman in their campaign. That’s legal. But the problem is that the result, in state—in state after state in the U.S., is a mass incarceration culture. And sadly, even under President Obama, there’s been no serious look at removing that incentive. I mean, there’s a Congress-approved quota that every single night there are 34,000 refugees locked up in the U.S.—every night.
AMYGOODMAN: “Richard Sullivan”—this is from The Intercept, I believe—”of the lobbying [group] Capitol Counsel, is a bundler for the Clinton campaign, bringing in $44,859 in contributions in a few short months. Sullivan is also a registered lobbyist for the GEO Group, a company that operates a number of jails, including immigrant detention centers, for profit.”
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: That’s the nexus, Amy, that I’m talking about in the book, that is—again, this sort of thing is not illegal. It is legal. But the problem is that almost by definition that means that major candidates—Hillary Clinton has said, Jeb Bush, particularly Marco Rubio in his state, as well, has taken massive contributions. And the fact is, without those contributions, the policies would be different, obviously.
AMYGOODMAN: I want to turn to Afghanistan. Wednesday marked the 14th anniversary of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which began on October 7, 2001. President Obama declared an official end to the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan last year; however, the U.S. has around 9,800 troops there. And according to Foreign Policy magazine, there are three times as many for-profit private contractors in Afghanistan than U.S. troops, not including the contractors supporting the CIA, State Department, USAID or other government agencies. You have traveled to Afghanistan, Antony Loewenstein, and spoke to some of these contractors. What did they tell you?
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: They are worried about the war winding down. For them, they are scared about—I was there in 2012 and also this year in May, in 2015. And one of the things that many of them were saying, both in 2012 and in 2015, is that they realize that the U.S. is winding down its war, but ultimately, as you say, Obama has declared the war finished. It’s been rebranded. The occupation continues. There is now talk about possibly raising troops. The Afghan security forces, which, I might add, were trained by private companies—DynCorp trained the Iraqi security forces and the Afghan security forces, massive failures on both fronts, which has had no impact on DynCorp getting more contracts, I might add. So, ultimately, one of the things in Afghanistan—and the attack on the Kunduz medical center, MSF medical center, goes to the heart of that—there’s a reduction in space for humanitarian actors.
I mean, I was there this year with my film partner, Thor Neureiter. We were looking at what Afghanistan’s likely to look like in the next five or 10 years. And the resource industry is what the Afghan government and the U.S. government talks about. Briefly, there are apparently $4 trillion of resources under the ground in Afghanistan, mostly untapped, including copper. And one of the things we do in our film is go to an area called—in Logar province about an hour from Kabul, which has the largest copper deposit in the world, run by a Chinese company. They are desperate to start mining those resources. And the problem is, in the last years, the U.S. has given hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to support a resource industry there. So the nexus between private security and mining industry in that country is devastating for the local people.
AMYGOODMAN: I wanted to go to testimony just yesterday in the House. The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, is pushing to keep more U.S. troops in Afghanistan than under President Obama’s scheduled drawdown, following the Taliban seizure of Kunduz last week. California Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez pressed General Campbell during his testimony to the House Armed Services Committee Thursday.
REP. LORETTASANCHEZ: So, within your own current testimony, let alone the testimony that Mr. Jones brought before you from before, you basically are saying, “I don’t know that there’s a long-term viability for these security forces.” We’re paying the majority of that. How much is the majority? How much money does that mean, to have a force that you don’t believe has a long-term viability?
GEN. JOHNCAMPBELL: Ma’am, if I could—
REP. LORETTASANCHEZ: How much? How much? That’s the question. How much?
GEN. JOHNCAMPBELL: Yes, ma’am. Today, for calendar year ’15, the United States put $4.1 billion to build the Afghan security forces.
REP. LORETTASANCHEZ: $4.1 billion.
GEN. JOHNCAMPBELL: For ’16, $3.86 billion.
REP. LORETTASANCHEZ: Thank you. $4.1 billion.
GEN. JOHNCAMPBELL: Every year we continue to reduce that by gaining efficiencies. We’re not providing infrastructure that—
REP. LORETTASANCHEZ: General, I’ve heard this. I’ve heard this for 14 years.
AMYGOODMAN: This comes as Doctors Without Borders says 24 of its staff members are still missing, following the U.S. airstrike on its hospital in Kunduz Saturday. That’s in addition to at least 22 people who died in the strike, including 12 medical workers, 10 patients, including three children. Antony Loewenstein?
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: I mean, what that testimony shows is that the U.S. has spent over $100 billion since 2001. As you say, it’s the 14-year anniversary now. And even the U.S. government itself, SIGAR, which is the sort of the government arm to investigate where money has gone, has found that the vast majority of that has gone to corruption. It’s disappeared. It’s gone to helping a failing mining industry. It’s gone to pay private security. Afghanistan is one of the great disgraces, in some ways, of our time, because, in many ways, the fact that private companies—U.S. companies, Australian companies, British companies—have been used as a replacement for government. One of the things that’s so often ignored, and I talk about this in the book, is that the U.S. routinely was paying, to transport goods from A to B, Afghan security, private security or foreign security to basically give money to pay off insurgents to not hit them, to not attack them. So, really, the U.S. taxpayer is weirdly either comfortable or doesn’t know about the fact that America is fighting a war against insurgents that they’re also paying off to not attack them. It’s a crazy situation, but that’s what’s been happening for years.
AMYGOODMAN: I want to end with Haiti. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the devastating Haiti earthquake that killed, oh, 300,000 people and left more than one-and-a-half million Haitians homeless in what was already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. In tent camps housing the displaced, Haitian residents said international donors have left them behind.
CLAUTAIREFENEL: [translated] My message to the international donors is that the money they gave to help the people in Haiti is being put to use for the interest of other people instead. It is used to buy luxury cars, pay for hotels and go to high-priced restaurants paid in U.S. dollars.
EUNICEELIASSAINT: [translated] I don’t see a future here. I can’t hide anything from you. There is no tomorrow. Last night, the children went to bed without anything to eat.
AMYGOODMAN: Lay out what’s happened in Haiti, Antony.
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: Soon after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the U.S. ambassador at the time—WikiLeaks documents showed this—wrote a cable essentially saying that a gold rush is on, a gold rush meaning for U.S. corporations and others. The U.S. has spent billions of dollars there, mostly for U.S. contractors. Most of the money the U.S. has spent there since the earthquake has remained in America. Haitians are not really being trained. Haitians are not really being supported. The solution that the Obama administration gave for Haiti, pushed by Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, their daughter, were industrial parks—essentially, places that Haitians can get underpaid and not trained to make cheap clothing for Gap and Wal-Mart that you and I maybe, hopefully, won’t buy in the U.S. That’s the solution that the U.S. sees for Haiti.
AMYGOODMAN: You know—
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: And many Haitians—sorry—actually also argue that they feel occupied by foreign interests, the U.N. and the U.S.
AMYGOODMAN:Democracy Now! went down to Haiti a number of times before and after the earthquake. And I remember one of those times, President Clinton, he was down in Haiti giving a speech, saying there’s two things he cares about in the world. One is his daughter’s wedding. She was just—Chelsea Clinton was about to get married. And the other is restoring Haiti.
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: Well, the legacy of the Clinton Foundation—and I examine this deeply in the book—is utterly appalling. There are example after example of the Clinton Foundation funding a number of centers that have been infected by chemicals, which also, I might add, the Clinton Foundation were investing in failed things after Hurricane Katrina, as well, here in the U.S. Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and others—I mean, they’re one example—their solution has primarily been industrial parks. And one of the things that comes out very clearly, the suggestions—and we talk about this in our film, as well—that the solution for Haiti is not to build massive industrial parks to make clothing that you and I can buy in the U.S. The solution is empowering locals. It’s about speaking to locals and saying, “We actually have a solution that empowers you and trains you.” And one of the things that comes out also clearly is that so many Haitians feel pretty pissed off with the fact that so often there’s actually little or no encouragement of them. And ultimately, Haiti really has never been an independent country, Amy. I mean, the U.S. has had involvement there for a hundred years. And many Haitians ultimately feel that they actually really need to separate themselves from the U.S., but America doesn’t actually view that as a viable option. And the book goes into detail about why that is the case. Haiti is seen as too economically viable for America to let it go.
AMYGOODMAN: Finally, where do you see the hope in this dark history of multinational corporations and the plunder of the most vulnerable?
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: The hope are hearing local stories. And one of the things I talk about in the book, and we do in the film, is actually say that so many in the media—and I’m obviously part of that, and you are, as well—I know Democracy Now! is an exception to this—but too often don’t report local stories, don’t actually hear local people saying what they want. So when disaster strikes in Haiti, don’t just focus on celebrities like Sean Penn, focus on other people actually there who are doing good work, empower them, pay them, train them. It’s not rocket science how to change this. Ultimately, Haiti’s economic structure, as one example, needs to change, but it’s not going to change with U.S. contractors doing the job.
AMYGOODMAN: Antony Loewenstein’s new book is Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, the new U.S. poet laureate. Stay with us.