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.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture 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.
forgodssakecover 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 Sakepublished 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.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

US magazine Alternet reviews Disaster Capitalism

During my recent visit to the US, I spoke in New York about my book, Disaster Capitalism. I was in conversation with journalist Ben Norton who has just written the following review of the book for US magazine Alternet:

“It is profitable to let the world go to hell,” wrote Jørgen Randers, professor of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School, in 2015. “I believe that the tyranny of the short term will prevail over the decades to come. As a result, a number of long-term problems will not be solved, even if they could have been, and even as they cause gradually increasing difficulties.”

Journalist Antony Loewenstein opens his book Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe with these portentous words. Having crossed the globe, he has seen firsthand just how profitable disaster can be.

Loewenstein is a journalistic virtuoso, having traveled to dozens of countries on multiple continents in recent years for his multifaceted reporting. Like his accomplished compatriot John Pilger, Loewenstein has tackled a dizzying array of topics, with the expertise of a scholar and the vigor of an explorer.

Disaster Capitalism, a 300-page tome that is more like seven books in one, is based on a decade of research and reporting. Loewenstein traveled to wartorn Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan to study how the defense industry and for-profit private military companies are turning one of the longest wars in U.S. history into a lucrative business opportunity. He also visited crowded refugee camps in Greece and fully privatized detention centers at Christmas Island, off the coast of his native Australia, to meet asylum-seekers fleeing the wars multinational corporations are profiting from.

Loewenstein continued his reporting in post-earthquake Haiti, where he got to witness disaster capitalism in real time. He also saw how international mining corporations are raking in cash on the extraction boom in Papua New Guinea. In addition to these expeditions, Loewenstein also recently spent time doing even more reporting in South Sudan, Kenya, and Israel.

At a recent public discussion of Disaster Capitalism with AlterNet’s Ben Norton at McNally Jackson Books in New York City, Loewenstein spoke of the increasing privatization of wars and detention facilities for refugees and migrants. He also examined the refugee crisis, and how Western wars and intervention have fueled this crisis, highlighting the links tying together war, detention, mass incarceration, the military-industrial complex, and the prison-industrial complex, and how private prison and security companies are profiting from it all.

The journalist also addressed the rise of far-right and neo-fascist movements around the world, from Donald Trump to France’s Marine Le Pen to Greece’s Golden Dawn, and how these forces will be incapable of solving the structural global problems exacerbated and reinforced by a profit-driven system.

“I believe that bearing witness to what I see, and giving unequal players the right of reply, gives balance to the privatization debate, rather than the false construct of ‘balance’ that permeates the corporate press, which merely pits one powerful interest against another,” Loewenstein explains in the book.

The concept behind Disaster Capitalism is loosely rooted in Naomi Klein’s 2007 opus The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Loewenstein picks up where Klein left off, analyzing not only how natural disasters and war can be vehicles for capitalist policies, but also how corporations push their neoliberal agenda, and make lots of money, on immigration, refugee detention, prisons, and the discovery of natural resource reserves.

“This book is a product of the post-9/11 environment,” he notes. The explosion of the so-called war on terror, the rapid expansion of the surveillance state, the slew of never-ending wars, the privation of public institutions and services, and the militarization of police, the border, and all of society — this is the brave new world Loewenstein devotes himself to dissecting.

And there is even a movie! A Disaster Capitalism documentary has been several years in the making. Loewenstein says they are wrapping up the production process, and are in discussions for distribution of the film.

Loewenstein’s previous book, Profits of Doom, explores similar subjects, while 2008’s The Blogging Revolution presages the 2011 protests that swept the globe. And his My Israel Question became a bestseller in 2007 and helped foment critical public debate about Israel-Palestine.

Loewenstein is the definition of a cosmopolitan. In a Guardian article  about his Australian-German-Jewish identity, he wrote, “My identity is a conflicted and messy mix that incorporates Judaism, atheism, anti-Zionism, Germanic traditions and Anglo-Saxon-Australian beliefs. And yet I both routinely reject and embrace them all.”

He’s also a darn good writer.

While he boasts an impressive collection of bylines in prestigious publications, nevertheless, Loewenstein has largely been relegated to the sidelines of mainstream corporate journalism, much like the muckrakers before him.

“Far too few reporters demand transparency or challenge capitalism, preferring instead to operate comfortably within it,” he observes in his book. “This work is an antidote to such thinking… This book considers the view from below, the experiences of people who are all too often invisible in the daily news cycle.”

no comments – be the first ↪

Around the Empire interview on disaster capitalism, aid and the Middle East

Around the Empire podcast, based in the US, interviews me about my book, Disaster Capitalism, Israel/Palestine, the dangers and advantages of aid and the Trump administration:

On this episode of Around The Empire, Dan and Joanne interview journalist Antony Loewenstein about his new book and upcoming film Disaster Capitalism. Loewenstein has traveled to the United States, Britain, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, and Australia to research how multinational corporations exploit disasters for profit.

The discussion starts with a focus on recent decisions by the Trump Administration to increase the use of private prisons and detention centers. Loewenstein details how companies profit from this approach both in the United States and around the world, and the role such companies play in expanding the surveillance and incarceration state.

Loewenstein also explains the complicated role of non-government organizations (NGOs) in international development and disaster capitalism. Using the failures of NGOs in Haiti as a starting point, he explains the conflicting incentives NGOs have that often lead to them failing to make a positive impact despite ample resources:

no comments – be the first ↪

On the importance of hearing critical views in our time

I was pleased to be asked to sign the following statement in support of free speech and against blacklisting for “unpopular” views on Syria (though it’s equally relevant for Palestine, the “war on terror” etc). I sign alongside Noam Chomsky, Glenn Greenwald, Reza Aslan and many others:

The cancellation of a lecture by journalist Rania Khalek, who was invited to speak on the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill campus by Students for Justice in Palestine on February 27, 2017, raises important issues of tactics and strategy within movements for social change.

The whole statement, posted on facebook the night before, reads:

“After receiving much feedback and after careful consideration, we have decided to cancel tomorrow’s event with Rania Khalek. We do not endorse nor reject her views on the Syrian civil war as they remain relatively unclear according to our members’ diverse opinions of Rania’s analyses. Although Rania was not going to speak about Syria, we understand the Syrian conflict is a contentious issue and the invitation was met with a lot of anger. We appreciate the concerns of those who have reached out to us, especially our Syrian supporters and believe her invitation would mistakenly imply SJP to hold such views. SJP supports liberation movements for all oppressed people and recognizes their right to self-determination.”

We note: the UNC-SJP event organizers cancelled the event (which was to be on the intersection of Palestinian rights organizing and the Black Lives Matter movement) based on the speaker’s views on Syria, a topic the speaker was “not going to speak about”, that “remain relatively unclear” to them, out of concern that “her invitation would mistakenly imply SJP to hold such views”. This means that:

  • No one was prepared to state what disqualified Khalek from speaking.
  • The event was cancelled based on assertions about her views made by others.
  • The cancellation was based on the notion that there is a political litmus test of views on Syria that are requisites to have a public voice in the Palestinian rights movement.

We also note that some of those who lobbied UNC-SJP to cancel the event have stated publicly that they want to destroy Khalek’s reputation and livelihood. This is a coordinated smear campaign, using many of the same tactics that Palestine solidarity activists have faced from pro-Israel organizations, and with many of the same targets.

The signers of this statement hold a range of views on Syria. Some agree with Khalek; others disagree – in some cases quite vehemently. But we feel that when a group seeking justice in Palestine subjects speakers or members to a political litmus test related to their views on Syria, it inevitably leads to splits, silencing, confusion, and a serious erosion of trust. It runs contrary to the possibility of people learning from one another, changing their minds, and educating one another through their activism. Disagreements about political issues exist inside every movement coalition. They must not be made fodder for targeted vilification of activists in the movement:

Nahla Abdo

Rabab Abdulhadi

As`ad AbuKhalil

Susan Abulhawa

Ali Abunimah

Suzanne Adely

Max Ajl

Sami AlBanna

Michael Albert

Louis Allday

Mark Ames

Said Arikat

Reza Aslan

Carl Beijer

Medea Benjamin

Keane Bhatt

Max Blumenthal

Audrey Bomse

James W. Carden

Joe Catron

Noam Chomsky

George Ciccariello-Maher

Helena Cobban

Andrew Cockburn

Dan Cohen

Elliot Colla

Jonathan Cook

David Cromwell

Omar Dahi

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

David Edwards

Karim Eid-Sabbagh

Rami El-Amine

Zein El-Amine

Joe Emersberger

Lee Fang

Nina Farnia

Liza Featherstone

Glen Ford

Drew Franklin

Peter Gose

Kevin Gosztola

Greg Grandin

Glenn Greenwald

Bassam Haddad

David Heap

Doug Henwood

Edward Herman

Brad Hoff

Adam Horowitz

Abdeen Jabara

Bruno Jännti

Rula Jebreal

Zaid Jilani

Adam Johnson

Charlotte Kates

Sameera Khan

Connor Kilpatrick

Jerome Klassen

Ken Klippenstein

Kyle Kulinski

Paul Larudee

Carlos Latuff

Daniel Lazare

Michael Levin

Antony Loewenstein

Mairead Maguire

Abby Martin

Mario Martone

Rania Masri

Todd Miller

Amina Mire

David Mizner

Mnar A. Muhawesh

Corinna Mullin

Elizabeth Murray

Robert Naiman

Jana Nakhal

Jim Naureckas

Ayman Nijim

Ben Norton

Anya Parampil

John Pilger

Adrienne Pine

Justin Podur

Gareth Porter

Vijay Prashad

Syksy Räsänen

Afshin Rattansi

Corey Robin

Brahim Rouabah

Al Awda SF

Gregory Shupak

Bill Skidmore

Norman Solomon

Rick Sterling

David Swanson

Linda Tabar

Dahlia Wasfi

Mark Weisbrot

Asa Winstanley

Col. Ann Wright

no comments – be the first ↪

RT TV interview on disaster capitalism in the age of Donald Trump

This week in New York I was interviewed on RT America by Thom Hartmann about my book, Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe, and how this toxic ideology is brewing under President Donald Trump:

no comments – be the first ↪

Talking Disaster Capitalism under Trump in NYC

My book, Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe, has just been released in paperback (via Verso Books). It’s never been more relevant in the age of Trump, privatisation on crack, shadowy wars and abusive immigration policies.

Last week in New York, I launched the book at the great Manhattan bookstore, Mcnally Jackson. In conversation with journalist Ben Norton (he interviewed me for Salon in 2016), we discussed a wide range of issues:

Journalist Antony Loewenstein spoke with Ben Norton about his book “Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe,” at McNally Jackson Books in New York City on February 23, 2017.

Loewenstein discussed his reporting on the privatization of wars and detention facilities for refugees and migrants in Afghanistan, Greece, Australia, the UK, and the US.

The two also examined the refugee crisis, and how Western wars have fueled this refugee crisis. They highlighted the links tying together war, detention, mass incarceration, the military-industrial complex, and the prison-industrial complex — and how private prison and security companies are profiting from it all.

The journalists also addressed the rise of far-right and neo-fascist movements around the world, from Donald Trump to Marine Le Pen to Golden Dawn, and how these forces will be incapable of solving the structural global problems exacerbated and reinforced by corporate profits:

no comments – be the first ↪

How Washington created disaster in Honduras

My investigation in US magazine Truthout (and my photos from Honduras are here):

Members of indigenous group Copinh protesting in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, July 2016. (Photo: Antony Loewenstein)

Members of Indigenous group COPINH protesting in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, July 2016. (Photo: Antony Loewenstein)

Armed men wearing ski masks suddenly appeared in the distance. On a dirt road in northern Honduras, between the city of Tocoa and the small village of Punta de Piedra, a massive drug raid was underway. Dozens of men in bulletproof vests with high-calibre weapons swarmed the area: members of the Honduran military and police as well as US-trained Tigres and Cobra forces. They burst forcefully into this area where drug trafficking was rampant.

I was travelling toward the Atlantic coast when I was stopped at a roadblock and ordered out of the car. My translator, my driver, a local Indigenous leader and I were all questioned by the masked police officer about our destination, profession and intentions. What’s happening here, my translator asked? “Too many traffickers, even during the day,” the policeman replied. We discovered that the raid’s purpose was to find a local drug kingpin and anybody working for him.

However, the absurdity of the mission was soon apparent. After arriving at the peaceful town of Iriona Puerta, no more than 15 minutes away from the raid, I was shown the house of the chased drug trafficker. It was a large wooden structure overlooking a calm river, with apparently nobody home, adjacent to the government’s municipal building and across the road from the main police station. The drug boss had little to fear, I was told by locals, because officials in the district protected him.

The house of a drug dealer in the northern Honduran town of Iriona Puerta, July 2016. (Photo: Antony Loewenstein)

The house of a drug dealer in the northern Honduran town of Iriona Puerta, July 2016. (Photo: Antony Loewenstein)

It was one small insight into the futility of American and Honduran efforts to tackle drug smuggling in the small Central American state. Honduras has long been one of Washington’s most “captive nations” in Central America, never independent from US dominance. Bertha Oliva, head of the leading human rights NGO Cofadeh (the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras), confirmed this view. “We’re like the ass of the US,” she told me in the capital, Tegucigalpa, meaning that her nation is always beholden to Washington and treated badly because of it.

US military funding for Honduras during the Obama administration has caused unprecedented levels of violence against civilians and environmental activists, and has exacerbated gang activity and local government impunity. Donald Trump’s presidency will likely worsen these current trends. President-elect Trump’s appointment of Gen. John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security is a worrying sign. Kelly was head of the US Southern Command during the Obama years and oversaw violent, counter-narcotic efforts across Latin America. He’s a drug war zealot.

The Deadly History of US Involvement in Honduras

I recently travelled independently across Honduras and visited remote and vulnerable areas to witness the reality for impoverished communities struggling to survive amid drug traffickers, corrupt police and government officials, US military personnel and extreme poverty. Collusion between Honduran military forces, big business and US assets has led to Indigenous communities being kicked off their lands and critics of the Honduran state being murdered.

I spoke to human rights workers, Indigenous leaders and victims of state aggression along with officials at the US embassy in Tegucigalpa to understand how this state has become one of the most violent countries in the world since a 2009 coup backedby then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The human toll continues to be devastating, with a 2016 US State Department report acknowledging that the majority of illicit drugs entering the United States still arrive through Central America.

Many times throughout my visit I felt scared, afraid to walk the streets during the day or night due to risks from gangs, police or the military. It was a fear shared by many locals living in the big cities. After Afghanistan, it was the most challenging reporting trip of my life. During my time with a family in the Tegucigalpa suburb of Flor Del Campo, I was told that many people barely left their homes because of regular police and gang killings. Everybody running a business had to pay a “war tax” to at least one gang; if they didn’t, they would be murdered. One Honduran politician, Maria Luisa Borjas, told me that members of parliament were making money from extortion.

It’s why so many Hondurans are fleeing toward the US (though receiving minimal support from the Obama administration and his immigration bureaucracy, which have deported more immigrants than any other period in history). Trump has pledged to militarize US borders even more and Hondurans, Guatemalans and El Salvadorians are rushing to the US border before he takes office.

José Asunción Martínez, 37, a leader with the Indigenous group COPINH and colleague of Berta Carceres, the Indigenous Lenca activist murdered last year, told me at the organization’s base in the city of La Esperanza that, “our country is a narco-state with narco-mayors and narco-MPs. They get funded by drug traffickers and when they get into power they have to pay traffickers back.” Martinez feared for his life after surviving multiple attempts to kill him.

The house of murdered Honduran activist, Berta Caceres, in the town of La Esperanza, July 2016. (Photo: Antony Loewenstein)

The house of murdered Honduran activist, Berta Caceres, in the town of La Esperanza, July 2016. (Photo: Antony Loewenstein)

“President [Juan Orlando] Hernandez wants more US money to fight a war on drugs, but we all know the funds will be used to suppress Indigenous people,” he said. “COPINH says that we don’t need the [Honduran] army in our communities. We want to cleanse our community of drug traffickers.”

An increasing number of voices in both the US and Honduras are calling for the severance of all US military aid to Honduras after the killing of Carceres in March 2016. Forces aligned with the Honduran army were responsible, according to a deserter from the Honduran military who spoke to the Guardian in June. The assassination resulted in a group of US Democratic Congress members pushing for the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act in July. They stated in an opinion piece that, “as long as the United States funds Honduran security forces without demanding justice for those threatened, tortured and killed, we have blood on our hands. It’s time to suspend all police and military aid to Honduras.” WikiLeaks documents and other information prove US and World Bank complicity in Honduran corruption.

This growing pressure is why the Honduran regime hired leading Washington PR firms, Ketchum and Curley Company, for more than US $500,000 combined, in 2015 and 2016.

Although there is vast evidence that Honduran police routinely collude with drug traffickers to kill people perceived as threats, the Obama administration has poured tens of millions of dollars into the Honduran military and police, with at least US $18 million in 2016 alone. The exact amount of US backing for Honduran military forces is unclear. The Washington Office on Latin America has submitted many FOIA requests over the last years and concluded that US money is likely contributing to the counter-narcotics and anti-gang known as the Xatruch task force and the National Inter-Institutional Security Force, or FUSINA, accused of killing human rights activists including Caceres. The US embassy in Honduras denied any responsibility for the violence and — during a rare, two-day tour in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula — Ambassador James D. Nealon told me that Washington was having a positive influence on the country.

The US Congress designated US $750 million in aid for Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in December 2016 to reduce violence, poverty and the flow of migrants surging toward the US border. However, there’s currently little indication how that money will be actually spent. Honduras is also building a growing military alliance with Israel.

The US model for Honduras is clear. In 2012, the New York Times reported that the US was aiming to transplant the violent counter-insurgency tactics it used in Iraq and Afghanistan to Honduras to “confront emerging threats,” including drug smuggling.

Washington’s relationship with Honduras has a deadly past. From 1981 until 1985, under President Ronald Reagan, the US appointed John Negroponte as its Ambassador. Honduras became a vital staging post for US-backed death squadsoperating in Guatemala and El Salvador. The Nicaraguan Contras — right wing, brutal and funded by the US from the illegal sale of weapons to Iran — established a strong presence in Honduras.

Negroponte was a high-profile official in George W. Bush’s administration, serving as ambassador to Iraq from 2004-2005 and director of national intelligence from 2005-2007. He endorsed Hillary Clinton for president last August.

US-Caused Civilian Deaths in Honduras

One of the more recent notorious examples of US involvement in Honduras occurred on May 11, 2012, when a botched Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) mission in the remote La Moskitia area caused the death of four Honduran civilians, including one pregnant woman, and countless injuries. A passenger boat was fired upon in the middle of the night; DEA and Honduran forces alleged they were shot at first and responded to defend themselves from armed drug traffickers.

I spoke to two surviving witnesses of the incident in Honduras, Clara Wood and Adan Nelson Queen, and both strongly denied these allegations. They said that the boat and its crew were working legitimately and they never saw any drugs on the vessel. They have never received any financial or psychological support from either the US or Honduras. They live with trauma every day. “They want to wash their hands of all this,” Wood told me on the northern, Caribbean island of Roatan. Wood claimed that US officials pressured her to change her testimony about what happened on that fateful night in 2012. They falsely insisted that men on the boat had fired on the DEA agents first, she said. Wood refused to comply despite being offered US $5,000.

The official response to this incident was obfuscation. The Honduran Security Minister General Julian Pacheco Tinoco told me that it was a “very regrettable incident.” The US Ambassador to Honduras, James D. Nealon, declined to comment when I asked him about the raid.

The former DEA chief in Honduras, Jim Kenney, based in the country from 2009 until 2012, was more forthcoming. Over multiple phone interviews from his home in Florida, Kenney explained the DEA’s point of view about the 2012 incident and why he believed it was justified. He expressed no sympathy for the victims of the 2012 incident and said they didn’t deserve any compensation.

“Bottom line, we were there to stop an interdiction of a major load of cocaine coming into the country,” he said. “We were doing our job.” He told me that, “If the [surviving] citizens there have an issue, they should be going after the Honduran government. It shouldn’t be a US response to pay for any of the, if you want to call it, ‘damages.'”

The Murder of Berta Caceres

La Esperanza, Berta Caceres’ hometown, was pretty, four hours by car from the capital, with far less violence than the major cities and bustling fruit and vegetable markets. The name “Berta” was spray-painted everywhere, commemorating the murdered environmental activist. Two massive, color murals of Berta were painted on the outside walls of the prison. Next to one, messages against police death squads were written in Spanish. Their English translations are “Police dickface” and “Police hit man.”

The mother of Berta Caceres, Austraberta Flores, at her home in the Honduran town of La Esperanza, July 2016. (Photo: Antony Loewenstein)

The mother of Berta Caceres, Austraberta Flores, at her home in the Honduran town of La Esperanza, July 2016. (Photo: Antony Loewenstein)

Caceres was killed on the outskirts of town in a house that stands empty today. It was an active crime scene with police tape around its entire perimeter. A solitary police car sat outside the house, and one policeman and soldier walked up to me as I approached the property, which is situated in a beautiful valley of trees, few houses and low hills. It was eerily quiet and still difficult to imagine the murder on a quiet night last March. The grass was overgrown around the green house, and all of Caceres’s possessions from inside had been removed. Her simple grave sat in a nearby graveyard, barely noticeable amongst the hundreds of other simple memorials.

At the sprawling Caceres family home in the heart of La Esperanza lives her mother, Austraberta Flores, and some of her children. Her mother showed me a memorial for Berta in one of the rooms with her daughter’s many global and local awards. Berta’s 24-year-old daughter Laura,who is usually in Buenos Aires studying obstetrics, told me that in the months before her mother’s death, “there were more threats against her. I used to stay in the house where she lived and was killed, and she wouldn’t let me stay there overnight,” Laura said. “She told me about the threatening text messages she was getting from the Desa company. There were 33 threats recorded since 2013.”

Caceres was the highest-profile opponent of Desa’s proposed Agua Zarca, a hydro-electric project in the western La Paz department. Originally backed by the World Bank, the hydro-electric facility was intended to be built on Indigenous land. The company had signed a deal with a USAID partner in December 2015. Both the World Bank and the engineering company hired to build the damn, Sinohydro Group, eventually withdrew from the project.

Under President Trump, Honduras is set to continue its position as a key transit point for cocaine into the US, because demand remains high and Washington values a reliable autocracy in Central America. High levels of violence will likely continue, forcing locals to flee. The result may well be even deeper US involvement across the region, including new military bases and further training of Honduran forces and police complicit in drug running and murder.

Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based, independent journalist who has written for the GuardianThe New York Times and many others. He is the author of many books including his most recent, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe.

no comments – be the first ↪

US-funded, Cold War propaganda still echoes today

My just published article in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Finks
How the CIA Tricked The World’s Best Writers

By Joel Whitney

Published 01.10.2017
OR Books
336 Pages

After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, fear gripped the United States, and it wasn’t only conservatives who wanted to publicly show that they were committed to patriotic ideals. Filmmakers might be excused if, in that context, some nationalistic, propagandistic images made their way into theaters. But long before that fateful September day, liberal Hollywood had a long relationship with the CIA, the 1990s having just seen an obvious upsurge in collaboration. Former clandestine officer Chase Brandon joined the CIA in 1996 as a liaison between Hollywood studios and production companies, with the intent of crafting a positive image of the covert department, founded in 1947, that has overthrown dozens of regimes around the world since the 1940s and caused the death of innumerable people. Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders once called for the agency to be abolished.

Brandon later told the Guardian that the CIA had “always been portrayed erroneously as evil and Machiavellian. It took us a long time to support projects that portray us in the light we want to be seen in.”

After 9/11, Hollywood rushed to embrace the CIA. Joel Surnow, creator of the pro-torture TV show 24, gushed to The New Yorkerin 2007 that “people in the [Bush] Administration love the series, too. It’s a patriotic show. They should love it.” The program circulated widely among US troops in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. Blatant propaganda, the series argued repeatedly that torture produced actionable intelligence, which has long been understood to be untrue, and which was dismissed as a lie by the landmark 2014 Senate report on torture. But it was too late, because the toxic message had already seeped into the bloodstream of the American public and US forces. Torture is now viewed by many as a legitimate tool in the arsenal of the US government. It’s why President-elect Trump can claim he may accelerate its use.

The Oscar-winning film Zero Dark Thirty had direct CIA assistance in its production and script. The central message of the movie, though, was false: that torture assisted the US in finding Osama Bin Laden. Both director Kathryn Bigelow and scriptwriter Mark Boal were given unprecedented access to CIA personnel and facilities, and they welcomed it. For the Hollywood duo, the CIA was the perfect host to strengthen their belief that the men and women of the CIA were committed to the noble pursuit of fighting terror in every corner of the globe. No matter that this “war on terror” involved many illegalities, such as extraordinary rendition, torture, black sites, and prisoner abuse. The risk of global terrorism is now far higher due to these immoral acts.

The CIA must have been pleased with the final product: Zero Dark Thirty was a huge commercial and critical success that solidified the legitimacy of the agency’s secretive work. Truth got lost on the cutting room floor.

In Finks: How the CIA Tricked The World’s Best Writers, Joel Whitney, co-founder and editor-at-large of Guernica: A Magazine of Arts and Politics, has written an essential book on a small but key part of the prehistory of this hijacking of culture: the story of how TheParis Review and other magazines from the 1950s on were funded and backed by the CIA and became a central force in pushing leading writers of the day to produce propaganda for a hungry yet unsuspecting audience. The CIA even developed a large art collection in its curious approach to cultural hegemony.

Whitney explains in his introduction that the CIA-funded Congress for Cultural Freedom, along with backing publications in Britain, India, Germany, France, and beyond, helped The Paris Review play a

“small role in the Cold War’s marshaling of culture against the Soviets […] We understand vaguely that our media are linked to our government still today, and to government’s stated foreign policy; and this understanding is enhanced by eavesdropping on The Paris Review’s bit part in this massive secret performance that drove a nation for nearly two decades, and whose hangover drives us still.”

Whitney succinctly explains how, during the Cold War, the US government was constantly worried about citizen morale and a fear that some would be attracted to the Soviet system. “Militant liberty” was the term for inserting propaganda into magazines, film scripts, and popular culture, pushing American-style values and decrying life under Communism in Central America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, as well as at home. The Pentagon and other government arms believed that it was possible for populations of these areas to ignore US violence if they read about the supposed glories of life in small town USA. Little has changed in the mindset of today’s propagandists, who still aim to deceive people through wartime lies.

The CIA-backed coup of Guatemala in 1954 was a classic case of misguided and criminal policy dressed up as a noble act. Whitney shows how any number of US publications were pushed to support it, despite vast evidence of its failure. A magazine called The New Leader encouraged US meddling in the country, claiming a Soviet plot to design land reforms unfavorable to US interests. The result was decades of instability and violence in the nation, culminating in the genocide of the 1980s by US-trained thug Efraín Ríos Montt.

Whitney’s writing burns with indignation at the fact that few cultural figures who worked with the CIA ever faced accountability for their actions. Like journalists on the White House drip-feed today, these writers’ work helped legitimize deluded US policies that had direct and devastating impacts on millions of people’s lives. By the late 1960s, with the United States’s antiwar movement surging and the Vietnam conflict increasingly unpopular, the antiwar press seriously challenged the establishment points of view. Money didn’t always buy success or moral superiority, and the CIA struggled to win the battle of ideas. But this resistance proved “disposable and ephemeral” as the CIA renewed its efforts in film and television.

Perhaps the strangest and most compelling of Whitney’s revelations are how the founding managing editor of The Paris Review, John Train, worked with the CIA-backed mujahideen in Afghanistan, during the 1980s, to finance a film on the war and against the Soviet presence. The author correctly argues that Train, in a small way, played a role in backing the very forces that eventually founded al-Qaeda.

Whitney concludes,

“From Guatemala to Afghanistan, the American record on Cold War invasion and intervention had been a long string of failures that had to be rewritten by the propagandists. These little magazines, the television crews instrumentalized for warfare, and other secret propaganda instruments played an important role in erasing — and collectively forgetting — these mistakes.”

I think Whitney is being too kind here. These were not CIA “mistakes” but in fact crimes conducted with the full backing of the state.

Finks is a fine historical book, reviewing propaganda’s long and tortuous history in the world of art. With huge contemporary relevance, Whitney recalls what many look back on as a far more innocent media age, before the internet, and yet the effects of government-backed lies were just as deadly then as now.

Whitney urges The Paris Review and other similarly tainted magazines to honestly examine the past without fear or favor. That radical accounting of history is yet to be realized. In the age of President-elect Donald Trump and fake news, truth is an increasingly valuable commodity, agreed upon and deeply contested by nearly equal numbers of people.

Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based independent journalist, Guardian contributor, and author of many books, including his latest, Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe (Verso, 2015).

no comments – be the first ↪

Turkish TV network TRT interview on Australian refugee policy

Yesterday I was interviewed by Turkish satellite TV channel TRT, in Jerusalem, about Australia’s asylum policies, the recent US/Australian refugee swap deal and how Australia is now inspiring the world on draconian refugee ideas:

no comments – be the first ↪

How Israel is gradually privatising its occupation of Palestine

My investigation in US magazine The Nation (print and online) about Israel privatising its occupation of Palestinian land. It’s co-written with the great, London-based journalist Matt Kennard. This work continues my years-long research into disaster capitalism globally:

It’s 4:30 am with the moon still high in the sky, but Palestinians from across the West Bank are already disembarking from buses outside the Qalandia checkpoint near Jerusalem. They’re about to begin a day’s work on the other side of the separation wall, in Israel.

Qalandia is one of the busiest checkpoints through which Palestinians with the required work documents can travel from the occupied Palestinian territories to Israel. With unemployment around 26 percent in the West Bank (in Gaza, it’s far worse—among the highest in the world, according to the United Nations), it’s always extremely busy at this early hour, because Palestinians need work, which is more readily available in Israel, especially in construction, manufacturing, and agriculture.

Roughly 63,000 Palestinians have Israeli work permits, though it’s estimated that 120,000 Palestinians work for Israelis; 27,000 of them are employed in illegal industrial zones in the West Bank that are operated and owned by Israeli companies, and 30,000 of them work illegally in Israel because they’re unable to obtain the necessary work permits. Permits to work in Israel are routinely revoked for spurious “security” reasons, and Palestinians are rarely given a reason for rejection. Since the so-called “knife intifada” last October, Israel revoked thousands of permits, citing fears of Palestinian terrorism, and the Israeli government is currently discussing a sizable reduction in the tax breaks granted to Palestinian laborers in Israel, which would make a significant dent in their already-meager wages.

In the early hours of the morning, Palestinian men (and only a handful of women) rush to beat the long lines and frequent Israeli closures at the checkpoint entrance. Such activity seems incongruous in the predawn hours, when the stark neon lights of the checkpoint are the only illumination for these harried workers. Many smoke cigarettes as they wait in line; one man wears a T-shirt with the words “Chicken Revolution” on the back.

The warehouse-like checkpoint looks like a cattle pen on the inside: Metal bars on either side and above form a narrow chute, enclosing and herding the workers—many of whom have traveled from villages more than an hour away—toward the point where their documents will be checked by Israeli officials. They then wait on the Israeli side for transport from their employers.

For years, these checkpoints were manned by personnel from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Israeli Border Police. But starting in January 2006, gun-toting private security guards joined the soldiers and police. Today, there are 12 checkpoints in the West Bank and two on the Gaza border that use such guards. Israel is slowly privatizing its occupation.

Many of the Palestinians we speak to are unaware of the changes. As far as they’re concerned, any Israeli with a gun and a badge is licensed to humiliate them. Day laborer Imad (like most Palestinians we interviewed, he didn’t want to give his last name) is standing in line at Qalandia and smoking a cigarette. He has slicked-back hair and wears a gray T-shirt. “If they are supposed to help, they don’t,” he says of the private security guards. “They are no different from the army.”

Just after 6 am, armed figures who initially look like Israeli soldiers start turning up; they’re wearing uniforms darker than the traditional olive green of the IDF, with a badge that reads “Ezrachi.” The company Modi’in Ezrachi is the largest security contractor currently employed by the Israeli government, and its personnel were among the first private guards the government used to staff its checkpoints. They can also be seen checking public buses in Jerusalem, protecting Jewish compounds in mostly Arab East Jerusalem (with the guards accused of terrorizing Palestinians and enabling settler violence), and standing watch at the city’s Western Wall plaza. Modi’in Ezrachi has repeatedly breached Israeli labor laws by underpaying its workers, along with other violations, but this has had no effect on its ability to get government contracts. This is a trend we’ve witnessed in many other nations, including Australia, Britain, the United States, and Greece, where governments and private security firms collude to avoid responsibility. (Modi’in Ezrachi did not respond to multiple requests for comment on its activities.)

When it comes to private security, the IDF, and the police, “we can’t differentiate between them,” says Reham, a 22-year-old medical and psychology student at An-Najah University in Nablus. Reham, who hails from Jerusalem, has six more years of study before she’s qualified to become a doctor. We speak to her and her friends just outside the chaotic Qalandia terminal.

“It’s miserable,” Reham continues. “Sometimes there are many people there, and you have to wait a long time. Sometimes you have to wait for an hour.” She was unaware that the checkpoints were being gradually privatized. “I haven’t noticed it. People take it [security] as a job.”

There’s a long history of humiliation inflicted on Palestinians at checkpoints. The Israeli human-rights group B’Tselem has released countless reports over the years documenting the abuse. The Israeli women’s organization Machsom Watch has been monitoring the checkpoints since 2001 and advocating on behalf of Palestinians whose work-permit applications are unfairly rejected.

Reham explains her own experience. “It depends on the individual soldier or policeman,” she says. “Sometimes they let you go; they don’t talk to you. Generally, girls are more mean than boys—I don’t know why that is.”

The Israeli NGO Who Profits, which tracks the private-­sector companies cashing in on the illegal occupation of the West Bank, released a reportearlier this year that lifted the lid on this trend. “In recent decades,” the report stated, “many military responsibilities were handed over to private civilian companies, turning the private security industry into one of the fastest growing industries in Israel.”

PRIVATE MUSCLE IN THE LAWLESS ZONE

As the sun rises on another hot August day, its rays hit the separation wall near the Qalandia checkpoint; on it, one can see ads for apartments in Palestine. Coffee sellers do a roaring business among those waiting in line. A wall near the checkpoint features a large painting of men—“martyrs” to locals—from Qalandia village who have been killed by Israeli security forces.

On one level, it’s a mystery why Israel feels it needs more muscle at these checkpoints. Palestinians passing through already face a maze of confusion, and another level of security bureaucracy hasn’t helped. But even if more muscle is needed, why not just send more soldiers? After all, Israel has a captive security labor force in its large conscript army, which requires three years’ service for men and two for women (and reserve duty is obligatory for men until age 51 and for women until age 24).

Iyad Haddad, a 53-year-old field researcher with B’Tselem for the past 15 years, has spent his whole career investigating Israeli human-rights abuses against Palestinians. “Before, the Israeli forces were clear, with a clear uniform,” he tells us in the Palestinian city of Ramallah. “Sometimes, before the second intifada [which began in fall of 2000], they used undercover units by using civilian dress. But in that period, I don’t remember that they used private groups. But after the second intifada, I started to notice that there is a different type of tactic: using private Israeli forces and companies at checkpoints, guarding the barrier, doing security on the barrier and in the jails. Also guarding the settlements.”

This move was part of a global trend, from Iraq to Colombia, in which private security and military companies increasingly began to assume state functions. Most companies started with more mundane operations but ended up carrying out those involving violence. In their 2016 report “The Invisible Force,” which compared private security in Colombia, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories, the International Institute for Nonviolent Action found: “Outsourcing began with the delegation of non-military services such as catering, transportation and other logistic services, then continued with the construction of military systems, including the separation Wall, and finally included the delegation of some of its functions of maintenance of public order and security in the [occupied Palestinian territories].”

It has become more confusing for Haddad to figure out who has committed violations, as many Palestinians aren’t aware that they’re dealing with private security forces. “Sometimes, Palestinians describe to me forces that I can’t recognize,” he says. He believes this is one of the main reasons Israel has turned to these companies. “They use them to escape accountability, especially because the people can’t recognize them, and it becomes easier for them to use force when they want [to do so] without accountability. Instructions regarding Israeli or international law are easier to escape via private forces.”

Haddad’s hunch seems to be correct. At the Qalandia checkpoint this past April, two Palestinians—Maram Saleh Abu Ismail, 23, and her brother Ibrahim Saleh Taha, 16—were shot dead by Modi’in Ezrachi guards. It was one of the first high-profile killings carried out by private security guards at a West Bank checkpoint. The siblings, who witnesses said didn’t seem to understand instructions in Hebrew, were branded “terrorists” by the Israeli police because one of them, Ismail, allegedly threw a knife at officers. Not long afterward, the justice ministry announced that it was dropping an investigation into the killings without charging anyone. The Israeli defense minister’s office, the IDF, and Modi’in Ezrachi all ignored our questions about the incident.

In theory, these private security guards could be prosecuted in Israeli courts since they’re not protected under Israeli law in the same way as police and soldiers. However, an Israeli court placed a gag order on the case (partially lifted in October), making it impossible to see footage of the shootings and prove the security guards were at fault. The family of the victims were given no recourse to justice. In this way, privatized occupation enforcement serves the interests of the Israeli state.

In its 2014 report “The Lawless Zone,” the Israeli nonprofit Yesh Din wrote that private security forces “are equipped with IDF weapons, undergo military training, and are empowered to undertake policing actions, such as searches and detentions, and to use force.”

At the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, which is surrounded by Israel’s separation wall, we witnessed Ezrachi guards checking the documents of bus and car passengers, taking on many of the roles that used to be done solely by state security forces or police. When we approached the guards, they scowled at us and told us to leave. Black smoke from burning rubbish, collecting near the separation wall, wafted through the air.

When we contacted the Israeli Ministry of Defense for comment about its matrix of control across the West Bank, we were told that “some of the crossings receive assistance from companies specializing in security and protection.” The ministry advised us to speak to the IDF for further details, because “the crossing points around Jerusalem” are its responsibility. But the IDF told us, “The Ministry of Defense is the appropriate body to speak with on this subject.” It was a Kafkaesque dead end that gave us a small window into the impossibility facing Palestinians who seek justice for loved ones killed or injured by private security contractors.

THE ETHOS OF PRIVATIZATION

From its founding in 1948 until the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel was supported by much of the global left, which saw it as a socialist nation committed to social justice and equality. True, this was always a convenient myth that ignored the endemic and state-sponsored discrimination against the Arab minority (in fact, Israel’s Palestinian citizens lived under direct military rule from the end of the 1948 war until 1966). Until the mid-1970s, Israel had one of the smallest wealth gaps in the West (for Jews), with the welfare state providing decent support for its Jewish population. But by the mid-1990s, the gap between rich and poor had skyrocketed. Israeli academic Daniel Gutwein, who teaches at the University of Haifa, writesthat “Israel’s ethos of social solidarity has been replaced by an ethos of privatization.”

Of course, after Israel seized control of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, the state never considered granting universal welfare coverage to Palestinians in the newly conquered territories. Palestinians under occupation were subject to military rule, a policy that continues to this day.

From the late 1970s, right-wing governments in Israel, led by the Likud Party, argued that dismantling the welfare state was the best way to liberalize the economy. Simha Erlich, Israel’s finance minister from 1977 until 1979, boasted that hardline economist and privatization zealot Milton Friedman was his economic adviser.

Shir Hever, author of The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation (2010) and a graduate student at the Free University of Berlin who specializes in security privatization, says: “In 1985, as the World Bank and the IMF imposed ‘structural adjustment plans’ on developing countries struggling with debt, the Israeli government voluntarily adopted such a plan. The Israeli ‘Stabilization Plan’ of 1985 was a transformative moment in the country’s economy, marking the shift from a social-­democratic, planned market into a neoliberal one.”

Hever continues: “Actual privatization of large government-­owned companies started in the 1990s, and privatization in the defense sector followed later, first with the sale of factories out of government-owned arms companies, and later with massive outsourcing of security operations to private companies during the second intifada.” Israel was following the model set by Ronald Reagan’s America and Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. Indeed, the US military industry encouraged the Israelis to privatize their weapons industry.

Hever argues that privatization in Israel was driven by the same factors leading the charge internationally: “Private-­sector investors used neoliberal ideology to claim that the government was inefficient in running businesses and were able to buy Israel’s telecommunications giant, its largest airline, its giant shipping company, oil refineries, and all but one of its banks at fire-sale prices.”

Health, labor, and education were targeted, and it wasn’t long before Israel’s middle class began to suffer from the brutal discipline of market forces. A calamitous drop in union representation and reduced regulations corresponded with falling living conditions. By the 2000s, membership in the Histadrut labor organization had dropped by two-thirds, from a figure of 2 million in the early 1990s. (Over the past decade, however, Israel has a seen a steady increase in union membership, as the country’s population struggles to survive financially.)

Today, the results of outsourcing are clear. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is committed to selling off billions of dollars in state assets, a policy he’s proudly championed for years and one he started during his first term in office in the late 1990s. But the Israeli public is paying a high price. Israel now has the highest poverty level among the nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. According to UNICEF, in 2016 Israel showed the highest level of inequality among children in the world’s 41 most developed states, with one-third living below the poverty line. In 2015, Israel’s National Insurance Institute estimated that there were 1.7 million poor people in the country, out of a population of about 8 million. The pay gap has also widened, and increases in the cost of living and high rents led to massive protests in 2011.

But not everybody is suffering. The country’s military establishment is both privatizing the weapons sector and selling this technology abroad. Israeli writer and activist Jeff Halper argues in his book War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and the Global Pacification (2015) that the occupation isn’t a burden for Israel but a “resource,” because it gives the Jewish state the opportunity to test weapons and surveillance in the field on Palestinians, along with assisting other states in their military and intelligence needs. Growing numbers of European and US officials have been visiting Israel in recent years to learn about its security and defense systems.

Take the Israeli company Magal Security Systems, which surrounded Gaza with fencing, assisted construction of the barrier along the Egyptian and Jordanian frontiers in recent years, and is bidding to build a wall on the Kenya-Somalia border to protect Kenyans from Al-Shabaab terrorist attacks. The company’s head, Saar Koursh, recently told Bloomberg that “the border business was down, but then came ISIS and the Syrian conflict. The world is changing, and borders are coming back big-time.”

This is just one way that Israel’s vast expertise in occupation, from militarizing borders to surveilling unwanted populations, has become a huge financial boon for one sector of the Israeli economy. It isn’t helping most of the population—poverty is rife, after all—and according to economist Hever, it’s not enough to insulate Israel from potential economic headwinds from the growing BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement. “BDS is not about the size of exports but awareness of international law,” he says. “Recently, BDS activists have made some advances in regards to the arms industry itself, starting a debate in the EU about the funneling of research funds into Israel’s arms industry and convincing key Brazilian politicians to reconsider arm deals with Israeli weapons companies.” Indeed, Hever questions the viability of Israel’s defense industry. “The arms sector in Israel is larger compared to the size of the economy than in any other country in the world,” he tells us, “but its relative share of the Israeli export market is declining.” In 2015, Israeli military exports were relatively flat, at $5.7 billion.

OCCUPATION INC.

Private companies have been invest­­ing for years in the settlement project. But that involvement, as well as the amounts of money being made, have increased dramatically in the past decade. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report, “Occupation Inc.,” that detailed how “Israeli and international businesses have helped to build, finance, service, and market settlement communities.” It added, “In many cases, businesses are ‘settlers’ themselves.”

For Israelis, the West Bank has become a kind of special economic zone, where settlements often provide more profitable business conditions—low rents, favorable tax rates, government subsidies, and access to cheap Palestinian labor—than in Israel proper. It’s a draw for Israeli companies, but also for the international market, and a lot of money is being made. Foreign direct investment in the West Bank and Gaza spiked from $9.5 million in 2002 to $300 million in 2009, before plateauing back to $120 million in 2015. The American computing behemoth Hewlett-Packard, for example, developed the biometric ID cards used by Israeli security forces at West Bank checkpoints.

HRW reports that there are 20 Israeli-administered industrial zones in the West Bank, covering about 1,365 hectares, with Israeli settlers overseeing the cultivation of 9,300 hectares of agricultural land. The researchers conclude that “by virtue of doing business in or with settlements or settlement businesses, [foreign] companies contribute to…violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses.” This knowledge is beginning to have an effect.

This is one of the contradictions of privatization. While Israeli state transgressions of international law are generally ignored by its biggest benefactor, the United States (President Obama just gave Israel its largest-ever military-aid package), the BDS movement has claimed some key victories in terms of pressuring the private sector over affiliations with human-rights abuses in Palestine. For example, the French infrastructure firm Veolia announced in April 2015 that it was leaving Israel, while the British mobile-phone company Orange said just a few months later that it would terminate contracts with its Israeli partner.

This poses the question of whether the privatization of the occupation is making Israel more susceptible to international opprobrium, including boycotts. The security company G4S, the biggest private-sector security employer in the world, announced in 2014 that it was leaving Israel within three years and terminating its contracts with the Israeli prison system. (BDS claimed a victory, but when contacted by The Nation, G4S said that while it still planned for a full pullout by June 2017, “the decision to not renew the contracts was taken for commercial reasons.”) That system now holds 6,295 Palestinians as prisoners and security detainees (including, at the end of 2015, 116 Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 15). In 2009, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that plans for fully private prisons were unconstitutional. But many of the systems and products used in prison—from cameras to doors to alarm systems—are made or managed by private corporations.

With the Middle East aflame, and Israel selling itself as an island of stability amid a region in conflict, there are few compelling reasons why the Jewish state won’t continue to market itself as a model in how to manage unwanted populations, with private companies the beneficiaries of this policy. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and the colonization is increasing. Without massive inter­national pressure, it’s impossible to see how the outsourced occupation won’t become a permanent nightmare.

Antony Loewenstein, a Jerusalem-based independent journalist, is the author of Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe.

Matt Kennard is deputy director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism in London and the author of Irregular Army and The Racket.

3 comments ↪

Why we should listen to Guinea-Bissau

I visited Guinea-Bissau in 2015 to investigate its role as a key drug smuggling hub. 

My following essay appears in the African Arguments website:

Despite being as poorly governed as Zimbabwe and Angola, and having some of the lowest social development indicators on the continent, Guinea-Bissau is one of Africa’s forgotten states. With a population of under two million people and life expectancy of just over 50 years, the tropical West African nation barely makes international headlines, seemingly destined to remain a nation with little to export except for cashews.

However, if the former Portuguese colony is known for one thing, it’s for being a central hub in the smuggling of cocaine from South America to Europe. The nation has been labelled a “narco-state” by the United Nations, with its state institutions – both government and military – known to consistently enable South American drug cartels to sell drugs across its borders.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has even claimed that Guinea-Bissau is the world’s only example of a narco-state, with one official commenting: “In Afghanistan and Colombia, individual provinces are in the hands of drug lords. Here, it’s the entire state.”

Also unlike Colombia, where chaos has helped drug cartels, it is the relative calm in Guinea-Bissau that has benefited the industry though political dysfunction is ubiquitous. Since independence in 1974, an elected leader is still yet to complete a full term, and it has now been a year since there has been a workable government in place. In 2009, President João Bernardo Vieira and an army chief-of-staff were assassinated, and since then a litany of military insurrections have cursed the nation with five separate individuals holding the top job at different times.

Guinea-Bissau’s financial state is also dire. In the words of Finance Minister Henrique Horta this June, “The economic situation of the country is catastrophic”. This has contributed to a situation in which the woefully under-paid army has often been a key conduit for smugglers, while much of the cocaine snorted in Europe will have passed through the hands of poor fishermen in Guinea-Bissau looking to make a few dollars a day.

Guinea-Bissau has few viable industries and despite the natural beauty of the Bissagos Islands, for example, tourism is minimal. Instead, drug traffickers utilise the remoteness of the islands to store and transport cocaine. On Bubaque, the main inhabited island, there are no paved roads but runways used by drug smugglers to bring in their product. In recent years, there has been a slowdown in business due to stronger policing, but previously, local men got a regular income from unloading cocaine from boats and small planes from South America.

In the hopes of encouraging economic development, the European Union and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have routinely given aid or loans. But this has instead facilitated corruption and led to a situation in which Guinea-Bissau is dependent on foreign aid for 80% of its annual budget. Even so, the IMF announced this September that it was considering giving yet more funds to a country with no functioning government.

Economically-speaking, China does seem to be looking to increase its engagement, and other countries are offering tentative support, but at it stands, the investment required to build up other industries such as tourism are simply unforthcoming.

Meanwhile, attempts to stop the nation being a drug transit point through more enforcement or legal have had mixed results. Through its Drug Enforcement Administration, for example, the US has invested huge resources. In 2014, this led to Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, former head of Guinea-Bissau’s navy, pleading guilty in an American court to importing narcotics into the US. But this high-profile case had little pay-off. Na Tchuto was sentenced to only four years in prison in October this year. With time already served, he was released back to Guinea-Bissau.

A Herculean task

With so much ignorance surrounding the country, the new book Guinea-Bissau: Micro-state to Narco-State arrives at the perfect time. Edited by two academics from King’s College London – Patrick Chabal (who died in 2014) and Toby Green – the chapters examine the country’s history, politics and foreign relations. From agriculture and migration (many of its citizens flee across Africa and into Europe looking for employment opportunities) to the legacy of colonialism, Guinea-Bissau aims to highlight the rich history of one of Africa’s poorest countries.

This involves covering many difficulties facing the country, but as Green argues in his introduction, hope is not lost: “Unlike some of [its] neighbours such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Casamance region of Senegal, the country has not slipped into a prolonged civil war or rebellion”, he writes.

“Day-to-day life in the country remains peaceful, in contrast to the stereotyped image, and people frequently cooperate and marry across projected ‘ethnic divides’…The people have retained some autonomy and strength even through the worst passages of the political melt-down.”

Nevertheless, as the volume’s contributors explain by examining both historical and contemporary dynamics, Guinea-Bissau’s recent story is largely one of hopes dashed after independence and low expectations today.

Central to turning this around, of course, will be tackling the drug cartels, which are deeply embedded in the country’s political system. As Gambian historian Hassoum Ceesay explains: “While the narco-traffickers did not seize power, they were indeed extremely close to the centre of power; and while drugs did not run the country, traffickers took advantage of the state’s inherent weakness and exacerbated it by their presence.”

According to Ceesay, the only way to take the nation out of this morass is to reform the military, noting that without this, “it will be a Herculean task to set the country on the path of stability and growth.”

In her home on the outskirts of the capital Bissau, Dr Carmelita Pires, the former Minister of Justice, echoed this sentiment when we met in late-2015. “Until we have the capacity to organise, to establish authority, we will have drug smugglers coming to my country,” she said. “We need a consciousness uprising, to work hard.” I heard this message from people across the state, though few believed the current crop of political leaders were up to the task.

As long as global demand for drugs remains high, the illegal trade around it is all but guaranteed. And in Guinea-Bissau, weak justice systems, harsh prisons and corrupt policing can exacerbate the problem or create new ones rather than addressing the issue. Furthermore, given the flexibility of drug cartels, even if Guinea-Bissau, Guinea or Liberia were to become less favourable, other routes would grow in prominence, whether in West Africa or elsewhere.

More enlightened ideas such as decriminalising drugs in an attempt to reduce criminality and violence – as was done successfully in Portugal – currently have few supporters in Guinea-Bissau. But it may grow in popularity especially as many nations in Latin America also increasingly recognising the futility of trying to stop the drug trade through law enforcement.

As Green concludes, as long as Guinea-Bissau lacks economic and political stability, it “will continue to be seen as an ‘external threat’”. This means that ignoring the country and leaving it misunderstood should not be an option. In that sense, Guinea-Bissau: Micro-state to Narco-State marks a small but invaluable step in the right direction.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, Guardian contributor and author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe (Verso, 2015).

no comments – be the first ↪

The Wire interview on privatising prisons and immigration centres

There are growing moves to privatise more prisons in New South Wales, Australia despite the disastrous experiences of outsourcing prisons and detention facilities in the UK and US.

I was interviewed today by Australian current affairs show, The Wire:

no comments – be the first ↪

Disaster Capitalism book receives thorough examination

My book, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe, was released in 2015 (and it’s out in paperback in January 2017). It received many reviews and the latest is by Dr Jason Von Meding, an academic in Australia:

The US Presidential Election is in full swing. Over the next few months, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will go toe-to-toe in what is already a less than clean scrap. In amongst the media and social media hysteria (on both sides), one could be forgiven for missing an intriguing narrative espoused by alternative voices that opts, rather than criticizing one candidate over the other, to reject both the neoliberal status quo and reactionary neofascist agendas that are the product of unfettered predatory capitalism.

In Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe, acclaimed Australian journalist Antony Loewenstein turns his passion for justice to deliver a stunning critique of the thriving disaster capitalism industry, in its many forms; the profiteers of privatized detention, militarized security, the aid industry and multinational mining are relentlessly skewered with style and poise, and their predatory tactics exposed. According to his narrative, Hillary Clinton is exactly the kind of neoliberal hawk that enables neofascist demagogues like Trump to rise, and allows predatory ‘businessmen’ like Trump to prosper. Both Presidential candidates are indeed invested in disaster capitalism, but Loewenstein’s tale is arguably one that focuses on the Hillary’s of the world; the trusted and experienced hand; the status quo; the Establishment.

Disaster Capitalism is the story of Loewenstein’s journey into the belly of this particular beast. The book gives us an up-close-and-personal look at how corporations like Serco, G4S, Halliburton and their ilk profit from organized misery, perpetual conflict and the impacts of disaster, and how national governments and international organizations like the IMF and the World Bank are willing collaborators. In Part I, he takes us to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Greece, exposing the various exploitative strategies employed to enrich the local elite and foreign interests, and the devastating effects on the majority of people in each country. In Part II, we visit wealthy Western democracies (Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom) that punish the most vulnerable in their societies while dictating economic conditions to the world, imposing taxpayer funded cruelty for private profit at home and abroad.

This is an absolutely enthralling read; a must for the revolutionary; the dreamer; the activist; the teacher; the learner. Loewenstein has compiled a treasure-trove of evidence on his travels. His dismantling of the social and economic myths that enable predatory disaster capitalism is robust and compels us to action. He offers a “challenge to cherished beliefs concerning aid and development, war and democracy, and in particular the modern, borderless nature of capitalism.” (p. 14) For this reader, 3 key themes emerge; a dialogue around crime and punishment; a critique of the idea of benevolent corporations; and the grim reality that this is all part of a plan, a rigged system that empowers and enables predator capitalists to flourish.

Crime and Punishment

As the prison-industrial complex has rapidly taken hold in Western societies, the public clearly favours an ideology of punishment over reform. In addition to highlighting issues around race and class, Loewenstein speaks to issues around the treatment of those in the care of the state, and how “lobbying, ideology and a punishment ethos have colluded to produce one of the most destructive experiments in recent times: mass incarceration.

Judicial processes in the UK, US and Australia target the marginalized for what amounts to, essentially, punishment for being unable to escape their systemic disadvantage. Loewenstein unpacks the ideology behind this phenomenon and asks whether the poor man, the petty criminal, the asylum seeker or the drug user really deserve the punishments that are prescribed and who indeed benefits? What of the bankers that caused a global financial collapse? The CEOs of corporations that destroy the only planet we have? The heads of state that lied in order to enable the invasion and destruction of Iraq, leading to the destabilisation of the region and a current displacement crisis of epic proportions? Should not our justice system be designed to protect society from such individuals and the devastating consequences of their actions?

Over the past 2 months, we have witnessed a brutal crackdown on drug sellers and users in the Philippines, since the rise to power of President Duerte. Summary executions on the streets have shocked the world, yet few official condemnations are forthcoming. While it is not difficult to imagine that many politicians and indeed members of the public might secretly support these abuses of power and share the President’s disdain for Article 10 of the Declaration of Human Rights, as Loewenstein finds in Australia, America and the UK, there is an infinitely more ‘subtle’ way to enforce the harshest punishments: through private contractors.

The criminal justice system in Australia ensures sky-high rates of Aboriginal incarceration, and, as the recently revealed abuses of the NT government demonstrate, the hateful punishment of those discarded by society is absolutely state sanctioned. In America, the black population is also disproportionately incarcerated. Loewenstein explores the roots of a system that enables this in the US and the corporations that profit handsomely at the expense of taxpayers, destroying families and leaving little opportunity for rehabilitation and reintegration into society. “Private prison corporations saw a unique opportunity” (p. 196) in America, Loewenstein writes, to do everything possible to ensure that more and more people were incarcerated. The prison population is thirty times what it was in the 1990s. The absolutely failed ‘War on Drugs’ has wreaked havoc on society. For all the posturing about market efficiency, private prison corporations are a spectacular leech off the government purse, with a rigged legal system providing financial and political benefits right down the food chain. All of this is possible, he tells us, due to a lack of “serious questioning of the harsh, punitive ideology underpinning US ‘justice’.” (p. 207)

In Australia, the UK, the US and Greece, Loewenstein exposes the fact that asylum seekers and migrants are also punished, most often without breaking any law.  In Greece, he provides a rich cultural background of “not just economic harshness, but a culture that tolerated and celebrated exclusion.” (p. 69) In the grips of imposed austerity measures, the social fabric began to unravel and “Popular frustration was taken out on the most marginalized group in society: refugees.” (p. 72) The mandate for demonization of the vulnerable that was secured in Greece, as in Australia, was just one tactic used to ensure profit for human rights abuses across the countries that Loewenstein investigates.

Time and again, Loewenstein finds governments all too eager to enable those corporations in a position to cash in. He details how the EU has become central in “funding, encouraging and pressuring EU nations to isolate and imprison asylum seekers.” He discusses the industries that have sprung up and thrived, often with the EU leading “the charge in working with corporations that have been very willing to develop and hone methods for repelling the desperate hordes.” As ‘Fortress Europe’ closes her borders, deals like that done between the EU with Turkey are sealed without a second thought for the human cost. Corporations and corrupt governments profit; the vulnerable are turned away and suffer.

Benevolent Corporations 

Loewenstein picks up where Naomi Klein left off in her 2007 bestseller Shock Doctrine. She pointed out that privatization of government has accelerated in the U.S., as private sector opportunities have been generated through the ‘war on terror’. She argues that, “now wars and disasters are so fully privatized, that they are themselves the new market: there is no need to wait until after the war for the boom – the medium is the message.” Loewenstein builds on this and adds that “it is hard to escape the conclusion that wars are often fought for the key reason of liberating new and willing markets – and with the war on terror likely to continue for decades, there will be no shortage of new business to secure.” (p. 16)

We often encounter the myth of the benevolent corporation. As much as it might be comforting to believe that the private sector simply goes about its business in a free market generating jobs and growth, from cover to cover Disaster Capitalism lays bare the impacts of a global privatisation bonanza. For Loewenstein, the US has played a pivotal role. He says that a “central plank” of U.S. foreign policy is “the US model of reducing the role of government while increasing the influence of largely private power has never been so rapacious, though the problem is global.” (p. 4)

Loewenstein is no admirer of market fundamentalism, saying that “wealth is concentrated in so few hands in today’s world: there is little incentive to advocate for a more equitable planet. The market system guarantees unfairness and rewards greed.” (p.2) He shows us examples of open rebellion against this system from communities in Greece, Haiti and PNG, countries exploited long and hard by the status quo. As we have become more enslaved to the neoliberal project, Loewenstein argues “that the corporation is now more powerful than the nation-state, and that it is often the former that dictates terms to the latter.” (p.7)

In Bougainville, PNG, Loewenstein meets members of the resistance against resource exploitation, and explores the shady relationships between corporate and political interests. The memories of violence fuelled by greed and repression do not fade easily. The health of the community and the environment have also been terribly compromised. “Environmental vandalism should not be the price tag for ‘progress’,” he pleads.

In Afghanistan, we are introduced to Jack, the British MD of a private military company (PMC) who provides an inside look at a truly burgeoning industry. He is not shy to admit that his corporation “survives off chaos.” (p. 20) Jack anticipates perpetual war and opportunity. “If we can make money, we’ll go there,” he tells Loewenstein. He sees his industry in a purely positive light, providing “jobs for the boys leaving the army who can continue their trade.” In spite of the well documented abuses of PMCs in Afghanistan and Iraq, military objectives continue to be dressed in humanitarian robes, government intelligence gathering has been privatized and mercenaries are ensured “a quick buck” (p. 21). Indeed, Loewenstein finds that the PMC industry hopes that the conflict and the profit will never end. When it does, they will be “looking for the new war.” (p. 61)

How often are we outraged at government spending on weaponry and conflicts that we deem unnecessary, but hesitate to question the relationship between corporate interests and government policy and spending. Loewenstein reminds us that the war on terror represents one of the largest wealth transfers in history, with 4 trillion dollars to date being spent, with much of it going to ever-grateful Western contractors. The privatization of prisons and security apparatus is incredibly expensive, while all evidence shows that incarceration does not tackle societal problems that lead to crime, but rather reinforces them.

The overwhelming message is that simply outsourcing your cruelty is a convenient way to avoid responsibility, transparency and accountability, while profiting corporations and manipulating the economy. Neoliberal governments would like us to accept the notion that corporations are ultimately benevolent entities that exist only to employ people, satisfy market demand and grow GDP. Loewenstein argues that “multinational corporations spent the twentieth century gradually reducing their obligations in the various jurisdictions in which they operated.” (p. 243) What we have now is unregulated, unaccountable and secretive private sector entities. Meanwhile, governments with dirty work to outsource are not left disappointed.Unfortunately, a willful ignorance of the sometimes devastating social impact of ‘business’ has allowed a mentality of self-righteousness to fester, completely detached from the suffering of people that stand in the way of profit, those targeted by governments for suppression and oppression, and the unfortunate citizens of countries outside of the US circle of trust, whose lives appear to hold so much less value than those of allies. Companies like DynCorp and Blackwater, despite having their abuses repeatedly exposed, thrive in this context.

A Rigged System

Loewenstein exposes, time and again, the fact that the global economy is dominated by anti-democratic and predatory forces that profit the wealthy and the ruthless. The revolving door between corporations, lobby groups and government is clear for all to see. This collusion between powerful actors fans the flames of crisis while selling market fundamentalism as the antidote and positioning ‘benevolent’ corporations to reap the benefits. In the U.S. the banks were bailed out while personal debt, and indeed poverty rates, soar. Loewenstein offers a stinging critique of a system rigged for the 1%, and the scandalous truth that in the US both major parties represent similar corporate interests while the media feigns ignorance. Indeed, liberal presidents have done little for the vulnerable other than make empty promises.

Meanwhile, in Haiti, Loewenstein describes an environment of “canny capitalists sifting through the ashes of a disaster, looking for business opportunities.” (p. 109) His narrative of this historically vulnerable nation describes the strong 20th Century American support for successive brutal dictatorships, enriching U.S. interests and a local elite. We see this model replicated again and again in Disaster Capitalism, and indeed around the world as a key element of U.S. foreign policy. The example, in chapter 3, of the “devoutly anti-Communist” ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier is particularly damning, who, “unlike the many African despots targeted by the Hague, remained a friend of the West and was therefore largely untouchable.” (p. 110) When the neoliberal agenda was challenged in Haiti by Aristade, the U.S. and local elite conspired to overthrow the government to restore ‘order’.

We are often presented with the assertion that the international community, led by U.S. humanitarianism, rescued Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Loewenstein paints a very different picture, and claims that “when Haiti had received lashings of ‘help’ this generosity had done little but enrich foreign companies.” (p. 115) The local reception to UN  intervention was largely hostile. In the context of historical US interventions in Haiti this comes as no surprise, and the sentiment is well founded. As revealed by Wikileaks, the US ambassador to Haiti asserted that the UN military-style solution was “an indispensable tool in realizing core [US government] policy interests in Haiti” (p. 115)

In a similar vein, most development aid to PNG from Australia since its independence either found its way into the pockets of either the wealthy PNG elite or Australian corporations. Far from its claimed humanitarian ideals, Loewenstein says that the main goal of the Australian government in PNG was simply, “to ensure that Australian corporations had a ready market in which to turn a profit.” (p. 172) The denial of complicity with oppressors in the violent struggles of the 1980s and the patronizing attitudes displayed by Australian diplomats leaves a bitter taste.

Loewenstein reserves some of his harshest criticism for the mainstream media, and the “false construct of “balance” that permeates the corporate press, which merely pits one powerful interest group against another” and one that “views business and political leaders as far more important than the individuals and societies affected by them.” (p. 10) As an independent journalists that opposes the state of his profession, he laments the fact that “90% of Americans rely on information from media outlets owned by only six multinationals, including News Corporation, Comcast and Viacom.”

Conclusion

Disaster Capitalism pulls no punches in calling out both profiteers and enablers. Loewenstein exposes a shady cabal operating in plain sight; corporations that will not blink at the thought of misery, death and destruction as part of business as usual. Governments that outsource their most distasteful projects to companies that have neither conscience nor boundaries. A complete lack of transparency and accountability allows whatever abuses that are uncovered to yield few consequences for the perpetrators.

The book is impossible to put down and rich with memorable lines. It will have the reader coming back to review the stories of friend and foe, of oppressed and oppressor. Loewenstein has skillfully articulated opposing positions, admitting his ideological bent where possible in the text and to those he meets in the field. It is sure to be a book both loved and hated, depending on the beliefs of the reader, for its honest storytelling. The accounts of his journalistic interactions give the book a very personal feel.

Loewenstein shows us how accepting something terrible (e.g. abuse of asylum seekers, mass incarceration etc.) out of a fear of personal harm, insecurity or loss gives a perceived legitimacy to profiteers (perhaps the American elections will be a case in point of this mechanism, on both sides). He wrote the book to “shock, provoke and reveal.” (p. 16) The question is; once we know all about the profiteers of calamity, will we just carry on or will we fight for justice?

no comments – be the first ↪