John Perkins served the US establishment for many years through his work as an Economic Hit Man, negotiating major contracts with developing countries in order to serve the interests of Corporate America. In his tell-all book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, Perkins reveals some insight into the real behind-the-scenes work of US foreign policy. He writes, “Economic hit men are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as Empire but one that has taken on terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization.” RNP US Correspondent Jill Bolstridge interviews John Perkins, author of the New York Times Bestseller, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.
What role does the World Bank play in the exploitation of the so-called Third World, and whose interests are they really serving?
Well, they’re serving the interests of the corporatocracy, the big corporations, the US government, and most other governments of the world. They use organizations like the World Bank, the IMF, and the World Trade Organization, and others, essentially as tools for empire building. The last part of the last century we actually created the world’s first truly global empire, and we’ve done it primarily through economics and dominance of the military, and the World Bank played a very central role in making that happen.
The current movement toward forgiveness of Third World debt is causing quite a stir. Is this really a generous move by G8 world leaders, or is there something more sinister at work?
There is something more sinister at work. It’s a ploy. First of all, I want to go on record and say that I am all for Third World debt forgiveness. Most of that debt should be illegal anyway, because it was not taken on by the people of those countries. It was taken on by a few corrupt leaders who were coerced, essentially, into taking it by the corporatocracy, by Economic Hit Men like me. That’s what we did. So the people of those countries should not be holding that debt anyway, because it never benefited them. It benefited a few of our corporations and a few corrupt leaders, and a few other corporate people in the countries where it happened. It’s illegitimate debt. So I am all for forgiving it. However, unfortunately, the current round of debt forgiveness which is evolving in the country and in other countries too, is on the back burner, is based upon what the IMF and the World Bank and the Economic Hit Men call “conditionality” and “good government.” And most of those are just euphemisms for making it easy for the corporatocracy and their multinational corporations to take a bigger bite out of these countries. So in order to receive that forgiveness, each one of these countries has agreed to a whole bunch of conditionality, which may include privatizing their utility companies, their sewage treatment plants, even their schools and prisons, and turning their resources over to multinational corporations. And that’s the price they have to pay for this so-called “debt forgiveness.”
The insistence of General Omar Torrijos to bring control of the Panama Canal back to the Panamanians in 1977 infuriated many key players in Washington and on Wall Street. Why do you believe General Torrijos’s death in a plane crash was a CIA-arranged assassination?
Well because I always knew as an Economic Hit Man that my job was to lead Torrijos around and that if I failed, these people I call jackals, who usually work for private corporations, would be lurking in the shadows ready to try throwing a coup or assassinate a leader. The same thing has happened in Iran with Mosaddeq , in Iraq with Abdul Qassim, in Guatemala with Arbenz, in Chile with Salvador Allende, and on and on; it’s a very long list of constant elitists who opposed world leaders and overthrew or assassinated them. So I was always very aware that this was a possibility with Torrijos. He wouldn’t come around. He wouldn’t give in to our demands and coertia, so it really didn’t surprise me when he had this “accident,” which most Latin Americans understood was an assassination. Most of the people in the United States didn’t know at all, but around the world, the shockwaves were felt, and around the world people felt that this was an assassination.
You openly discuss the role of Economic Hit Men such as yourself as key players in the US bankrolling of the House of Saud and Osama Bin Laden. In your book you call it “the deal of the century.” Why has the United Nations not investigated these blatantly corrupt inner circles?
Because, they may seem to you to be blatantly corrupt but the fact is that, for the most part, it’s all done legally, which is what was pointed out to me by Claudine, the woman who trained me. She was my mentor, a very intelligent, cunning, and seductive trainer. She pointed out to me that I would be called upon to do dirty work, but, for the most part, it wouldn’t be illegal work. The things that Economic Hit Men do usually are completely legal. They should not be. But because we write the laws for international commerce and trade and banking laws, we make sure that they are legal. So the deal that we struck with Saudi Arabia, for example, which I describe in the book as a very complex deal, was not an illegal deal. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t corrupt. You could call it corrupt. And certainly, in my opinion, it is entirely immoral. But it’s not illegal. So the fact that the United Nations, or no other organization in the world, has not investigated it is because it wouldn’t do anything to bring anybody to justice. It’s just not illegal. We need to change those laws. That’s one of the reasons I wrote the book, because I feel we must make a serious change. We have more poverty today than every before. The gap between rich and poor has more than doubled since the 1970’s and there are 24,000 preventable deaths every day. We have created a world that is filled with injustice, poverty, anger, fear, and hatred. And that’s to nobody’s advantage. It’s not to our advantage in the United States or to any other country’s. We must change that and we must change these laws and these rules.
In your book, you discuss guerilla movements in Columbia and other parts of Latin America who fought the advancements you had contracted because of the immense poverty these contracts caused for the farmers, working classes, and the indigenous peoples of these regions. The corporatocracy calls the perpetrators of such attacks “terrorists.” How does the United States government create the so-called “terrorists” that they themselves continually cry out against?
Most people in the United States believe that foreign aid is altruistic, and that we are trying to help poor people. That is not the case almost all of the time. There are a few exceptions, but most of the time, it is not altruistic at all. It is promoting the empire. We may believe it is altruistic in this country, but many people throughout the world, like those in Columbia, know it is not altruistic. They understand that their government is taking a huge loan from an organization like the World Bank and they understand that the money from that loan is not going to help them. It is going to go to US corporations or other multinational corporations to build things like big dams, power plants and transmission lines. They know that those dams are going to flood their land. It’s going to destroy their farm land. They know that those big transmission lines are going to go through their crops. They’re going to cut down forests for those power plants, but the people are not going to get the electricity. They know that the electricity is going to go to the big cities. It’s going to go to the big industries: primarily, the shopping malls, the dining places for the rich, and it makes them very very angry. So in creating a situation with so much extreme poverty in the world and so much extreme wealth, we have created desperation. Desperate people don’t know what to do to fight back, other than turn to terrorism. So if you are a tribe in the Amazon (and I personally know tribes who are like this), who are very upset that the oil companies are coming in and destroying their land and taking their oil, and you want to resist them, you need weapons, training and money, and there is no place you can turn to except Al Quaida and other terrorist organizations, which I think is terribly unfortunate. But the people have learned that the UN can’t help them. The United States is in a War in Iraq. They’ve learned that the World Bank is their enemy, and they have no place to turn. So in a very real sense, the projects that they’ve done in this world have propagated the corporatocracy and it has really created huge terrorism around the globe. I am very saddened by that, and very upset with a government that could be that way. This is not the country that I grew up to believe in. These are not the principles the Declaration of Independence states, or that I was taught throughout my schooling and my life.
Khomenini’s fundamentalist policies have clearly been the cause of great oppression for the Iranian people, in terms of religious intolerance, personal freedoms, and women’s rights. Yet the Shah’s policies clearly enabled the spread of the US Empire which impoverishes billions worldwide. Is one just the lesser of two evils? Was there ever a “right” answer for Iran?
I don’t have any experience in Iran after the Shah, and I don’t like to talk about things with which I have no personal experience. So I really don’t know what’s going on in Iran today other than what I read. What I do know is that under the Shah, we had thrown out the democratically elected president in the 1950’s because he had threatened to nationalize the oil companies, and we replaced him with the Shah. This was a terrible mistake. We replaced the democratically elected and very popular leader with a death monger. And that created tremendous loans which helped our industries. The Shah was very friendly with our oil companies and our big construction companies. He made us a lot of money with the build-up of big cities, transmission lines, and lots of other construction. So the short of it was that some people got very very rich off the Shah, but in the long run, we did something terrible. We threw out a democratically elected popular president and replaced him with a brutal dictator. Then, of course, there was this huge backlash and the mullahs moved in. And I really don’t know whether the Iranian people are better off with the mullahs that Khomenini brought in, but I think the tragedy here is the terrible mistake we made in the early 50’s and throughout the 60’s, and 70’s, in supporting this brutal dictator. In a way, we did the same thing in Iraq. We supported Saddam Hussein for many years. We helped him. We sold him chemical plants, which he used to make chemical weapons he used against the Kurds and the Iraqis. We sold him tanks, really supported him. We also supported Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. We made many mistakes and we continue to make them. It’s time we learned our lesson and really walk our talk. We need to support democratically elected presidents around the world, even if they say, “Venezuelan resources should be used to help the Venezuelan people,” or that “Ecuadorian oil should be used to help Ecuadorians, not just to make big oil companies richer.” We need to support grassroots, and really help the people. We have a terrible history of not doing that, and it’s been that way since World War Two. We need to go back and try to make this a better world for people on every continent.
In your book, you discuss a meeting with an Iranian man named Yamin who states that: “for the most part, your [the United States’] press is controlled by oil. So they hear what they want to hear and write what their advertisers want to read.” Did Yamin have the right idea? How much power do big businesses have in terms of media control?
Oh, Yamin certainly had the right idea, and unfortunately I think it got worse in this country since then. I was recently looking at some notes I wrote in a journal in the early 1980’s, and I noted that the US mainstream press was controlled by fifty corporations. Today it’s more like ten, or even less. Ten corporations control all of our media, essentially. I mean the mainstream. And it’s been very very bad, where if the corporatocracy doesn’t actually own the media outlets, they control the companies that provide all the advertising, so they basically control all of the country’s mainstream media. But the situation is very very bad. I think, though, the ray of hope here, is you. It’s the incredible things that are going on today with what we call “the alternative media,” which the internet has a lot to do with. We have a combination of internet, television, radio, and newsprint. So you’ve got people like Amy Goodman, on television, on the radio, and also on the internet, that reaches around the world. You have many outlets like that, and you’re a great example of that. Your voice is being heard by thousands of people even though its not part of the mainstream media. I realized this in the last year, or year and a half since my book came out, because even though the mainstream media has essentially ignored me, I’ve had bombardments of attention from the alternative media. So that word has really been getting out. For over a year, The New York Times and none of the other mainstream magazines have mentioned my book, except on the Best Seller list
If all mainstream media sources have an invested interest in favorably portraying the policies of the conservative right and big businesses, is there any objectivity in the mainstream media?
We’ve always got to distinguish between those who own and are the media and the individuals who work within them. I certainly run into a lot of journalists who may work for the mainstream media and also have objectivity. In the last several months, I talked to a group who are very integrative human beings and they want to do the right thing. But they often are not able to because of their bosses. The same thing happens in big corporations. Much like the World Bank, where you have thousands of people who actually think they are doing a good job and who want to do the right thing and can’t. And also many other organizations in the corporatocracy. So in all these cases, we really need to distinguish between individual and policy. We have many good individuals. We need to get through to these individuals, and support them and encourage them.
In your book you mention that almost every corrupt contract you negotiated as an Economic Hit Man was perfectly legal. You talk about the portrayal of these deals as humanitarian movements toward helping developing countries to develop, while masking the fact that these negotiations only benefit a select few, serving to widen the gap between rich and poor. What percentage of workers at companies such as MAIN, the one in which you served, truly believe in this masqueraded humanitarian cause? How many of these workers truly know what they are doing?
I really can’t answer that. I don’t know what the percentage is and I don’t know how many. But I suspect that there are a great many people who are a lot like me, who know in their hearts that what they are doing is wrong. But it’s easy to deny it, easy to cover it over, easy to say “my college taught me to do it this way.” “I am being praised by my bosses, I’m being praised by people in authority,” and those praises are welcome. It’s easy to look the other way and say, “I’m just doing my job.” It’s easy to say that. It’s so easy. About a month ago, I was speaking at a book store in Washington, DC, and afterward, there was a book signing, and several men came up to me. They worked for the World Bank and the IMF and they gave me their business cards and said, “Keep going, you are speaking the truth and doing the right thing.” It’s very interesting; these people basically were saying, “you are speaking the truth against my organization but I’m still working for it.” People get caught in very difficult positions. And to a certain degree, I’m sure we all do. I am not trying to condone the terrible things I did or that other Economic Hit Men did, but we all drive around and burn too much oil or buy a few too many clothes or we overeat or we live in oversized houses. We do things that we know aren’t the right thing for the culture of tomorrow, but we do it anyway because everybody else is doing it. So in a way, we’re all susceptible to this. I think it’s really important in the long run to change our whole view of our culture.
Many of the corporations you expose in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man have powerful allies in Washington. Are you concerned about responses from major businesses such as Halliburton and Bechtel?
I’m concerned with getting my point across. I don’t want anybody in these companies to be able to ever again say, “this company does nothing but good work.” I don’t want anybody in the United States to sit back and say, “Boy, these are good companies that are doing good things.” I want people to question and ask and I hope the people behind these corporations will question and ask too. If you’re asking me if I’m concerned about retaliation, if I’m worried about being hurt or killed, I have to say I don’t. I don’t choose to worry about it. I know it can happen; I’ve seen it happen to other people, but we can’t live in fear. We must be courageous in this time. This is not a time we can be frightened. I am sixty-one years old. I have a twenty-three-year-old daughter, and I don’t really know whether I have another thirty years to live, or another thirty hours. But I do know that I want to spend whatever I have left of my life trying to make the world better for my daughter and her generation around the world. I know that my daughter’s future is very dependent upon the children growing up in Nigeria and Ethiopia and Indonesia and Bolivia having good futures also. We live in a very small world. We can’t expect our children here to live in a stable, sustainable, peaceful world unless children growing up everywhere on this planet, even in the worst conditions, also get those same opportunities.
That partially answers my next question. You talk openly about CIA assassinations and government conspiracies. You were bribed with over $500,000 not to write this book. Still, you went forward with publication. How have you managed to avoid repercussion?
Before I started to write the book I went out and talked to other people who had been in similar positions as me. I wanted to get their input into the book, and then I ended up getting checks and bribes. So, shortly after 9/11, when I stood at Ground Zero, I committed to writing this book. I told myself, “Look, you’ve gotta come out with this story and tell it.” I also committed to not telling anybody that I was writing this book. So this time, I didn’t go out and talk to any of those people. I didn’t even let my wife and daughter know what I was writing about, exactly. So it never came out until I had the manuscript done and in the hands of the literary agent and he was starting to send it out to publishers. At that time, it became my greatest shield, if you will. Because any good jackal knows that if something strange happens to me once that book is in the hands of the literary agent, it’s going to sell millions of copies, and that’s the last thing they want to happen.
What advice would you give to the common citizen?
We really need to recognize that it’s not good enough just to try to get more material things for ourselves and our children. We need to make this a better world for everyone on every corner of the planet. And we need to be conscious that every action we take affects many many people around the globe. That’s how interrelated we are to the world. And we really need to start taking action. The corporations set a higher sight to making sure a few people at the very top are very very rich, and basically, trying to exploit everybody to make their own fortune. We need to change that system. The system is really not working and we need to change it.
Mr. Perkins, thank you very much!
My pleasure, and please keep up your great work. It’s very very important.
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is available through all leading bookstores.
1st April 2006