excerpted from the book
The Secret History of the American
the Truth about Economic Hit Men,
Jackals, and How to Change the World
by John Perkins
Plume Book, 2007, paperback
The United States represents less than 5 percent of the world's
population; it consumes more than 25 percent of the world's resources.
This is accomplished to a large degree through the exploitation
of other countries, primarily in the developing world.
Although the United States does not tax countries directly, and
the dollar has not replaced other currencies in local markets,
the corporatocracy does impose a subtle global tax and the dollar
is in fact the standard currency for world commerce.
In the early seventies, the royal House of Saud committed to selling
oil for only U.S. dollars. Because the Saudis controlled petroleum
markets, the rest of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting
Countries) was forced comply. As long as oil reigned as the supreme
resource, the dollar's domination as the standard world currency
[The American empire] is ruled by a group of people who collectively
act very much like a king. They run our largest corporations and,
through them, our government. They cycle through the "revolving
door" back and forth between business and government. Because
they fund political campaigns and the media, they control elected
officials and the information we receive. These men and women
(the corporatocracy are in charge regardless of whether Republicans
or Democrats control the White House or Congress. They are not
subject to the people's will and their terms are not limited by
The corporatocracy makes a show of promoting democracy and transparency
among the nations of the world, yet its corporations are imperialistic
dictatorships where a very few make all the decisions and reap
most of the profits. In our electoral process-the very heart of
our democracy-most of us get to vote only for candidates whose
campaign chests are full; therefore, we must select from among
those who are beholden to the corporations and the men who own
East Timor declared itself independent from Portugal on November
28, 1975. Nine days later Indonesia invaded. The brutal occupation
forces slaughtered an estimated 200,000 people, one third of the
population of East Timor.
Documents released by the National Security
Archive establish that the U.S. government not only supplied the
weapons used in the massacre but also explicitly approved the
invasion. According to these records, President Gerald Ford and
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with Suharto on December
6, 1975, and agreed with his planned attack, which was launched
the next day.
Joao Carrascalao, brother of the former governor of East Timor
and a political leader now in exile (interviewed by Amy Goodman
on Democracy Now!)
I arrived at Jakarta one hour before President
Ford and Henry Kissinger landed in Jakarta . And on the
same night, I was informed by Colonel Suyanto - he was a top officer
in the Jakarta administration - that America had given the green
light for Indonesia to invade Timor.
Most U.S. citizens are not aware that national disasters are like
wars: They are highly profitable for big business. A great deal
of the money for rebuilding after disasters is earmarked for U.S.
engineering firms and for multinational corporations that own
hotel, the restaurant, and retail chains, communications and transportation
networks, banks, insurance companies, and other corporatocracy
industries. Rather than helping subsistence farmers, fishermen,
mom-and-pop restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, and local entrepreneurs,
"disaster relief" programs provide one more vehicle
for channeling money to the empire builders.
In the month after the [Asian] tsunami, January 2005, Washington
reversed the 1999 policy implemented by Clinton that had severed
ties with Indonesia's repressive military. The White House dispatched
$1 million worth of military equipment to Jakarta.
New York Times, February 7, 2005
Washington is seizing on an opportunity
that came after the tsunami... Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice has moved to strengthen American training of Indonesian
officers considerably... In Aceh, the Indonesian Army, which has
been fighting a separatist rebellion for 30 years, has been on
full display since the tsunami... The army's uppermost concern
appears to be to keep a stranglehold on the armed forces of the
Free Aceh Movement. In November 2005, Washington lifted the arms
embargo and resumed full relations with the Indonesian military.
Empire building has been conducted largely in secret. Since democracy
assumes an informed electorate, these methods pose a direct threat
to America's most coveted ideal.
the son of an Indonesian government official
Since the fall of Suharto in 1998, things
have gotten even worse. Suharto was truly a military dictator
who was determined to keep the armed forces under his control.
Once his reign ended, many Indonesians tried desperately to change
the law so that civilians would have more power over the military.
They thought that by reducing the military budget, they could
accomplish their objectives. The generals knew where to go for
help: foreign mining and energy companies.
... In the last few years, our army's
been bought out by foreign corporations. The implications are
frightening because, you see, these corporations now own our armed
forces as well as our resources.
The United States exemplified democracy and justice for about
two hundred years. Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution
inspired freedom movements on every continent. We led efforts
to create global institutions that reflected our ideals. During
the twentieth century, our leadership in movements promoting democracy
and justice increased; we were instrumental in establishing the
Permanent Court of International Justice in the Hague, the Covenant
of the League of Nations, the Charter of the United Nations, the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and many U.N. conventions.
Since the end of World War II, however,
our position as leader has eroded, the model we presented to the
world undermined by a corporatocracy hell-bent on empire building.
One way the corporatocracy exerted control was by empowering autocratic
governments in Latin America during the 1970s. These governments
experimented with economic policies that benefited U.S. investors
and international corporations, and generally ended in failure
for local economies-recessions, inflation, unemployment, and negative
economic growth. Despite mounting opposition, Washington praised
the corrupt leaders who were bankrupting their nations while amassing
personal fortunes. To make matters worse, the United States supported
right-wing dictators and their death squads in Guatemala, El Salvador,
A wave of democratic reforms swept the
continent in the 1980s. Newly elected governments turned to the
"experts" at the IMF and the World Bank for solutions
to their problems. Persuaded to adopt SAPs, they implemented unpopular
measures ranging from privatization of their utilities to cuts
in social services. They accepted outrageously large loans that
were used to develop infrastructure projects that all too often
served only the upper classes while leaving the country burdened
The results were disastrous. Economic
indicators tumbled to new depths. Millions of people once hailed
as members of the middle class lost their jobs and joined the
ranks of the impoverished. As citizens watched their pensions,
health care, and educational institutions decline, they also noticed
that their politicians were buying up Florida real estate rather
than investing in local businesses.
The first Bush administration made a decision that had a lasting
negative impact on United States-Latin American relations. The
president ordered the armed forces to invade Panama. It was an
unprovoked, unilateral attack to unseat a government, ostensibly
because it refused to renege on the Panama Canal Treaty. The invasion
killed more than two thousand innocent civilians and sent waves
of fear across every country south of the Rio Grand. Fear soon
turned to anger.
Chavez's rise to fame began in February
1992, when, as a lieutenant colonel in the Venezuelan army, he
led a coup against Carlos Andrés Perez. The president,
whose name had become synonymous with corruption, angered Chavez
and his followers because of his willingness to sell his country
to the World Bank, the IMF, and foreign corporations. Largely
as a result of Caracas's collaboration with the corporatocracy,
Venezuelan per capita income had plummeted by more than 40 percent
and what had previously been the largest middle class in Latin
America sank into the ranks of the impoverished.
Chavez's coup failed, but it set the stage
for his future political career. After he was captured, he was
allowed to appear on national television to persuade his troops
to cease hostilities. He defiantly declared to his nation that
he had failed "por ahora"-for now. His courage catapulted
him to national fame. He served two years in Yare prison; during
that time, Perez was impeached. Chavez emerged with a reputation
for boldness, integrity, a commitment to helping the poor, and
a determination to smash the shackles of foreign exploitation
that had enslaved his country and his continent for so many centuries.
In 1998 Hugo Chavez was elected president
of Venezuela with an impressive 56 percent of the vote. Once in
office, he did not bow to corruption like so many before him.
Instead he honored men like Guatemala's Arbenz, Chile's Allende,
Panama's Torrijos, and Ecuador's Roldós. They had all been
assassinated or overthrown by the CIA. Now, he said, he would
follow in their footsteps, but with his own vision and charismatic
personality, and the staying power endowed on the leader of a
country overflowing with oil. His victory and his continued defiance
of Washington and the oil companies inspired millions of Latin
Chavez kept his commitments to the poor-urban
and rural. Instead of re-injecting profits into the oil industry,
he invested them in projects aimed at combating illiteracy, malnutrition,
diseases, and other social ills. Rather than declaring huge dividends
for investors, he helped Argentina's embattled President Kirchner
buy down that nation's IMF debts of more than $10 billion and
he sold discounted oil to those who could not afford to pay the
going price including communities in the United States. He earmarked
a portion of his oil revenues for Cuba so it could send medical
doctors to impoverished areas around the continent. He forged
laws that consolidated the rights of indigenous people-including
language and land ownership rights-and fought for the establishment
of AfroVenezuelan curricula in public schools.
The corporatocracy saw Chavez as a grave
threat. Not only did he defy oil and other international companies,
but also he was turning into a leader others might try to emulate.
From the Bush administration's perspective, two intransigent heads
of state, Chavez and Hussein, had evolved into nightmares that
needed to end. In Iraq, subtle efforts-both the EHMs' and the
jackals'-had failed, and now preparations were underway for the
ultimate solution: invasion. In Venezuela, the EHMs had been replaced
by jackals, and Washington hoped that they could solve the problem.
Using tactics perfected in Iran, Chile,
and Colombia, jackals sent thousands of people into the streets
of Caracas on April II, 2002, marching toward the headquarters
of Venezuela's state-owned oil company and on to Miraflores, the
presidential palace. There they met pro-Chavez demonstrators who
accused their organizers of being pawns of the U.S. CIA. Then
suddenly and unexpectedly, the armed forces announced that Chavez
had resigned as president and was being held at a military base.
Washington celebrated, but the jubilation
was short-lived. Soldiers loyal to Chavez called for a massive
countercoup. Poor people poured into the streets, and on April
13, Chavez resumed his presidency.
Official Venezuelan investigations concluded
that the coup was sponsored by the U.S. government. The White
House practically admitted to culpability; the Los Angeles Times
reported: Bush Administration officials acknowledged Tuesday that
they had discussed the removal of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
for months with military and civilian leaders from Venezuela."
Ironically, the 2003 invasion of Iraq
was a boon to Chavez. It sent oil prices skyrocketing. Venezuela's
coffers filled. Suddenly drilling for the heavy crude oils of
the country's Orinoco region became feasible. Chavez announced
that when the price of oil reached fifty dollars a barrel, Venezuela-with
its abundance of heavy crude surpassed the entire Middle East
as the world's number-one repository of petroleum. His analysis,
he said, was based on U.S. Department of Energy projections.
a top advisor to President Lula of Brazil
He told me that he had read my book and
appreciated the things I had exposed. However, he said, "It
is only the tip of the iceberg. I'm sure you know this, but I
feel I must say it. Even your book miss the real story."
He described the tremendous pressure being
exerted on his boss, Lula. "It's not just about bribes and
the threat of coups or assassinations, not just about striking
deals and falsifying economic forecasts, not just about enslaving
us through debts we can never' repay. It goes much deeper."
He went on to explain that in Brazil and
many other countries, the corporatocracy essentially controls
all political parties. "Even radical communist candidates
who appear to oppose the United States are compromised by Washington."
When I asked him how he knew all this,
he laughed. "I've been around a long time," he said.
"I've always been involved in politics. From Johnson to Bush,
both Bushes, I've seen it all. Your intelligence agencies, as
well as your economic hit men, are a lot more efficient than even
José described how students are
lured in while they are naïve and vulnerable. He talked about
his own personal experiences as a young man and the way women,
booze, and drugs were used. "So you see, even when a radical
opponent of the U. S. gets into office, and assuming that at this
point in his life he sincerely wants to stand up to Washington,
your CIA has what you call 'the goods' on him."
He chuckled at this. "You might call
it that, or you might call it 'modern diplomacy.' It isn't just
the U.S. of course. Surely you've heard the rumors about why Noriega
was taken down and today rots in a U.S. prison."
"I've heard that he had cameras on
Contadora Island." It was an infamous resort off Panama's
coast, a "safe haven" where U.S. businessmen could treat
politicians to every conceivable vice. I had visited-and used-Contadora
several times during my EHM days.
"You heard who got caught by those
"Rumors that George W. was photographed
doing coke and having kinky sex during the time his father was
president." There was a theory in Latin America that Noriega
had used incriminating photos of the younger Bush and his cronies
to convince the older Bush, the president, to side with the Panamanian
administration on key issues. In retaliation, H. W. invaded Panama
and hustled Noriega off to a Miami prison. The building housing
Noriega's confidential files had been incinerated by bombs; as
a side effect, more than two thousand innocent civilians were
burned to death in Panama City that day in December 1989. Many
people claimed that this theory offered the only logical explanation
for violently attacking a nation without an army and that posed
no threat to the United States.
José nodded. "From where I
sit, those rumors ring awfully true. I've experienced things that
take them out of the realm of fantasy." He cocked his head.
"So have you." He paused, looking around. "And
it terrifies me."
I asked whether Lula had been corrupted
and for how long. It was obvious that this question made him extremely
uncomfortable. After a long pause, he admitted that Lula was part
of the system. "Otherwise, how could he have risen to such
a position?" However, José also professed his admiration
for Lula. "He's a realist. He understands that in order to
help his people he has no choice. . ." Then he shook his
head. "I fear," he said, "that Washington will
try to bring Lula down if he goes too far."
"How do you think they'd do it?"
"Everyone has-as you say-skeletons
in his closet. Every politician has done things that can look
bad, if brought into the light in a certain way. Clinton had Monica.
She wasn't the issue, though. Clinton went too far in his efforts
to revise world currencies and he posed a huge threat to future
Republican campaigns-he was just too young, dynamic, and charismatic.
So Monica was marched into the spotlight. Don't you believe that
Bush has a few women in his background too? But who dares talk
about them? Lula has skeletons. If the powers that run your empire
want to bring him down, they'll open the closet door. There are
many ways to assassinate a leader who threatens U.S. hegemony."
Only you in the United States can change it. Your government created
this problem and your people must solve it. You've got to insist
that Washington honor its commitment to democracy, even when democratically
elected leaders nationalize your corrupting corporations. You
must take control of your corporations and your government. The
people of the United States have a great deal of power. You need
to come to grips with this. There's no alternative. We in Brazil
have our hands tied. So do the Venezuelans. And the Nigerians.
It's up to you."
Colombia is the glaring exception to the hemispheric anticorporatocracy
movements. It has maintained its position as Washington's surrogate.
Shored up by massive U.S. taxpayer assistance and armies of corporate-sponsored
mercenaries, as well as formal U.S. military support, it has become
the keystone in Washington's attempt's to regain regional domination.
Although official justification for U. S. involvement centers
on drug wars, this is a subterfuge for protecting oil interests
against grassroots opposition to foreign exploitation.
Raül Zibechi, a member of the editorial council of the weekly
Brecha de Montevideo and a professor at the Franciscan Multiversity
of Latin America, points out that Colombia is now the world's
fourth-largest beneficiary of U. S. military aid, behind Israel,
Egypt, and Iraq (the Associated Press ranks it as number 3) and
that the U.S. Embassy in Bogota is the second largest in the world,
after Iraq. He states that he and other analysts have concluded
that Washington is creating a South American unified armed force,
commanded by the Pentagon, that is a military version of the proposed
Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and is headquartered in
The men who contacted me - two army privates
and a second lieutenant - substantiated Professor Zibechi's allegations.
They asserted the real reasons they had been stationed in Colombia
were to establish a U.S. presence and to train Latin soldiers
as part of a United States-commanded Southern Unified Army (a
term two of the three used).
Everything we do in Colombia just makes
it more attractive for the drug business," the lieutenant
told me. "Why do you think the situation keeps getting worse
there? Because we want it to, we're behind the drug trafficking.
The CIA is-just like it was in Asia's Golden Triangle. And in
Central America and Iran during IranContra. And the British with
opium in China. Coke provides illicit money, in the billions-for
clandestine activities-and an excuse to build up our armies. What
more can you ask? We're there, men like me in the legit army,
to protect oil and to invade Venezuela. The drug game is a smokescreen.
A former U.S. Green Beret officer told
me that a mercenary army was being assembled in Guyana, along
the Venezuelan border. He said that all the men were combat-hardened
paratroopers, training for jungle warfare and learning Spanish.
"We got wars under way in Afghanistan
and Iraq. No jungles there. No Spanish. So what's the point? But
guess where there's lots of jungle? Venezuela. And they speak
Spanish in Venezuela.
In addition to guys like me -U.S., British,
and South African mercenaries-there's a lot of guys in Guyana
from Latin militaries, mostly WHINSEC graduates."
The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security
Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the School of the Americas (SOA),
trains Latin soldiers in combat, counterinsurgency, interrogation,
torture, spying, communications, and assassination. Its graduates
include some of the continent's most notorious generals and dictators.
SOA was located in the Panama Canal Zone until Omar Torrijos insisted
on its removal. The fact that Manuel Noriega would not allow it
back after Torrijos's death is one of the reasons the United States
placed him on its "Most Wanted" list. Both Torrijos
and Noriega were SOA graduates and both understood the power it
wielded as an antidemocratic institution. It was moved to Fort
Benning, Georgia, and in 2001 its name was changed in an attempt
to dampen growing criticism.
Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera of Bolivia [under President
Either everyone must be free or no one
is free. For people in your country and mine to have stability
we need to make sure that everyone around the world has stability...
No longer should the state serve the rich and the big corporations.
It must serve all the people, including the very poor.
Secret History of the American Empire