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Confessions of An Economic Hit Man

Book Review-“Confessions of An Economic Hit Man” by John Perkins( B.K.’05)

A Book that Reads Like a ‘James Bond’ Version of “Pilgrim’s Progress”

Rev. Alan Wright (April 05)

I use the ‘James Bond’ and ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ images advisedly. Jenkins himself suggests the former-he had those fantasies when he was an adolescent, and the role of the Economic Hit Man (EHM.) was for him a wish-fulfillment. But the EHM role increasingly induced in him such self-hatred because of its moral bankruptcy that it led to his ‘repentance’, (a word he does not use, but a process he understood very well), to his resignation from a lucrative job, and after some years and the events of 9/11, to this book of his “confessions”. So he writes with passion, as did John Bunyan, author of “Pilgrim’s Progress”. Let us be in no doubt as to his purposes–:

“Believe me when I say that the writing of this book has been deeply emotional,, and often a painful and humiliating experience. It has been frightening in a way nothing I ever faced before. But it has opened me to a sense of relief I have never known until now, a feeling I can only describe as ecstatic.

“Ask yourself these questions. What do I need to confess? How have I deceived myself and others? Where have I deferred? Why have I allowed myself to be sucked into a system that I know is un-balanced? What will I do to make sure that our children, and all the children everywhere, are able to fulfil the dream of our Founding Fathers, the dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? What course will I take to end the needless starvation, and make sure that there is never again a day like September 11? How can I help our children understand that people who live gluttonous unbalanced lives should be pitied but never ever emulated, even if those people present themselves, through the media they control, as cultural icons and try to convince us that penthouses, and yachts bring happiness? What changes will I commit to making in my attitudes and perceptions?” (p.224)

Before reading the book myself, I submitted it to a friend with long experience in Third World development.work , a person now on the Australian Steering Committee of the Micah Challenge, a world -wide group of evangelical churches committed to the U.N. Millenium Development Goals. His comment was: “From my perspectives, this is no ego trip by a man over-stating his personal role; it is a credible account of how development loans were often made during the cold war era. More recently, as Perkins recounts, the system is more subtle, and the driving roles are more widely distributed, but many of the perverse consequences remain.”

Exposing his own vulnerabilities. This book really is a confession. A great friend of his father-in-law, known as “Uncle Frank”, was in the high echelons of NSA, the National Security Agency, with large responsibilities for screening and selecting spies. Perkins was thus ‘screened’, and as time went on, he realized the NSA’s role in his meteoric career rise. In the screening process, all the things “that seemed so negative to me, marking me as an NSA reject, suggested otherwise. From the NSA viewpoint these negatives actually are positives. Their assessment had less to do with issues of loyalty to my country than with the frustrations of my life. Anger at my parents, an obsession with women, my willingness to lie to police, and my ambition to have the good life gave them a hook; I was seducible.”. (p.7). All that became resource material that the mysterious agent named Claudine used during his meticulous grooming into the ‘secret society’ of Economic Hit Men (EHM) in 1971, once he was employed as an economist at MAIN, an engineering and planning corporation enjoying frequent contracts financed by the World Bank.

There was, of course, a sanitized version of his role as an economist:, drawing up for MAIN and for World Bank client governments, projections of growth in a particular country’s GNP during the cold war. Perkins was encouraged by his handlers to prepare inflated scenarios, enabling the justification of gigantic loans for infra-structure development– as well as making the US. And other construction companies, like Halliburton and Bechtel, fabulously wealthy! But a more sinister purpose was also made perfectly clear by Claudine: “I would work to bankrupt the countries that received the loans (after they had paid MAIN and the other US contractors, of course) so that they would be forever beholden to their creditors, and so they would present easy targets when we needed favours, including military bases, UN votes, or access to oil and other natural resources.”(p.15)

That was the sinister, underlying strategy for US empire building, the reality of which gradually unfolded to Perkins. It was the corporatocracy: the marriage of convenience between the corporations, the financial institutions, and the government, the institutions of real power operating behind the façade of democractic institutions. (p.79). When the corporations own the media as well,( he lists that ownership in chapter 35, “Piercing the Veneer”), the media’s role is simply to “perpetuate, strengthen and expand the system they have inherited”. They also promote the myth upon which the system of domination rests, that everyone benefits from growth in GNP, while keeping the reality of the underlying power games hidden from the public.

The whole book, chapter by chapter, documents how this same strategy of global empire was played out, with endless variations as required within different countries. I will give details of only one, Panama, and the demise of its President, Omar Torrijos,:, a man whom Perkins greatly admired for his integrity, courage, and commitment to the welfare of his people. What happened to men like Torrijos brought Perkins to moral crisis point. I quote Torrijos, with Jenkins comment: (p.75)

” Panama needs your help. I need your help …We must also serve as a model, showing that we care about our poor, and demonstrate beyond doubt that our determination to win independence is not dictated by Russia, China, or Cuba. We must prove to the world that we stand not against the U.S. but for the rights of the poor ..I understand your company wants more work, and usually gets it by inflating the size of projects, wider highways, bigger power plants, deeper harbours. This time is different though. Give me what’s best for my people, and I’ll give you all the work you want.'”

“What he proposed was totally unexpected, and it both shocked and excited me. It certainly defied all I had learned at MAIN. Surely he knew that the foreign aid game was a sham-he had to know. It existed to make him rich and to shackle his country with debt, so Panama would be forever obliged to keep the U.S. and the corporatocracy. It was there to keep Latin America on the path of Manifest Destiny and forever subservient to Washington and Wall Street. I was certain that he knew that the system was based upon the assumption that all men in power are corruptible, and that his decision not to use it for his personal benefit would be seen as a threat, a new form of domino that might start a chain reaction. He was in a precarious position. He had established himself as a leader, (and so) like his hero, Arbense (of Gautemala), he would be watched. Latin American history is littered with dead heroes.”

Before Perkins left, both men understood that MAIN would get the contract for the master plan, and that Jenkins would attempt to act on Torrijos’ bidding. But events were soon out of Perkins’ hands; a bomb was planted in Torrijo’s private aircraft, and he died, effectively removed like so many before-democratically elected Mossedegh in Iran, replaced by a puppet Shah;, Arbense in Gautemala;, and Allende in Chile that ushered in the brutal reign of Pinochet,. Jaime Roldos, President of Ecuador, also was soon to die in circumstances which exactly paralleled those of Torrijos. It was a Columbian woman, Paula, who dared to hold up a mirror in front of Perkins-to confront the real man behind his official, sanitized Curriculum Vitae.

The pattern, and his role in it, was now staring him in the face, as Claudine had once told him: if he, as an EHM fails to deliver, via corruption, the control that is desired, then the next wave, the “jackals” move in-the CIA-led and paid riot squads and assassinators. If they fail, as they did in Panama, and later in Iraq, (after years of compliance by Saddam Hussein), then the military moves in. The demands of the global empire for control are relentless. In 1980, suffering deep depression and guilt, Jenkins resigned from MAIN. He kept his vow of silence until 9/11, after which he felt an imperative to “tell it like it is”. He understood the deep hatred of the US.

According to the “exit polls,” the Nov. 2004 US election was won with the support of the Christian Right, on “moral values” issues-narrowly defined around issues of personal morality, homosexuality, gay marriage, and abortion. But what Perkins has now revealed should create a profound moment of truth for Christian leaders in the US, indeed the world. Like the prophet Habakkuk in the Old Testament, from his own personal experience and observation as an economic “insider”, Perkins sees that no nation, however apparently religious like ancient Israel, and no empire, however apparently powerful, wealthy, and invincible like Babylon, or communist USSR, or the US, can be built upon the basis of moral corruption and not bring about its own destruction. In my terms,(not Perkins), the moral order of God brings about its own judgments,.

As long as the fundamental issues documented by Perkins remained hidden-one of the corporation-owned media’s unspoken roles -then evangelical leaders in the US. could, with some integrity, within their “pre-millenium” or other narrow theological parameters, support George W. in his religious articulation of the Manifest Destiny of the US in world affairs. But not any longer. Now only something like the Micah Challenge for Millenium Development Goals carries any universal moral credibility. But only the leaders and “prophets” within the churches, particularly those under the influence of the Christian Right, can now say what needs to be said, and with the appropriate humility for their past lack of discernment. Since Vietnam, there have been forces within the corporatocracy which have subtly “moved the goal posts” , from national dreams about “the land of the free”, to dreams of Empire, and with it all the corruption, untold suffering and crushing hopelessness to so many of the world’s poor.

Perkins’ message is crystal clear to all the world, but to his fellow Americans in particular: now is the time to “wake-up”, confess their complicity in the global empire’s domination system, and do battle for their nation’s soul.


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