Morning Report 4/4/05
Breaking the Bank

Wolfowitz is a bitter pill for the planet to swallow. Oil will make it go down easier.

A drop in the bucket: Thirsty people hunt water in abysmal Equatorial Guinea in December 2003. Just a few weeks ago, it was reported that 15 people died of cholera there. And you thought only the neocons were choleric these days. (© IRIN)

NOT ALL THE contempt in the world could stop Paul Wolfowitz from taking over the World Bank. And now Wolfowitz is talking about helping Africa. What he means is the rich countries' continuing to help themselves to Africa.

Even African countries that gush oil haven't gotten healthy attention from the Bush regime.

The global reverberations about the Bush handlers' brazen installation of Wolfowitz in the biggest bank vault on the planet may shatter relatively isolated Americans' ignorance about why poor countries stay poor—and about the World Bank, whose stated mission is "a world without poverty."

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So don't be impressed when you hear such things as Wolfowitz's telling the BBC last Friday that reducing poverty would be the Bank's "primary mission" during his tenure. That's the Bank's purpose, you twit, whether you're there or not.

Just as a reminder about how the other 90 percent of the planet lives, see this Bush Beat item, which regurgitates the World Bank's own grim stats. Or read what Oxfam said about its own December 2004 report Paying the Price:

    Forty-five million more children will die needlessly by 2015, because rich countries are failing to provide the necessary resources to overcome poverty.

    The report also calculates that 97 million more children will be out of school by 2015 unless urgent action is taken. Oxfam finds that rich countries’ aid budgets are half what they were in 1960, and poor countries are paying back a staggering $100 million a day in debt repayments.

By helping these countries' inhabitants, we wouldn't be "giving" them anything. As I pointed out in the wake of the tsunami, the rich countries suck enormous profits out of the poor countries just in oil and minerals, let alone cheap labor. I quoted the International Labor Rights Fund as saying:

    In the past decade alone, ExxonMobil has extracted some $40 billion from its operations in Aceh, Indonesia, leaving in its wake a legacy of death, destruction, and environmental damage.

The neocons themselves have soaked these poor countries for their own political and pet-project benefit.

Just one example: As I pointed out last August, Bush family friend and heavy campaign contributor Joe Allbritton's Riggs Bank was plumb grateful to have Equatorial Guinea dictator Teodoro Obiang as a valued customer: Obiang deposited millions of oil dollars in Riggs rather than spending it on food, water, shelter, and education for the people in his starving and thirsty country (see photo). Meanwhile, his brother was torturing prisoners with stinging ants.

Allbritton finally got stung in his own way last summer by investigations spurred by Democratic senator Carl Levin and lost control of the bank. Along about the same time that probe was happening, Amnesty International formally called on Obiang's government to "immediately bring an end" to the "executions, torture and rape" of detainees.

Allbritton is such a Bush family pal that Dubya's uncle Jonathan Bush even ran an investment bank out of Riggs, but Allbritton lost control of the D.C. financial empire in the wake of the probes, which resulted in huge fines for money laundering. Before that happened, however, Allbritton took some of the money he made off the likes of Obiang and Augusto Pinochet and dumped it (plus loot from Jonathan Bush's side operation) into the Allbritton Foundation. Tax records show that the foundation dropped a nice wad of cash not on the inhabitants of Equatorial Guinea but on the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, a prosperous religious school in suburban D.C. headed by Doug Feith, Wolfowitz's pal in the Pentagon. (It's easy to connect these dolts.)

Wait, one more thing: In October 2003, before the Riggs Bank scandal broke, the Bush regime re-opened the U.S. embassy in Equatorial Guinea (see map).

Equatorial Guinea has an island and a mainland (and oil), but its people don't have food or water. (© IRIN)

In 1995, Bill Clinton had closed it in protest of Obiang's human-rights abuses. Why would the Bush regime re-open it in '03? Why do you think?

As the U.N.'s even-handed IRIN news service reported at the time of the re-opening:

    When the State Department announced [in 2002] that the embassy in the island capital of Malabo would be reopened, diplomats and human rights activists said its rethink had been prompted by the fact that U.S. companies now control the former Spanish colony's rapidly rising oil and gas production.

    This was confirmed by State Department spokesman Andrew Mitchell as he announced the embassy's reopening.

    Mitchell told IRIN by telephone from Washington: "There are currently 3,000 U.S. citizens working in Equatorial Guinea, and the U.S. needs to provide services to them."

But the inhabitants of Equatorial Guinea? Fuck 'em. Nobody's providing shit to them. In fact, a cholera outbreak in the capital killed 15 of them in late February 2005. IRIN reported:

    Although the oil bonanza has brought sudden wealth to the ruling elite that surrounds President Teodoro Obiang, diplomats and aid workers say that little of the oil money has been channeled into improving living standards for the rest of the country's 500,000 population. As a result, Malabo suffers from chronic water shortages and power cuts.

    Severe diarrhea outbreaks regularly occur at this time of year in Equatorial Guinea, and [U.N. health official Dr. Kalambay] Kalula cautioned that not all those who were presently ill were necessarily suffering from cholera.

    "It is the dry season here, and the weather makes things very difficult. A recent water analysis in the capital found that all water wells had diarrhea-causing bacteria," he said.

A Washington Post rundown early last week on Wolfowitz's tenure as ambassador to Indonesia in the '80s, during Suharto's rule, tried hard to be balanced: It noted that Wolfowitz had criticized Suharto's human-rights record. But the most telling quote was at the very end of the story, from a USAID official:

    Peter Gajewski, the program's senior economist, said the [U.S.] embassy continued to deal primarily with Suharto's administration and not support opposition groups. That sat well with Suharto insiders, such as Johannes Sumarlin, the government's chief planning minister and Wolfowitz's weekly tennis partner.

    "I did not see Paul trying to really force or exercise pressure on Suharto to change his way to run the country politically. At that time, it was most acceptable to us," Sumarlin said. "Me, as a Suharto man, we liked to maintain our stability in running the country politically and economically."

It's bad enough that the neocons cozy up to dictators (except for Saddam Hussein) or slop around with them in investment-bank pig pens. Do they have to also be put in charge of development banks? I mean, the World Bank proudly proclaims that it is the planet's "largest external source of funding for education and HIV/AIDS programs." And the Bush regime now runs it.

Wolfowitz's appointment sharpens an already sharp debate and should call more attention to what's being said by energetic watchdog groups like worldbankpresident.org and IFIwatchnet.

They and many others try to get Mr. Potter—"You're worth more dead than alive"—to start acting more like George Bailey—"Just remember this, Mr. Potter: that this rabble you're talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?"

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