Saturday, March 26, 2005

Of Chavez, Economic Hit Men, and Desert Wildflowers

This year, the Los Angeles area has received more rain in this year than in any season in the last hundred years. We’re within 2 inches of making an all-time record for the region.

While some residents complain, I took the opportunity to see what some have called the bloom of a lifetime - the amazing wildflower display in the desert. An hour and a half Southwest of Palm Springs is the Anza Borrego National Park - a place so quiet the beating of a bird’s wings sounds like an intrusion. I drove out at 2am from Los Angeles so I could catch the desert at sunrise.

After watching the desert go from dark to light, I unfolded a camping chair under a palm tree and took out Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins. As I lay there hearing the humming birds feed, watching desert hares hop by, and surrounded by a flurry of butterflies, I read about the doings of a small group of people in third world countries. These people have the job of going into third-world countries projecting their future economic growth so that they will borrow more than they can afford from the World Bank, incur more debt than they can repay, and therefore become subject to not simply US interests but private interests ostensibly representing the US.

Perkins described sitting in an Amazon jungle next to a concrete dam, a blight upon the otherwise magical landscape. The damn was built with a loan from the World Bank, so that power could be drawn from the might Amazon. But who got the contract to build the damn? The natives, whose land was being taken? Guess again. American companies.

Over and over, his story was always the same. Give us your promise to pay us back, and we’ll give you all the trappings of modern society, but the money you borrow has to be spent on American contractors and paid back to American investors. Sorry - there’s nothing left for YOUR country. And if you default? We’ll extract more than a pound of flesh. We’ll carve out American military bases. We’ll take your oil as payment. Or whatever else your fine country has to offer. Oh - and if you don’t comply, you’ll be killed in a coup by CIA thugs.

I thought of the pristine desert, where even the Park Center was designed to be as unobtrusive as possible. What if the World Bank had spent the money? Would there be some ugly rectangular concrete structure there instead of the graceful, arcing, built-into-the-ground park center? It’s not like we don’t know how to build beautiful things. But when it’s only about money, of course we don’t.

I’m tired of being a rapist. I’m tired of people going to other countries, in my name, under the banner of my country, and giving people a raw deal simply because we can, because we’re so rich and so powerful that none dare stand against us. I’m tired of those who see no wrong in screwing someone less powerful, because we assume, wrongly, that they’re less intelligent and therefore, less deserving. It’s not right. It’s never right. And what’s really appalling is how often this is done in the name of freedom, capitalism, or even religion.

Right now, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is walking perilously close to death. He’s working with Castro, with Iran, and in an amazingly bold move, with India to try to find alternatives to succumbing to American imperialism. He’s even threatened an oil boycott. Perkins makes clear that when the Economic Hit Men (EHM) fail, the “jackals”, as he call them, come next. The jackals are the CIA hitmen who take out leaders who refuse to bend to the World Bank and US business interests. The Southern half of the Americas is littered with leaders who tried to save the wealth of their country’s resources for their own people. Arbenz. Goulart. Allende. Guevara. Castro, had they ever managed to kill him. I fear Chavez is practically taunting us, daring us to kill him. Threatening an oil embargo as he is seems like a near declaration of war. I want him to quiet down, not for my sake, but for the sake of the people in his country who do not deserve to lose a leader to American imperialism.

I wish the rich could just go sit in the desert for a few days. The quiet peace is amazing, and tranquil, and beautiful. It was a real reminder that the American way of working so many hours enables us to build only fake wealth. Real wealth can be found in the sounds of the hummingbird’s wings, and in the beauty of a red/yellow/purple blaze of blossoms in an otherwise gray desert. I am wealthy beyond imagination out there. I felt poorer by the minute as I returned to LA.

Fellow Los Angelinos. Treat yourself while you still can. Some things can't be bought - only experienced.

Apologies to all for not posting pictures. My time is short these days. And the few pictures I have do not do the blooms justice. Go and see the desert in bloom some spring for yourself sometime. You'll thank me for the suggestion.


Blogger Other Lisa said...

Lisa, good points all, but I would add that those same rapacious robber barons are hollowing out the economy of American as well, impoverishing massive numbers of our citizens, polluting our few pristine places, destroying our infrastructure, privatizing what's left of our safety net to further enrich themselves.

They call themselves patriots, but I don't think they give a damn about America when it comes right down to it.

1:01 AM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

Yes. Patriotism seems an odd bird, to me. I'm incredibly patriotic in terms of supporting the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I just also share the ideals, with many of my citizens, for fair pay for work, a balance between the needs of man and the protection of the environment (which is protection for man, after all) and other similar ideals. It seems some want patriotism to mean you obey your government, "right or wrong." Patriotism is not a job. You don't get fired if you don't support your country when it's wrong. We are the employers of our politicians, not the employed. And as such we should be better managers and not give in when they tell us to shut up if we disagree.

9:48 PM  
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5:32 AM  

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