Thursday, February 02, 2006

Economic Hit Man

GLOBALIZATION (NEOCOLONIALISM): Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (EHM)"
John Perkins : Interview
by Carmen Nge

It reads like a Graham Greene novel—thick with political intrigue; rife with moral questioning; packed with sex, murder and assassinations. But Confessions of an Economic Hit Man has been enjoying an extended reign on a variety of American bestseller lists because it does not claim to be fiction. John Perkins' memoir is a testimony to truth, an expose of greed and corporate evil at the highest levels of political power.

Due to the sensitive and controversial nature of the book’s content, major publishing houses in the United States refused to publish it. Perkins himself says, “There’s a tremendous amount of press censorship in the United States. I don’t think most of the world realizes this and it’s because our press is so strongly controlled by big corporations. And our publishing houses are all controlled by huge international corporations.” Berrett-Koehler—an independent publisher of books centered on work, business and organizations—stepped in. Confessions is currently enjoying a ninth printing and is going international.

Today, John Perkins is famous in the American alternative press circle for being so bold as to denounce his former position as the youngest partner and one of the top ranking officers at Chas. T. Main Inc., an international consulting firm fronting for U.S. intelligence agencies and the U.S. government. He is infamous for giving credence to what conspiracy theorists have argued all along: that the world is run by an all-powerful, all-knowing force called the United States of America. His detractors are calling the book ‘too crazy to be true’ but ordinary Americans are embracing the main message of the book: that the world is predicated on an ideology of materialism and greed, and things are falling apart.

Perkins’ book reads like a novel because it has a strong chronological narrative arc. It begins in New Hampshire and Vermont, where he grew up and went to school, and then to Boston, where he began his training as an economic hit man. The book then follows Perkins on the EHM trail from Indonesia in the early 70s to Panama, Iran, Colombia and Ecuador.During these extended business visits, Perkins tells us how he sold hyper-inflated infrastructure and energy projects to developing nations and brokered loan agreements between the latter and international organizations like the Asian Development Bank, USAID, the World Bank. The loans would then be used to fund projects executed by American corporations—Halliburton or Bechtel are some of the larger ones.

As taxpayers’ money funneled into American corporate pockets, developing nations such as Indonesia and Panama found themselves entrenched in debt that they could never repay. Caught in a financially compromising position, they oftentimes acquiesced to American and capitalist interests. This, according to Perkins, is how the American Empire was built.

But, as we know all too well here in South East Asia, America’s desire to extend its imperial reach has not run out of steam. Recent statements made by a US naval commander about post-tsunami relief efforts in Asia indicate that humanitarian aid is never what it seems. Rear Admiral Christopher Ames’ comment is certainly cause for worry: “We’ve talked about this idea of sea-basing for several years, of being able to project power anywhere in the world without asking permission. What we’re doing here validates the beauty of it.”

What does the future portend for us if Perkins’ book holds water?

In an effort to find out, we spoke with John Perkins from his home in Florida on the morning of March 14, 2005.[CN -- Carmen Nge; JP -- John Perkins; JT -- Jason Tan, editor of Off The Edge]

CN: Since you published your book, you’ve been traveling quite a bit and talking to large numbers of people—earlier this year at the World Social Forum (in Porto Alleger, Brazil)—and I’m just wondering what is the message you would like to share with the world. What do you think we need to know, particularly here in Asia?

JP: Well, I think the message—the most important message—is the world cannot keep on like this. There’s no question about it. 5% of the world population, that is to say people living in the United States, consume over 25% of the world’s resources and create over 25% of the world’s major pollution and that’s not sustainable and it’s not replicable. We know that the dream of other countries following in our footsteps—Asian countries, other countries—can’t possibly be realized because those statistics I just gave you are very clear proof that nobody can follow in our footsteps. And even we can’t continue this way. In addition to that, the United States, which is the wealthiest country in the history of the world has dreadful statistics—social statistics—indicating that we’re also one of the least happy countries in the world because we have the highest rates of incarceration, murder, family abuse, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, divorce, on and on.So, the answer for the world is not to try in any way to replicate what’s happening in the United States. The answer for the world—for Asia and for the rest of the world—is to learn an important lesson from us and that is that the materialism and empire building does not bring satisfaction or happiness. In fact, it brings tremendous problems.

What we know is that in the next 30 to 50 years, the world is going to change radically.In the next 30 to 50 years, we’re gonna have dramatic changes. There has to be dramatic changes. And it can either come to chaos and violence and be extremely difficult, or we can change our attitude, our way of living, and our way of relating to each other and to the environment. So, my message to anybody reading this—Asian or otherwise, people of all ages—is that we must work very hard in the next few years to change the way we look at the world and the way we relate to each other, and the way we relate to the environment. I have great hope that we will learn from the lessons of history, we will learn from this failed experiment of the United States, not to repeat the tremendous errors that we’ve made since World War 2.

I think that’s the main thrust of the message I’d like to give. I believe that people in the United States are very unaware of what their own country has done over these past 4 decades. People in the United States believe that foreign aid is given out altruistically and in most cases, it’s not. Foreign aid is used to make the rich of the United States richer and also a few rich families throughout the world richer. I believe when people in the United States understand what’s truly happening, they will demand change. We will demand change and we will get it and that’s why I wrote this book, to help people in the United States understand that.I also wrote it so that people in Asia and other places in the world will understand clearly what it is we’ve been doing and will not permit this to happen anymore.

People in countries around the world who’ve been exploited by the United States should call their leaders to task and they need to insist that organizations like the World Bank and the US government forgive a lot of the debt that has been piled upon these countries because this debt was given in a way that should be illegal and unfortunately it’s not. And countries like Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia should insist that they don’t have to pay back a great deal of the debt because people of those countries really don’t owe anybody that money.JT: You mentioned earlier that most Americans are very unaware of what their own country has done so this whole unawareness, I imagine it would be mainly perpetuated by the mainstream press then?

JP: Well it’s perpetuated by the press and I think also by the fact that a great many Americans live pretty comfortable lives and they don’t really wanna know what’s going on, they don’t wanna know about the awful things that our corporations are doing, the sweatshops for example that some of our big corporations have in parts of Asia. I presume there’s some of those in Malaysia too though I am not sure of that, right?

JT: Yes. We have a large garment manufacturing industry in the country.

JP: Do those workers get well treated or…

JT: They’re mostly immigrants, John.

JP: From where?

JT: From Bangladesh, from Indonesia, from Burma.

JP: Well, anyway, you’re supposed to be asking me the questions and I sent this right back to you and I apologize for that but it’s very helpful to me because I hate to admit how little I know about Malaysia. But I like to talk about actual experiences that I’ve had rather than to speculate and I haven’t had any experience in Malaysia itself, unfortunately. I’ve always had a desire to go there, heard wonderful things about the country and its beauty and so forth but never made it and I apologize for that. Maybe you’ll get me there now. (laughs)

CN: We’ll certainly try! Well, to jump on what you said about your experience in Indonesia in particular, one thing that I do notice in your book is that a lot of the countries you talk about have oil and are strategic for US interests. Recently there is talk of off-shore oil drilling possibilities in the waters off Indonesia and Malaysia. Do you foresee that this region will now become an area of strategic American intervention and interest as well? Is that almost like a given—if you have oil we’re going to come in there and we’re going to do what we can to get it from you?

JT: Basically can I just frame it in this way: if you could let us know a little bit about where South East Asia, or Malaysia and Indonesia, lie on the hit list.

JP: I think South East Asia and Asia in general has always been pretty high on the hit list but as you pointed out, we’ve focused very much on those countries that have the resources that we covet, primarily oil. And those have been the ones that have been hit the most and the hardest certainly. There’s no question about that. And that will continue to be the situation as we move forward. There’s a new factor here now, and that of course is China, and India, North Korea, which are emerging as big competitors to the United States. Well, North Korea not as a competitor so much as a threat. But China is certainly emerging as a major potential competitor to the United States on the empire building scene and China seems to be making many overtures towards the other Asian countries to join forces to them, to represent itself as a friend, to reach out, and the United States government and what I call the corporatocracy in the United States is very fearful of this.

It’s one of the reasons that we attacked Iraq. It’s one of the reasons we put so much emphasis on the Middle East, on Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait because China and Japan and Korea get most of their oil from the Middle East and the United States doesn’t get so much from those areas. So that’s one of the reasons that we’ve put so much emphasis on the Middle East, it’s because of China and Japan and Korea.Now, if it becomes more apparent that there’s a lot more oil resources in the rest of Asia, in South East Asia, for example, then undoubtedly China and Japan will also try to exploit those areas, which will mean that they will become almost like war zones between the countries of China, India, Japan, Korea and the United States. So I think Asian people need to be very, very aware of what’s going on and be very careful and recognize that although oil has always seem to people to be a great benefit when it’s discovered in their country, in fact it’s always turned out to be a huge burden. Oil has done tremendous damage to those countries that have discovered it. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, incidentally.

CN: Part of what’s interesting in your book is that you talk about how imperialism is largely non-militaristic because it based on economic expansion. The corporatocracy, as you say, largely do not need to resort to violent or brutal measures. But interestingly enough, with Iraq and earlier on Afghanistan and perhaps even Iran, there seems to be a sign that America is flexing largely its military muscle. Do you see that as portentous in some way? Could this be indication that the empire is cracking and there needs to be a strong show of military might for China or for India, so that they know who they are dealing with in essence?

JP: Yeah. Yes, you’ve asked a very important question. Whenever the economic hit men fail, the second line of attack is the jackals—you know, the assassins, who overthrow governments. And in the past 3 or 4 decades, the economic hit men and the jackals have been pretty successful, ever since Vietnam. But today, we’re finding increasing amounts of resistance. Iraq is a really good example where both the economic hit men and the jackals failed in the 1980s. They took out Saddam Hussein’s military in 1991, January of 1991. We did not want to take out Saddam Hussein. We could have. We did not want to because he was a strong man who had good control over his country and he was also a shield against Iran. So that was a real threat to Iran. So we would have liked to keep him in power but as our puppet. So when we took out his military in 1991, we thought that after that he would succumb, that the economic hit men would be able to win him over in the 90s. They tried but were unsuccessful again. And again the jackals weren’t successful. So, as a last resort we sent in the military and you could see the same sort of thing as being a real possibility of happening in Iran and Syria—that the economic hit men and the jackals are not succeeding. So, when that happens, there’s always the possibility of us sending in the military.

It also happened in Afghanistan. The Taliban was not converted by the economic hit men and the jackals couldn’t get rid of the Taliban so we sent the military in there.The other part of that is—and you were quite right—that at various times, the United States’ presidents—and this is true of both Republicans and Democrats—feel that it’s important to flex their muscle and show that we still have this capability. And I think particularly with what’s going in Korea and China, the Bush administration is feeling a very strong urge to flex its muscles. In fact, recently just saying that it will militarily defend Taiwan if it has to, once again repeating that old threat. So, periodically in history, Reagan did it with Grenada, the first Bush president did it with Panama and then again with Iraq, Clinton did it, he also bombed Iraq and the Sudan and many other places and now we’re seeing it on a very large scale.So there’s two things at play here: one is that there’s a number of countries where the economic hit men and the jackals have failed, and second is the desire on the part of the Bush administration to prove to the world that we are truly a military power and we are not afraid to use our military might if called upon to do so.

CN: Just curious what you think about what Chavez recently came out to say—that he thinks America is going to assassinate him. When he said that it made me think of your book and what you said about the jackals because it’s clear that in so many important ways now Latin America is consolidating as a region to fight American economic and capitalist interest.

JP: Yes, it’s significant that in the last 6 major elections in Latin America, the presidential candidates who stood up to the United States were elected. This happened in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela. All of those countries voted for the candidate who opposed US interests and corporate interests. And it’s very interesting to watch now what’s going to happen.I think Chavez has ever reason to be extremely cautious and there’s no question that the United States tried to overthrow him in April of 2002. That the United States was behind the coup I have no question about that. But the other thing that seems to be happening among many of these presidents, particularly Gutierrez of Ecuador and Lula of Brazil and to some extent Chavez of Venezuela is that they seem to be giving in. Chavez has been signing some very sweet deals with American oil companies, despite his rhetoric. And Gutierrez who was voted in to a large degree by the indigenous people on an anti-oil company vote has now succumbed to the oil companies and the indigenous people of Ecuador are extremely upset with him. And Lula seems to be backing off a lot of his campaign promises and many people in Brazil feel that he’s sold out also. The one exception to this, the strongest exception to this seems to be Kirchner of Argentina who still seems to be standing up and refusing to pay the debt.

My fear is that already economic hit men and the jackals have been getting through these elected officials who ran on anti-American platforms who now may continue to talk a good line but they appear to be bending to the will of the corporatocracy, to the will of the economic hit men. I can’t say that I blame them. They’ve got to look at history, they’ve got to look at Allende, and Arbenz, Roldós and Torrijos and a whole line of people, of presidents who stood up to the United States and were taken out of office and often assassinated. I’m sure that Gutierrez and Chavez and Lula are very aware of what happened to previous Latin American leaders who opposed US interests.

CN: In some ways, when I hear you speak, it almost feels like if you don’t get assassinated, it must mean you have sold out in some way.

JP: That’s a very interesting observation. You’ve got to look at it… if you were running for President and you really wanted to reign in the corporatocracy and you ran on a platform that was very nationalistic and said, “we’re not going to let the Americans, the empire, the corporatocracy exploit us” and you won, and you started implementing those policies. You can only imagine the kind of pressure that would be exerted on you by the economic hit men and always with the threat of the jackals in the background. And all you have to do is look at history around the world—look at presidents who did resist the corporatocracy and see what happened to them—to know that you would be in a very, very difficult position. And there’s not only the threat of you being assassinated but there’s also the threat of many of your countrymen being assassinated.

So, it was significant that in 1981 the jackals assassinated Omar Torrijos of Panama but when Noriega followed his footsteps to a certain degree, they didn’t assassinate Noriega, instead they attacked his country, killed 2 to 3 thousand Panamanians—innocent Panamanians—and sent Noriega out and put him in prison and he’s still in prison in the United States. Now, in a way I think what happened to Noriega is much worse than what happened to Torrijos. Torrijos was killed in an airplane crash, died a martyr, a very quick death. Noriega watched 2 to 3 thousand of his countrymen being killed, a large section of Panama City destroyed and then he was dragged off and is spending the rest of his life essentially in solitary confinement in the United States. It’s a pretty scary thing. If you’re the president of Venezuela today or Ecuador or Brazil or Malaysia, it certainly reminds you of this. You’re gonna think twice about what you’re going to do.

CN: It sounds like political parties and political leaders are not necessarily the way out. If so, is capitalism and American imperialist interest so strong that there is no way to get out of it except to acquiesce in some form?

JP: We must not acquiesce, and Malaysia must not acquiesce, and Ecuador must not acquiesce, and Brazil and Venezuela must not acquiesce because this is a failed system. The United States experiment, the United States empire has failed, as I pointed out earlier with some of the statistics. And in my own country, in the United States, we have 45 million people without any health insurance at all. We have 12 million families—not people but families—who worry about where their next meal is coming from. And we have terrible statistics that I mentioned earlier. All of our social statistics that indicate we are a very unhappy people. We overeat, we over drink, we kill each other at astonishing rates; we beat up on our families, our children and our wives. It’s a terrible situation. Nobody should want to repeat this experiment. The world just can’t support it. The resources of the world and the ability of our environment to handle the pollution just can’t support this type of thing. So we must not acquiesce, the Malaysians must not acquiesce, the Venezuelans, the Ecuadorians, the Brazilians and the citizens of the United States must not acquiesce either.I think the system is very vulnerable.

I think we’re seeing huge cracks in it all over the place. We saw the 1997 Asian economic crisis, which then spread around the world, and that was really a fault of the system. A very large degree of that grew out of capitalism and then it grew out of the policies of the IMF and the World Bank. Big mistakes. We’re seeing really a rebellion in Europe right now. It’s kind of led by Germany and France but Europe is not happy with the United States and it’s posing some real opposition to them.We’re seeing this rebellion in South America that we talked about earlier. Regardless of whether these presidents acquiesce or not, the fact of the matter is the people of South America have spoken very loudly and clearly. Three quarters of the population of Latin America, has, in the last few years, voted anti-America. It’s very significant. Regardless of what the leaders end up doing the system is cracking. And it has to crack cause it’s not working.

But we mustn’t expect that our leaders are going to be able to solve this problem. We can vote in the very best leaders in the world who have the best intentions and once they get into office the pressures are so extensive that it must come from the people. It must be us speaking out. It must be us speaking out with our money, with where we shop, with what we buy. We need to protest. We need to picket and boycott corporations that are doing dastardly things in our countries. That works. We’ve seen it time and time again. When we change consciousness and when we have social or civil movements, they have tremendous impact. Look at Russia. You know, who would’ve believed, 15 years ago, that the Soviet Union would’ve collapsed? And it wasn’t because of American military might or CIA. It was because of a change of consciousness. It was because of a handful of union leaders, poets and playwrights. It was a change of consciousness that occurred in the Soviet Union.

What about South Africa? Mandela was in prison for almost 30 years and then became president of his country. Change occurs. It occurs tremendously. Look at China. It wasn’t too long ago that the Cultural Revolution was going on in there. And China’s changed tremendously. Look at India. There’ve been tremendous changes in the world. We can create these changes and we must. I think a country like Malaysia can really be a leader in this. A country like Malaysia that stayed sort of outside some the major political struggles of the past decade can really take a lead in changing consciousness.

JT: But John, countries like India and China… China is basically where there’s a whole new market for the corporatocracy. And lots of car manufacturers, for example, are invested very heavily in China. It is reported that they now have the highest accident rate in the world. It appears to me that places like China and India—and I think Malaysia as well—because we’re very much seduced by the consumer lifestyle here, at least in the urban centers, that we’re acquiescing.

JP: Yes, when I talked about China and India it wasn’t trying to hold them up as models that we should follow in terms of materialism or consumerism. I was simply saying that tremendous changes have occurred in those countries over the last 30 years, which shows the opportunity for change.You know, I also write books about shamanism and indigenous people. One of the tenets of shamanism is that the world is as we dream it. When we have a vision of how we want our lives or the world to be, if we make a commitment to that vision and we give it energy, it will happen. The history of the 20th century has been a history of envisioning material wealth and prosperity. And we’ve had this dream as a species—the human race basically—and we’ve given it a lot of energy. And it’s worked to a very large degree for quite a few people. It’s also created tremendous problems for other people because of the way we did it. But nonetheless there’s been tremendous economic growth and that’s what’s happened in countries like India and China and Malaysia also. The focus has all been on economic growth in the 20th century. But we’ve proven that the world is as we dream it because that was the dream we had and we gave it energy.

Now, we’ve entered a new period, it’s the new millennium, and all the indigenous people around the world prophesy that something very significant could happen in the next few years. We need now to create a new dream which is not based on materialism, which is based on justice, on compassion, on taking care of our environment, on taking care of each other as human beings. This is a new dream. It’s an entirely new dream. And it’s hard even for us to imagine what that looks like out in the future.We go back to any time in history, let’s say the Middle Ages or the time before we knew that the world was round. It was impossible in those times to envision what would happen when we came up with a new concept, when we understood that the world really was round and that it revolved around the sun rather than the sun revolving around the world. This created a whole new paradigm. But before that happened, nobody could’ve possibly imagined what the new paradigm would look like. We’re a little bit in that position now.

We’ve been living for the past century and more in this dream of materialism and now that dream needs to change because we’ve found that it works to a certain degree but only to a certain degree and what we need now is a truly new dream. A truly new way of visioning ourselves which I think is actually really reflective in the United States Declaration of Independence, which says that every human being has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit happiness—doesn’t say anything about material wealth. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; I think that’s a very good vision for the next phase here. Let’s forget about the materialism part of it and let’s focus on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

CN: On a more personal note, I think it’s quite remarkable to know that you have, in effect, come from being an EHM—economic hit man—to being, as you’ve once said in an interview, a shaman of sorts. How did this happen and do you see that process viably happening for other people in the corporatocracy or in higher levels of corporate power?

JP: I think that process is happening around the world now. I see people all around in corporations and everywhere else taking a much greater interest in what we call new age, you know, indigenous ideas and environmental ideas. They don’t always act on these things because our actions always follow our desires and our dreams quite a bit.The Alcoholics Anonymous program talks about 12 steps and the first one is recognizing you’ve got a problem. It’s making the confession, like I did in the book. And that’s a very important step and I think around the world we’ve reached that—the fact that you and I are talking about this, the fact that you’re interviewing me about a book that probably isn’t even available in Malaysia at this point. And I had a major German television station here at my house two days ago and the book isn’t even out in German yet. It comes out next week in German. But this book suddenly is taking off. It’s fascinating. It’s interested people around the world and the fact that that’s happening is very significant. That people really are looking for change. And that’s the first step.

So, yes, I think this process is happening to many people but each of those comes from a different background and there’s a different reason.I think people are beginning to recognize around the world that the true weapons of mass destruction are poverty and environmental destruction…environmental catastrophe. Those are the true weapons of mass destruction and they truly are destroying human society and the planet right now, those two things. It’s not nuclear weapons, it’s not biological weapons, it’s poverty and environmental catastrophe. They’re wiping whole species out, something like 200 species every single day. And killing a lot of people.

I think a lot of us are realizing that and we’re realizing that part of that, that the problem behind both of those things—the poverty and environmental catastrophe—is our economic dream of tremendous materialism: of huge buildings, and lots of cars and big industries. Those are creating those weapons of mass destruction which are poverty and environmental catastrophe.A lot of people are realizing that and as we realize that, we know that we need to move into something new. A new dream. A dream that is defined essentially by the American Declaration of Independence of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people. And incidentally, the writers of the American Declaration of Independence drew on philosophers from Asia, from Africa, from Europe and from Latin America. And the system that they developed in this country reflected the governmental systems of many of the indigenous nations in the United States. So that concept that’s reflected in the Declaration of Independence is basically a global concept, it was expressed in the American Declaration of Independence but it came from philosophers and ideas of all around the world and it’s really time now for that philosophy to reach back out to the whole world, for us to realize that what we’re not looking for is material exploitation of resources on a grander scale. What we’re looking for is the right life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everybody.

Now, you want me to answer the question of how I got into this? That was a long answer, sorry. It really started for me as a very young boy, growing up in rural New Hampshire, and my ancestors go back to the revolutionary war. Tom Paine, who wrote Common Sense, is a distant ancestor of mine, as is Ethan Allen, who won the first battle, the first victory for the Americans in the Revolution. And I was brought up steeped in that history but I was also always very fascinated by the Algonquin people, the Iroquois people, the indigenous people who came from New Hampshire, Vermont, the areas that I lived in. I was very fascinated by them and I knew I had some of their blood in my veins too. So, my interest in indigenous people started very young.Then, when I went into the Peace Corps, I started living with, or close to, many indigenous people both in the Amazon and the Andes. And I found that their philosophy and their way of living was extremely appealing. And their shamanism, their healing saved my life. I was healed by a shaman. That made a huge impression on me. So, that was with me for a long time.

Then, when I was an economic hit man, when I went to places like Indonesia, for example, I would take time off the end of my assignment and spend time with indigenous people as much as I could. For example, I spent a lot of time with the Bugi people of the island of Sulawesi and I spent a lot of time with the Bedouin people in the deserts of Iran and I spent a lot of time with the Mayan people in central America and the Quichua in the Andes. So even while I was an economic hit man I took time off and continued to study and work with these indigenous people. I did it very secretly cause if I told people at the World Bank I was doing this they would’ve thought that I was crazy.

So, these people had a major influence on me and then, in 1990, I basically retired from being an economic hit man and running an energy company and I went back to the Amazon and reconnected in a very strong way and formed a non-profit organization, Dream Change, which you can find on on the web, and reestablished this connection and began writing about indigenous ways and teaching about them. They’ve been a very, very strong factor in my life and given me a great deal of hope.

CN: Since so much of indigenous culture is also oral history and because so many of them are being wiped out due to capitalism and globalization, is there a way to get at some of these wisdoms for the future generations? I know that you conduct trips and you have people conduct trips to visit indigenous people. Am I correct?

JP: Yes, we’ve been doing that for a number of years now and it still goes on. And it’s about learning from them, not trying to change them or teach them anything. We’ve brought many of them to the United States and to Europe and to other places where we’ve had gatherings of shamans. So, yes, I’ve tried very hard in the last decade or so to have this exchange of information, this exchange of wisdom where we could learn from the indigenous people. And it’s very, very disturbing to me to see how the indigenous peoples around the world are being destroyed and are, in a way, destroying themselves.One of the problems with materialism is that it’s extremely seductive. So, when an indigenous person in the Amazon rainforest, for example, meet someone with a flashlight, that is a pretty marvelous thing to have inside in the Amazon and so they want flashlights. And then they see someone with a machete and they certainly want a machete because that makes life a lot easier for them. The watch is a very seductive thing even if they don’t really care about time. It’s a very interesting and seductive thing. Now cell phones and televisions and radios are becoming very seductive.

So, one of the things that we try to do at Dream Change is honour the old ways, honour the shamans, honour the old ceremonies and the old music and the old musical instruments. And we find that when we, from the United States, go down into the Amazon, into other indigenous communities and honour their old ways and listen to their old people and listen to their traditional music and really enjoy it, that’s sort of an awakening for many of their young people because suddenly they’re saying, “oh, well maybe this stuff is good too.” But I’m afraid that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for indigenous people to maintain their old traditions.

CN: To a certain extent I would also say that the kind of trappings of materialism that you talk about is difficult to shrug off for us largely because it’s so much a part of our lives that we can’t imagine not having those things. In a way, what you’re asking for people to do is to give up the very things that make them who they are in fundamental ways. This is particularly true in urban Kuala Lumpur, our Malaysian capital. So, is the answer a balance between a kind of spiritualism and materialism? Is there no place for technological advancement? What would be your answer to that?

JP: I think the answer is something totally new that we haven’t really looked at—that is going to draw upon the old ways, the indigenous ways, the traditional ways and technology. But I go back again to saying that whenever huge paradigm shifts occur, before they occur you can’t really see what’s going to come, anymore than people in the Middle Ages could, or anymore than people who believed that the sun revolved around the earth and the earth was flat. They couldn’t possibly conceive of what the world would look like once that concept changed. We can’t either.It’s not either or. It’s not either technology or indigenous ways, it’s some new paradigm that unfortunately none of us, including me, can foresee what it’s going to look like. I think we have to have faith though. And I think we have to fall back on the knowledge that things cannot continue the way they’re going now. It just is not possible. We’re putting far too much stress on the planet. We go back to the greatest weapon of mass destruction, which is poverty and environmental catastrophe and that’s grown out of the current system.

And that’s one of the things that’s put tremendous pressure on indigenous people, incidentally, is increased population. The impoverishment and the loss of their resources. How can indigenous people live in the jungles or forests of Malaysia when the forests are cut down? They can’t. They can’t continue that way of life. You can’t even do it in the Amazon anymore. There’s not enough land for people to continue to live as hunters and gatherers. Things are changing and in the future there’s going to be a major change that’s very difficult for us to envision at this point. The most important thing for us to do right now is to admit that the current system is not working and is not sustainable and cannot continue and that we need to commit ourselves and pour our energy into changing it. And into emphasizing values that appeal to people rather than emphasizing values that honour things: materialism.

JT: John, would you be able to name some of the people who front as economic hit men and would you also be able to name some of the main players or main companies in the corporatocracy?

JP: Well, you know, I’m not into it anymore so it’s very difficult (sighs) for me to do that. But I think any one of us can look around and see which companies are out there exploiting the world and what people are behind this. I mean, I don’t have any insights into this that everybody else doesn’t have today because I’m not part of that system anymore. But we look around and we see the people that kind of run things, we see people jumping back and forth.There’s Robert McNamara who was president of Ford Motor Company and then became Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson and then President of the World Bank. Today we’ve got a guy like Dick Cheney who’s president of Halliburton, before that he was Secretary of Defense and President of Halliburton, and now he’s Vice President. There’s any number of people out there that is pretty obvious. But I don’t have any inside information these days. I’m not in that system anymore. So all I can do is state the obvious basically.

JT: Well these people seem to come and go then but they serve the interests of capital?

JP: Well, they serve the interests of empire. What we’ve done is create this first truly global empire in the history of the world. It’s an empire that’s been created primarily without the military, with the military just in the background. And it’s an empire without an emperor or a king. The United States has no emperor or king and every 8 years we get a new leader, or less than 8 years. 8 years is the maximum. The President’s not really the leader of this country for it’s a very short period. The equivalent to an emperor or king for this empire is what I call the corporatocracy, which is these men and a few women who run our major corporations or big banks and our government. And they’re around regardless of whether the president’s Democrat or Republican. And not just from the United States, there’re people from other countries too. But the United States is really like the CEO. If you look at the largest economies in the world today, out of the hundred largest economies, 51 are corporations. Not countries, they’re corporations. And 47 of those corporations are US corporations. So, this corporatocracy actually lasts for a long time and it reaches across all administrations.

CN: So it will be a lot difficult to dismantle them than electing a new president, that’s for sure.

JP: You know in the last US elections there was no discussion of foreign policy. Kerry didn’t bring up foreign policy. Talked about Afghanistan, Iraq and terrorism—that’s not foreign policy and those are just the symptoms of the disease. The real disease is much greater than that—it’s the system, it’s the empire building, it’s what economic hit men do, it’s exploiting and ripping off people around the world and creating a great deal of anger and hatred and suffering around the world. That’s the disease and nobody talked about that in the last elections.

CN: Do you see the resurgence, or perhaps even the perpetuation, of a certain kind of faith-based consciousness in America as a kind of return to spiritualism? There’s a strong revival of Christian evangelicalism in America. Short of going back to indigenous culture, do you see organized religion as a possible solution in the minds of people today?

JP: Gee, I never thought about that. That’s a good question. I suspect that a lot of religious fervour in the United States and elsewhere is a reflection of people’s basic unhappiness with materialism and with the system that we’ve created. I think people are more and more looking outside of materialism and so I suspect that a lot of this religious fervour is symptomatic of that deeper displeasure. I also think that a lot of what’s going on, at least in the United States, is exploitation. The corporatocracy has been using what it calls religion as a way to control people, to appease people. And I think that’s certainly been done recently in regards to the clash between Christianity and Islam.

I think the United States has used this conservative religious right movement as a way to support its expansionist policies in countries that have oil resources and also are largely Islamic.In my book I talk quite a lot about the experience I had with the Indonesian young people and how back in 1971 they referred me to Al Toynbee’s book and also pointed out that even in 1971 they were saying that the big clash will be between Muslims and Christianity mainly because that’s the way the empire was going and it certainly seems that way to me. So I think some of this religious fervour is the result of the tremendous cynical exploitation of religion by the corporatocracy.

CN: In your book you mentioned an Indonesian young woman who said that the real target of America is actually the Muslim world. It almost seems incidental that most Muslim countries happen to have oil. Do you see this as a problem because the corporatocracy is so much linked to organized religion in America today? Do you see this as a troubling trend because faith is now walking hand in hand with economic interest?

JP: Well I think it’s very disturbing. I’m a great believer in faith and I’m a very spiritual person. I believe in prayer. I find it extremely disturbing when religion is used as a justification for war, for exploiting other people. I mean that’s totally inconsistent with every religious concept that I know and believe in, whether it’s Christian or Muslim or Hindu or animist, you know. It’s totally out of line with any form of spirituality. So, when religion is called upon to support war or exploitation of resources, it’s a terrible thing. And I do think that that is happening amongst certain parts of the population in the United States and undoubtedly elsewhere.Don’t you think it’s significant that we haven’t attacked Venezuela? And Venezuela is a Catholic and Christian country and comes from a very similar tradition to ours. We haven’t attacked Cuba even though every president of the United States since Kennedy— since Eisenhower in fact—has railed against Castro and Cuba. There was the Bay of Pigs but other than that… Yet we’re very quick to go into places like Iraq or African countries, places where people have a different view of religion than we do and come from a very different heritage and I think that’s very sad. I think that’s very, very disturbing.

CN: Do you see the possibility that if the American president were not Christian that things might change?(long pause)

JP: Ooh. You just shocked me. I… you know… I guess the answer I would have to that is that at this point in time I can’t possibly see the corporatocracy allowing anyone to become president of the United States who isn’t Christian. I think it’s extremely unlikely, unfortunately. I would love to see a President of the United States be non-white, non-male, non-Christian but I don’t see that as happening, at least not within the next 2 years.

CN: You say that you don’ think the corporatocracy would “allow” that. How much influence or direct intervention does the corporatocracy have in electoral procedures in the US?

JP: I think the corporatocracy has tremendous influence in electoral procedures in the United States. US elections are financed—high finance, tremendous amounts of money. And that all comes through the corporatocracy and they don’t allow anyone to make it to the nominee of either party—Democrat or Republican—who doesn’t meet with their approval.There’s tremendous indication that Carter, for example, was hand-picked by the corporatocracy because they knew that after what happened to Nixon that Ford was not going to be elected. They knew that no Republican was going be elected. When Nixon resigned the corporatocracy knew that a Republican was not going to be elected after that. And they felt that Carter was the least damaging Democrat they could have in office and then they could quickly replace him with another Republican. They certainly had tremendous control over Clinton. And I have no doubt that—there’s no question—both Gore and Kerry met the standards of the corporatocracy. They were both approved by the corporatocracy. The corporatocracy has tremendous control over the electoral system in our country and a lot of that simply comes from the fact that it costs a fortune, a huge fortune to even run for president or to run for any major office in the United States.

CN: It makes sense to me now why you say the electoral process is not necessarily the answer because it’s clear that elections cannot, in any way, change the way the system is run. I am baffled as to how we are going to move beyond this if the whole world is built on one man, one vote? In parts of Asia where people are saying things are corrupt, it is always lauded that if we have fair elections things will change. But if that’s not the case then politically we’re screwed, not just economically.

JP: Well, we can change this. You’ve asked, does the corporatocracy control the elections. Yes. Does it have to, ultimately? No. We can change that. It’s been changed before in the history of the United States, for example, in the 1890s when William Jennings Bryant got the Democratic nomination. He lost the election but he ran on a very strong anti-corporate platform and he got the nomination for the Democrats and when Teddy Roosevelt became President, he implemented a lot of the things that’d been proposed by Bryant, like the Sherman Anti-trust Act. It also happened in the 1930s, a tremendous revolt when Franklin Roosevelt was elected President—it was a major change there.This can happen. We can change things. But what has to happen first is a redefinition of this dream of ours in this country where Americans and other people around the world, Malaysians and others, will decide we don’t want to continue with the system as it is, we need to move into a new realm, we need to move forward into a new system.

There were candidates available in the last elections of the United States that offered some real alternatives. Kucinich was one of them. I think Dean offered some real alternatives and he’s back in the system now. I think these are individuals that could be pushed by the people, if the people of this country really spoke out and said this is what we want, it can happen. I mean everybody has skeletons in their closets and the corporatocracy knows those skeletons. For sure George Bush has many skeletons in his closet but they don’t choose to expose those.Let’s for example say that I decided to run for President (laughs). Well I don’t intend to, believe me, but let’s say I did. Then they would start pulling out skeletons out of my closet you know.

They could, for example, pull out things I’d done with indigenous people and say I’m crazy. I’m a shaman and I’ve done all this crazy stuff with indigenous people and they could make it look very weird, easily. Couple of major articles in newspapers. And they could do the same thing with anybody who’s running. But at that point the candidate has to step forward and say, “Yes I did these things.” Including maybe stepping forward and say, “Oh yeah, I took drugs or I had extra-marital affairs with other women but that doesn’t mean anything as far as me being president. What I’m going to do for you as president is I’m going to save the world. I’m going to paint a new vision. Together we’re going to march into this world and we’re gonna create a world where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness becomes a reality for everybody. And rather than… who was it?… Franklin Roosevelt, I guess, who said a chicken in every pot—well, I think that was very materialistic. We’d gone through the Depression; people needed that. But now what we say is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in every heart, basically. That’s what it’s going to take.

What I’m talking about here is we must have a change of consciousness from the grassroots. It’s not going to be from the top that the change is going to come. It’s not going to be a president or corporate leader or anybody else in any country. It’s gonna be from the bottom.

Gorbachev did not create the change in Russia. The change of consciousness that went on in Russia brought Gorbachev to power. And that’s going to be true everywhere. Franklin Roosevelt did not create change in this country. It was the desire for change that brought Franklin Roosevelt to the presidency.

CN: How would you imagine that some of that grassroots work would actually occur, short of going from door to door?

JP: I have a book that’s only been out since November, in its ninth printing. It’s on every bestseller list in the United States. You’re hearing about it in Malaysia. I was on the BBC the other day and it’s not even available in England yet. I’ve been on major Brazilian television shows and German shows. It’s getting out there even though the mainstream media won’t touch it. I haven’t been on the Today show or Good Morning America or 60 Minutes or Oprah. (laughs) I haven’t been on any of those shows. Yet the book is going around. I’ve been told that everybody in the United Nations and the World Bank is reading the book right now. So, I have great faith.

I think we have a communication system through the internet now that’s open to everybody. There’s some people who don’t have the internet yet but pretty soon they’ll all have the internet. And this is part of where the hope comes from, I think.The mass media has become irrelevant. It’s a form of entertainment. In the United States, the nightly news and the morning programs on the major networks are pure entertainment. They’re not news at all. They say they’re news but they’re not news. You’re writing news.

Amy Goodman on Democracy Now—she’s reaching around the world. She’s news. She does in-depth reporting. Yesterday she had an amazing panel discussion on the internet about Syria and Iraq and all the Middle East with 3 men who represented very diverse views. That’s news. It’s available around the world now. Who cares what CBS or NBC or ABC are doing? They’ve become irrelevant except as a form of entertainment. And they’re even becoming less and less relevant as a form of entertainment as cable networks get out there. So things are changing rapidly. I do believe that the message gets out. It’s why I wrote my book. It’s why you’re writing an article about the book, why you do what you do. Every single day I average about 7 radio programs. I do it right here from my telephone. But none of them are on the major networks but they’re still reaching millions of people. In the United States right now—I don’t know about Malaysia—there’s a tremendous alternative media: radio, press, internet, that reaches a lot of people. So that makes me optimistic.

CN: I’ve heard stories about threats to your life. Is that still happening? Has there been any official response from the American government about your book?

JP: No. You know, Gandhi said, first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you, and then you win. Well, I just hope I live long enough to make it to the last part. (laughs)

At this stage they’re ignoring me and I’m very aware that there’s going to be possibility that they will attack me at some point, either physically or verbally or both. I think that’s very likely to come but you know, I’m 60 years ago. I have a 22 year old daughter. I don’t know whether I’m going to live another day or another 30 years. But I do know that when I’m on my deathbed I wanna look back and say, “During my last moments I did everything I possibly could to make this a better world for my daughter and her brothers and sisters all around the world.”
This interview appeared for the first time in Off The Edge, April 2005 issue.



Anonymous said...

There were other sources of money for the baron and baroness of was told by a writer during one of the OCA affair I attended....that the pioneering tycoons of USA, those who raked in money from all fronts like building the railroad from east to west...also made more money than they ever could trading opiums to opium traders in China (mostly Europeans who were there...), which made it easier for them to divide China for themselves.


Anonymous said...

Nice find. It seems implied that Pinas is under tusteeship in the past like --see page 7 and I wonder if we ever got out of it.

Under trusteeship, leaders are just figureheads. I tend to agree with John's outlook going forward but hope it does not come that soon.


Bert M. Drona said...


Thanks for your response.

Strictly speaking, the term trustees implies planning, deciding and acting on behalf of beneficiaries, i.e. the Filipino people, which of course did not happen.

Anyway, trusteeship for our homeland is a misnomer. It's plain neocolonialism which evolved from the previous colonialism in our homeland by America. Then and now beneficiaries are the American transnationals in cahoots with the local/other foreign businessmen and politicians.

Yes that piece you linked regarding Korea is informative. Note that their Korean nationalism, the seed of which in recent 20th century history was fortified with the the blood of their young students and people, propelled them to national unity and economic progress in the present.

As to our homeland, unless the majority of the populace are made to raise their national consciousness and thus gain national unity and united action fundamental changes for the generations of Filipinos, for their common good will never come to fruition.

Bert M. Drona said...


Oh yeah. That's mainly part of the reason why the "Righteous & Harmonious Fists" movement, aka in western world as "Boxers" led to the "Boxer Rebellion" at the turn of the 20th century happened.

With their homeland being divided into "spheres of influence" by foreigners (Europeans, US and Japan), Chinese nationalism, that is national pride, unity and action, in mid-19th century started to blossom.

After the defeat of the Boxers by the combined foreign troops, "Open Door Policy" formulated by America was forced on the Chinese which furthered the parcelling of China by foreigners.

In reaction, nationalism slowly but strongly began with Sun Yat Sen. Thereafter they planned and fought to free China from foreign control.

The Chinese under Chiang Kai Shek then Mao Tse Tung were successful by 1949 in kicking out the foreigners and control their own destiny.

Post WW2, our homeland has started to be parcelled out by foreigners lead by local American businessmen, US and Japanese TNCs, their local Chinese and native partners; most especially via the WTO signed by President Fidel Ramos in 1995 and reinforced by the subsequent regimes of Estrada and now, Macapagal-Arroyo.

American and foreign business interests are overtly protected by Philippine-based US troops in the past, though now under the guise of VFA ostensibly to fight terrorism. Note that the US even labels the NPA and MILF as "terrorists: to rationalize their agenda.

Maybe we may need the abuse and insults by foreigners to our patrimony and people before we, majority of Malay Filipinos, begin to open our eyes and assert our sovereignty within our borders.