"The Noose"

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Posted by Lilly from ? ( on Wednesday, September 18, 2002 at 1:00PM :

This happens everywhere... & Bush et al. are waiting for it to happen to a post-war Iraq.
October 2002 issue

The Upside-Down World
Eduardo Galeano

The Noose

Are we so easily moved? President Bush was moved by the drama of Uruguay, though there is no indication that he could find our country on the map. Was he overcome by the spirit of abnegation of our president, that good man always ready to serve in the line of fire against Cuba, Argentina, or whatever target the commanders fancy?

Who knows?

The fact is that Bush said: ''We must lend a hand.'' And immediately after, the international credit organizations, who serve the same function as the parrot on the pirate's shoulder, said exactly the same thing.

And so our legislators met, racing the clock, and by a majority--a majority deaf to any debate--they voted in a heartbeat for a law that would administer the coup de grace to Uruguay's state bank. The law was well founded: it was ''pass the law or kiss the money good-bye."

So people craned their the necks skyward searching for airplanes. The dollars didn't travel by plane, but they got there all the same. The U.S. ambassador, who doesn't speak a word of Spanish, said in Spanish, with one mistake: ''mil quinientos millones de dolores"--1.5 billion tribulations. His error revealed the truth.

The countries of Latin America won independence mortgaged to the bank of Britain. With time, we changed creditors. And now we owe much more. The more we pay, the more we owe; and the more we owe, the less we decide. Held hostage by foreign banks, we cannot even breathe without permission. Latin Americans live to pay the so-called ''debt service''--service of a debt that multiplies like rabbits.

The debt grows by four dollars for every dollar we receive, yet we celebrate each new dollar as if it were a miracle. As if the noose tightening about our necks could serve to raise us from the bottom of the well.

For four years, Uruguay has dedicated itself to ceasing operations as a country to become a bank with beaches. And the United States, through the mouth of its ambassador, has just confirmed for us this function and destiny.

So it goes with Uruguay. A service country, or a country that renounced being a country to enter the globalized world through the service entrance. A lovely way to integrate into the market, while disintegrating. The banks go bust while the bankers line their pockets. The government, governed, pretends to govern. Closed factories, abandoned fields; we produce beggars and police. And emigrants. In the dead of winter, all night long, people line up in the streets waiting for passports. The young leave for Spain, Italy, wherever they can, following the itinerary of their grandparents--in reverse.

Savings are the basis of the fortune of the bankers that usurp them. This movie house has been showing the same picture for years and years: banks emptied out by their owners, unpayable debts transferred to the entire society. Sheltered by the secrecy of banking, the magicians of finance disappear money like the military dictatorship disappeared people. Their successful racket leaves hordes of people with their savings ripped off swindles and as many employees in uncertainty, and a huge public debt that covers the fraud of a few.

Private banks, which were deserving of so many million-dollar bailouts, loan money to those who already have it and not to those who need it, growing more and more divorced from production and work--or what little production and work there still is. Yet this mind-blowing industry was just recompensed by the new law that decreed the death of the state bank.

If things go on like this, sooner than later the state companies may end up as our only negotiable currency as the unpayable foreign debt comes due. It will be something like the execution of the state, before a firing squad of its creditors. And it won't matter much then what the people think--the people, who in a plebiscite ten years ago voted 70 percent against privatizations.

More state, less state, almost no state at all? A state reduced to the functions of vigilance and punishment. Punishment of whom?

The international financial dictatorship requires the dismantling of the state, but only the elimination of public oversight could explain the scandalous impunity with which certain Uruguayan banks were plundered. ''The supervisors are not seers,'' said a deputy of the ruling party as justification. The ultimate responsibility for bank oversight lay with a brother-in-law of the president.

But most eloquent was the spectacular collapse of a few giant American companies. In the end, it happens in the country that imposes ''deregulation'' on other countries, or, to put it another way: It imposes the obligation to shut one's eyes to the perks and peccadilloes of the world of business. The US has produced the most colossal bankruptcy in history, confirmation that ''deregulation'' leaves one free to lie and steal on a gigantic scale. Enron, WorldCom, and other corporations could easily carry out their stupendous heists, passing off losses as earnings and making little accounting mistakes to the tune of billions of dollars.

The means recently announced by President Bush to straighten out errant executives and their accomplices are quite dangerous. If they are really applied, and retroactively, he and almost all of his cabinet will end up in prison.

How much longer will Latin American countries keep taking orders from the market as if it were their destiny? How much longer will we continue begging lined up with the other supplicants? When will we finally convince ourselves that indignity doesn't pay? Why do we not forge a common front to defend our prices, if we know we are being divided to be conquered and ruled. Why do we not join together against this usurious debt? What power will the noose have if it can't find the neck?

Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan journalist, is the author of "Memory of Fire" and "The Open Veins of Latin America." This article is published with the permission of IPS Columnist Service.

-- Lilly
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