Step 1 : Plot Global Corporate Coup. Step 2 : Call it Free Trade

CK Patton's Class War Chronicles

-In which we hack the moniker free trade and expose  the corporate media spin surrounding so called free trade agreements (FTAs) -

Capitalists, for the most part, don't care much for capitalism. Their goal is to make money.” - Alan Murray, Wall St. Journal

[NAFTA]  lacks...worker and environmental protections that are necessary for the long-term prosperity of both America and its trading partners.  I would therefore favor...a significant renegotiation of NAFTA and the terms of the President’s fast track authority. ”  US Senate candidate Barack Obama, 2003 

Five plus years into the Obama presidency, the promised review and reworking of NAFTA has not occurred - nor even been initiated.

Once again, progressive-sounding campaign promises pacified credulous liberals while, behind-the-scenes, work continued uninterrupted toward creating the ultimate global corporate state.

It's fashionable, these days, to bemoan the end of American political and economic hegemony, .

Less noted is the degree to which domestic trade and economic policy, carefully considered and constructed dating back to the days of the Federalist Papers, have ascended far beyond the legislative and judicial reach of American citizens - or the citizens of any country.

Not much has been done to create jobs during this Democratic administration. In spite of candidate Obama's acknowledgments of the documented devastation that so-called ‘free-trade agreements' (FTAs) visit upon American workers, the President, and the crony capitalists who backed his campaigns, continue to transcribe their increasingly brazen corporate wish-lists into 'free trade' deals.

The deals themselves are secretive, apparently such a good deal that no one should be able to know about, debate, or even read them.

To know what's coming, it's instructive to delve into the details of a few previous examples, and the context in which these "agreements," made under fast track authority, will occur :

A Review of the Most Recent FTAs

South Korea   - where the country's highest court recently demanded a judicial review of its participation in the Korea FTA. The words of its leading judicial critic are a shrill warning to what Americans may expect from such agreements :

“If [this] agreement comes in to effect in its current form, in cases where American investors initiate a dispute with the Korean government on the grounds that the agreement has been violated, jurisdiction will lie with a third party mediating body, rather than a Korean court,” said Lee Jeong-ryeol. He said that the investor-state dispute (ISD) settlement system would “strip Korean courts of their jurisdiction.”

Further describing the Investor State Dispute settlement system, the New York Times wrote , “their meetings are held in secret… but this international court, made up of a small number of people… can cancel the laws of a state, evaluate its judicial system, and challenge its environmental regulations.”

The South Korea FTA also has critics on this side of the Ocean, including United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard

Colombia  and Cafta-DR  present the challenge : what happens when you do trade deals in countries where basic human rights are not respected and political violence is the norm?

Colombia features a real-live human laboratory - Coca-Cola is one company that's huge there. And, as you may guess, the Coke guys are big free-traders. They love it so much in fact, that they recently spent nearly half a million bucks on federal political contributions, in addition to hiring a team of lobbyists from the former Boston-based PR agency Dewey Square Group "for communications work regarding climate change, trade and assorted industry issues."

Money like that buys access - and influence. Sometimes, a little more.

The ugly underbelly of power and influence is ruthlessness and violence. In the case of Colombia, for those who place themselves in the way of the global corporate state, the right to a safe existence becomes one more item on the list to be bartered away, like clean air and water.

Resistance can be deadly. The United States' new trading partner, in the aftermath of the newly signed Columbia FTA, didn't move towards democratic utopia, as FTA proponents often promise. In fact, during the first 10 months of the economic "modernizing" of Colombia's Santos administration, 104 labor and human rights activists were murdered.

A particular category of Columbia human rights abuse cases involves the murder of over 50 labor leaders, or those "from the legal left," at the hands of Colombian paramilitaries and death squads. The victims families have filed Federal lawsuits alleging involvement on the part of the  corporations who most benefit from operating in the reduced wage-worker rights free atmosphere. The Colombian families accuse some of the world's best known brands, including Dole, Coca-Cola, Drummond Coal, and Chiquita, formerly known as the United Fruit Company

Wiki descriptions are generic, so the actual details deserve space here. The plaintiffs (families) accuse Coke's business partners, their bottlers, of having "contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that utilized extreme violence and murdered, tortured, unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders."

Global analysts know well : what Central and South American countries lack in human rights guarantees they make up for in raw materials and natural resources. Both workers and land are available for exploitation, now on an internationally sanctioned scale.

Drummond Coal quickly inked a deal with banking buddies Bank of America Merrill Lynch in 2010 to expand their Colombia operations. Allegations of murder and mayhem soon followed, but don't worry, that's another thing the corporate lawyers are for.

Just as the mess was settled (the victims were rebuffed by a US federal court), and right after Congress finally implemented the long delayed Colombia FTA (the wait was due to labor rights violations), Drummond turned to more local  matters, leveraging its new deal to dump 450 Alabama coal miners from the Shoal Creek Mine while they were on vacation for two weeks.

Since then, Drummond has been in hot water for, well, making the water (and air) in Columbia hot. An enterprising Colombian photographer first captured images of the coal giant dumping coal into the ocean last year, an incident which the company termed "a regrettable industrial accident." Americans around the Gulf Coast are no strangers to those, either.

In January 2014, Drummond was caught on camera again, this time loading coal onto open air barges in violation of agreed-to environmental standards. The same photographer again distributed the images over social media, which resulted in Colombia's sudden suspension of Drummond's export privileges. He now travels with two armed bodyguards and wears a bullet-proof vest, given the life expectancy of those who protest the company's actions in Colombia.

Finally, let's not forget the United Fruit Company, who, though now extinct, made profound contributions to the legacy of "free trade" and cooperation between nations :

[United Fruit] had a deep and long-lasting impact on the economic and political development of several Latin American countries. Critics often accused it of exploitative neocolonialism and described it as the archetypal example of the influence of a multinational corporation on the internal politics of the banana republics.

The details include conspiring with the CIA to overthrow the democratically elected government of Guatemalan reformer Jacobo Arbenz,  which triggered a coup, launched publicly under the premise of a bogus arms shipment.

The fruit company feared, rightly, that the Arbenz administration's land reform would jeopardize its monopoly on the banana trade. Remember that line about capitalists preferring money to competitive capitalism?

Over the decades since the 1954 coup, Guatemala lurched from military dictatorship to dictatorship, and massacre to massacre, as the US-backed military (beginning immediately after Arbenz' departure) murdered hundreds of thousands of its own citizens. The genocide of the 70s and 80s occurred a mere 2 hour plane ride from Miami.

Decades later, when the skeletons were unearthed, former Guatemalan General and President Rios Montt was convicted in the first international human rights trial of its kind.  The verdict was then upended, with the case now postponed to 2015.

To discover what Mont's US-trained elite battalion did in Dos Erres, among  many other mountainous Guatemalan villages  - under the orders of - in former US President Ronald Reagan's words - "a man of great personal integrity . . . totally dedicated to democracy" - requires the stomach for the details.

The documentation of the crimes against humanity -  US President Bill Clinton issued a formal apology in 1999 for US involvement - had been carefully provided, over the years, to Amnesty International and various other human rights organizations, congressional committees, and now Guatemalan tribunals.

However, Montt will be close to 90 before the victims can again attempt to hold him accountable. His elite military staff, all trained in the United States, at the  School of the Americas, may never be held accountable, according to the School of the America's Watch. (At least one of the murderers was stopped at LAX when he tried to enter the United States,  four of the soldiers who helped carry out the atrocity collectively received 6,060 years in prison.)

Photograph : Prensa Libre, Guatemala City "How to Nail a Dictator" via granito, Facebook

Today, Guatemala has its own trade regimen, the above mentioned Cafta. With 5 decades of genocide behind it, it's following the usual Western prescriptions for growth and prosperity, which read like the playbook for the corporate FTA's the President seeks to extend around the world:

  •   Liberalizing the trade regime
  •   Financial services sector reform
  •  Overhauling [Guatemala's] public finances
  •  Simplifying the tax structure, enhancing tax compliance

  •  Adopting a goal of concluding treaties to protect investment and intellectual property rights

  • Improving the investment climate through procedural and       regulatory simplification 

The advocates of such agreements argue strenuously for their "modernizing" and "democratic" effect.

In their PR spin, they equate deregulated markets that benefit corporate bottom-lines to be of global benefit. Somehow, in this fairy tale, countries that subject themselves to endless teams of financiers, bankers, corporate, and IP lawyers magically transform themselves into economic and democratic paradises, all while the world's corporations grow ever more profitable (see Where do All Those Profits Go?)

While the rhetoric sounds tired in the US, the slogans carry more bite in countries that have lived under the US carrot and stick policy, of which FTAs are merely the latest extension.

To calculate the benefits, you don't need to be a scholar of economics or policy, just use a few quick key strokes to the latest wiki description of Guatemala, which, without irony, cites the CIA's World Fact Book as its main data source:

Guatemala is becoming more globalized and is growing with an annual GDP growth of 5% in 2006, 6% in 2007, 3% in 2008, 1% in 2009, 3% in 2010 and 3% in 2011[13] but high poverty levels still persist.[14] Guatemala is the biggest country in Central America and has one of the highest disparities between rich and poor as well as one of the highest poverty levels worldwide, with 54% of the population living below the poverty line in 2006 and 54% in 2011

So who benefits? Some of the nation's largest retail and apparel companies for one. Wondering who? Just turn that blouse or sweater inside out and check the tag, and you'll discover various suppliers from all over Central and South America.

Back then, the official justification was "stopping the spread of communism," alleged to be "Soviet-sponsored." Funny how those most impacted now lead the global resistance to FTAs, and are nearly always indigenous peasants who stand to lose their land - through appropriation or contamination -  and end up in garment factories.

Peru Every US administration advances the cause of global corporatism its own way, choosing various regions around the world for its FTA of choice (ever notice how these agreements continue from Administration to Administration?)

While the case of Peru featured the usual concerns over worker oppression, child labor, and dispossessed peasants, it also included a timely domestic concern -  this time in the realm of national security. Anyone remember the brouhaha over the 2006 Dubai Ports Controversy?

Discerning readers may recall the general shock and outrage over former President George W. Bush's attempt to hand security of 6 United States' critical ports to a state-owned company based in the United Arab Emirates. The move seemed like madness on the heels of 9-11 (especially given the TSA frisks Americans were being subjected to).  Since 2001, Dubai and the UAE had been linked extensively to the  9-11 attackers, as well as loads of illicit transactions used to finance terror. None of this swayed the Bush administration however. Even after the United States Coast Guard expressed  concerns to DHS.

photo : Jim Watson, Getty Images

In this case, since the purchasing company was a friend of a friend of a sitting US President, the deal was urged forward, over the objections of  the US Homeland Security chair, US Sen Susan Collins (R-ME) whose statement read in part :

"[A] careful review of the 'assurances letter' reveals that DP World is not, in fact, bound to provide the U.S. government with the information it would need to close the intelligence gaps the Coast Guard identified...The language is weak... Indeed, the assurances appear to amount to little more than a restatement of what the FBI or other law enforcement agenc[ies] could gather anyway in the course of an investigation."[15]

What does all this have to do with a Peru FTA?

Not much, except that one of the concerns expressed in opposition was that the Andean country's FTA could be used to sidestep the US Congress ruling  that had ultimately blocked  ownership of the 6 US ports by DP World.

In other words, what the representatives of the United States decided, in the interests of national security, could be effectively thrown-out, since DP World is, in fact, incorporated in Peru. The wishes of the American citizenry would not matter a wit. Under an FTA, any legislation may be challenged in an international trade court, well beyond US legal jurisdiction.

The Panama - United States Trade Promotion Agreement  - Any consideration of Panama leads squarely back to the US history in the Central American region.

US-Panama relations have been fraught with tension since the early days of the Hay-Bunua- Variulla treaty, which ceded control of the Canal Zone to the United States in perpetuity, in exchange for annual payments.( Interestingly, Panama was peeled off from its original country, Colombia, with US support in 1903).

The political dichotomy created by this arrangement led to rising tensions in and around the zone culminating in the death of 23 Panamanians and 4 or 5 Americans during demonstrations in 1964 that became known as "Martyrs' Day."Given the bloody aftermath, the US decided to renegotiate and hand control back to the Panamanians in a new set of treaties.

Panama's then leader, General Manuel Noriega, a School of the Americas-trained dictator, had been on the CIA payroll for a number of years, engaging in drug trafficking, money laundering, and the occasional murder of a political opponent. Noriega eventually became more trouble than he was worth to the United States, resulting in a US invasion that cost over 3,500 Panamanian lives ( the accurate death toll came years later) and provoking an international outcry over US aggression.

The 1988 Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations concluded:

"The saga of Panama's General Manuel Antonio Noriega represents one of the most serious foreign policy failures for the United States. Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, Noriega was able to manipulate U.S. policy toward his country, while skillfully accumulating near-absolute power in Panama. It is clear that each U.S. government agency which had a relationship with Noriega turned a blind eye to his corruption and drug dealing, even as he was emerging as a key player on behalf of the Medellín Cartel."

Why did then Vice-President and former CIA director George H W Bush and his cohorts choose to overlook Noriega's drug-running, murderous ways for so long? Because at the time, Panama was required to support President Reagan's pet cause, the Nicaraguan contras, again on the flimsy public pretext of stopping "communism."

Photograph: Sygma/Corbis

In Nicaragua, like Guatemala and El Salvador, the murder and mayhem were widespread, internationally known, and nearly destroyed the country and its people. For the specifics, from Human rights watch :

 ...the Contras were guilty of targeting health care clinics and health care workers for assassination; kidnapping civilians; torturing and executing civilians, including children, who were captured in combat; raping women; indiscriminately attacking civilians and civilian homes; seizing civilian property; and burning civilian houses in captured towns

To respond, the Nicaraguan government did not cite its need to defend itself and launch civilian bombings against the United States; it pursued justice through the International Court of Justice, winning compensation for the civilian victims. Unfortunately for the victims, the US blew the ruling  off and to this day has never paid up.

At the same time, just prior to the Panama invasion and likely for his own reasons, Noriega began to demonstrate too much independence, refusing to support the US proxy effort against the hated (democratically-elected) Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Like former CIA ally Saddam Hussein before him, Noriega became a rogue element, defying and thumbing his nose at his former employers.

Ongoing fall-out from the 1989 invasion, and resentments from the entire US legacy in Panama, figured prominently in the objections to the Panama - US free trade promotion agreement. In 1992, disaster struck again. This time, a humvee carrying US Marine Sgt. Zak Hernández Laporte was ambushed by gunmen, resulting in his death and seriously wounding his passenger, Sgt Ronald T. Marshall. The incident took place on the eve of a scheduled visit by President George H W Bush.

Put short,  the old way was to set up a bank and launder the money through it for rich guys who could then finance whatever terror operation they had going (see : BCCI, the criminal bank that helped Lt. Col Oliver North finance the contras and, regrettably, the Afghan Mujahideen, the organization of  former CIA weapons beneficiary and infamous mass murderer, Osama Bin Laden ).

Then, the urban poor and landless peasants, be they in Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia or Peru, could be controlled by US trained and backed battalions or proxy armies.

Those same groups of citizens remain under attack by today's "modernized" trade agreements. Combine the esoteric, arcane financial maneuvaring of today's unleashed banks with a globalized and thoroughly deregulated financial environment and you get the idea behind the TPP.  Hence, the concerns raised by citizens in each of the FTAs cited above.

The fact is, in terms of size and scope, the agreements mentioned above have been light warm-ups compared to the two larger NAFTA-style agreements in active negotiation that will further the corporate confiscation of public prosperity. In Part 2, we will look at how and why the term 'Free Trade’ is pure corporate propaganda, in the context of :

1 - The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

2 - The Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA)

Resources :

14 trade agreements have not become law in the last ten years because of citizen opposition, preventing countries from reaching agreement. Opposition comes in the United States and from around the world, as citizens increasingly make common cause over the economic shifts that will impact their lives irrevocably. The best disinfectant for these grimy trade deals is sunshine. Let your Senators and Congresspeople know that granting Fast Track authority to the president is a non-starter - and demand that both the TPP and TAFTA be debated out in the open.  Keep track of your representative on Fast Track here:


And a parting gift : here is the full list of ‘corporate advisors’ to the TPP – those who can see and propose amendments to the deal, something neither you nor I nor Congress is permitted to do.


Other noted corporatized TPP advocates you may also want to contact:

·  The NY Times editorial board

·  John Kerry

·  Senator Orrin Hatch

·  Senator Robert Menendez

·  The House New Democrat Coalition

oIncludes so-called liberals Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Rush Holt

And some further resources and toolkits for getting organized against the TPP.

Send Ideas for this space to CK Patton

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