Bechtel And Blood For Water:
What the past month has revealed is the total and
rotten corruption on which the new world order is based.
By Vandana Shiva
05/12/03: (ZNet) Within a month of the start of the war against Iraq,
the real victor is emerging. Bechtel has got a $680 million contract
for "rebuilding" Iraq.
The U.S. led war first bombed out Iraq's hospitals, bridges, water
works, and now U.S. corporations are harvesting profits from
"reconstructing" a society after its deliberate destruction.
Blood was not just shed for oil, but also for control over water and
other vital services. In a period of declining economic growth and a
slowing down of the globalization juggernaut, war has become a
convenient excuse for enlarging corporate rule. If W.T.O. is not
enough, use war.
This seems to be the underlying economic and political philosophy of
the neo-conservatives ruling the U.S. and trying to rule the world.
What the past month has revealed is the total and rotten corruption on
which the new world order is based.
As Bob Herbert states in "Ask Bechtel what war is good for"
(Herald Tribune, April 22, 2003 p6)
Somewhere George Shultz is smiling
Shultz, whose photo could appropriately appear next to any definition
of the military-industrial complex, was secretary of state under
President Ronald Reagan and has been a perennial heavyweight with the
powerful Bechtel Group of San Francisco, where he previously reigned
as president and is now a board member and senior counselor.
Unlike the anti-war soul singer Edwin Starr -- who, in an ironic bit
of timing, went to his eternal reward this month just as U.S. ground
forces were sweeping toward Baghdad -- Shultz knows what war is good
And he wanted this war with Iraq. Oh, how he wanted this war. Shultz
was chairman of the fiercely pro-war Committee for the Liberation of
Iraq, which was committed to moving beyond the political liberation of
the oil-rich country to the conveniently profitable
"reconstruction of its economy."
Under the headline "Act Now; The Danger Is Immediate,"
Shultz, in an op-ed article in The Washington Post last September,
wrote: "A strong foundation exists for immediate military action
against Hussein and for a multilateral effort to rebuild Iraq after he
Gee, I wonder which company he thought might lead that effort.
Last week Shultz's Bechtel Group was able to demonstrate exactly what
wars are good for. The Bush administration gave it the first big Iraqi
reconstruction contract, a prized $680 million deal over 18 months
that puts Bechtel in the driver's seat for the long-term
reconstruction of the country, which could cost $100 billion or more.
Bechtel essentially was given a license to make money. And that
license was granted in a closed-door process that was restricted to a
handful of politically connected U.S. companies.
Saddam's dictatorship is being replaced by U.S. corporate dictatorship
-- with little distinction left between those who sit in board rooms
and those who sit in White House, Pentagon and other institutions of
Non-transparency and corruption
China's non-transparency has been highlighted in the case of SARS.
Bechtel getting the first contract for Iraq's reconstruction is a
glaring example of the non-transparency, secrecy and corruption
through which corporate rule is established.
Whether it is water privatization contracts in Bolivia or India, or
"reconstruction" contracts for Iraq, secrecy and lack of
democracy and transparency characterizes the methods for gaining
markets and profits. "Free trade" is clearly totally unfree.
It is coercive, corrupt, deceitful and violent. Corporate rule is not
an alternative to Saddam style dictatorship. It is replacing one
dictatorship with another -- the dictatorship of corporations which
have hijacked state power and use military might to grab markets.
The intrinsic dishonesty and deceit of corporate dictatorship seems to
not be apparent to those who impose it in the name of "operation
Iraqi freedom". This seems to arise from a fundamental confusion
about freedom and creation.
When the 7000 year history of Mesopotamia was destroyed in the
presence of U.S. military, Ronald Rumsfeld's na´ve and irresponsible
comment was -
Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad
On this logic, the terrorists who crashed planes into the World Trade
Centre towers were exercising a legitimate freedom to "commit
crimes and do bad things". And on the same logic that made the
U.S. military presence a mute spectator allowing Baghdad and its
historical treasures to be looted, the U.S. had no right to start a
war against terror after 9/11.
Just as there is confusion about what human freedom entails among
those trying to create "freedom" for others through war,
there is confusion about reconstruction and "destruction".
What happened in Iraq was destruction. It is being referred to as
reconstruction. Innocent people were killed, thousands of years of
civilisational history was destroyed and erased. Yet, Jay Garner - the
retired U.S. General appointed unilaterally as head of office for
Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, talked about "giving
birth to a new system in Iraq".
Bombs do not give "birth" to society. They annihilate life.
New societies are not "born" by destroying the historical
and cultural legacy of ancient civilizations.
May be the choice to allow destruction of Iraq's historical legacy was
a pre-requisite for this illusion of giving "birth" to a new
May be the rulers in U.S. do not perceive these violations because
their own society was built on the genocide of native Americans.
Annihilation of the "other" seems to be taken as
"natural" by those controlling power in the world's lone
super power. May be the perception of the deliberate destruction of a
civilization and thousands of innocent lives as a "birthing"
process is an expression of the western patriarchy's "illusion of
creation" which confuses destruction with creation and
annihilation with birthing.
The "illusion of creation" identifies capital and machines,
including war machines as sources of "creation" and nature
and human societies, especially non-western societies as either dead,
inert, passive, or dangerous and cannibalistic. This worldview creates
the "white man's burden" for liberating nature and our
societies even with violence, and seeing it as the "birth"
Whatever the deeper roots of establishing an economy of loot and
violence in Iraq in the name of "re-construction", the
profiteering from war by corporations like Bechtel confirms that war
is globalisation by other means. For people worldwide the challenge is
to converge the energies of the anti-globalisation movement, the peace
movement and movements for real democracy.
Our challenge is to reclaim the real meaning of freedom, rescuing it
from the degradations it has been subjected to by the doublespeak of
"free trade" and the doublespeak of "operation Iraqi
Freedom". The "freedom" being sought through free trade
treaties and rules of W.T.O. and the "freedom" resulting
from the Iraq war is freedom of corporations to profit. This freedom
is a license to loot. And corporate loot and corporate freedom is
destroying democracy and freedom for people and societies.
The new freedom people seek worldwide is freedom from corporate
dictatorship facilitated and enabled by militarism and war.
This is as important for citizens of Iraq and other countries invaded
by global corporations under the protection of military or "free
trade" treaties, as it is for the citizens of the U.S.
The Bechtel contract, and the Iraq war which created the opportunity
for profits in "reconstruction" have thrown up issues of
lack of democracy transparency and accountability in the way economic
and political decisions are made by a U.S. administration which has
become indistinguishable from U.S. corporations. A regime in which
governments became instruments of corporate interest is no longer a
democracy. Instead of governance being "of the people, by the
people, for the people", governance becomes "of the
corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations".
For democracy to thrive a "regime change" is urgently
needed, in the U.S., in Iraq, and in every country where corporate
dictatorship is getting entrenched.
Bechtel in Bolivia
The most famous tale of Bechtel's corporate greed over water is the
story of Cochabamba, Bolivia. In the semi-desert region, water is
scarce and precious. In 1999, the World Bank recommended privatisation
of Cochabamba's municipal water supply company (SEMAPA) through a
concession to International water, a subsidiary of Bechtel. On October
1999, the Drinking Water and Sanitation Law was passed, ending
government subsidies and allowing privatization.
In a city where the minimum wage is less than $100] a month water
bills reached $20 a month, nearly the cost of feeding a family of five
for two weeks. In January 2000, a citizen's alliance called "La
Coordinara" de Defense del Aqua y de la Vida (The Coalition in
Defense of Water and Life) was formed and it shut down the city for 4
days through mass mobilisation. Between Jan and Feb 2000, millions of
Bolivians marched to Cochabamba, had a general strike and stopped all
The government promised to reverse the price hike but never did. In
February 2000, La Coordinara organised a peaceful march demanding the
repeal of the Drinking Water and Sanitation Law, the annulment of
ordinances allowing privatization, the termination of the water
contract, and the participation of citizens in drafting a water
resource law. The citizens' demands, which drove a stake at corporate
interests, were violently repressed. Coordinora's fundamental critique
was directed at the negation of water as a community property.
Protesters used slogans like "Water is God's gift and not a
merchandise" and "Water is life".
In April, 2000 the government tried to silence the water protests
through market law. Activists were arrested, protestors were killed,
and media was censored. Finally on April 10, 2000, the people won.
Aquas del Tunari and Bechtel left Bolivia. The government was forced
to revoke its hated water privatisation legislation. The water company
Servico Municipal del Aqua Potable y Alcantarillado (SEMAPO) was
handed over to the workers and the people, along with the debts. In
summer 2000, La Coordinadora organised public hearings to establish
democratic planning and management. The people have taken on the
challenge to establish a water democracy, but the water dictators are
trying their best to subvert the process. Bechtel is suing Bolivians
and the Bolivian government, is harassing and threatening activists of
If we go by the lessons from Bolivia, Bechtel will try and control the
water resources, not just the water works of Iraq. If the
international community and the Iraqis are not vigilant, Bechtel could
try and own the Tigris and Eupharates, as it tried to "own"
the wells of Bolivia.
Bechtel and India
Bechtel enterprises, a privately held firm, is the world's largest
construction company, having been involved heavily in the US's
construction boom in the post WWII period. They are responsible for
over 19,000 projects in 140 countries, with operations on all
continents (save Antarctica). Bechtel is involved in over 200 water
and wastewater treatment plants around the world, in large part
through its subsidiaries and joint ventures such as International
Water (which is partnership of Bechtel, Edison of Italy, and United
Utilities in the UK).
In India Bechtel was involved in the Dabhol plant with Enron, and is
now involved in water privatisation of Coimbatore/Tirrupur as part of
a consortium with Mahindra and Mahindra, United International North
West Water. As with other water privatisation contracts, the contract
has not been made public. Business that can only be carried out behind
closed doors, under secrecy, does not promote freedom. It extinguishes
both freedom and democracy.
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