Corruption and Its Uses, from Guatemala to Colombia

The US government and its corrupt financial system destabilize Latin America

Tortilla Con Sal

Ten years after Venezuela stopped cooperating with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 2005, corruption continues to be the most important tool in U.S. and allied efforts at destabilizing Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2007, Venezuela’s then Interior Minister Pedro Carreño declared “the United States with its Drug Enforcement Agency monopolizes drugs shipments like a cartel”. Venezuela suspended work with the DEA in 2005 because, Carreño said, “they were making large transfers of drugs using the cover of handovers under surveillance ” but did not carry out “arrests of citizens, the dismantling of a single cartel … We were able to determine that we were clearly in the presence of a new cartel.”

Corruption and Its Uses, from Guatemala to Colombia

Just as Britain and France developed and exploited the opium trade in the 19th Century, U.S. government agencies, one way or another, have always used narcotics and organized crime to further their political objectives. From Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky through Iran Contra and BCCI to Alvaro Uribe and the Colombian narco-paramilitaries, the U.S. authorities have always colluded with organized crime to attack their perceived enemies. A few persistent and courageous reporters and writers have documented that record, the most well known is perhaps Gary Webb who reported in depth on CIA involvement in cocaine trafficking by Nicaraguan paramilitary gangsters.

The broader history of U.S. government involvement in organized crime and narcotics since the Second World War has been meticulously researched by the Douglas Valentine. Thanks to his work and that of a few other writers, it is well established that the U.S. government and its allies routinely use corruption to suborn and compromise individuals they regard as both useful and susceptible. When they become difficult or unhelpful, the U.S. authorities abandon them. Currently, the U.S. authorities manipulate the motif of corruption to encourage false accusations against Latin American political leaders like, Diosdado Cabello in Venezuela, President Cristina Fernandez in Argentina and President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil. In fact, the U.S. government and its allies have used the right wing political opposition in those countries to entrench a corrupt political culture, precisely so as to block and hamper progressive change.

Media coverage of the soft coup in Guatemala has implausibly framed events there as if they were some kind of cathartic exorcism of a long standing political culture of corruption. But all that has happened points more to a no-holds-barred internal power struggle within the Guatemalan political, business and military elites, supported by their respective regional backers, changing practically nothing. Recent events have been a kind of extreme psycho-political burlesque in which the unaccountable UN created International Commission Against Impunity for Guatemala has again taken part in an irredeemably politicized criminal prosecution similar to its role in the case of Rodrigo Rosenberg that almost brought down then President Alvaro Colom in 2009.

Corruption cases are useful political opportunities for the destabilization agenda of the U.S. government in Latin America and the Caribbean because real or potential scandals catch people’s attention. A typical corruption scandal can be managed so as to provoke very damaging political varieties of doubt, suspicion, uncertainty and division by means of sensationalist manipulation, omission, obfuscation and deception. A cursory look at events elsewhere in the region quickly shows how extremely selective corporate and alternative media coverage deliberately omits relevant context more important than the selective details they choose to report. The border crisis between Venezuela and Colombia is another obvious case in point. But to get there we need to take the scenic route via Wall Street.

Western media sensationalize corruption scandals in Latin America, while tending to play down systemic fraud and impunity in the United States and Europe. Corruption like the massive robo-signing foreclosure fraud or the international LIBOR scam is reported as a regrettable but marginal aspect of the Western financial system. In fact, systemic corruption is a fundamental feature of contemporary Western finance capitalism. Too-big-to-fail banks are repeatedly found guilty of massive widespread corruption, facilitated by generally perfunctory media scrutiny, but they fly free, straight through the derisory web of desultory, unconvincing regulatory sanctions,

On the other hand, coverage of the Petrobras scandal in Brasil or various false scandalous accusations against the government of Argentina led by President Cristina Fernandez serve as basic inputs justifying very serious economic decisions to damage those countries’ economies. Last week the ratings agency Standard and Poor’s lowered Brasil’s credit rating on an assessment clearly based on political rather than financial or economic criteria. It is a mystery why Standard and Poor’s, Fitch’s, or Moody’s, the big three ratings agencies, enjoy any credibility outside Wall Street. They are funded by the very same financial and commercial entities they purport to be rating. They gave Triple A ratings to junk derivative investments that collapsed the world’s financial markets through 2007 and 2008.

Even so, those ratings agencies stay in business because they are vital to the Western dominated international financial organized crime network, enabling politically effective interventions by the United States and its allies around the world. In August 2014, during the long running judicial dispute between Argentina and extortionate U.S.-based vulture funds, another branch of the U.S. financial mafia, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, declared that Argentina had defaulted on its July debt payment. But Argentina had not defaulted at all. Its payment was ready to be made on schedule to eligible creditors but was blocked by a hostile U.S. court decision. Even so, the ISDA declared Argentina to have defaulted.

That move triggered potentially huge financial benefits to members of the ISDA responsible for making the decision, like Paul Singer’s Elliot Management Corporation which may very well have deliberately bet on such an event taking place. This is the same International Swaps and Derivatives Association that last week was part of an out of court settlement of US$1.87 billion to investors cheated out of billions of dollars after the ISDA and its accomplices dishonestly blocked them from dealing in swap instruments. It’s worth noting this was a civil action. The US regulatory authorities long ago gave up serious prosecution of too-big-to-jail banks and their financial institution cronies.

Among the ISDA’s fellow cheats were the Markit Group data providers and the following big banks: Bank of America, Barclays, BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, J.P. Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS. If those names sound familiar, the reason is that every single one of those banks is a consistent serial offender in one financial scandal after another. But they never suffer anything more than a cost-of-doing-business fine or out-of-court settlement and never ever with any acknowledgment of criminal wrongdoing.

All of these too-big-to-jail banks are members of the Federal Reserve’s Primary Dealer Network. That network is authorized to deal in U.S. government securities in the international markets which facilitate transactions coordinated by the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the Swiss National Bank, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan and the central banks of Canada and Australia. It may be too big a jump from the global arena of Central Banks straight into the border crisis between Venezuela and Colombia. So, instead, we can take a gentle hop into the impressive corporate offices of the big four global accounting agencies: Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG and Ernst and Young.

Together these agencies earn well over US$100 billion a year. They do so largely by organizing massively lucrative offshore investment structures of the very kind that lead to the collapse of Enron and WorldCom. Their devious, unscrupulous offshore accounting schemes facilitated the phony accounts using structured investment vehicles and special purpose entities in tax havens like the Cayman Islands fooling people that all was well prior to the catastrophic collapse of Lehman’s in 2008.

Back then, the Financial Accounting Standards Board, another regulatory body captured by the industry it purports to regulate, postponed a change in accounting rules that would have forced finance institutions to end the use of so-called special purpose entities. The change would have obliged corporate accountants to bring liabilities previously hidden away offshore back onto their companies’ balance sheets so as to give a genuinely true and fair view of companies’ finances. Off balance sheet entities are an important factor in the offshore financial paradise industry laundering trillions of dollars a year in illicit cash flows and tax avoidance. Financial paradises or tax havens come in various shapes and sizes, the Tax Justice Network Financial Secrecy Index lists 82.

The tiny Caribbean island of Anguilla is number 61 on that list. Anguilla, a British overseas territory with a population of around 14,000 people, has a GDP of just US$100 million. The curious thing about Anguilla, accounting for less than 1 percent of global financial services, is its astonishingly important role in the economy of Colombia. The Proexport Colombia agency reports that along with Panama and Bermuda (respectively 11 and 14 in the Tax Justice Network’s FSI) Anguilla, with 20 percent, contributed over 60 percent of Colombia’s Foreign Direct Investment in 2010. That figure has been maintained in recent years.

A Boston University research paper of May 2015 from its Global Economic Governance Initiative states in relation to Colombia’s foreign direct investment: “the majority of it comes from recognized tax havens: 33 percent from Panama, and 36 percent from Bermuda, Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, Barbados, and the British Virgin Islands. There is no doubt that the dynamism of these countries is a useful mechanism for eluding tax burdens, if not for clearly illegal activities, given the impossibility of identifying the origin of capital.”

A look at Colombia’s capital flows for September 2015 shows that Foreign Direct Investment, at over US$15 billion for the twelve months to July 2015 is a crucial counterweight to capital flight from Colombia, currently running at almost US$20 billion for the same period. If 69 percent of Colombia’s Foreign Direct investment is sourced from secretive tax havens, then the amount in cash terms is over US$10 billion whose origins are impossible to identify. That’s almost 3 percent of Colombia’s 2014 GDP and equivalent to almost 10 percent of the government’s 2015 budget of about US$108 billion.

With almost two thirds of the country’s foreign direct investment originating in opaque money laundering tax havens, it should come as no surprise that the Colombian government has done nothing to try and control paramilitary and contraband activity along its frontier with Venezuela. Even less surprising has been the false reporting by US media and dishonest interference from the US and other governments like that of Chile, another important source of foreign direct investment for Colombia. Foreign news media have almost completely failed to explain that Colombia has not met its international obligation to control criminal and paramilitary activity along its frontier with Venezuela.

Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega was putting it mildly when, at the recent Petrocaribe Summit in Jamaica, he declared that Colombia has no moral authority to call on international institutions to examine its accusations against Venezuela. He went on to insist that “the conflict engendered on the frontier between Venezuela and Colombia is a manipulation by the Empire (United States) to strike a blow against the Bolivarian Revolution.” President Ortega is correct. In 2013, the Washington Post wrote about US covert funding to Colombia, reporting “secret assistance, which also includes substantial eavesdropping help from the National Security Agency, is funded through a multibillion-dollar black budget. It is not a part of the public US$9 billion package of mostly U.S. military aid called Plan Colombia, which began in 2000.”

So not only do U.S. and allied financial interests corrupt Colombia’s economy and society by means of secret flows of unattributable money flowing in and out of Caribbean tax havens. The U.S. government too has purposefully corrupted Colombia through covert financial support for its meant-to-fail military and security policy. After fifteen years, Plan Colombia has effectively perpetuated Colombia’s civil war and nurtured the country’s lucrative narcotics industry. US official policy in Colombia, in Central America and the rest of Latin America has not changed since 1945. It continues to destabilize the region, facilitating U.S. corporate interests and US government influence by deliberately, but covertly, fomenting and exploiting division and corruption.