Last week, at Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, Adam Johnson and Jim Naureckas had a great piece on Duane Clarridge, Ben Carson’s foreign-policy adviser. Clarridge is an Iran/Contra veteran, in charge of Reagan’s CIA in Latin America during the 1980s when the United States was involved neck-deep with murderous dealings with drug runners, death squads, torturers, and fascists. Having, among other things, brokered money from South Africa to the Contras and came up with the lethal idea of mining Nicaragua’s harbor, Clarridge is part of that cohort of transnational spooks that ran operations in Cuba, Chile, Panama, southern Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. After the Cold War, some, like Clarridge, went private, creating corporate security and intelligence firms that profited on war in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Others, like Clarridge’s “close friend,” Ollie North, went on to Fox News.
It makes sense that Clarridge would be advising Carson. Iran/Contra was a galvanizing event for the New Right (as I tried to describe in Empire’s Workshop), creating a dense set of alliances that have endured to this day.
But beyond Iran/Contra, look closely enough at any prominent US politician and inevitably you will find some shady dealing involving Latin America. Each decade has its paradigmatic intrigue–a set of relationships that, taken collectively, capture the broader contours of US history since the 1960s, as it moved from Cold War Keynesianism to neoliberal dispossession, from Clarridge to a new global political economy that Bill and Hillary Clinton helped put into place.
In the 1960s, after the Cuban Revolution, CIA and FBI agents often coordinated their activities with anti-Castro Cuban exiles. The Cuban Revolution had the effect of dispersing throughout Latin America and Florida criminal activity (especially narcotics) that had previously been concentrated on the island, creating a transnational logistical infrastructure that could be activated as needed (most famously during Iran/Contra, when narcos both donated large sums of money to support the Contras and used their supply lines to arm the Reagan-backed anti-communist rebels).
As the 1960s shaded into the 70s, Richard Nixon and his associate Bebe Rebozo cultivated “extensive and close ties to the anti-Castro Cuban exile community in Miami,” including with a number of dicey real-estate developers (including one who brokered Nixon’s purchase of his Key Biscayne house). Among them were Bernard Barker and Eugenio Martínez, two of the Plumbers who would break into the Watergate Hotel. All told, four Cuban-Americans were convicted for that break-in; all four were employees of the CIA and all were involved in the earlier Bay of Pigs invasion.
In the 1980s, even as Clarridge was running covert operations in Nicaragua, Mitt Romney was tapping “rich Latin Americans, including powerful Salvadoran families living in Miami during their country’s brutal civil war” to capitalize Bain. “At the time,” writes the Los Angeles Times, “U.S. officials were publicly accusing some exiles in Miami of funding right-wing death squads in El Salvador. Some family members of the first Bain Capital investors were later linked to groups responsible for killings.” Bain was set up in 1984, at a moment when the Reagan administration was simultaneously executing its bloody war in Central America and beginning to dismantle the New Deal at home. Romney’s Bain played a key role in both: gutting domestic industry and channeling the rewards to oligarch families in Salvador funding the deaths squads. During Bain’s first decade–roughly overlapping with Salvador’s Civil War–the company paid out “a stunning 173% in average annual returns.”
In 2000, the Bush family drew on its own long-established ties (dating back at least to when George H.W. Bush headed the CIA) to right-wing Cubans when, with the help of the storied Nixon operative, Roger Stone, a mob of Cuban-Americans shut down the Miami-Dade presidential recount. Later in that decade, after Bush became president, torture techniques worked out in Latin America during the Cold War were applied to the “War on Terror.”
With Bain in the 1980s, profits from the gutting of the New Deal ran from the United States to El Salvador. But once Cold Warriors like Clarridge did their work disappearing, torturing, and otherwise suppressing the Latin American left, the stage was set for an unprecedented transfer of wealth from south to north, under the broad rubric of “free-trade,” privatization, intensified resource extraction, currency manipulation, and debt.
Today, Marco Rubio serves as a front for, among other things, vulture-fund investor Paul Singer. In the 1990s, Singer (who supported Romney in 2012) bought heavily into Latin American debt: His “fund is widely considered a pioneer in the business of buying up sovereign bonds on the cheap, and then going after countries for unpaid debts;” Singer’s “aggressive pursuit of the Peruvian government and its success in getting the Latin American country to pay up more than it wanted to pay set the model for a lucrative business.”
Singer (with Rubio’s help on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) has been in the lead in trying to force Argentina, which defaulted in 2001 and subsequently successfully restructured its debt, to pay “full recovery of the face amount.” Singer (who also extorted $90,000,000 from one of the poorest countries on earth, the Republic of Congo, on bonds he bought for less than $20,000,000) has been “Rubio’s second largest source of campaign contributions between 2009 and 2014.”
Then there’s Hillary Clinton. As Ken Silverstein reported last week, the Clintons are involved in all sorts of shady dealings in Colombia, all made possible by policies Bill Clinton put into place while in office.
In 2000, just before leaving the White House, Clinton ratcheted up military aid to Colombia. Plan Colombia, as the assistance program was called, provided billions of dollars to what was, and remains, the most repressive government in the hemisphere. The effect was to speed the paramilitarization of the country, with government- and military-allied death squads penetrating the intelligence services, judiciary, municipal government, legislature, and executive branch. Washington money effectively subsidized the narco-right to preside over an enormous land grab. According to the US government’s own figures, “in rural areas, less than 1% of the population owns more than half Colombia’s best land.” “Torture, massacres, ‘disappearances,’ and killing of non-combatants” became routinized, with trade unionists, peasants, and Afro-Colombians the main victims. The CIA’s always-useful World Factbook says that a staggering 6.3 million Colombians have been internally displaced (IDP) since 1985, with “about 300,000 new IDPs each year since 2000”—the year Bill Clinton enacted Plan Colombia. Added up, that’s 2.4 million people during Clinton’s eight-year presidency.
The payoff from all this misery was substantial. Between 2002 and the 2008 financial crisis, foreign direct investment in Colombia increased fivefold, mostly in the petroleum, mining, and finance–that is, those economic sectors unleashed by the global deregulation that started under Reagan and continued by Clinton.
Then Hillary Clinton became secretary of state under Barack Obama. It’s hard to convey just how stunningly cynical she has been on Colombia: In 2008, running against Obama, she opposed, in unambiguous terms, a free-trade deal with Colombia. “Senator Clinton’s position is clear and unequivocal: She is opposed to the deal,” said a spokesperson. Yet even as she was telling voters she was against the deal, her chief adviser, Mark Penn, was meeting with Colombian officials to tell them otherwise. Then it was revealed that Bill Clinton was paid $800,000 by the Colombia-based Gold Service International to give four speeches in Latin America, in which he advocated for the free-trade agreement. “Estoy a favor,” he said. Once Hillary Clinton was appointed secretary of state by Barack Obama, she changed her position and pushed for the deal (Obama, too, reversed his campaign pledge). Celebrating the pact’s passage, she said that “by opening new markets to American exports and attracting new investments to American communities, our economic statecraft is creating jobs and spurring growth here at home.” Now she is repeating the exact same pirouette with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As secretary of state, she backed it. As candidate, she opposes it, “as of today.”
Here is Clinton laughing when asked by a reporter if there was a conflict of interest, considering that her husband’s well-compensated advocacy for the deal: “How many angels dance on the head of a pin?” Who knows? But we do know how many trade unionists have been executed since the 2011 congressional ratification of the treaty: 105.
Others, including Silverstein, provide all the baroque details of Bill and Hillary’s involvement in Colombia. They involve Fondo Acesso, a Colombian venture fund, and something called the Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative, all tangled up in a larger set of disclosures concerning taxes and contributions to the Clinton Foundation. One of the most sordid aspects of the Clintons’ Colombian connection is their friendship with the country’s former president Álvaro Uribe, a buffoonish sociopath best thought of as a Donald Trump if Donald Trump presided over a paramilitary army financed with billions of dollars provided by Bill Clinton. “Hard-nosed” is how Clinton described Uribe in her memoir, Hard Choices.
A major node in the Clinton-Colombia nexus is the Canadian Frank Giustra. There are wheels within wheels, but Giustra, one of the Clinton Foundation’s biggest donors and a major investor in Colombian oil, mining, ports, and timber, is exactly the kind of resource extractor made rich by the militarization and neoliberalization of Latin America, which Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have done so much to advance. Soon after Giustra acquired one of his major Colombian holdings, the petroleum company, Pacific Rubiales (founded by a number of anti-Chavista Venezuelans), the firm laid off 4,000 workers and started a campaign of intimidation against their union.
Yet “as Colombian oil money flowed to Clintons, State Department took no action to prevent labor violations,” as the headline of this very good report by Mathew Cunningham-Cook, David Sirota, and Andrew Perez published in the International Business Times notes.
Maybe the Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative can find them new work. Or maybe the Clinton Foundation might pay for the funerals of the 300 Colombian peasants killed so far in 2015.