In terms of press freedom the USA languishes in 32nd place and given the level of Paranoia Displayed by the current government it is likely to drop further.
Press Freedom Index 2013
|8||New Zealand||8,38||+5 (13)|
|16||Czech Republic||10,17||-2 (14)|
|18||Costa Rica||12,08||+1 (19)|
|25||Cape Verde||14,33||-16 (9)|
|29||United Kingdom||16,89||-1 (28)|
|32||United States||18,22||+15 (47)|
|38||El Salvador||22,86||-1 (37)|
|41||Papua New Guinea||22,97||-6 (35)|
|44||Trinidad and Tobago||23,12||+6 (50)|
|46||Burkina Faso||23,70||+22 (68)|
|50||South Korea||24,48||-6 (44)|
|52||South Africa||24,56||-10 (42)|
|58||Hong Kong||26,16||-4 (54)|
|61||Sierra Leone||26,35||+2 (63)|
|65||Central African Republic||26,61||-3 (62)|
|68||Bosnia and Herzegovina||26,86||-10 (58)|
|76||Republic of the Congo||28,20||+14 (90)|
|80||Dominican Republic||28,34||+15 (95)|
|90||East Timor||28,72||-4 (86)|
|94||Northern Cyprus||29,34||+8 (102)|
|96||Ivory Coast||29,77||+63 (159)|
|114||United Arab Emirates||33,49||-2 (112)|
|116||Republic of Macedonia||34,27||-22 (94)|
|124||South Sudan||36,20||-13 (111)|
|142||DR Congo||41,66||+3 (145)|
|162||Sri Lanka||56,59||+1 (163)|
|163||Saudi Arabia||56,88||-5 (158)|
|166||Equatorial Guinea||67,20||-5 (161)|
|178||North Korea||83,90||0 (178)|
After the “Arab springs” and other protest movements that prompted many rises and falls in last year’s index, the 2013 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index marks a return to a more usual configuration.
The ranking of most countries is no longer attributable to dramatic political developments. This year’s index is a better reflection of the attitudes and intentions of governments towards media freedom in the medium or long term. The same three European countries that headed the index last year hold the top three positions again this year. For the third year running, Finland has distinguished itself as the country that most respects media freedom. It is followed by the Netherlands and Norway.
Although many criteria are considered, ranging from legislation to violence against journalists, democratic countries occupy the top of the index while dictatorial countries occupy the last three positions. Again it is the same three as last year – Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
“The Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“In dictatorships, news providers and their families are exposed to ruthless reprisals, while in democracies news providers have to cope with the media’s economic crises and conflicts of interest. While their situation is not always comparable, we should pay tribute to all those who resist pressure whether it is aggressively focused or diffuse.”
Coinciding with the release of its 2013 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders is for the first time publishing an annual global “indicator” of worldwide media freedom. This new analytic tool measures the overall level of freedom of information in the world and the performance of the world’s governments in their entirety as regards this key freedom.
In view of the emergence of new technologies and the interdependence of governments and peoples, the freedom to produce and circulate news and information needs to be evaluated at the planetary as well as national level. Today, in 2013, the media freedom “indicator” stands at 3395, a point of reference for the years to come.
The indicator can also be broken down by region and, by means of weighting based on the population of each region, can be used to produce a score from zero to 100 in which zero represents total respect for media freedom. This produces a score of 17.5 for Europe, 30.0 for the Americas, 34.3 for Africa, 42.2 for Asia-Pacific and 45.3 for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Despite the Arab springs, the Middle East and North Africa region comes last with 48.5.
The high number of journalists and netizens killed in the course of their work in 2012 (the deadliest year ever registered by Reporters Without Borders in its annual roundup), naturally had an a significant impact on the ranking of the countries where these murders took place, above all Somalia (175th, -11), Syria (176th, 0), Mexico (153rd, -4) and Pakistan (159th, -8).
From top to bottom
The Nordic countries have again demonstrated their ability to maintain an optimal environment for news providers. Finland (1st, 0), Netherlands (2nd, +1) and Norway (3rd, -2) have held on to the first three places. Canada (20th, -10) only just avoided dropping out of the top 20. Andorra (5th) and Liechtenstein (7th) have entered the index for the first time just behind the three leaders.
At the other end of the index, the same three countries as ever – Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea – occupy the last three places in the index. Kim Jong-un’s arrival at the head of the Hermit Kingdom has not in any way changed the regime’s absolute control of news and information. Eritrea (179th, 0), which was recently shaken by a brief mutiny by soldiers at the information ministry, continues to be a vast open prison for its people and lets journalists die in detention. Despite its reformist discourse, the Turkmen regime has not yielded an inch of its totalitarian control of the media.
For the second year running, the bottom three countries are immediately preceded by Syria (176th, 0), where a deadly information war is being waged, and Somalia (175th, -11), which has had a deadly year for journalists. Iran (174th, +1), China (173rd, +1), Vietnam (172nd, 0), Cuba (171st, -4), Sudan (170th, 0) and Yemen (169th, +2) complete the list of the ten countries that respect media freedom least. Not content with imprisoning journalists and netizens, Iran also harasses the relatives of journalists, including the relatives of those who are abroad.
Malawi (75th, +71) registered the biggest leap in the index, almost returning to the position it held before the excesses at the end of the Mutharika administration. Ivory Coast (96th, +63), which is emerging from the post-electoral crisis between the supporters of Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, has also soared, attaining its best position since 2003.
Burma (151st, +18) continued the ascent begun in last year’s index. Previously, it had been in the bottom 15 every year since 2002 but now, thanks to the Burmese spring’s unprecedented reforms, it has reached its best-ever position. Afghanistan (128th, +22) also registered a significant rise thanks to the fact that no journalists are in prison. It is nonetheless facing many challenges, especially with the withdrawal of foreign troops.
…and big falls
Mali (99th, -74) registered the biggest fall in the index as a result of all the turmoil in 2012. The military coup in Bamako on 22 March and the north’s takeover by armed Islamists and Tuareg separatists exposed the media in the north to censorship and violence. Tanzania (70th, -36) sank more than 30 places because, in the space of four months, a journalist was killed while covering a demonstration and another was murdered.
Buffeted by social and economic protests, the Sultanate of Oman (141st) sank 24 places, the biggest fall in the Middle East and North Africa in 2012. Some 50 netizens and bloggers were prosecuted on lèse majesté or cyber-crime charges in 2012. No fewer than 28 were convicted in December alone, in trials that trampled on defence rights.
Journalists in Israel (112th, -20) enjoy real freedom of expression despite the existence of military censorship but the country fell in the index because of the Israeli military’s targeting of journalists in the Palestinian Territories.
In Asia, Japan (53rd, -31) has been affected by a lack of transparency and almost zero respect for access to information on subjects directly or indirectly related to Fukushima. This sharp fall should sound an alarm. Malaysia (145th, -23) has fallen to its lowest-ever position because access to information is becoming more and more limited. The same situation prevails in Cambodia (143rd, -26), where authoritarianism and censorship are on the increase. Macedonia (116th, -22) has also fallen more than 20 places following the arbitrary withdrawal of media licences and deterioration in the environment for journalists.
Varied impact of major protest movements
Last year’s index was marked by the Arab spring’s major news developments and the heavy price paid by those covering the protest movements. A range of scenarios has been seen in 2012, including countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, where regime change has taken place, countries such as Syria and Bahrain where uprisings and the resulting repression are still ongoing, and countries such as Morocco, Algeria, Oman, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, where the authorities have used promises and compromise to defuse calls for political and/or social and economic change.
Some of the new governments spawned by these protest movements have turned on the journalists and netizens who covered these movements’ demands and aspirations for more freedom. What with legal voids, arbitrary appointments of state media chiefs, physical attacks, trials and a lack of transparency, Tunisia (138th, -4) and Egypt (158th, +8) have remained at a deplorable level in the index and have highlighted the stumbling blocks that Libya (131st, +23) should avoid in order to maintain its transition to a free press.
The deadliest country for journalists in 2012 was Syria (176th, 0), where journalists and netizens are the victims of an information war waged by both the Assad regime, which stops at nothing in order to crack down and impose a news blackout, and by opposition factions that are increasingly intolerant of dissent. In Bahrain (165th, +8) the repression let up slightly, while in Yemen (169th, +2) the prospects continue to be disturbing despite a change of government. Oman (141st, -24) fell sharply because of a wave of arrests of netizens.
Other countries hit by protests saw changes for the better and worse. Vietnam (172nd, 0) failed to recover the six places it lost in the previous index. The world’s second biggest prison for netizens, it has remained in the bottom ten. Uganda(104th, +35) has recovered a more appropriate position although it has not gone back to where it was before cracking down on protests in 2011. Azerbaijan (156th, +6) and Belarus (157th, +11) both fell last year after using violence to suppress opposition demonstrations and this year they just moved back towards their appalling former positions. Chile (60th, +20) is beginning to recover after falling from 33rd to 80th in last year’s index.
Political instability puts journalists in the eye of the storm
Political instability often has a divisive effect on the media and makes it very difficult to produce independently-reported news and information. In such situations, threats and physical attacks on journalists and staff purges are common. Maldives (103rd, -30) fell sharply after the president’s removal in an alleged coup, followed by threats and attacks on journalists regarded as his supporters. In Paraguay (91st, -11), the president’s removal in a parliamentary “coup” on 22 June 2012 had a big impact on state-owned broadcasting, with a wave of arbitrary dismissals against a backdrop of unfair frequency allocation.
Guinea-Bissau (92nd, -17) fell sharply because the army overthrew the government between the first and second rounds of a presidential election and imposed military censorship on the media. In Mali (99th, -74), a military coup fuelled tension, many journalists were physically attacked in the capital and the army now controls the state-owned media. This index does not reflect the January 2013 turmoil in the Central African Republic (65th, -3) but its impact on media freedom is already a source of extreme concern.
“Regional models” found wanting
In almost all parts of the world, influential countries that are regarded as “regional models” have fallen in the index. Brazil (108th, -9), South America’s economic engine, continued last year’s fall because five journalists were killed in 2012 and because of persistent problems affecting media pluralism. In Asia, India (140th, -9) is at its lowest since 2002 because of increasing impunity for violence against journalists and because Internet censorship continues to grow. China (173rd, +1) shows no sign of improving. Its prisons still hold many journalists and netizens, while increasingly unpopular Internet censorship continues to be a major obstacle to access to information.
In Eastern Europe, Russia (148th, -6) has fallen again because, since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency, repression has been stepped up in response to an unprecedented wave of opposition protests. The country also continues to be marked by the unacceptable failure to punish all those who have murdered or attacked journalists. The political importance of Turkey (154th, -6) has grown even more because of the armed conflict in neighbouring Syria but it has again fallen in the index. It is currently the world’s biggest prison for journalists, especially those who express views critical of the authorities on the Kurdish issue.
There is no comparison with South Africa (52nd, -10), where freedom of information is a reality. It still has a respectable ranking but it has been slipping steadily in the index and, for the first time, is no longer in the top 50. Investigative journalism is threatened by the Protection of State Information Bill.
Democracies that stall or go into reverse
The situation is unchanged for much of the European Union. Sixteen of its members are still in the top 30. But the European model is unravelling. The bad legislation seen in 2011 continued, especially in Italy (57th, +4), where defamation has yet to be decriminalized and state agencies make dangerous use of gag laws. Hungary (56th, -16) is still paying the price of its repressive legislative reforms, which had a major impact on the way journalists work. But Greece’s dramatic fall (84th, -14) is even more disturbing. The social and professional environment for its journalists, who are exposed to public condemnation and violence from both extremist groups and the police, is disastrous.
Japan (53rd, -31) plummeted because of censorship of nuclear industry coverage and its failure to reform the “kisha club” system. This is an alarming fall for a country that usually has a good ranking. Argentina (54th, -7) fell amid growing tension between the government and certain privately-owned media about a new law regulating the broadcast media.
Financial Empire may have reduced us all to debt prisoners, but we can still become the social protagonists of history’s greatest-ever prison break.
Let there be no doubt about it: we live in the era of Financial Empire. Unlike the military conquests that drove the territorial expansions of the empires of old, contemporary Financial Empire consists not in the highly visible exercise of a Big Stick ideology (although military imperialism undoubtedly continues today), but rather takes the shape of an Invisible Hand. Where in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the logic of domination was driven by the instrumental power of imperial states, the Empire of the 21st century no longer needs any sticks to enforce the submission of sovereign states: through the global enforcement mechanisms of market discipline and IMF conditionality, the structural power of finance capital now ensures that all shall bow before the money markets.
In The Accumulation of Capital (1913), Rosa Luxemburg noted that, “though foreign loans are indispensable for the emancipation of rising capitalist states, they are yet the surest ties by which the old capitalist states maintain their influence, exercise financial control and exert pressure on the customs, foreign and commercial policy of the young capitalist states.” So great was this financial control that in the First Wave of Globalization, which ran from 1870 until the onset of WWI in 1914, defaulting countries faced a 40 percent chance of being invaded, subjected to gunboat diplomacy, or having foreign control imposed on their domestic finances under threat of a naval blockade. In a telling and ironic sign of the times, even the Hague Peace Conference of 1906 recognized the legitimacy of the use of force in settling sovereign debt disputes.
Enforcing Debtor Discipline: the Era of Gunboat Diplomacy
The late 19th and early 20th century logic of imperialism thus took a military form that ultimately relied upon the instrumental power of the imperial states themselves. In 1882, for instance, following the Urabi revolt in Egypt, which had just deposed the French and British administrators who had taken control of Egypt’s finances in the wake of the 1870s debt crisis, Britain summarily invaded the country and incorporated it into the British Empire as a protectorate. Fast-forward some 130 years, and we have the foreign administrators of the IMF moving in on the heels of yet another popular uprising to make sure that Egypt does not default on its debts to Western banks. Today’s creditors no longer need to resort to the military force of their own governments to enforce their loan contracts: as a global disciplinarian, the IMF will do it for them.
The Ottoman Empire similarly defaulted in the 1870s, and although it was still powerful enough to withstand an outright European invasion, the Turkish government had to submit itself to a humiliating agreement with its foreign creditors: a Council of Foreign Bondholders, made up of representatives of the largest European banks, took control over its tax and customs offices. According to one member of the Council, Edgar Vincent, “There is no instance in which powers so extended have been granted to a foreign organization in a Sovereign state.” Fast-forward 130 years once more, and Turkey yet again finds itself in dire straits financially. The IMF is called upon in 1998 and thoroughly restructures the economy, marginalizing millions of poor Turks and leaving the Bretton Woods Project to conclude that, “over its long decade with the IMF, Turkey managed to replace public deficits with a democracy deficit.”
In 1898, Greece also fell under foreign financial control after defaulting on the debts it accrued during its war with Turkey. Mitchener and Weidenmier recount that, “As terms of the peace treaty, European powers were given authority to assume the administration of revenues on behalf of existing creditors and to effectuate payment of the war indemnity.” The historical parallels between the Greek debt crisis of 1898 and the one of today are striking. Since Germany had been the “major player in arranging the protection of foreign bondholders’ interests” in 1898, “it was given authority by the other European countries to come to terms with Greece about the operation and control over Greek finance as well as the terms of the debt settlement.” These terms were laid out in a new law; but, as Mitchener and Weidenmier stress, the approval of this law — just like today’s austerity memorandum — “was a sovereign act in appearance only.”
A few years later, in 1902, President Cipriano Castro of Venezuela refused to compensate European investors for the losses they made during the revolutionary upheaval that had brought him to power. The creditor response was swift and decisive: for four months, German, British and Italian gunboats shelled Venezuela’s coastal defenses and blockaded its main ports in order to force Castro to repay the debt in full. Two years later, largely in response to this blatant display of European imperialism in the Western hemisphere, President Theodore Roosevelt announced his infamous Roosevelt corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which held that — rather than having the European powers messing around in its backyard — the US would now enforce the legitimate debt contracts of European financiers in Latin America and the Caribbean itself. Announcing his new foreign policy doctrine, Roosevelt issued a thinly veiled threat to his neighbors: “If a nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States.”
A year later, in 1905, US Marines invaded the Dominican Republic after it tried to default on its debts, taking over the country’s customs revenues to ensure full repayment to private bondholders. Nicaragua befell a similar fate in 1911-’12. Fast-forward another couple of decades, to 1982, and the United States is once again mingling in the sovereign affairs of its Latin American neighbors, sending in the IMF and World Bank on behalf of powerful private creditors. In Venezuela, seven years of IMF-sanctioned austerity measures eventually reach a dramatic apotheosis in the massive Caracazo protests of February 27, 1989, in which hundreds of thousands demonstrate against cuts in fuel and food subsidies that are part of the government’s agreement with the IMF. This time around, instead of having to fall back onto the gunboats of the US government, Wall Street bankers can rely fully on the internalized debtor discipline of the Venezuelan government: security forces open fire on the protesters and kill over 3,000 people. The debt, of course, is largely repaid.
Enforcing Debtor Discipline in the Era of Financial Empire
Today, the imperial era of gunboat diplomacy may have come to an ignominious end, but the era of Financial Empire is still in full swing. What the ongoing European debt crisis confirms once more is that financial capitalism, once fully developed and globalized, has no need for debtors’ prisons, gunboat diplomacy or US marines to enforce debtor discipline. The iron bars of the debtors’ prison are replaced with the global flows of finance capital; the gunboats have long since made way for what Warren Buffet called the financial weapons of mass destruction; and the foreign administrators of tax and customs offices no longer wear military suits but carry IMF suitcases. Through its control over capital flows and its ability to withhold much-needed credit, the global bankers’ alliance (made up of the big banks and institutional investors, along with international financial institutions and the financial and monetary authorities of the dominant capitalist states) has obtained a form of structural power that allows it to discipline the behavior of indebted countries without having to resort to military coercion. It is this discipline enforced by global capital markets and financial institutions that forms the backbone of Financial Empire.
When talking about Empire, Hardt and Negri remind us, we should not be fooled into thinking that we are referring to a metaphor. It is not that the abolition of Greek monetary and fiscal sovereignty is somehow reminiscent of the Nazi invasion, as both left-wing and right-wing protesters in Greece seem to claim; unfortunately, the reality is both more complex and more subversive than that. Rather than falling into the trap of making simple historical allegories between the territorial empires of old and the Financial Empire of today, we should conceive of Empire as a concept; a concept which, in Hardt and Negri’s words, “is characterized fundamentally by a lack of boundaries.” In this sense, the rule of Financial Empire — unlike that of the Third Reich or the British Empire — has no limits. Unlike Nazi troops or British navy vessels, finance capital cannot simply be expelled from Greece’s sovereign territory. Rather than posing a territorial threat to national sovereignty as an occupying force, Financial Empire dissolves the notion of national sovereignty altogether by subverting the power base and popular legitimacy upon which the modern state ultimately depends: its ability to direct the flow of capital through monetary and fiscal policy.
To an extent, capital always-already operated beyond the boundaries of the modern nation state. As Marx and Engels observed in the Communist Manifesto, “The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country.” But with the resurgence of global finance from 1973 onward, the state’s structural dependence on globally-mobile capital has been greatly increased. The state, which continues to exist in its territorial realm, is gradually stripped of its ability to control the de-territorialized flows of investment upon which it relies for its continued existence. As a result, Subcomandante Marcos, who in 1994 led the Zapatista uprising against the Mexican state — which had by that point become fully incorporated into Financial Empire – poetically remarked that, “in the cabaret of globalization, the state appears as a table dancer that strips off everything until it is left with only the minimum indispensable garments: the repressive force.” Thus the creditors’ need to exercise physical repression is greatly reduced: by stripping down the state and exposing its naked essence of institutionalized violence, the process of globalization serves to internalize debtor discipline into the state apparatus, rendering state managers structurally subservient to the logic of global capital.
In 1982, with the structural power of capital firmly on the rise following the collapse of the Bretton Woods regime, the American political scientist Charles Lindblom wrote a controversial article in the Journal of Politics in which he compared the market to a prison. By allowing private investors to withhold much-needed capital from the state and the economy, Lindblom observed, the market effectively functions as a disciplinary mechanism for state managers: you want to raise environmental standards? You’ll have to take into account the impact on business investment — and thus on jobs and your approval rating as a politician. Want to regulate the financial sector? You’ll have to worry about big banks simply moving their assets to another country. Want to raise taxes on the wealthy? You’ll have to consider the fact that your famous movie stars might move to Russia. Whatever you want to do as a politician, as soon as you’re in power, the first thing you have to contend with are business interests, and the punishments businessmen can bring to bear by withholding investment if they don’t like your policies. Most remarkably, Lindblom noted, “this punishment is not dependent on conspiracy or intention to punish … Simply minding one’s own business is the formula for an extraordinary system for repressing change.”
Lindblom’s notion of the market as prison can easily be extended to the global capital markets of today. As Robert Kuttner recently put it in his review of David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years, “entire economies abroad, indentured to past debts, find themselves in a metaphoric debtors’ prison where they can neither repay creditors nor resume productive livelihoods.” Similarly, financial lawyer Ross Buckley has written that “we still have something very like debtors’ prisons for highly indebted nations.” As we saw in Greece and Italy in 2011, the automatic disciplinary mechanism of global capital markets ultimately serves to undermine democratic procedures, replacing them with technocratic administration. In the process, politicians are reduced to the role of temporary managers of the state apparatus in the name of financial capital; an arrangement that is ultimately much more convenient and much less costly to the global bankers’ alliance than sending in gunboats or physically occupying a country. In this sense, today’s Financial Empire is really not just a metaphor: it is the culmination of capitalist development into the perfected form of imperialism — one that hardly requires any bloodshed on the part of capital while still ensuring a massive upwards wealth redistribution from the poor to the rich.
We Are All Debt Prisoners Now
But for some, even the overwhelming structural power of finance capital does not appear to be good enough. Even though default has already been ruled out a priori as a “legitimate” policy option in the management of international debt crises, there are still voices going up for further intervention into the sovereign affairs of indebted countries. In the wake of Argentina’s 2001 default, for instance, MIT economists Ricardo Caballero and Rudi Dornbusch argued that “Argentina cannot be trusted” and “Somebody has to run the country with a tight grip.” Stopping short of promoting an outright CIA-assisted military coup — the preferred solution of US-based capital throughout the Cold War era — the authors suggested that “Argentina now must give up much of its monetary, fiscal, regulatory and asset management sovereignty for an extended period, say five years,” and allow foreign commissioners to take over financial management of the country. “Specifically,” they stressed, “a board of experienced foreign central bankers should take control of Argentina’s monetary policy.”
Similarly, Mitchener and Weidenmier, two economists who went to great lengths to emphasize the efficacy of military coercion in deterring sovereign debt default between 1870 and 1913, suggest that today “some type of fiscal or monetary control by an external financial committee may impose needed discipline on recalcitrant debtors.” One prominent conservative commentator on the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s, whose book was notably praised by IMF Managing Director Jacques De Larosière, Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, and leading banker Charles Dallara, even went so far as to propose the somewhat frightening notion that “gunboats are the borrowers’ best friend.” Not surprisingly, similar calls for the abolition of fiscal sovereignty are being echoed in European policy-making circles today. In 2011, for instance, one leading member of Angela Merkel’s conservative party argued that “Greece must give up something, like some of its national sovereignty — at least temporarily,” to allow private creditors to be fully repaid.
During the negotiations between Greece and its private creditors last year, Larry Elliot, the economics editor of The Guardian, rightly observed that, even though “the warships have been replaced by spreadsheets … the Troika’s gunboats will [still] get their way.” The real pressure, he observed, now “comes from banks, hedge funds and the team of officials of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the EU.” Perhaps, then, we are not as far from the imperial era as we would like to think — and while the use of military force may be considered off bounds today, its real absence is not just the result of some enlightened liberal morality but rather a product of the high costs of military intervention compared to the much more effective methods of financial interventionism that replaced it. Even though one-third of US states still allow citizens to be imprisoned for failure to repay their debts, the general tendency in Financial Empire has been to move away from the direct exercise of punishment towards more structural forms of domination. In this sense, debtors’ prison is no longer just a physical place where “recalcitrant debtors” are locked away from the rest of society; it has become a de-territorialized disciplinary mechanism that encompasses the globe as a whole. We are all debt prisoners now.
Luckily, the structural power of finance capital can never be complete. In fact, those who are willing to take a closer look can already see the cracks in the prison walls – some of them made by the countless escape attempts of the prisoners themselves, as they desperately try to break their way out; others caused simply by the inability of the global financial architecture to support the unbearable weight of the debt load that states, firms and households have accrued over the years. As Lindblom himself importantly stressed, wherever there are prisons, there will also be prison breaks, and the crumbling system of market discipline that sustains Financial Empire is clearly far from escape-proof. The Argentine experience of 2001 is a case in point. While there is no need to romanticize Argentina’s widely-discussed default — rather than a revolutionary act of defiance, it was simply a desperate (and successful) populist attempt by the established Peronist elite to cling on to power in the face of massive social unrest — the most important lesson to emerge from Argentina is that, in the face of a spontaneous and sustained popular uprising, even the strongest walls will eventually cave in.
Indeed, Financial Empire may have reduced us all to modern-day debt prisoners, but we can still become the social protagonists of history’s greatest-ever prison break — as long as we draw the right lessons from the long history of imperial domination that led us to this defining point in human history.
When Haitian President Michel Martelly visited the Dominican Republic last month, he was awarded the country’s highest honor for a foreign head of state, in large part for his efforts to lure reconstruction investment to Haiti after its catastrophic 2010 earthquake, which killed more than 200,000 people. In an interview in Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, Martelly told TIME he’s “tried to change the perception [the world] has of Haiti as a place where nothing works,” and he listed his accomplishments so far, including $450 million in tourism investment. “Haiti is a land of opportunity,” the boisterous former carnival singer said. “Because Haiti is still a virgin.”
But a few days later, accusations of less than virgin behavior were swirling around both Martelly and one of the Dominican Republic’s most prominent politicos. In a March 31 national television broadcast, Dominican investigative reporter Nuria Piera alleged that Dominican Senator Félix Bautista — who owns or controls construction companies that in the past year have received Haitian government contracts worth more than $200 million — paid Martelly a total of almost $2.6 million during Martelly’s presidential campaign and after his landslide victory in Haiti’s 2011 election. The charge, based on spreadsheets of bank records Piera displayed on the air, was serious enough to prompt Dominican federal prosecutors to declare Bautista under investigation. Both the Senator and Martelly, whose office calls the allegation “a media lynching,” deny it.
(PHOTOS: After Quake, Carnival Returns to Haiti)
The Bautista controversy, fairly or not, is a jolting reminder of Martelly’s mixed record — and the governmental dysfunction still plaguing Haiti during its recovery — as he approaches his first year in office next month. The construction contracts in question, including one to rebuild Haiti’s legislative palace, were awarded in 2010. But late last year they became the targets of an audit by Martelly’s then Prime Minister, Garry Conille — who in February resigned largely because of pressure from members of Haiti’s parliament and Martelly’s government, who resented the scrutiny. The exit of Conille, a trusted technocrat whose appointment was backed by the U.S. and the international community, set back Haiti’s recovery efforts and highlighted the acrimonious relationship between Martelly and Parliament.
Piera’s corruption investigation suggests that Bautista, a leader of the ruling party of Dominican President Leonel Fernández, made the payments to Martelly, who was a heavy favorite to win Haiti’s March 2011 presidential vote, in order to keep winning contracts under the new Haitian government. In a joint declaration on Thursday, April 12, both Fernández’s and Martelly’s administrations called the journalist’s charges part of a vague “plot” by opponents to discredit Martelly and aid the Dominican opposition in that nation’s May presidential election.
(MORE: Quake-Ravaged Haiti Still Without a Government)
Either way, the controversy has forced Martelly off message yet again. When he met with TIME last month, he seemed to have put the Conille resignation flap behind him — his new Prime Minister choice, longtime friend and business associate Laurent Lamothe, has been approved by the Senate — and talked confidently of new investment ventures that he hoped were a signal that “Haiti is open for business.” He emphasized the positive reception he’d gotten at the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos, Switzerland, in January, when Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien, head of cellphone powerhouse Digicel, as well as the chairmen of Marriott, Heineken and Nestle, all spoke “about what an opportunity Haiti is,” he said.
Digicel and Marriott, in fact, have since joined forces to build a $45 million, 173-room hotel in Port-au-Prince, and last month an arm of the World Bank Group pledged a $10 million fund to spur small- and medium-size businesses. The “Invest in Haiti” forum that Martelly hosted last November drew a thousand capitalists from industries like tourism, infrastructure, agriculture and textiles and resulted in $200 million in contracts. The Haitian government itself is poised to spend up to $700 million, meaning the western hemisphere’s poorest nation could see at least $1.25 billion invested inside its borders in the coming months. “Once we invest that,” Martelly told TIME, “you attract other investors and companies and they feel like things are moving. You’ll have more of that coming.”
Tomorrow:- O’Brian and Digicel Never far from Controversy – Haiti, Digicel National Fund for Education smells fishy