Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The mercenaries of austerity

This is a heartfelt plea to journalists everywhere: let us expunge the term "bail-out" from our collective vocabulary.

A "bail-out" implies that something in a perilous state is being rescued. Too often over the past three or four years, the term has been used to convey the impression that economies or entire nations have been saved, when in reality it is only the rich that have been kept afloat. Democracy and decency are being crushed on the orders of an unelected "troika".

It is no accident that private security firms are playing an increasingly prominent role in Europe's austerity saga. G4S was hired to keep a close eye over Cypriot banks in the past few weeks. And in Greece, Blackwater - or Academi as it is now known - has been contracted to provide military-like protection to the national parliament.

To describe these mercenaries as controversial would be an understatement. If you are a sports fan, you probably associate G4S with a cock-up at last year's Olympics. But why was G4S entrusted with policing the games in the first place, when it had done such a terrible job in partly running Britain's migration services? Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan refugee, died while G4S guards were carrying out his deportation in October 2010. Witnesses on the flight said that he was forcibly restrained by the guards and had trouble breathing.

G4S has installed a perimeter defence system for the walls of Ofer, an Israeli prison in the occupied West Bank, where protesters against the apartheid wall that snakes illegally through that territory have been held. It has also supplied equipment to several prisons inside present-day Israel, including Megiddo, where the young Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat died - after being tortured - on 18 February.

Privatisation of war

Blackwater, meanwhile, is known to have been involved in numerous shooting incidents in Iraq. The most troubling of these incidents was the massacre of 17 civilians by Blackwater employees in Baghdad's Nisoor Square on 16 September 2007.

A direct link can be made between the invasion of Iraq and Europe's austerity agenda. Donald Rumsfeld oversaw an attempt to privatise modern warfare: tasks previously reserved for armies were assigned to for-profit corporations. Some of the same companies are now being called on to do work traditionally performed by national police forces.

Potent reminder

I am writing this column in Ireland. Pundits on radio talk-shows here have been kept busy discussing the palpable tensions between the government and the police over threatened pay cuts. Some delegates even walked out when Alan Shatter, the justice minister, recently addressed a conference for inspectors and sergeants.

This serves as a potent reminder that police officers are public servants. The brutal transformation of the European economy now being undertaken is encountering stiff resistance in some countries, so it can only be introduced by coercive means. Once the livelihood of the police starts being affected, their willingness to cooperate in pushing through this transformation is called into question. Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos, a former Greek diplomat, believes that the Athens authorities are turning to Academi because they can no longer count on support from police officers whose salaries have been reduced.

We don't need to look too far outside Europe to realise that security forces can baulk at punishing the innocent. The game was up for Hosni Mubarak, when it emerged that there was no great appetite among Egyptian soldiers to shoot at the unarmed demonstrators, filling Tahrir Square two years ago.

Since the downfall of that reviled dictator, Western politicians have applauded this magnificent display of people power. Behind the scenes, they have done everything possible to keep power in the hands of an elite.

Faced with protests against Mohammad Morsi, the new Egyptian president, in January this year, the country's interior ministry ordered 140,000 tear gas canisters from the US. Rather than acting to put an end to police brutality, the Cairo authorities have signalled more recently that they are interested in handing over some policing tasks to private firms.

Is the free world alarmed about the incomplete nature of Egypt's transition to democracy? Are American and European diplomats advising Morsi that the privatisation of policing would be a retrograde step, that for-profit corporations are generally less accountable than service providers under public control?

New consensus?

No, the West is focused on keeping Egypt within its sphere of influence. There has been much talk lately about the likelihood of the International Monetary Fund releasing a new loan to Egypt. You can be sure any "arrangement" - the word used by John Kerry - will come with many strings attached.

The current issue of Finance and Development, the IMF's policy journal, features a call for a "new Washington Consensus" in the "Arab world". Vali Nasr, the academic who authored this call, intimates that the "new Washington Consensus" would be no more than a repackaged version of the old one. Without the old one, "most democratisation efforts would have failed," Nasr wrote.

What utter nonsense. The Washington Consensus - as inspired by Milton Friedman and other right-wing economists - is an anti-democratic project. Its aim is to annihilate public services; to hand over almost every facet of life to fat cats. It is about ensuring that governments are subservient to corporations.

The economic "reforms" now being implemented in Europe and beyond are in keeping with the Washington Consensus. These "reforms" have made the "market" omnipotent - just like a dictator.

•First published by New Europe, 7-13 April 2013.

No comments:

Post a Comment