Capitalism and authoritarianism: a marriage of convenience

When it comes to analyzing the reality of each country, there is a tendency to separate the public from the private sector, as if the business world were on the one hand and that of politicians on the other, and they rarely mix. For this reason, when a dictator and his dictatorship are analyzed, he is usually presented as a bloody and repressive being who governs a country for himself and for no one else. But the truth is that on rare occasions a dictator comes to power and consolidates in it without help; often it has the collaboration of oligarchs and multinationals who hope to get a great profit in return, a collaboration that is soon forgotten, if it is ever known.

When a politician or a party presents a new proposal, the media presents it as if it were the exclusive idea of ​​that subject or group, which has come to him on his own initiative, without stopping to analyze what interests it serves. This is what we call the “embodiment of politics” and, used appropriately, it can serve to focus attention exclusively on one of the stakeholders while omitting the others. Thus, the debate on the use of arms in the United States is presented as a confrontation between different representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties, as if the multimillion dollar American arms industry did not paint anything, or in the debate on the privatization of health or education the only actors that are talked about are the parties that support or oppose it,

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These companies exert pressure through what are commonly known as business lobbies , that is, groups of companies with common interests that come together to pressure governments or political parties to adopt decisions that favor them. It is estimated that in Brussels alone there are more than 30,000 lobbyists trying to influence EU politicians and who make up the new globalized version of the old caciques, so present in the 19th and 20th centuries in America and Europe.

Generally, these groups try to place themselves outside the public opinion and their pressure is not only limited to the political sphere, but also to the media, of which they are often the main funders, so their intervention tends to go unnoticed or unnoticed. camouflaged most of the time. However, their power is enormous and, depending on their aggressiveness, they are capable of actions that go from obtaining the approval of a simple municipal ordinance to the establishment of a government team completely at their service, whether of democratic or dictatorial appearance. It is this last aspect that will be discussed in this article.

Nothing new

The collaboration of private companies with dictators is a phenomenon that has been repeated throughout history in what is a mutually beneficial relationship. On the one hand, the dictator obtains logistical or financial resources to help him seize power or consolidate himself in it, while companies obtain absolute freedom to roam the country at ease and generate profits in a way that would not have been possible in the past. other situation. The most notorious case was the collaboration of some of the main German companies with the Nazi government of Adolf Hitler.

To expand : “The Economic Third Reich: the companies that helped Hitler” , Fernando Arancón in El Orden Mundial , 2014

In Spain there were similar examples during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Some of the largest companies in the country experienced a spectacular boom during the Franco regime thanks to the close relationship of their owners with the caudillo, who knew how to reward their help during the Civil War and the postwar period. Companies such as Gas Natural-Fenosa, Acciona, ACS, Endesa, Iberdrola or San Miguel – and a long list – base their current wealth on the development experienced during one of the darkest times in Spanish history and among its founders are former ministers , mayors or Francoist diplomats that, in most cases, they continued in their positions after the end of the dictatorship and did not have to pay any reparations, a matter that continues to be taboo in the Iberian Peninsula.

To expand : The franchise that does not marxa , Lluc Salellas i Vilar, 2015

Examples are multiplying all over the world. In Argentina, the close relationship between the Videla government and some of the most significant businessmen in the country continues to be investigated, a relationship that focused mainly on the repression of the most prominent union cadres through threats, torture, kidnapping and assassinations . Robert Mugabe, the recently deposed Zimbabwean dictator, must also thank several foreign multinationals and their funding and support for the fact that his tenure has lasted almost 40 years, including such important companies as Enel, General Electric or the communication giant Naspers , in addition to media characters such asPortuguese soccer player Luis Figo, who owns gold mines in the country .

The case of the United Fruits Company is also well known, which, with the inestimable collaboration of the CIA, managed to overthrow the progressive government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in order to establish a military junta akin to its interests. This event represents for many the quintessence of US imperialism in Latin America because of how blatant and significant it was.

To expand :  “The CIA against Guatemala: when Ernesto became Che Guevara”,  Adrián Albiac in  El Orden Mundial , 2015

In Libya we find another interesting example. Before succumbing to NATO forces, some important companies in its member countries —and that manufacture military equipment used by the alliance—, such as Boeing in the United States or the technological Bull in France, were the suppliers of the espionage systems used. by Muammar Gaddafi to monitor his opponents and consolidate himself in power for more than 40 years.

One could continue with this list and fill it with examples until this text is complete — and possibly a few more — since practically no dictator is saved from burning. However, we would not draw any valid conclusions if we simply enumerated these cases and left without analyzing other vital factors that make this process possible. Now, these examples perfectly illustrate that when it comes to making money, there are very few things that the big multinationals will object to, and the humanitarian abuses committed by these leaders do not appear to be one of them. The facilities that these dictators give them, especially in labor and environmental matters, ends up weighing more than any ethical or moral aspect. Under your logic,

Where is the justice?

Pursuing these types of actions through legality is quite complex for several reasons – which is why it is even more profitable for multinationals, since the risk assumed is low compared to the profits. First, the courts of a state controlled by a dictatorship are never going to initiate a case against themselves, so legal actions must always come from an external court. Taking these cases to foreign courts is a process that is generally very expensive for the victims, and more so if, as often happens, the trials drag on for years, while for these companies spending on lawyers is an insignificant item within their budgets. billionaires. What’s more, Determining that a company has participated in humanitarian crimes or has facilitated the establishment of an oppressive regime is very difficult to achieve. In some cases in which the company has participated directly,As in the case of the supplier of the insecticide used in the Nazi gas chambers , this may be easier, but proving that a company knew that its products or money were being used for humanitarian abuses is another story.

The main international courts in the world, such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague or the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, normally focus the responsibility for humanitarian crimes on state authorities or, at most, on organizations that, without being the State They are directly connected to it, like paramilitary militias, and the private sector tends to be left aside. Regarding these cases, the legal mechanisms to determine business complicity are still in their infancy and it does not seem that the international judicial authorities have a special urgency to solve this problem.

For all these reasons, the cases in which a company has been condemned for its collaboration with dictatorships are very rare and none has set a precedent that serves as a basis for other similar cases. Most of them come from national courts where the victims filed a popular accusation, generally with the support of an NGO, but the sanctions received by the companies are not usually too damaging. An example is the case of the Ogonis against the partnership formed by the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company and 1995, in which the oil giant was condemned by a US court for participating in the violent repression that the ruling military junta in Nigeria led against the Ogoni tribe, who were the inhabitants of the lands that these companies wanted to exploit to extract oil. For silencing all kinds of opposition to its operations, whether through torture, assassinations or arbitrary arrests, this company was condemned to pay 15 million dollars, a very small amount if we compare it with the volumes in which these operate. companies.

In most cases, the national authorities of the affected countries show little interest in prosecuting these situations, when they do not directly impede investigations by destroying evidence or silencing witnesses. However, there is a country that has become a benchmark when it comes to pursuing corporate responsibility in crimes against humanity: Argentina. Of all the cases opened against private companies for their complicity with dictators, 65% are in the long South American country .

During the military dictatorship of Videla, thousands of Argentines suffered the repression carried out by the Army together with some of the main companies in the country, such as the Clarín and La Nación newspapers , the subsidiaries of Fiat, Mercedes-Benz and Ford in the country. or the sugar factory Ledesma . After the fall of the military junta, the country’s judicial authorities have shown initiative and willingness to convict those responsible, which has led them to create a multitude of laws and mechanisms to prosecute them. In fact, there are not few cases in which victims of similar situations abroad, such as the victims of the Franco regime in Spain, come to the Andean country in search of justice. Even so, the judicial process progresses slowly and has even suffered some setback since Mauricio Macri came to power — in the form of convictions annulled and new judges hand – picked . For now, there are eight indicted businessmen, of which only one has been convicted.

To expand : “The business complicity of the dictatorship allied with impunity and power” , Giuliana Sordo in La Primera Piedra , 2017

A very profitable collaboration

The collaboration of private companies to establish or consolidate dictators in power is done with a single objective: to obtain the exclusive appropriation of the main economic resources of the country. In Cameroon and Chad we can see a very significant example of how valuable this cooperation can be for the two stakeholders. The respective presidents of these countries, Paul Biya and Idriss Dèby , two of the oldest dictators in Africa and responsible for multiple humanitarian abuses , have excellent relations with the oil companies Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Petronas.. As a result of these relationships, one of the most important projects in sub-Saharan Africa emerged: the Chad-Cameroon pipeline, which is more than a thousand kilometers long and is responsible for transporting the crude extracted in Chad to the port of Kribi, in Cameroon.

This project was inaugurated by the two dictators in 2004 with the promise that it would bring economic and social development to the two nations, but 14 years later it is clear that those words were nothing more than a toast to the sun. The money obtained from the export of oil has been shared – and shared – exclusively between these companies and the corrupt governments of Biya and Dèby, without the local population having benefited the least from their precious natural resources. Unbuilt schools, funds intended to finance guerrillas and the fight against government opponents, zero environmental control of the project … and, ultimately, a population equal to or more impoverished than before .

The latter is the common denominator of all the intervened countriesby companies. If already in countries that supposedly enjoy full democracy and freedom, such as Europe or North America, it is very difficult to achieve a fair and equitable distribution of wealth between the working population and large companies, imagine how utopian it is to reach this situation in a country where these companies loot at will, protected by the political and military power of their rulers. It is the new form of colonialism: in the seventeenth century we had the British East India Company controlling half the world and its resources directly, without any dissimulation; in the 21st century, it is business conglomerates like Exxon that turn governments into pawns at their service – with the self-interested acquiescence of the rulers themselves, which in turn use companies to consolidate power — to continue enriching themselves with impunity. Same result, but adapted to the era of happy appearances in which we live.

To expand : “The foreign policy of multinationals” , Trajan Shipley in The World Order , 2017

Bad dictatorships … and less bad

Along with the antiterrorist campaign, the fight against authoritarianism is the main crusade currently being waged by the representatives of the so-called “free world”. However, it is curious to analyze the double standards that are applied on many occasions when combating this scourge. While figures like Kim Jong-un, the Castro brothers, Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein or even elected presidents like Hugo Chávez or Nicolás Maduro are the main target of the Western powers, the most bloodthirsty dictators receive practically no attention.

Without intending to fall into conspiracy , surely the permissiveness of these dictators has a lot to do with the multinationals from the same powers that say they want to end dictatorships. The main common point of the policies of Venezuela, Libya, Cuba, North Korea or Hussein’s Iraq is precisely their refusal to allow foreign companies to exploit their main resources, and that may have been one of the triggers to place them on the spot. of sight. Seen this way, it is understood that an autocrat like Xi Jingping, leader of an increasingly repressive government – and leader of the Communist Party, to make matters worse – is not declared a public enemy, since it would be a declaration that would threaten the interests of the women.thousands of corporations that, like Apple, base a large part of their wealth on how little it costs to manufacture almost anything in the Asian giant and on the facilities that the Chinese government provides to produce in factories that take little or no account of working conditions and health of its workers .

This hypocrisy, so convenient for the world’s big businessmen, is one of the main obstacles to combating authoritarianism in the world, because of how deeply rooted it is and because of the relevance it has in many of the world’s most important economic sectors. In our day-to-day lives, we all use a product that has been produced under rather murky circumstances in some country governed in an even more murky way. However, the way to end authoritarianism in the world cannot be other than the denunciation and condemnation of all the parties involved, starting with the main logistics and financial providers of the dictators. All the rest are words that the wind will blow away.

Faith of errors: The original title of the article contained the term totalitarianism instead of authoritarianism . The change is due to the fact that the countries mentioned in the text correspond to authoritarian governments, but most of them are not totalitarian, since they do not completely discipline —or disciplined— all aspects of social life.

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