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Wolfowitz for World Bank? Ask the Mexicans

by Sarah Whalen - 26 March 2005

Paul Wolfowitz, Bush's deputy secretary of defense and Iraq invasion orchestrator, now wants to be president of the World Bank, where his "gender banking expert" girlfriend works. While the World Bank's Executive Board has never previously denied any US nominee the World Bank presidency, it should send Wolfowitz back to the Pentagon.

Why? Because Wolfowitz isn't a banker. He has no banking experience of any kind, "gender" or otherwise.

Lack of experience, knowledge, and expertise has never stopped any determined neocon before. But it should stop Wolfowitz. Even the last World Bank wolf, outgoing President James Wolfensohn, was a big-time investment banker. And the New York Times noted cautiously last week Wolfowitz might not be the best choice: "The World Bank requires a leader with a passion for the job, someone who lives, eats, drinks and sleeps economic development and poverty reduction."

This isn't Wolfowitz.

Before he was deputy secretary of defense, Wolfowitz was dean of Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced Studies. That is SAIS (rhymes with "mice") for short. And SAIS' last foray into "world" banking was decidedly alarming.

Under Wolfowitz's SAIS deanship, Riordan Roett, head of SAIS' Latin American Studies Department and also director of what SAIS rather pompously calls its "Western Hemisphere Program", took a break from teaching impressionable, young students' minds, to instead "advise" at Chase Manhattan Bank. Roett sounded the alarm on Jan. 1, 1994, when a small band of armed, mostly Mayan Indian militants calling themselves the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and led by one masked "Sub-Commandante Marcos" took over four little towns in Chiapas, Mexico at gunpoint. Tired of Mexico's façade of "democratic" governance in which one single party — the PRI — repeatedly won every election, all the time, Marcos and his insurgents seized the unstable day. When the PRI's "man," Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, allowed the peso to be devalued, plunging the Mexican economy into chaos, EZLN insurgents started demanding things like, oh, free elections, a living minimum working wage, and that big investment bankers get out of Chiapas and turn the coffee and oil wealth of that region back to its indigenous people, whom EZLN claimed had been ruthlessly exploited.

This was bad news for Roett's Chase Manhattan clients, who now faced the prospect of huge losses in their Mexican investments. Chase's Emerging Markets Group, a big institutional investor in Third World and East European countries that had deregulated their economies, allowing foreigners to buy domestic stocks and bonds, stood to suffer. And it had to immediately address its private top clients' concerns about Mexico's stability, which it did in a singular four-page memo allegedly authored by SAIS' Roett: "The (Mexican) government will need to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate their effective control of the national territory and of security policy."

Why? Because "(w)hile Chiapas does not pose a fundamental threat to Mexican political stability, it is perceived to be so by many in the investment community."

So, SAIS' Roett recommended that Mexico "need(ed)" to "eliminate" its own people. Not for any "security" reasons, but because "the investment community" would feel its money was safer if those people were killed. While Mexicans, including Zedillo, were undeniably "committed to a diplomatic and political solution" to the Chiapas "stand-off" Roett reportedly admitted that Chase investments supposedly required more radical protection: "(I)t is difficult to imagine that the current environment will yield a peaceful solution."

This is the ruthless, disconnected tradition from which Wolfowitz not only comes, but which he helped create and foster as an academic and scholar.

"Imagine" a "peaceful solution" to political conflict? Neocons can't.

The fallout was stunning. Although Roett declined to publicly comment once the memo was leaked to the media, Chase itself claimed the memo had been authored by the "independent" SAIS expert rather than a banker, and Roett was soon out of his Chase office and back at SAIS, heading up its "Western Hemisphere" and Latin American programs. Roett, who speaks almost no Spanish or Portuguese, seems an odd choice for director of the Latin American program.

But neocons do not let such things stop them.

No banking experience? No foreign language skills? Neocons don't need it.

Europe, in its own throes of democratically uniting as a regional community, took interest in the Chiapas insurgents and their struggle. Partly as a result, Mexico's foreign minister observed that, rather than degenerating into a bloody debacle, invasion, or civil war, the Chiapas "standoff has been a war of ink, of written word, a war on the Internet." Mexico's next election was one of the fairest, most democratic that country ever experienced. And, following Chiapas, for the first time in recent history, a non-PRI candidate, PAN's Vincente Fox, was elected president.

Imagine. A free election without any US military intervention or tutelage.

If Wolfowitz really wants to save the world, he should be helped in his quest. But better he should start his mission on his knees, sorting out the rubble of Iraq, the country he brought to its knees, than in the World Bank presidency.

- Sarah Whalen -
- from Arab News  (26 March 2005)

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revised 18 November 2005