From Bolivia To Wall Street, Accountability Is Just For The Little People
I'm reading Chris Hayes' spectacular new book now, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy. I'm only partially finished but so far he hasn't mentioned Bolivia. Brazil and Argentina, yes... but no Bolivia. What he does talk a lot about, however, is how for social cohesion to work in a democracy, the concept of fairness for all classes and groups has got to be believed in. And here in the U.S., only an idiot still clings to that belief. Early on he describes a thoroughly corrupted society:
It would be a society with extremely high and rising inequality yet little circulation of elites. A society in which the pillar institutions were populated by and presided over by a group of hypereducated and ambitious overachievers who enjoyed tremendous monetary rewards as well as unparalleled political power and prestige and yet who managed to insulate themselves from sanction, competition, and accountability, a group of people who could more or less rest assured that now that they have achieved their status, now that they have scaled to the top of the pyramid, they, their peers, and their progeny will stay there.
Such a ruling class would have all the competitive ferocity inculcated by the ceaseless jockeying within the institutions that produce meritocratic elites, but face no actual sanctions for failing at their duties or succumbing to the temptations of corruption. It would reflexively protect its worst members, it would operate with a wide gulf between performance and reward, and would be shot through with corruption, rule-breaking, and self-dealing as those on top pursued the outsized rewards promised for superstars. ... It would, in other words, look a lot like the American elite circa 2012.
Hayes is using that set up for a discussion of moral hazards and to discuss "a society in which cheaters, shirkers, and incompetents face no sanction, where bad behavior meets reward." As we are all painfully aware, the titans of Wall Street-- cheaters, shirkers, and incompetents-- remain unpunished, in fact richly rewarded, for the behavior that nearly brought on another Great Depression and did destroy the lives of millions of people. So what does this have to do with Bolivia?
Glenn Greenwald, like Hayes, also writes a lot about the world our elites have constructed for themselves where they face no consequences for bad action, not even for really bad action. In Sunday's Guardian he took on the outrageous decision of the U.S. Justice Department to grant de facto asylum to brutal Bolivian dictator Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, despite requests by Bolivia's democratic government to extradite him so he can be tried for a spate of criminal activities, including genocide, mass murder and crimes against humanity.
In October 2003, the intensely pro-US president of Bolivia, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, sent his security forces to suppress growing popular protests against the government's energy and globalization policies. Using high-powered rifles and machine guns, his military forces killed 67 men, women and children, and injured 400 more, almost all of whom were poor and from the nation's indigenous Aymara communities. Dozens of protesters had been killed by government forces in the prior months when troops were sent to suppress them.
The resulting outrage over what became known as "the Gas Wars" drove Sanchez de Lozada from office and then into exile in the United States, where he was welcomed by his close allies in the Bush administration. He has lived under a shield of asylum in the US ever since.
...The view that Sánchez de Lozada must be extradited from the US to stand trial is a political consensus in Bolivia, shared by the government and the main opposition party alike. But on Friday night, the Bolivian government revealed that it had just been notified by the Obama administration that the US government has refused Bolivia's extradition request.
Take a wild guess which Bolivian president the U.S. is sheltering from Justice
The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales has termed the U.S. a "refuge for criminals," and it isn't just Bush he's referring to. Governments and people throughout Latin America see this decision by the Obama Administration as "yet another display of the US government's double moral standard." Aside from being a columnist for The Guardian, Greenwald is a respected civil rights attorney. He took a closer look at what's behind this travesty.
Sánchez de Lozada was exactly the type of America-revering-and-obeying leader the US has always wanted for other nations, especially smaller ones with important energy resources. When he was driven into exile in October 2003, the New York Times described him as "Washington's most stalwart ally in South America."
The former leader-- a multimillionaire mining executive who, having been educated in the US, spoke Spanish with a heavy American accent-- was a loyal partner in America's drug war in the region. More importantly, the former leader himself was a vehement proponent and relentless crusader for free trade and free market policies favored by the US: policies that the nation's indigenous poor long believed (with substantial basis) resulted in their impoverishment while enriching Bolivia's small Europeanized elite.
It was Sánchez de Lozada's forced exile that ultimately led to the 2006 election and 2009 landslide re-election of Morales, a figure the New York Times in October 2003 described as one "regarded by Washington as its main enemy." Morales has been as vehement an opponent of globalization and free trade as Sánchez de Lozada was a proponent, and has constantly opposed US interference in his region and elsewhere (in 2011, Morales called for the revocation of Obama's Nobel Peace Prize as a result of the intervention in Libya).
So, this extradition refusal is, in one sense, a classic and common case of the US exploiting pretenses of law and justice to protect its own leaders and those of its key allies from the rule of law, even when faced with allegations of the most egregious wrongdoing. If the Obama DOJ so aggressively shielded accused Bush war criminals from all forms of accountability, it is hardly surprising that it does the same for loyal US puppets. That a government that defies US dictates is thwarted and angered in the process is just an added bonus. That, too, is par for the course.
But there's another important aspect of this case that distinguishes it from the standard immunity Washington gifts to itself and its friends. When he ran for president in 2002, Sánchez de Lozada was deeply unpopular among the vast majority of Bolivians as a result of his prior four-year term as president in the 1990s. To find a way to win despite this, he hired the consulting firm owned and operated by three of Washington's most well-connected Democratic party operatives: James Carville, Stan Greenberg and Bob Shrum. He asked them to import the tactics of American politics into Bolivia to ensure his election victory.
As detailed by a 2006 New York Times review of a film about the Democratic operatives' involvement in Bolivia's election, their strategy was two-fold: first, destroy the reputations of his two opponents so as to depress the enthusiasm of Bolivia's poor for either of them; and then mobilize Sánchez de Lozada's base of elites to ensure he wins by a tiny margin. That strategy worked, as he was elected with a paltry 22.5% of the popular vote. From the Times review:"'[The film] asks a more probing question: whether Mr Carville and company, in selling a pro-globalization, pro-American candidate, can export American-style campaigning and values to a country so fundamentally different from the United States …
"'It's a very explosive film in Bolivia because it shows close up a very deliberate strategy,' said Jim Shultz, an American political analyst in Bolivia who recently saw the film with a group of friends. 'The film is especially explosive because it's about a candidate-- so identified with the United States and so hated by so many Bolivians-- being put into office by the political manipulations of US consultants.'
"Mauro Quispe, 33, a cabdriver in La Paz, said he saw slices of the film on the television news, and it raised his ire. 'I was stunned,' he said. 'He was being advised by the Americans, and everything they said was in English.'"
There's no evidence, at least of which I'm aware, that any of these Democratic operatives intervened on behalf of their former client in his extradition pleas to the Obama administration, but it rather obviously did not hurt. At the very least, shielding a former leader deposed by his own people from standing trial for allegedly gunning down unarmed civilians takes on an even uglier image when that former leader had recently had leading US Democratic operatives on his payroll.
...Then there's the amazing fact that Democrats, who understandably scorn Mitt Romney for piling up massive personal wealth while he advocates policies harmful to the poor, continue in general to revere these types of Clintonites who, arguably to a lesser extent, have done the same. Indeed, Democrats spent all last week wildly praising Bill Clinton, who has made close to $100m in speaking fees alone by traveling the globe, speaking to hedge funds, and advocating globalization and free trade.
In this case, one finds both the prevailing rules and the prevailing orthodoxies of American justice. High-level leaders in the US government and those who serve their interests are exempt from the rule of law (even when accused of heinous acts of terrorism); only leaders who run afoul of US dictates should be held accountable.
Even in the civil case against him, an appellate court ultimately ruled that he was immune from damages or civil lawsuits, overturning a lower court ruling that there were sufficient allegations of genocide and war crimes against him to allow the suit to proceed. As usual, US federal courts are the leaders in ensuring that the most politically well-connected are shielded from the consequences of their acts.
Relatedly, we find the prevailing sentiment that asylum is something that is only to be granted by the US and its western allies against unfriendly governments. The notion that one may need asylum from the US or the west-- or that small Latin American countries unfavorable to the US can grant it rather than have it granted against them-- is offensive and perverse to all good and decent western citizens, who know that political persecution is something that happens only far away from them.
The protection of this accused former leader will likely generate little controversy in the US because it was the by-product of the actions of both the Bush and Obama administrations, and because it comports so fully with how American justice functions. The only surprising thing would have been if there had been a different outcome.