The Primate Diaries

Why Is Liberia Being Robbed?

Yesterday the BBC aired an investigative report documenting how American “vultures,” such as New York-based Eric Hermann at hedge fund FH International, bought up debt from Liberia for pennies on the dollar and are now forcing Liberia’s impoverished government to pay in full. This is at the same time that Western governments have been erasing this odious debt from years past.

The effect of Hermann’s financial maneuvers earns few applause in Liberia. In that African democracy, diplomat Winston Tubman tells us what he would say to vulture fund operators, “‘Do you know you are causing babies to die all over Liberia?'”

That’s strong language, but in Liberia, we see the effects of the threat of losing over $20 million from this desperately poor nation’s budget. In the village of Demeh, I meet Howa Murvee. During Liberia’s recent civil war, her grandfather was beaten to death in front of her. Every home in the village was destroyed. Now, with money from selling donuts at a rural bus stop, she has raised the $100 need for materials to rebuild her mud-and-thatch home.

[Watch the report below]

Report rebroadcast from Democracy Now and
originally aired on BBC News on March 2, 2010.


  1. #1 Jim
    March 3, 2010

    This is truly despicable. EMJ, do you know about Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine? She explains in detail how American businesses and international trade organizations like the IMF have been economically abusing poor countries for the past 50 years. Noam Chomsky and Joseph Stiglitz are also good sources of information here. Chomsky wrote Hegemony or Survival (among many others) and Stiglitz, Globalization and it’s Discontents (among many others).

  2. #2 EMJ
    March 3, 2010

    Absolutely. The Shock Doctrine, in my view, is a must read in order to understand the modern economic system. I’ve written about her work before (see, for example, here and here). Stiglitz has also been a champion in this regards. I read Globalization and Its Discontents several years ago and I’ve been meaning to get around to his latest book The Three Trillion Dollar War. He had a great article in The Guardian last summer that I highly recommend.

  3. #3 Jim
    March 3, 2010

    @EMJ: Stiglitz’ latest book is not the 3T-War. That’s old news already. His latest is Freefall, in which he explains how we got into the global recession (or more precisely, who got us into it). In Freefall, Stiglitz denounces what he calls Ersatz Capitalism, a system which privatizes gains and socializes costs on the global scale. Here’s another interesting article by Stiglitz in Vanity Fair (about a year ago):

    Also, you may be interested in Amartya Sen, another Nobel-winning economist. Stiglitz and Sen just published an influential report about the consequences of neoliberal policies on the environment, global health and the developing world.

  4. #4 EMJ
    March 3, 2010

    That sounds excellent. I just read Sen’s Poverty and Famines and greatly enjoyed it. He’s someone whose work I wanted to start following in more detail. I’m sure I could find it, but do you have a link to the report?

  5. #5 EMJ
    March 3, 2010

    Nevermind, I found it through the Financial Times (pdf here). I remember reading about this a few months back, showing that GDP was a poor measure of economic performance. That measure has been moribund for a long time. I look forward to getting some time to go through the report. Thanks.

  6. #6 Jim
    March 4, 2010

    Yes the report is rather easy to find. I was about to link it to you but just a few minutes later you found it too. You may also be interested in Michel Chossudovsky’s The Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order. He’s an economist at U. of Ottawa, so I know more about him since I’m Canadian. “New World Order” here is meant in the historical sense, not the Alex Jones-crazy conspiracy sense. MC explains very clearly how globalization is used to rape the developing countries. He brings forward many observations and anecdotes that you will not find in either Stiglitz’ or Sen’s works but also a lot of the same.

    Also interesting is Stephen Gill’s Power and Resistance in the New World Order. Again, NWO meant in the academic sense. He’s a political scientist at York U. well known in international relations circles for his work on American think tanks, among others things. He’s also in Canada, so again I know more about him. SG is basically a Canadian Noam Chomsky and he’s also favoring Marx’s historical materialism, although he gives it a twist of his own. He offers historical evidence that there is hope against this NWO. From his Power and Resistance book:

    “As the globalization of power intensifies, so too do globalized forms of resistance.”

  7. #7 mnuez
    April 8, 2010

    You guys represent the illness of the Post-Vietnam Left very very well.

    You hve no interest in individuals, only in collectives. You do this with regard to foreign matters when discussing “rich countries” and “poor countries” and you do this at home when looking at racial statistics.

    A long long time ago in a galaxy not so far away unionists, feminists, anarhcists and all sorts of other assorted leftists looked to improve the condition of the lives of individual people. Modern wine and cheese leftists (aka pretty much every American leftist alive) care about collectives alone.

    Affirmative Action hurts some particular poor white boy in order to benefit some particular already privileged black girl. all that matters is that the statistics add up. One more whiet male meth-head in exchange for making a CEO out of a woman who otherwise would have had to make due as a CFO. Take from the bottom to deliver to the top. That’s what your affirmative action system accomplishes.

    And on the matter of “countries” y’all don’t look at how to help INDIVIDUAL HUMAN BEINGS but rather how to aid “countries”. What the fuck is a country?! To pat yourselves on the back without having to think too hard you’ve decided that however your grandfather’s generation dealt with developing nations is – by default – the definition of evil and therefore the precise opposite should be done. You feel better abot enriching foreign murderous brainless asshole dictators than about doing whatever possible to aid individuals who suffer at the hands of “their” reputed leaders. We mustn’t engage in any imperliamism now.

    And that’s all that’s wrong with you comfortable modern day leftists. You make a few good noises (fuck, who doesn’t want to machette the Board of Directors of some multinational corporation that demands a golden tub from the rice paddies of a starving people) but you’re so caught up in identity politics and in (dare I say it?) white self hatred that you stand no chance of being any sort of competant force for good.

    A man who prefers to see a middle class black man become uuper class over seeing a trailor park white kid enter the middle class is a diseased individual and almost every American leftist I’ve met fits that bill.

    Am I off subject in my comment relevant to this post? Not at all. The muscle memory that has a science blogger (whose blog I adore by the way) reflexively report on a story about evil white men causing havoc in some far off country that’s been fucking ITSELF up for the past couple of centuries WITHOUT A SINGLE MENTION OF THAT CASCADE OF VIOLENCE indicates the sort of illness that resides in modern American liberals.

    My apologies for unleashing my pent up rage at the flippant imbecility of the modern left on your particular blog which, again, I positively adore, but every comfortable white liberal I know is guilty of this and coming across your knee-jerk denunciation here just blew my stack. Enough really is enough.

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