John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and this TED Talk, has a new book called Touching the Jaguar. You can pre-order it here and get an online workshop and other bonus materials that I haven’t seen but recommend purely on the basis of having read the book. Perkins also is doing an online workshop in July that you can sign up for here. An interview he’s given about his new book is here. And I’ll soon be interviewing him on Talk Nation Radio.
Perkins has not just been confessing to and exposing the actions of himself and others in imposing destructive policies on nations around the globe for the profits of U.S. corporations. He’s also been working for many years to make reparations, to reverse the damage. In his new book, he describes how shamen in South America helped him turn his life around, how indigenous people in Ecuador have helped him and others understand the need to live sustainably, and how organizations Perkins has been part of have helped many more people learn about and work on the changes we all need.
Before he was an economic hit man, putting countries into debt and then forcing them to privatize and impoverish their people for U.S. profits, Perkins was a participant in the Peace Corps in Ecuador. He discovered, as he got into that work, what the real purpose of his mission there was. In the name of the Cold War, USAID was working to relocate poor people of the Andes into the jungle where they would be less able to influence politics.
The way in which this was done almost sounds like a Doctor Strangelovian parody. Poor people were sent into heavily forested areas that were declared to be, but were not, uninhabited. They were told to clear and farm soil that they were told would be, but was not, fertile. The outcome would be a reduction in democracy and decency in Ecuadorian politics, misery for the people “relocated,” and absolute disaster for the indigenous people who lived in the jungle. Like many whistleblowers who eventually go public, Perkins, at this early stage of his career, registered his complaints through “proper channels.” As often happens with that approach, the result was simply that the Peace Corps relocated Perkins to a different project elsewhere.
When Perkins describes his later work as an economic hit man, he recounts having threatened world leaders with the fate of various victims of U.S.-backed assassinations: Mossadegh, Allende, Arbenz, Lumumba, Diem. He also presents a case that the 1981 deaths of Jaime Roldós of Ecuador and Omar Torrijos of Panama were very likely U.S.-backed assassinations. I’ve added those two to a running list I’ve been keeping. But the important point here, I think, is how many coups have not happened because the threat has been enough. I doubt anyone has a comprehensive list of those.
Perkins recounts a very gradual transition from hit man to fellow man, with years during which he was trying to be both. He recounts the difficulty he had in gaining the trust of people he sincerely intended to help and work with. A Mayan man in Guatemala says to him: “You dare ask for my help! Your government, your CIA, and your army supported the invasion of our communities all my life. You trained Guatemalan soldiers to torture and kill us. You overthrew President Arbenz, the one politician who defended us. Like the Spanish before you, you set about to rob my people of their dignity, their pride, and their lands.”
A lot of this new book is focused on the need to change perceptions, and the powerful results (including on one’s physical health) that is possible through altering your perspective, through shifting your prejudices. This doesn’t come off as mystical or nonsensical here. This is not a Christian Scientist telling you to simply imagine that you don’t have a broken leg. The point is, rather, that, for example, by recognizing indigenous ways of living as the norm for most of human history and pre-history and as sustainable, rather than as merely primitive, backward, or ignorant, you can radically shift your thoughts about everything around you, your priorities, your tastes and preferences.
This is very much what my colleagues and I have in mind at World BEYOND War. Understanding that we have no choice but to outgrow militarism before it destroys us all shifts one’s focus away from the desire to out-warmonger the Chinese. Understanding the stupidity of war moves one’s priorities away from glorifying past ones and toward preventing future ones. And using “we” to mean humanity, rather than the U.S. government or any other national government, gives one a completely different understanding of what has been done, what we have the power to do, and what is necessary.