In September 2019, Brazilian Minister for Foreign Affairs Ernesto Araújo met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington D.C. and the pair announced a new U.S.-Brazil bilateral agreement to open up the Amazon Rainforest to private sector development. Araújo called the agreement “…the Holy Grail of Brazil’s foreign policy, at least for the private sector”.
Behind this announcement is the story of how U.S. state and corporate power successfully captured political processes in the South American giant in order to deliver a submissiveness necessary for such a neocolonial project.
Part Two: Smiling Assassins
In the 1970s, it was the World Bank that originally convinced Brazil’s Military Dictatorship (which President Jair Bolsonaro would seek to emulate) that Amazon deforestation would be positive for the economy. In 1981 it launched a programme called ‘Polonoroeste’, for road network construction and the resettlement of cattle ranchers in the state of Rondonia. As Adrian Cowell documented in his film “Decade of Destruction”, before international pressure forced the World Bank to cancel the project in 1986, thousands died and an area of rainforest the size of Great Britain had been decimated.
The World Bank’s private-sector arm is the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a Council of the Americas elite member, which more recently gave its approval to development projects led by investment group Blackstone, with devastating consequences. As reported by the Intercept, after coming to power the Bolsonaro Government announced that Blackstone-owned Hidrovias would partner in the privatization and development of hundreds of miles of the B.R.-163 highway through the rainforest.
Amazonian deforestation had been on a generally downward trend under the Workers Party governments of 2003-2014. REDD+ carbon emission targets had been met a decade early, and Brazil had been lauded internationally as a success story, albeit with criticism of hydroelectric projects such as Belo Monte. Under Temer and Bolsonaro, with the agencies that protected the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous populations either shut down or under violent attack, it accelerated.
One of the more disturbing stories concerning Council of the Americas members of recent times was that of Chevron’s activities in the Ecuadorian Amazon. It was found to have used powerful corporate intelligence agency Kroll to recruit young journalists to join a spy network, which was working to undermine a $27 billion environmental lawsuit for what experts believe is the worst oil-related catastrophe on the planet. It was a concerted effort to undermine the rule of law in Ecuador, by a company which has admitted to intentionally dumping over 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon from 1964 to 1990.
Dropping the Chevron lawsuit was one of the demands for granting of the 4.5bn IMF loan which now has Ecuador in the throes of an uprising against their conditional, enforced austerity, delivered by President Lenin Moreno. U.S.-backed Moreno, whom former Foreign Minister Guillaume Long calls a Shakespearean traitor, was former President Correa’s Vice President, and came to power with his support only to immediately shift to the right and begin reversing his predecessor’s policies. With hindsight, Wall Street had two dogs in the race at the 2017 Election, and like Brazil, Ecuador has since been the subject of a US-backed lawfare campaign aimed at preventing Correa, and the left as a whole, from returning to power. It is part a transnational investigation into Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht – an internationalised Lava Jato – which already jailed Correa ally Jorge Glas. The streets of Quito are currently flooded with protesters from across the country, and Moreno has been forced to move the seat of Government to the coastal city of Guayaquil.
Kroll was also contracted to work for the Parliamentary Commission Inquiry into Petrobras, investigating individuals of interest until August 2015. Other COA members such as Monsanto (Now Bayer-Monsanto) and Dow Chemical also use private spy agencies to attack critics, manipulate media and control political outcomes. And their own chemical products play a lethal role in Brazil, mass poisoning the population and even being weaponised as a kind of “Agent Orange” against indigenous communities.
The lines of corporate and state power have always been blurred, and Council of the Americas is where the State Department, Intelligence and U.S. business interests in Latin America convene.
To understand Council of the Americas modern functions its origins must also be understood. It was created in the early 1960s as “Business Group for Latin America” by David Rockefeller, then of Chase Bank, at the request of President John F. Kennedy..
In Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA (2006), John Prados writes:
“One such project came directly from the president. Kennedy, attending a meeting of Harvard’s Board of Overseers, spoke to fellow member David Rockefeller about enlisting big business to fight Castro. Spurred by Kennedy administration guarantees of investments, Rockefeller formed the Business Group for Latin America, which ultimately enlisted more than three dozen multinational corporations. In the same way the CIA conducted relations with labor or cultural groups, Langley assigned a case officer full time to handle the Business Group (the first of these left to work directly for the organisation). The Business Group provided cover for CIA officers and contributed to political action, serving as a conduit for agency funds.”
Business Group was to fund candidates opposed to President João Goulart at Brazil’s 1962 parliamentary elections, and bankrolled the “anti-Communist” Institute of Research and Social Studies (IPES) and Brazilian Institute for Democratic Action (IBAD) before being formalised in 1963 and restructured in 1965 as Council for Latin America.
IPES and IBAD, under the auspices of Business Group/COA, propagandised, organised civil society and helped foment the coup of 1964. Faced with a parliamentary inquiry, they tried and failed to destroy evidence of their foreign links before being shut down by court order in the desperate final months before Goulart was overthrown. Following the 1964 Coup, IPES would evolve in to the SNI (National Intelligence Service), which “served as the backbone of the military regime’s system of control and repression”. At a Military conference on Latin America at West Point months later, David Rockefeller said that it had been decided early on that Goulart was not acceptable to the U.S. banking community, and that he would have to go. Then, as now, the true motivation was not ideology, but on combating economic and resource nationalism.
A modern successor organisation to IBAD and IPES is Instituto Milenium, which was founded by Bolsonaro’s Chicago-school Finance Minister Paulo Guedes (pictured) in 2005. Guedes now proposes the merger of Banco do Brasil with principal Council of the Americas corporate member, Bank of America. To enable this he has introduced a “foreign exchange liberalization” bill, which crucially allows foreigners to acquire Brazilian banks. Guedes also championed Wall Street’s long-coveted, Chilean-style pension reforms which would force many Brazilians to work until their deaths.
This prescient 2012 investigation compared “the defunct IPES / IBAD complex, created in 1961 by civilian and military groups, and the Millennium Institute created in 2005. These groups have very similar ways of spreading their conservative ideologies in society through their strong connections with sectors of the mainstream media and Brazilian elites. The IPES / IBAD complex was of paramount importance in legitimising the 1964 coup, by curbing social demands….just as the Millennium Institute aims to limit the activities of the state in this area, using strong ideological propaganda.”
Created in response to Lula’s election, Milenium’s influence across Brazil’s oligarchic media grew to become a key component in the propaganda campaign behind Lava Jato and efforts to remove Dilma Rousseff and the Workers Party from power. What Milenium, like its Atlas counterparts across Latin America have done, is work tirelessly to make modernity and ultra-neoliberal policy synonymous and inseparable, as had happened elsewhere since the 1970s. This means the establishment of a capitalist realism, to insist that there is no alternative in countries which had attempted egalitarian alternatives to liberal economic orthodoxy.
Americas Quarterly was breathless in its amplification of AS/COA speaker Guedes’ credentials: “To the attendees of the World Economic Forum: This week in Davos, you will meet a man who seems destined to change Brazil for the better. Brilliant and disciplined, he has put together a truly first-rate team. In just three weeks in office, he seems to have correctly diagnosed what ails the world’s most disappointing large economy of recent years. There in the Swiss Alps, he will present his plan for fixing it; you will likely be dazzled. This man’s name is Paulo Guedes.” enthused Editor in Chief, Brian Winter.
Guedes notoriously said of his time in Chile during the early 1980s that “I knew there was a dictatorship, but for me this was irrelevant from an intellectual standpoint.”
Americas Quarterly was uncritical of his Chilean associations: “Guedes didn’t stay long, but all around him was what Milton Friedman called the “miracle of Chile….This was decades ago, but the link to today resides in his vision for Brazil’s economy. Guedes may now have a chance to lead his own dramatic neoliberal economic transformation.”
By 1970 Business Group/Council for Latin America had become Council of the Americas. By then, over $600 million of U.S. government funds had been been diverted for Chilean purposes alone as “investment insurance”. Having already interfered in its elections to bring Eduardo Frei Montalva to power, it would go on to facilitate payment of bribes to Chilean parliamentarians in an attempt to block President Salvador Allende’s inauguration, on behalf of its members ITT and Anaconda Copper. They would go on to be key actors in the bloody 1973 coup d’état which saw Allende dead and the “Neoliberal” dictator, General Augusto Pinochet installed. Suddenly the World Bank and IMF considered Chile to be a country they could do business with.
In Price of Power, Seymour Hersh wrote about Council of the Americas role in Chile and its seamless integration with the CIA’s activities:
“The principal contact in Chile for the CIA as well as for the American corporations was the organization of Agustín Edwards…who was the owner of the conservative El Mercurio newspaper chain in Chile and a focal point for the opposition to Allende and the left. The CIA and the Business Group, which by 1970 had been reorganized into the Council of the Americas, relied heavily on Edwards to use his organization and his contacts to channel their moneys into the 1964 political campaign. Many of the ties between the Business Group and the CIA in 1964 remained in place long after the election. For example, Enno Hobbing, a CIA official who had initially been assigned as liaison to the Business Group, eventually left the CIA and became the principal operations officer for the Council.”
The Pinochet regime that followed left over 40,000 killed, tortured or imprisoned, with a further 200,000 driven into exile. And its supposed economic “miracle”, which is regularly used to justify such horrors, has been comprehensively debunked.
Many people have died in Latin America as a direct result of decisions made at 680 Park Avenue, New York.
Council of the Americas staff are conspicuous in that they do not publicly commemorate Chile’s 9/11, the anniversary of that 1973 coup, as Latin America commentators generally do.
According to its own marketing material, Council of the Americas Corporate Members “are a premier group of over 230 private sector organizations which share a commitment to economic and social development, open markets, rule of law, and democracy in the region. Corporate member benefits are extended to employees across the Americas.”
So what do Council of the Americas’ corporate members get for their money today?
Elite Members enjoy, at the cost of $30,000 a year: “Exclusive invitations to substantially all private programs with world leaders. Preferred invitations for select senior executives to off-the-record, private meetings with government officials, business and cultural leaders. Assistance in establishing contacts to further business interests. Invitations to over 200 complimentary private programs throughout the region. Opportunity to sponsor private programs, working groups, series, and conferences. Opportunity to join COA working groups. Memberships in our Young Professionals of the Americas (YPA) initiative for rising young leaders.”
At a basic level Council of the Americas facilitates US business’s lobbying access to political power in the south, and grooms future Latin American leaders to favour those US business interests. In effect it enables the capture and control of Latin American political decision making processes by its members, such as Cargill. Even Smartmatic, the company which handles sensitive electronic vote count data for various Latin American countries, including Brazil, is a Council of the Americas member.
In September 2016, at a Council of the Americas event in New York, just weeks after Dilma Rousseff’s final removal, post-Coup President Michel Temer candidly admitted that the she had been impeached, not because of corruption, or the state of the economy, as had been depicted, but because she refused to implement their extreme Neoliberal programme “Bridge to the future”. This included a 20 year constitutionally enforced freeze on public education and health investment. The document caused controversy because appeared to have been translated from English and economist Marcio Pochmann noted similarities between “Bridge to the Future” and the “Government Economic Action Plan”) which followed the Coup of 1964. There was whispered speculation that it may have been drafted by Council of the Americas itself.
A classic economic hit job of a prescribed wrong policy at wrong time, Bridge to the Future’s “austericide” has not delivered any measurable benefit to Brazil, it has however enabled the sell off of its assets and strategic companies to Council of the Americas members.
A decade prior, Michel Temer had confidently told the U.S. State Department that whoever won the election later that year would need the support of he and his PMDB in order to govern. He also spoke of a desire to reformulate a conservative broad front, or even merge right-wing parties into a modern UDN, such as had existed prior to, and supported the 1964 Military Coup.
Far from changing the country like he promised his voters, the subsequent Bolsonaro Government’s programme has been a continuation and extension of “Bridge to the Future”, and once again Brazil’s minimum wage is threatened, as it was under Dictatorship.
Between 1964 and 1978, there was a 40% decline in the real wages of Brazilians, and foreign debt spiralled. As Peter Gribbin wrote at the time in Counterspy:
“The reason for the seeming paradox between a country so rich in natural resources yet one whose people suffer life-long misery is quite simple, however: for capitalists, both Brazilian and foreign, the masses are looked upon as costs, not customers: the lower their real wages, the higher the profits from selling to the local upper class and the international market.” and talked of “the intimate role the CIA has played in making Brazil one of the most repressive and, not surprisingly, one of the “safest” investment climates in Latin America.”
AS/COA also produces media propaganda to forward the interests of its patrons, directly and indirectly, published in their own magazine Americas Quarterly, through its own members such as Bloomberg, guest appearances on television news networks, and quotes to ostensibly “Liberal” newspapers such as the New York Times and Guardian, and a network of aligned journalists and commentators.
This has created a layer of what Professor Kathy Swart calls “fossilised propaganda” over the historical record of recent events, obfuscating popular memory. What was made to appear uncontroversial was very often demonstrably wrong, and has rarely been subject to correction since.
A prime example of this was years of breathless support for the now discredited anti-corruption operation Lava Jato (Carwash) which has resulted in an unprecedented windfall of accumulation and acquisitions for Council of the Americas’ corporate members. The organisation was effectively acting as an international publicist for Lava Jato, which was responsible for rigging the 2018 election by its jailing of electoral frontrunner Lula da Silva. This was a brazen, politically motivated move which opened the door for Bolsonaro, who gifted the judge who jailed Lula, Sérgio Moro, a new Super-Ministry of Justice and Security. Over the course of operation Lava Jato, U.S.-trained Moro would make various appearances at and visits to Council of the Americas, gracing the cover of their magazine and sharing an apparent friendship with its editor.
As Lava Jato judge, Sérgio Moro received multiple military honours in appreciation of his work. The Peacemaker Medal, which is reserved for “Brazilian or foreign military or civilian personnel who had provided services to the Army.” which he received in August 2016, just as Dilma Rousseff faced her final inevitable impeachment proceedings, and the Order of Military Merit, the Army’s highest award, with to date only around one hundred recipients, as Lula faced imminent prosecution in mid 2017. Leading the selection committee was General Sérgio Etchegoyen, post-coup head of institutional security, who weeks prior to Lula’s conviction held a meeting in Brasilia with the local CIA chief, Duane Norman which was accidentally revealed by Government officials. Etchegoyen was also the architect of the 2018 Military intervention in the state of Rio de Janeiro which was called a “laboratory” for the rest of Brazil.
Head of the Armed Forces General Villas Boas issued a statement intended to warn the Supreme Court against granting Habeas Corpus to former President Lula. The deciding vote was of Minister Rosa Weber, who said that it was being cast against her own opinion. Although further legal means were exhausted, Lula would not be allowed to run for President, prevented through a succession of rulings made under state of exception. From this perspective, operation Lava Jato and the Military appear closely allied.
Beyond Southcom itself, Military interaction between the United States, Brazil and Latin America as a whole is carried out through the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), which was formerly the notorious School of the Americas. Based at Fort Benning, Georgia, the change of name was considered a distancing from human rights abuses associated with SOA. In this 2007 article, Lesley Gill describes how WHINSEC “forms part of a hydra-headed repressive apparatus—encompassing armies, police forces, paramilitaries, arms manufacturers and think tanks – that consumes ever-more public resources as cold war pretexts give way to neoliberal policies generating widespread discontent.”, “More than just military instruction, the School imparts a particular political orientation and acculturates trainees into a specific world of values that it defines as “American.” Associated privileges ensure a steady stream of recruits seeking social mobility and political power, while the U.S. emphasis on regional militarization guarantees constant demand. These privileges largely secure the collusion of officers with the U.S. imperial project. The SOA also instills loyalty by flaunting the technological sophistication and expertise of the U.S. military as evidence of innate U.S. superiority. Many trainees fortify their positions vis-à-vis local competitors for power through access to this technology and esoteric information, even though this makes them more dependent upon the United States.”
In its educational programmes for Latin American militaries that for decades have been glorified police forces, not only is alignment with the United States part of the curriculum, but an emphasis on the superiority and inevitability of Neoliberal economics:
“The School further tantalizes students with the “American way of life”—the commodity-filled, suburban lifestyle of the white middle class. Officers in the SOA’s flagship Command and General Staff Officers Course enjoy a comfortable, consumer-oriented existence. They also learn English, educate their children in U.S. schools, earn part of their salaries in crisis-proof U.S. dollars and acquire commodities for personal consumption or sale as contraband. Little wonder many graduates end up viewing themselves as separate from, and superior to, civilians. In some countries, separate neighborhoods and social clubs for officers and their families reinforce this detachment.”
As intercepted air-traffic control communications showed Lula’s Military handlers making death threats to “throw this garbage out of the window” as he was transported by air to prison in Curitiba, Americas Quarterly personnel were on hand to whitewash his politically-motivated prosecution, which included publishing an edited version of the former President’s op-ed in the New York Times ostensibly to make it “more honest”. Subsequently AQ would normalise the extreme-right, genocidal rhetoric of Jair Bolsonaro by calling him simply an “Arch Conservative”, and relay investor opinion that there was “no room for feelings” over his potential election – which was a direct result of Lula’s jailing.
Lawyer Valeska Martins has described the lawfare attack on Lula in terms of its sheer violence. Unnecessary raids and confiscations, media spectacle arrest, freezing of even modest assets, and the the death of his wife Marisa, which was attributed to that torment.
Subsequent leaked conversations have decimated the Council of the Americas narrative on Lula, and corroborated the defence team’s insistence of the political nature of his prosecution, Judge Sérgio Moro’s connivance with prosecutors, as well as Operation Lava Jato’s collaboration with pro-impeachment protest groups, media, and those identified in conversations simply as “the Americans”.
In July 2017, then acting assistant Attorney General, Kenneth Blanco had boasted publicly during a speech at an Atlantic Council event about the U.S. Department of Justice’s informal collaboration with Brazilian prosecutors, on the Lava Jato investigation, citing the Lula case as a success story.
As well as its documented, publicly admitted collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice, which is now subject to multiple congressional inquiries in Washington, Operation Lava Jato, the de-facto lawfare front of regime change in Brazil, employed lawyers from legal companies such which were also COA Corporate Members, such as Mattos Filho, Veiga Filho, Marrey Jr. e Quiroga Advogados, which worked on its early and highly controversial plea bargains – a startling promiscuity of vested interests.
Evidently COA membership does not grant access merely to Latin America’s politicians, but also its Judiciary. Beyond regular visitor Sérgio Moro, the Council also regularly entertains high-ranking members of the Brazilian Judiciary, such as the Supreme Court’s Edson Fachin, and former Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot, who when addressing the World Economic Forum in 2017, described the “politically neutral” Operation Lava Jato as “Pro Market”.
In their book ‘War by other means’, published in 2016, Council on Foreign Relations fellows Robert D. Blackwill and Jennifer M. Harris proposed that in answer to future problems for U.S. hegemony in Latin America posed by the growing strength of the BRICS development bank and Brazil’s own BNDES, that the U.S. should “Treat corruption as the systematic geoeconomic weapon it often is”. They continue:
“The next U.S. President could, for example: direct the Department of Justice to indict corrupt foreign officials with greater regularity; order various federal agencies to cooperate with foreign corruption proceedings, supplying prosecutors with evidence on a case-by-case basis.”
By the time of the book’s publication this was already happening in Brazil.
Council of the Americas’ most high profile figure in Brazil is Brian Winter, Vice President of policy, and Editor-in-chief of its magazine Americas Quarterly, whose editorial board features ex-US Ambassador to Brazil Tom Shannon Jr, and Brazilian former IMF economist, Monica de Bolle.
A key plotter in Venezuela’s failed 2002 Coup and overseer of war crimes in Central America, Council of the America’s Chairman Emiritus John D. Negroponte, then outgoing US Director of Intelligence, warned in 2007 that democratisation of Latin America was a threat and/or challenge to the United States national security, alongside Iranian & North Korean nuclear programmes and the economic and military modernisation of China.
What Council of the Americas does beyond media propaganda, conferences and so on, is behind closed doors, and falls under an ambiguous definition of lobbying – or Negroponte describes as “people to people diplomacy”. It is unclear if this definition of “people to people diplomacy” includes bribery, such as that of Chile’s congress in the 1970s. At COA we see the perverse spectacle of legalised corruption in the form of a hemisphere-wide corporate lobbying operation, acting in tandem with the spurious public pursuit of corruption in order to control political outcomes in Latin America.
Council of the Americas’ predecessors were of whom Pablo Neruda spoke in his 1940 poem ‘Standard Oil Co’:
“Their obese emperors from New York are suave smiling assassins who buy silk, nylon, cigars, petty tyrants and dictators. They buy countries, people, seas, police, county councils, distant regions where the poor hoard their corn like misers their gold: Standard Oil awakens them, clothes them in uniforms, designates which brother is the enemy. The Paraguayan fights its war, and the Bolivian wastes away in the jungle with its machine gun.”
Neruda died on September 23 1973, less than two weeks after his close friend, Salvador Allende. Subsequent investigations and the exhumation of his body showed that his death was most probably caused by poisoning or injection of toxic bacteria. CIA involvement in the Coup which killed them both has been a matter of public record for forty years, as has the role of Council of the Americas.
In March 2019, newly inaugurated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and his Justice and Security Minister Sérgio Moro would make an unannounced and unprecedented visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, as if it was the most natural thing in the world…