Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Shock Doctrine 5: Cleaning the Slate

(previous posts here, Matt's posts here. also, Trend's corollary series here.)

"The economic plan has to be enforced, and in the Chilean context that could be done only by the killing of thousands, the establishment of concentration camps all over the country, the jailing of more than 100,000 persons in three years...Regression for the majorities and 'economic freedom' for small privileged groups are in Chile two sides of the same coin." -Orlando Letelier in The Nation, 1974.

Less than a month after writing this, former Chilean defense minister Orlando Letelier was dead, killed in Washington, D.C. when a bomb went off in his car. The assassins were found to have been admitted into the country with the knowledge of the CIA.

Klein points out that public opinion (media opinion, anyway) outside of Latin America voiced approval for the economic policies in Chile, Argentina, and the rest of the countries of Friedman's revolution even while condemning human rights violations. In this chapter, she sets out to prove Letelier right, linking the economic shock policies with the physical torture and shock of the citizenry.

Free markets have been sold to us as a benchmark of a free society--I've harped on this before, with my ever-present joke that when Bush said "Freedom" he meant "Free markets." But in Latin America free markets came with the most abject repression of people imaginable. Klein notes that the regimes' "cleansing" policies focused on the young--in Argentina, 81% of those disappeared were between 16 and 30 years of age. They also focused on uprooting leftist ideologies, in one case going into a Ford factory and pulling out union leaders--with the help of the factory foreman.

The repression included bookburning, punishing musicians and writers, firing professors or imprisoning them--tellingly, Klein says, most were from economics departments.

One thing she noted that I found interesting was that in Chile, gender norms were rigidly enforced. Men could be arrested for having long hair, while women were arrested for wearing pants. Klein doesn't make much of this point, so I want to spin it out a little bit. Again, the association between the radical free-market economists and the cultural conservatives (in this country and elsewhere) often seems strange: I've noted that Friedmanite markets are hardly a "conservative" position. They are as radical and revolutionary as any Communist idea.

Yet we see them again and again coupled with militarism and cultural conservatism, coming in on a wave of torture, death, terror, and strictly enforced gender roles. Klein writes of babies being taken from families that were opposed to the regime (often prisoners who were then killed) and given to proper ideologues to raise in the "right" way.

The whole process was about keeping the people under control. Keeping them from fighting back. Torture was used not to gain information, but simply to break people. And we see the reflection of this in our current debate over it. Though it is widely known that torture is a shitty way to get information, it's an excellent way to break people down.

Klein notes that torturing people until they informed on others or even tortured others to stop themselves from being tortured indoctrinated them into the capitalist mindset: look out for #1.

It's terrifying stuff, this book. It's absolutely horrifying. I'm glad I'm only reading it chapter by chapter, once a week--it allows me breaks in between for movies and comics and other lighthearted things before I delve back into the horrors that have been inflicted if not in our names, with our government's approval.

Still, there are bits of inspiration in here, too. I leave you with a quote from Allende's last public address, as the military closed in on him:

"They have the strength; they can subjugate us, but they cannot halt social processes by either crime or force. History is ours, and the people make it."