Naomi Klein

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The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

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Once Strip-Mined, Twice Shy

It used to be that if there was one thing you could count in matters of international trade, it was the desperation of the poor. No matter how bad the deal, it was always better than nothing.

But all of a sudden, poor countries are busting up trade rounds, standing up to the International Monetary Fund, and turning down foreign investment. What’s going on? Is it possible that when you’ve lost enough, desperation turns into defiance?

Take the people of Esquel, a small city in Southern Argentina. A year ago, the U.S-Canadian gold mining company Meridian purchased Britain’s Bancote Holdings, which owned a gold deposit in Esquel estimated at (U.S.) $1-billion. The time seemed to be right to build a huge open pit mine: gold was selling high and Argentina, with its ravaged economy, was selling low.

The company informed the city of Esquel that it was about to be the lucky recipient of 400 mining jobs. It slapped together an Environmental Impact Assessment, assured the community that using 2700 kg of cyanide a day was no riskier than driving to work, and got ready to start digging.

Free Trade is War

On Monday, seven anti-privatization activists were arrested in Soweto for blocking the installation of prepaid water meters. The meters are a privatized answer to the fact that millions of poor South Africans cannot pay their water bills.

The new gadgets work like pay-as-you-go cell phones, only instead of having a dead phone when you run out of money, you have dead people, sickened by drinking cholera-infested water. On the same day South Africa's "water warriors" were locked up, Argentina's negotiations with the International Monetary Fund bogged down. The sticking point was rate hikes for privatized utility companies. In a country where 50 percent of the population is living in poverty, the IMF is demanding that multinational water and electricity companies be allowed to increase their rates by a staggering 30 percent.

At trade summits, debates about privatization can seem wonkish and abstract. On the ground, they are as clear and urgent as the right to survive.

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