Dec 302017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

Outgoing Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis is surrounded by media as he tries to leave on his motorcycle, after his resignation in Athens, Monday, July 6, 2015. Greece and its membership in Europe's joint currency faced an uncertain future Monday, with the country under pressure to reach a bailout deal with creditors as soon as possible after Greeks resoundingly rejected the notion of more austerity in exchange for aid. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Outgoing Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis is surrounded by media as he tries to leave on his motorcycle, after his resignation in Athens, Monday, July 6, 2015. Greece and its membership in Europe’s joint currency faced an uncertain future Monday, with the country under pressure to reach a bailout deal with creditors as soon as possible after Greeks resoundingly rejected the notion of more austerity in exchange for aid. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

SYRIZA gained popular support and came in with a program that was really radical. They said we will socialize or nationalize the Greek banks and put in practice a very radical fiscal policy and increase the taxes on the rich, the Orthodox Church, and the oligarchs. They wound up doing just the opposite.

ATHENS, GREECE – For years, throughout the severe economic crisis that has plagued Greece over much of the past decade, the international media and financial press have held Greece up as a striking example of financial folly and mismanagement. Greece’s debt, we have been told, is the product of fiscal irresponsibility, of “lazy” and “unproductive” Greeks living beyond their means and spending recklessly. Moreover, Greece has been chastised for not emerging out of its economic doldrums despite being the recipient of hundreds of billions of euros worth of “free bailout money.” In short, Greece has been presented as an example for other countries to avoid at all costs.

Éric Toussaint, the spokesman of the Brussels-based Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM) and scientific director of the Greek Debt Truth Audit Commission, adopts a radically different view.

In an interview that initially aired on Dialogos Radio in December 2017, Toussaint describes the findings of the commission and describes the legal avenues available to Greece for the repudiation of a significant portion of its debt, which he describes as odious and illegitimate. He also criticizes claims made by economist and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis in his recent book regarding the supposed lack of options available to Greece in its negotiations with its lenders in 2015.

Toussaint illustrates the capitulation of Varoufakis and current Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, resulting in further harsh austerity measures and no solution for the issue of the Greek public debt.

MPN: You recently wrote a three-part series of articles looking at the actions of, on the one hand, the SYRIZA-led government in Greece under Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and, on the other hand, the actions of Yanis Varoufakis, the well-known economist and Greece’s finance minister under the SYRIZA-led government in the first half of 2015. Your critique comes following the publication of Varoufakis’ recent book, Adults In The Room, in which Varoufakis gives his account of the Greek crisis and his actions in supposedly standing up to the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund). We’ll use this as a starting off point for our discussion. What were your general impressions of the book?

Éric Toussaint: The book really should be read, because it’s a very useful testimony about what happened. I disagree with the orientation of Varoufakis, but it’s a unique presentation of what happened before the Greek parliamentary election of January 2015 and what happened in the first six months thereafter — leading to thecapitulation of the SYRIZA government in July 2015, following its overturning of the result of the July 5 referendum rejecting a new German-backed austerity plan.

MPN: In Adults In The Room, one of the claims apparently made by Varoufakis is that Greece was bankrupt in 2009 and that this set the stage for the so-called “bailouts” and austerity that followed. You dispute this claim, however. What do the facts show?

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis speaks during a parliamentary session in Athens, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. (AP/Yannis Liakos)

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis speaks during a parliamentary session in Athens, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. (AP/Yannis Liakos)

ET: In reality, the main problem was on the side of the private debt, the debt of the Greek banks, but also other businesses and households. There had been a process of huge growth of the private debt just after the integration of Greece into the Eurozone, because the big French, German, Dutch, and Belgian banks wanted to lend money to Greece, knowing that there was no risk of devaluation because of the monetary union.

They had a surplus of liquidity before the crisis of 2007 – 08, and after the crisis because, as you will remember, the Federal Reserve of the U.S. and the European Central Bank injected a huge amount of liquidity into the banks. These banks used that money to lend where they were having the better profits, and the countries of the “periphery” — like Greece but also Portugal, Ireland, and Spain — were more profitable than countries like Germany, France, Benelux, the U.K. or the U.S.

So the main issue was the problem of the bubble of private credit, but the main problem of the Greek government of George Papandreou in 2009, and the problem of the French government of Nicolas Sarkozy and the government of Angela Merkel in Germany, was that it was impossible to tell voters that we have to once more bail out the private banks. Therefore, it was necessary for them to build a fake narrative of what was happening in Greece, telling the public that the main problem was the huge level of public debt and the incapacity of the Greek government to keep on financing its public and external debt. In reality, they created this fake narrative to convince public opinion about the need to give money to the Greek government to “bail out” the Greek private banks and the French and German and Dutch and Belgian private sector, mainly the banks.

So, I disagree with the dominant narrative and I disagree with Varoufakis, who wrote in his book that the Greek government was bankrupt. I think the main problem was the banks, and the Greek government had the choice to either bail out the private sector or to “bail in” and socialize the banks (forcing the banks to take losses). It ultimately decided not to socialize or to expropriate the private banks. It was an error of the Greek government, and the other European governments were accomplices, along with big financial capital.

In summary, there is a difference between what Varoufakis is saying and what I am saying, and the conclusions are also different. I would say that what the Greek government should have done would have been to suspend the payment of the external debt, including the public debt. Varoufakis is saying the Greek state should have recognized itself that it was bankrupt and should have sold public assets to the foreign private sector, including selling to the other European countries and investors, and to the Greek banks. Do you see the difference?

MPN: Much has been said about Greece falsifying economic figures to enter the Eurozone, but you point out in your articles that Greece’s debt and deficit statistics were falsified by the Papandreou government in 2009 and 2010 and by IMF employee Andreas Georgiou, who was placed in charge of the Greek Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) by the Papandreou government. How were the Greek debt and deficit figures falsified, and is this something that Varoufakis addresses in his book?

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, right, arrives at the special Paris court, France. (AP/Thibault Camus)

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, right, arrives at the special Paris court, France. (AP/Thibault Camus)

ET: No, he says absolutely nothing about this falsification. But this falsification is evident. There is the case of Andreas Georgiou, the director of ELSTAT, who was sued, and at the beginning of August 2017 was found guilty of falsification by the Greek courts.

What happened? Papandreou met with the leaders of the European Central Bank — at that time it was Jean-Claude Trichet, very linked to the French banks — and the IMF, whose general director at that time, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was also very linked to the French banks. The Papandreou government asked the director of ELSTAT to add some debt to the official public debt. At the first step, Eurostat, the European organization of statistics, told ELSTAT that it was an error to add this debt, but Eurostat was afterward also convinced by Trichet and by José Manuel Barroso, then the president of the European Commission, to be part of the falsification of the Greek public debt.

I would estimate they increased the debt more or less 15 to 20 percent in relation to the Greek GDP, so that the official figure reached the huge ratio of 125 percent of GDP for the public debt, and the budgetary fiscal deficit reached something like 13 percent. So with these figures, the troika could say there is an emergency, we have to intervene to “help” the Greek government, with 110 billion euros of loans to Greece. So in this case, I would say that it was a conspiracy. I am not a conspiracist, but in this case we really now have the proof of a huge level of falsification and of the building of the fake narrative to misrepresent what was the real situation.

MPN: You point out that Yanis Varoufakis, despite his radical and leftist profile, maintained friendships and close contact with such figures as the head of the Greek conservative party, Antonis Samaras, who was prime minister of Greece between 2012 and 2014; Yannis Stournaras, who was the finance minister under the Samaras government during that period and who is the current governor of the Bank of Greece; and George Papandreou, who led Greece into the austerity and memorandum regime in 2009 and 2010. Describe the nature of Varoufakis’ relationships with these figures.

ET: You know, Varoufakis is very happy to share that he has developed and maintains many relations with the traditional political class in Greece. In some ways, when you read his book you see that he is trying to convince world leaders that what he was proposing was a better solution for everybody, including for the leaders of the world. And so he insisted on stating that [then-leader of the Greek opposition] Antonis Samaras called him one evening after [Varoufakis] publicly criticized what Papandreou was doing, with Samaras telling Varoufakis “I don’t know you but I like very much what you said on Greek television and to Greek public opinion.”

It shows that Varoufakis has a very complicated personality, because he says he wants to be at the side of the oppressed people, and he’s promised to his voters not to betray them, but at the same time he wanted to convince world leaders and to maintain very good relations with everybody — with Stournaras, with Samaras, with Papandreou, with Christine Lagarde, with [then-German finance minister Wolfgang] Schäuble, with [German Chancellor] Merkel. And in the U.S., if you read the book, he says he was very happy to maintain a very good relationship with Larry Summers and Jeffrey Sachs.

People in the U.S. should know who these guys are. Larry Summers was in charge of the U.S. Treasury in the Clinton administration at the end of the 1990s and he was responsible for the revocation of the Glass-Steagall Act [that had been a way of protecting the economy from unduly risky behavior by banks]. After that he was the president of Harvard University and was totally [chauvinistic] in his declaration of the difference between men and women. He can be fairly described as a right-wing Democrat. Sachs, who was also a friend of Varoufakis, was responsible for the first economic “shock therapy” [harsh and sudden economic austerity policies] imposed on Bolivia in 1995, and the “shock therapy” imposed on Russia and Poland in the early 1990s. So it’s really problematic to see this contradictory posture of Varoufakis.

MPN: In his book, Varoufakis goes on to say that he convinced SYRIZA to depart from its policy platform of 2012 and the Thessaloniki platform of 2014. Instead, Varoufakis convinced SYRIZA to adopt his own set of economic proposals. For instance, Varoufakis seems to have proposed advocating for a debt restructuring instead of a debt reduction. What was SYRIZA originally proposing; what were Varoufakis’ proposals which were ultimately adopted; and why were Varoufakis’ proposals, in your words, doomed to fail?

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015 file photo, a man walks past street art depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Athens, Greece. Tsipras' decision to sign off on a bailout led to many in his left-wing Syriza party to quit in protest.

A man walks past street art depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Athens, Greece. Tsipras’ decision to sign off on a bailout led to many in his left-wing Syriza party to quit in protest.

ET: In the electoral campaign of 2012, SYRIZA succeeded in increasing its popular support. In the election of 2009 SYRIZA received 4 percent of the vote, and in June 2012 26.5 percent of the vote. So it was very clear with the election of June 2012 that sometime in the future SYRIZA would become the government of Greece. And they gained such popular support in 2012 with a program that was very radical.

They were saying that if you elect us as government, we will suspend the payment of the debt and we will audit the debt to identify the illegitimate part of the Greek debt. They also said we will socialize or nationalize the Greek banks. And they said that they would put in practice a very radical fiscal policy and increase the taxes on the rich, the Orthodox Church, and the oligarchs who are active in the shipping industry. So it was a radical program, and they also said that we will not make any more sacrifices for the euro.

Varoufakis was opposed to this orientation, and in his book he explains how he succeeded in convincing Alexis Tsipras and his inner circle to moderate, to soften the program and to say that it was not necessary to suspend the payment of the debt — that it was possible to convince the creditors to restructure the debt without reducing the debt and without a suspension of payments. Varoufakis also wrote that he convinced Tsipras that it was important not to increase the taxes paid by the private sector, the Greek corporations and financial industry, and foreign corporations based in Greece.

What I can say as a comment on Varoufakis’ book is that Tsipras, after the election of June 2012, was also looking for people like Varoufakis, who could help Tsipras to soften the program of SYRIZA while not openly confronting the rest of SYRIZA’s leadership. So I would say Tsipras and Varoufakis organized something like a shadow cabinet within SYRIZA to prepare another official platform. Varoufakis explains that actually they did this against the official line of SYRIZA. For me, at this level, Varoufakis has a huge responsibility for the capitulation that happened at the beginning of July 2015.

MPN: One of Varoufakis’ proposals to the leaders of SYRIZA was to accept a primary budget surplus of up to 1.5 percent of GDP. For those unfamiliar with economics, what is a primary budget surplus and why is it harmful for a country whose economy is in a depressed state, as is the case in Greece?

ET: To achieve a primary budget surplus, you need to cut expenses, and it is clear that the type of expenses to be cut are social expenses and infrastructure investment. A primary surplus is achieved prior to paying the debt. When you say that I will guarantee as a government a primary surplus, it is to use this surplus to pay the debt. You will not question the payment of the debt when you guarantee a primary surplus.

The alternative would have been to say, as a legitimate leftist government, we should have a fiscal deficit, because we should use the money of the government to stimulate the recovery of the economic activity and we should improve the quality of life of the population — and to accomplish this we need more money for health, for education, to create jobs. And so, the proposal of Varoufakis was at odds with a truly radical negotiating position on the part of the Greek government.

MPN: Yanis Varoufakis and Alexis Tsipras have spoken, for instance, at the Brookings Institution, the well-known neoliberal Washington think tank. Can such actions, in your opinion, be reconciled with their supposedly leftist and radical image?

ET: I would say it is not really shocking. Personally I don’t like to do such things, but we can understand that certain people want to be in government and are therefore willing to give some speeches to different publics. But at the same time it is absolutely clear that Tsipras prioritized his being invited by institutional authorities who are neoliberal, and he did that and he has kept on doing that because he wants absolutely to be recognized as a political leader, one who is very responsible to the markets and to the stability of the financial system.

In the case of Varoufakis, he wanted to create, I would say, a more complex image — in some way provoking but in some way saying yes, we need to reach a compromise, an agreement. And he also gave an absolute priority to invitations from right-wing or systemic institutions. It’s very clear, for instance, that he liked very much the conservative leadership in the U.K. and accepted several invitations from them; and he also accepted, precisely at the beginning of his tenure as finance minister, an invitation to go to London to give a speech to foreign investors. It showed, in this way, that he and Tsipras were the main interlocutors with creditors and capitalists. In Varoufakis’ book, he also writes a lot about the good relations he tried to build with China and Chinese authorities investing in Greece.

MPN: You have been the scientific coordinator of the Greek Debt Truth Commission since it was established in 2015. Has the SYRIZA-led government shown any intention of adopting the findings of the commission, and was there any point during your participation on the commission when you realized that perhaps the SYRIZA government’s policies were going in a different direction from the work that you were doing?

Members of left wing parties shout slogans behind a burning European Union flag during an anti-EU protest in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Members of left wing parties shout slogans behind a burning European Union flag during an anti-EU protest in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

ET: I would say that frankly, since the beginning, when I spoke with the then-president of the Hellenic Parliament Zoe Konstantopoulou on February 16, 2015, I told her that I came to you, came to the parliament to make a proposal to you to launch an audit commission, and I can convince people from 10 different countries to work with no payment in favor of the Greek people and in favor of the truth about the debt. Telling that to Zoe [Konstantopoulou], I added that I was convinced that Alexis Tsipras would not be enthusiastic about that proposal. She told me, “No problem, I will do that, I will call Alexis and I will convince him.” She immediately issued a press release regarding our meeting on February 16, 2015. She also called Tsipras, and Tsipras officially told her “do it, it’s part of our program in 2012; do it and do it with Eric Toussaint.

We held the first meeting of the commission on April 4, 2015 in the Greek parliament. Alexis Tsipras came at the beginning of the inaugural session. The president of the Hellenic Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, came also, and so officially they showed their support. Almost all the members of the government also attended, including Varoufakis. But it was clear to me that Varoufakis was not in favor of freely supporting the commission, and the same from Tsipras. Zoe Konstantopoulou was convinced, because she was a political friend and a friend of Tsipras, that he was sincere when he was telling her that he wanted to support our work.

Several weeks later, it was very clear that neither Tsipras or Varoufakis were open to publicly, in front of the media, mentioning the work of the commission. They never — you know, they traveled a lot to Brussels and Varoufakis traveled a lot to Washington to meet Christine Lagarde, the general director of the IMF — and they never questioned the legitimacy of the debt. So for me it was very clear that they were in some way forced by the president of the Greek parliament to express official support, but at the same time it was very clear that they didn’t want to radicalize their position.

I performed this work with the 13 members of the commission. The work done by the commission, I would say, consists of more than 1500 or 2000 hours of work performed over eight weeks among 13 persons. We worked day and night to produce a very efficient and rigorous report, and my expectation was that there was some possibility that several ministers of the SYRIZA-led government — ministers of the then-SYRIZA faction “Left Platform,” jointly with Zoe Konstantopoulou and the pressure from the streets and from the other radical-left groups and the trade-union left — could pressure the government to use our work. But I was not really very optimistic because I was very well informed about what Varoufakis was doing with his team of advisers. I was receiving clear information about the concessions that he was ready to give to the creditors.

But I don’t regret having done this work, and people who participated in the commission — people from France, Spain, Greece, Ecuador, Brazil, the U.K., Belgium — these people are very proud to have done this work. They are convinced that because we have done very serious work, it will be useful in the future — in Greece but also in other parts of the world, because in Spain, in Portugal, in Italy, in Slovenia, in other countries, people are reading our report, are asking us a lot of questions, trying to implement the same methodology to the specific case in their own country. I’m sure it will be useful.

MPN: Describe the findings and conclusions that were published in your report, and also the recommendations made by the Debt Truth Audit Commission.

ET: In the first two chapters, we analyze the building of the Greek public and private debt before the crisis. We explain what happened in the 1990s and in the first decade of the 21st century. We showed that the accumulation of debt was linked to huge amounts of military expenses encouraged by the U.S. government and the French and German governments, which are the main sellers of weapons to Greece. We showed also that interest rates paid by Greece at the end of the 20th century increased the debt, as also happened with the peripheral countries.

Additionally we showed the responsibility of the previous PASOK and New Democracy governments in giving tax gifts to the rich that reduced the government revenue and forced the government to finance its budget by debt. And we showed also that the debt increased after the addition of the Greece to the Eurozone, because a lot of money came from the German and French investors.

Following that, in chapters 3 and 4, we showed the transformation of the debt from the troika’s first memorandum, when the private lenders were replaced by public lenders — the troika, the European Commission, 14 different states of the Eurozone, the IMF and the European Central Bank. We showed that they did that to bail out the private banks — foreign and national — and not in the interest of the people. We demonstrated that the lenders added conditions to the new loans, conditions that violated international treaties on economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights.

In other words, we demonstrated that the debt to the troika was an odious debt, meaning a debt accumulated against the interests of the people, and that the creditors or lenders knew that they were giving loans against the interests of the people. And, in the case of the troika, this was absolutely evident, because the troika was dictating to the Greek government the terms of the loans — which laws to change, which new laws to adopt, what wage and pension reductions and privatizations to enact. The troika were not only accomplices but they were direct commanders — they were the initiators of these violations.

After that in the report we demonstrated the clear impact on the quality of life of the Greek population. In chapter 5, we named concrete international treaties and which article is being violated by the conditions imposed by the troika. And in the last two chapters we explained in legal terms why the Greek debt to the troika should be rejected as illegitimate, odious, illegal, and unsustainable.

Our conclusion was that the Greek government fully has the right to suspend the payment of the debt, to question the debt, and also to repudiate the part of the debt identified as odious. Notable lawyers helped us, as members of the commission, to write the conclusion based on international law and Greek domestic law. It is clear that should Varoufakis and Tsipras have used this report, they would have had very strong arguments against the creditors, instead of capitulating in front of them in July 2015.

MPN: Is the Greek Debt Truth Audit Commission still active today? And, by extension, how is the CADTM active today on the issue of the Greek debt?

A pedestrian passes anti-austerity graffiti in front of Athens Academy. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A pedestrian passes anti-austerity graffiti in front of Athens Academy. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ET: The Debt Truth Commission was dissolved by the new president of the Greek parliament, Nikos Voutsis, in October 2015. We were opposed to its dissolution, and so we decided collectively to transform ourselves into an independent organization with the same name. We are active now as the Debt Truth Committee, recognized by Greek law, and we have met several times in the past two years.

We met once in the European Parliament, invited by several members of the European Parliament — French, Greek, German and Spanish European MPs who are supporting our work. We held several meetings in Greece, not in the parliament because we are no longer invited, but in the office of the Greek Association of Lawyers. There were many Greek citizens who attended the public part of our meetings.

Several of us have published different articles. I published a book in Greek last July with new material about the Greek debt. We also produced several videos and a documentary, “Audit,” a 26 minute film. It is very interesting, I recommend to you to view it. I have to check, but I think that very soon it will be available with English subtitles. So we are keeping on with our work. It is clear that we are not supported by the government. And the right-wing press maintains silence about our work — but we enjoy significant support in the Greek social movements and radical-left organizations.

MPN: In looking at Greece over the years of the economic crisis, we’ve often heard that Greece has been given all this money by the troika, insinuating that the money was simply given away to Greece. In reality though, where have most of the so-called “bailout” funds ended up?

ET: It’s absolutely clear that more than 90 percent of the loans given to Greece went back outside of Greece to pay back the private banks and public creditors, or to bail out the Greek banks. Less than 10 percent has been used by the regular government as an input to the budget, but they used even that to promote the neoliberal policies! So this money also was used against the interests of the Greek people, because it was used to finance privatizations, to finance the layoffs of thousands of public servants, et cetera.

MPN: What options does Greece have available to it under domestic law, European law, and international law today — with regards to the public debt, and also with regards to the potential abolition or overturning of the austerity measures and memorandum-related policies, such as privatizations, that have followed?

Riot police clashes with protesting farmers outside the greek Agriculture Ministry, in Athens, Wednesday, March 8, 2017. Police fired tear gas to prevent farmers from forcing their way into the ministry building, while protesters responded by throwing stones. No injuries or arrests were reported. Protesters are angry at increases in their tax and social security contributions, part of the income and spending cuts Greece's left-led government has implemented to meet bailout creditor-demanded budget targets.(AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Riot police clashes with protesting farmers outside the greek Agriculture Ministry, in Athens, Wednesday, March 8, 2017. Police fired tear gas to prevent farmers from forcing their way into the ministry building, while protesters responded by throwing stones. No injuries or arrests were reported. Protesters are angry at increases in their tax and social security contributions, part of the income and spending cuts Greece’s left-led government has implemented to meet bailout creditor-demanded budget targets.(AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ET: There is something very concrete that could be done with the Greek bonds owned by the European Central Bank. The ECB bought Greek bonds in 2010, 2011, and 2012 at a discount price, a discount of 30 percent. After that, after the “haircut” [downward revaluation of Greek bonds] of 2012, the ECB refused to be part of the “haircut.” Now the ECB is demanding that Greece repay the full amount of the Greek bonds the ECB bought at a discount price. It is demanding the full nominal value of the bonds — and with a very high interest rate, 6.5 percent — at the same time that the ECB is lending money to the private banks at zero interest.

What the Greek government could do is to change the legal status of the Greek bonds, because they are still covered under the legal jurisdiction of Greece. The Greek government could say we are enacting a haircut of 50 or 80 percent on these bonds, to reduce the payments, because we want to use the money in favor of the Greek people’s interests. It would be possible to do that. Tsipras can do that or a future Greek government can do that.

What should complement this, what a government that would like to really help the Greek people’s interests could do would be to, on the basis of our audit, enact another unilateral, sovereign action of repudiation of other parts of the debt. It is clear that this would provoke a huge verbal reaction. But for the past seven years, since the first memorandum of 2010, the creditors have criticized the Greek government and the Greek population, shown the Greek population as “lazy” and as “delinquent” at the level of tax payments. I think that they cannot, as creditors, inflict more pain on the Greek people than they already have.

A legitimate government can affirm the popular sovereignty in the interests of the Greek population, can resolve an issue in favor of the general interest of the population — and not only the Greek people’s interests, but humanity, I would say. We need justice, and if there is no justice for the Greek people, there will be no justice for all the people in Europe and the rest of the world. We have to launch and to expand the struggle to oppose illegitimate and odious debt all over the world.

MPN: Debt, as you say, is not just a Greek or European problem. Total world debt is said to surpass $230 trillion dollars. Is the current global economic model sustainable under such conditions, in your view?

ET: No, it’s not sustainable. As you certainly know, recently the IMF but also the Bank of International Settlements — it is a bank of the big central banks based in Basel, Switzerland — have been saying there are new financial bubbles. These bubbles have been provoked by an inflation of the price of assets, with a massive injection of liquidity decided by the big central banks like the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, and the Bank of England.

In the next months or years this will provoke a new financial crisis. Exactly when it will happen we don’t know. It can happen in one week or in six months or in one year. Certainly it will happen with a stock exchange crash, and a crash on the market of obligations emitted by private corporations and also sovereign debt. Where it will explode — Wall Street, Paris, Frankfurt — we don’t know. Maybe Beijing. But it will explode in the near future.

This model of huge global debt, which is accumulated in favor of speculative activities and to enrich the richest, will end via a new general crisis. Not a terminal crisis of capitalism, because the structure of capitalism has survived such financial crises since the beginning of the 19th century.

But these types of crises generally deliver a huge amount of pain to the majority of the population, so we should be conscious of what capitalism is preparing for the population of the world. We have to combine a struggle against illegitimate debt with other demands about private banks, about taxes, against climate change, in favor of social justice. We need to chart a radical turn opposing the capitalist model.

Dec 052017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

Andreas Georgiou...Greece's new statistics agency chief Andreas Georgiou, who took up his position on Thursday, July 22, 2010, talks outside the entrance of the Statictics agency,in Piraeus, near Athens. After years of false reporting by Greece, the countries new Greek statistic agency chief promised clean financial data.The agency now has been placed under parliamentary oversight and not under direct government control.Serious errors in Greek deficit data, revealed last year, helped trigger the European government debt crisis rattled world markets and confidence in the euro.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Andreas Georgiou…Greece’s new statistics agency chief Andreas Georgiou, who took up his position on Thursday, July 22, 2010, talks outside the entrance of the Statictics agency,in Piraeus, near Athens. After years of false reporting by Greece, the countries new Greek statistic agency chief promised clean financial data.The agency now has been placed under parliamentary oversight and not under direct government control.Serious errors in Greek deficit data, revealed last year, helped trigger the European government debt crisis rattled world markets and confidence in the euro.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

This furious effort of all Georgiou’s supporters to prevent his case from being brought to trial reveals their panic as well as their guilt, because they know that in the forthcoming court hearing all the evidence will be revealed proving their involvement in the great national betrayal of Greece.

ATHENS, GREECE — The mainstream narrative regarding the cause of the severe economic crisis Greece has experienced is that the Greek people and Greek state were irresponsible with their finances, lived “beyond their means” at the expense of EU taxpayers, and provided overly generous social benefits and pensions to an underproductive, uncompetitive, and lazy populace.

These characterizations have then been used to justify the successive memorandum agreements, or “bailouts,” and the austerity measures that have been imposed in Greece since 2010, as the country’s “just deserts” —  the “bitter medicine” that must be prescribed to correct Greece’s previous ills.

A different view exists, however — one that is based on allegations that Greece was driven into the memorandum and austerity regime not by economic incompetence and cultural deficiencies, but by a fraud that was perpetrated against the Greek people and the country of Greece.

In this interview, which aired in November on Dialogos Radio, Nicholas Logothetis, a former member of the board of the Greek Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), describes allegations that have been made against Andreas Georgiou, ELSTAT’s former president, and against EU statistical authority Eurostat, regarding how Greece’s deficit and debt figures were illegitimately inflated in 2010, providing the rationale to drag Greece under a regime of austerity and extreme economic oversight.

Logothetis details how debt swaps and other questionable financial dealings were added to Greece’s debt and deficit, as well as the consequences of these actions, the criminal and civil convictions against Georgiou, and the court cases that are still pending.

MPN: Let’s begin with a discussion about Andreas Georgiou, the embattled former president of ELSTAT, who oversaw the augmentation of the Greek deficit and debt. Describe for us Georgiou’s background prior to taking on the role of president of ELSTAT. Was Georgiou even a statistician?

NL: No, he wasn’t. The operation of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), as a continuation of the initial National Statistical Authority, as we called it, officially began in late June of 2010. This was the time that the members of ELSTAT’s management board were selected and approved by the conference of parliamentary presidents, with the required supermajority of four-fifths.

Georgiou has been working at the International Monetary Fund since the late 1980s. For a few years before he came to Greece, he was deputy head of a division of the IMF’s statistics department, the financial institutions division. However, the Greek Ministry of Finance announced the appointment of ELSTAT’s board of directors through a press release to all Greek newspapers. In that press release, it presented Georgiou as deputy head of the entire IMF statistics department, a very big department in the IMF and a very important one, hiding his actual organizational position in the IMF, a position of an economic nature rather than a statistical nature, in a subordinate division of the statistics department.

Obviously, the objective of the Greek Minister of Finance was to present Georgiou as an experienced statistician with a significant management position at the IMF, who supposedly left America and came here to “save” Greece by putting in order all of its statistics. In fact, this gentleman was not only unable to run an important institution such as ELSTAT, with over 1,000 employees, but he wasn’t even a statistician, with no academic publications and no knowledge of statistics.

Moreover, for at least six months after assuming the ELSTAT presidency, Georgiou still held his organizational position at the IMF, something that was explicitly forbidden by ELSTAT’s founding law.

MPN: What were the actions undertaken by Georgiou as president of ELSTAT? In other words, how were the Greek deficit and debt figures manipulated and in what other ways were Greece’s official economic figures altered?

NL: First of all, Georgiou’s first moves were to remove from the other members of the board any ability and initiative to propose discussion topics or to be involved in the calculation of the deficit or the debt. They were forbidden even to communicate with the remaining staff of ELSTAT! This behavior of Georgiou was not only due to his inability to act as a manager but also due to the fact that he understood from the very beginning, even from the second meeting of the board in September 2010, our refusal to adopt the deficit and debt calculation procedures he wanted to follow. He knew that eventually, the majority of the board members would not approve his deficit figures to be officially published before the end of October 2010.

Andreas Georgiou, stands outside the headquarters of the Statistics agency, in Athens, Greece. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Andreas Georgiou, stands outside the headquarters of the Statistics agency, in Athens, Greece. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Shortly after the last meeting of the board in early October 2010, the final silencing of the whole board followed and we were never convened again, thus leaving the way free for Georgiou, always under the auspices of senior Eurostat executives, on the one hand, to change the founding law—as he always wanted, to turn ELSTAT into one-person authority—and on the other hand, to inflate the 2009 figures. Exactly how he did this became clear later, but we had suspected soon enough what he was going to do.

My first disagreement with him was when I realized he would add to the deficit figures and to the national debt of Greece the Simitis swaps — that is, the swaps that former Greek prime minister Costas Simitis had made use of in 2001 in order for Greece to get accepted to the Eurozone. Allow me to briefly explain what these swaps are, as they indicate clearly an activity typical of the statistical mishandlings that had always been used and are still taking place in our country, every time the government’s leaders want to achieve something with communication or financial benefits for themselves or for third parties. Swaps are a type of a bond, a banking derivative or simply a stock exchange bet, a currency exchange bet. Many countries do it, even now they are doing it, converting their existing debt into currencies of other countries, say in Swiss francs or Japanese yen, betting that the value of that currency will rise and at the maturity of this debt, the owner will gain from the difference in the value of currencies.

In a way, what happened in 2001 is that much of Greece’s debt was converted into yen, but at the value that the yen had in 1995, which was higher than that of 2001! Remember, the swaps were made in 2001, but the price of the yen in 1995 was the one used for this swap. We can put a big question mark here because I don’t know how legitimate this was, to consider as valid the exchange value of the yen of six years ago. But anyway, this was what happened.

From this action, Greece was theoretically gaining an amount of 2.8 billion euros, which theoretically reduced our debt by this amount, and also reduced the annual deficit below 3 percent, thus meeting the requirement of the Maastricht Treaty for Greece’s entry into the Eurozone. But let us not forget, however, that this was a bet. It’s not unlike, say, a bond that matures and is redeemable after 30 years: at the time of the swap, there was no applicable European regulation allowing the “bond” to be cashed in prior to maturity, and therefore the swaps were of indeterminate value.

However, Walter Radermacher — at the time the general director of Eurostat, the EU’s statistical authority — decided only for Greece and only for that time and while the value of the yen had collapsed, that this swap value had to be included in our total debt, thus raising our national debt by 21 billion euros because of the losses of the yen. So we found ourselves with an additional fiscal debt of 21 billion euros.

Radermacher’s additional act was to instruct Georgiou to divide this amount by four and to include what came out of it in the deficits for the years 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2006. So eventually, for 2009 and all the three previous years, we found ourselves with an additional deficit of about 5.5 billion euros. But I’m pointing out again that swaps should not be used in any way before their maturity, in order to manipulate negatively or positively the fiscal debt, let alone the yearly deficit.

Another illegal augmentation of our deficit made by Georgiou included the addition of 3.6 billion euros in hospital costs that were not even approved by the Court of Auditors. The Court of Auditors is one of the three institutions of Greek justice, along with the Supreme Court and the Council of State. With regards to this cost, as it turned out later, no one committed to it and no one was paying for it. And finally, the major swelling of the budget deficit was accomplished by the overnight inclusion of the deficits of 17 public utilities, violating many Eurostat criteria and rules. That alone added 18.2 billion euros, equivalent to 20 billion dollars, to the fiscal debt of Greece.

As a result of all the above, Greece ended up with a huge deficit for the year 2009 — 36 billion euros, or equivalently, 15.4 percent of gross domestic product. This legitimated the first memorandum, paved the way for the second and worst memorandum, and justified the imposition of these cumbersome austerity measures, such as the pension cuts, social insurance and healthcare, and the tax increases — huge tax increases — measures that we are still suffering today.

MPN: Dominique Strauss-Kahn himself, the former president of the International Monetary Fund, has gone on the record as saying that he met with George Papandreou to discuss an IMF “bailout” of Greece in April 2009. This was several months before Papandreou was elected as prime minister and at a time when Papandreou was saying, while campaigning, that plenty of money existed to fund the social programs he was promising to Greek voters. Do you believe that the economic “crisis” in Greece was pre-ordained or pre-planned?

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, right, shakes hand with the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, during a joint news conference in Athens, Dec. 7, 2010. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, right, shakes hand with the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, during a joint news conference in Athens, Dec. 7, 2010. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

NL: Yes, I do. In my opinion, joining these medieval memorandums, which have brought about this economic crisis that Greece is still experiencing, was beyond any doubt pre-planned and predetermined. This arises not only from Strauss-Kahn’s own admission that the IMF had been preparing every detail of this with Papandreou, it also arises for other reasons that subsequently became known — that Greece was chosen by the designers of the European Union to become the guinea pig for the implementation of harsh austerity and other forms of economic punishment, set up for all as an example to be avoided, in the context of a new EU economic policy for handling the member countries with fiscal problems.

Indeed, the policy of the memorandums gave the opportunity not only to the IMF to put a foot in Europe — until then its activities always were, with devastating consequences, limited to developing countries in Africa and Latin America — but also gave the opportunity to the French and German banks to get rid of their so-called toxic bonds, that were loaded onto the Greek people by turning a private debt into a state debt.

In order to achieve all of this, of course, they had to plant the appropriate person in ELSTAT at a time when certain statistical adjustments were required, in order to support their treacherous plan. Where did this lead eventually? To the bankruptcy of the Greek state.

MPN: Andreas Georgiou is no longer in Greece, despite the fact that various legal cases and judicial decisions are outstanding against him. Where does Georgiou find himself today and what is he presently involved with?

NL: He’s away, because he knows what he’s faced with, with trials and legal cases. Georgiou is currently in hiscomfortable villa in Maryland. He left Greece in the summer of 2015, one month before the end of his five-year term as ELSTAT chairman. Coincidentally, this was shortly after the call from the House of Parliament to testify before the examination committee that had been formed at that time to investigate the reasons for our accession to the first memorandum. He never came to the examination room, pretending to be in the hospital with “pneumonia.” Who on earth has ever heard of a pneumonia case in the middle of the Greek summer?

Anyway, immediately after his “discharge” from the hospital, he left for America. I repeat, one month before the end of his term and without requesting a renewal of the chairmanship position for another five years. He could have done that, but he didn’t, apparently having realized that he could not have avoided the imminent court hearing on the prosecutions for breach of duty and for the felony of inflating the deficit figures — which in the legal language is expressed as “felony of false certification at the expense of the state” together with the “aggravating order for public abusers,” a very impressive legal phrase. This is a legal category that leads to life imprisonment.

I presume that he’s engaged at this time in preparing his defense, through statements via his lawyers in Greece, while he remains absent, missing from every trial that has taken place regarding him.

MPN: A few months ago Georgiou was found guilty by the Greek justice system. What were the charges for which Georgiou was convicted and sentenced?

NL: There are two convictions Georgiou had this year. In March, in a criminal court, he was convicted for libel and for written defamation, and he was given one-year imprisonment with a three-year suspension. He appealed through his lawyers, but the Penal Court of Appeals condemned Georgiou again, giving him the same sentence.

Georgiou’s crime was that, in an official ELSTAT news release, he accused former ELSTAT board member Dr. Nicholas Stroblos of being a statistical swindler, obviously trying to divert guilt from himself for statistical fraud. I’m pointing out here that Dr. Stroblos is the former director of the national accounts department of ELSTAT, whom Georgiou illegally replaced with one of his now co-defendants. Consequently, Stroblos sued him in both criminal and civil courts and, apart from the one-year imprisonment imposed by the criminal court, the civil court fined Georgiou 10,000 euros for damages resulting from libel.

Georgiou’s most recent conviction is concerned with one of the three accusations included in the prosecution for breach of duty. The first accusation was related to the fact that he was in parallel for several months, from July to November 2010, as head of the statistical authority in Greece but also as an employee of the IMF, a duplication of employment explicitly prohibited by ELSTAT’s founding law 3832 of 2010. That law required him to work exclusively and with full employment in the ELSTAT board. Georgiou deluded the Greek parliament about his ongoing post with the IMF — and note that the IMF is one of the lenders of Greece — while at the same time he had accepted the post as president of ELSTAT’s board. He would not have been selected as ELSTAT president, not even as a simple member of the board, had the parliament known about his double post.

The second accusation concerned the fact that Georgiou did not convene the ELSTAT board for a whole year, violating the law that required meetings at least once a month.

The third accusation, and the most important of all three, concerned the fact that the decision to endorse the revised figures for 2009’s deficit was taken only by Georgiou, without the agreement of the other members of the board — which had been selected, I remind you, and approved exactly for this purpose by the conference of the parliamentary presidents with a majority of four-fifths. For this accusation, he was convicted in the context of breach of duty, and this had to do with the publication of deficit figures without our approval, as required by law. Georgiou appealed this conviction to the Supreme Court, and we are waiting to see what the Supreme Court will decide.

Georgiou was acquitted on the charge that he did not timely convene the ELSTAT board, although this is intimately interconnected with the non-convening of the board for the approval of the data, for which he was convicted. So we ended up with a paradoxical situation here. He was also acquitted of the charge that while he was a member of the IMF — that is to say, a servant of the lender — he was also chairman of ELSTAT — that is, a servant of the borrower — something that is inconceivable worldwide and yet happened in today’s occupied and economically enslaved Greece.

Naturally, the people who were present in the courtroom were annoyed and protested these acquittals, but when they heard the announcement of his conviction on the third charge they were relieved, of course, and for this charge he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with a three year suspension — without being granted, of course, any mitigation.

I, together with fellow whistleblower and former ELSTAT board member Zoe Georganta, filed an objection against the court judgment for the two accusations for which he was acquitted, and we expect a Supreme Court decision as to whether or not Georgiou will go to a new trial for these new accusations. At the moment, the two acquittals cannot be considered irrevocable. But it is true that the most important accusation, for which Georgiou desperately wanted to be acquitted, was the one for which he got convicted.

Indeed, the fact that Georgiou published the inflated elements of the deficit without approval by the ELSTAT board not only proves his guilt of the second accusation, of not convening the board as he should have, but it also implies a deception, because he knew that his swollen deficit figures would never be accepted by a majority of the board members. He further recognized that such a disagreement would sooner or later become public and reveal the irregularities he used with the help of Eurostat itself. Such a revelation would result in the failure of the plan to legitimize the first memorandum and thence to impose onerous austerity measures on Greece. That was not acceptable by the initiators of this plan, who I believe had to use Georgiou and instructed him to silence the rest of the ELSTAT board.

MPN: Following the guilty verdicts against Georgiou this past spring, a barrage of positive coverage and PR in favor of Georgiou appeared in the Greek and international media — including Bloomberg, the Washington Post and Politico. We also heard numerous statements of support from major political figures in Greece, the European Union, and elsewhere. These statements criticized the supposed lack of independence of the Greek justice system in the verdicts against Georgiou. How would you describe or characterize Georgiou’s network of support within and outside of Greece, and these arguments made in his favor?

NL: Yes, indeed, various statements have been heard and continue to be heard in support of Georgiou, trying to sanctify him, to elevate him as a serious personality and as an honest scientist. All this in order to justify everything he did illegally as ELSTAT president. All that has been said rests on myths that have been circulated by the domestic and foreign supporters of Georgiou, who are desperate that the case not be brought to the court of justice — the major case of the inflation of the deficit figures.

But this also proves their own guilt in the matter. If they really believe that Georgiou is innocent and that we are the slanderers and the liars, why don’t they let Greek justice do its job and prove his presumed innocence in a court hearing? I would even expect Georgiou himself to be the first to grab this opportunity to be redeemed. This furious effort of all his supporters to prevent the case from being brought to trial reveals their panic as well as their guilt, because they know very well that in the forthcoming court hearing all the evidence will be revealed proving that Greece has suffered the greatest national betrayal since the time of the Thermopylae treason, 2500 years ago, when Efialtes betrayed the Greek army which was fighting the Persian invasion.

The participation of all those major political figures in Greece and the European Union in the betrayal perpetrated by Georgiou will also be revealed. Indeed, the core of this support network includes first and foremost Eurostat, whose senior staff advised Georgiou on how to inflate the 2009 deficit and also how to change ELSTAT’s founding laws in order to neutralize the rest of the board.

Imagine therefore what impact Georgiou’s conviction would have on Eurostat’s image! Eurostat’s political chief is the European Commission, Brussels — that is, one-third of the troika — with all that implies, of course, for many high-ranking political figures in the European Union and beyond. So one can clearly understand why high-level managers from Eurostat and major political figures from the EU itself are continuing to build a wall of protection and support for Georgiou — in the hope that the government and the Supreme Court of Greece will believe all these myths they are promoting.

Greece's Statistics agency employees walk past the logo of the agency in Piraeus, near Athens. Serious errors in Greek deficit data, revealed last year, helped trigger the European government debt crisis rattled world markets and confidence in the euro. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Greece’s Statistics agency employees walk past the logo of the agency in Piraeus, near Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

The first myth is that in recent years Georgiou was acquitted many times but the persecution against him continues. That’s what they say. The supporters of Georgiou claim again and again that Georgiou was acquitted, but it’s not true. The acquittal may occur only after the irrevocable final judgment in a court trial, or after an exonerating court order is accepted by the Supreme Court. As appeals against all rulings in Georgiou’s case have been filed with the Supreme Court, he has not been acquitted irrevocably for any charges brought against him.

On the contrary, he has had an irrevocable conviction for defamation, as I said before, and a conviction for one of the three accusations for breach of duty — regarding which the Supreme Court decision is awaited, whether or not it will become irrevocable. But the other two accusations for breach of duty for which he has been acquitted, as I have already said, for these we have filed a complaint and they cannot, therefore, be considered irrevocable or a final acquittal. So it’s in keeping with due process that the prosecutions against him still continue.

The second myth goes as follows: Georgiou took over the presidency of ELSTAT after the first memorandum. He cannot, therefore, be regarded responsible for the memorandum and the economic crisis that followed. Well indeed, when Georgiou took action in ELSTAT, we were already under the first memorandum. If you remember, our entry into the first memorandum was announced by George Papandreou in his speech made on the Greek island of Kasterllorizo in April 2010, and the reason for this was allegedly the high level of the 2009 deficit, which was put by Papandreou at 13.6 percent of GDP. That’s equivalent to about 30 billion euros.

However, it was not the actual deficit, but the prediction by Papandreou of what it would be after all relevant calculations took place. Papandreou did not have the right to take such an important decision, one that would affect Greek society so much, based only on a prediction that had not even been approved by the Court of Auditors. We would be the ones, as ELSTAT’s management board, to supervise the calculations of the actual deficit, to approve it and publish it in October 2010, six months later.

Actually, if we had been given the opportunity to do that and found these deficit figures to be less than 10 percent, we would have been able to denounce the first memorandum and cancel it! And of course, the rest of the memorandums that followed. But obviously, this would not be something that the designers of the first memorandum wished to happen, and so the appropriate person must be found who, with specific statistical adjustments, could make the deficit of 2009 “confirm” the “validity” of Papandreou’s deficit “forecast” in April 2010, and fully justify our entry into the first memorandum. This is what they wanted.

Furthermore, in order to avoid any controversies with the rest of the board that could endanger their plan, it was decided to neutralize not only the dissidents on the board but the whole of ELSTAT’s board. As a result of all these unlawful actions, the first memorandum was legitimized — and the door opened for the second and worst memorandum and obviously the rest of the memorandums that have followed, and for the austerity measures that have been imposed since then. Therefore, it’s perhaps wrong to say that the first memorandums was due to Georgiou. It’s more appropriate to say that all memorandums and their related medieval austerity measures that we still have on our backs are actually due to Georgiou!

The third myth: since Eurostat has approved Georgiou’s practices and figures, they must be right, they must be correct. But would it have been possible for Eurostat not to approve these statistics, provided by Georgiou, and the methods of administration that he was using? It was Eurostat’s director himself, Walter Radermacher, who gave orders to Georgiou as to what data to add to the deficit. Correspondence has been revealed, from Radermacher to Georgiou, that shows how to add this amount of debt that was incurred by the Simitis swaps, how to add it into four years’ deficits until 2009 — prior to the expiry date, as we previously explained, and although no European regulation existed at the time that would allow this.

Also, it was the permanent representative of Eurostat at ELSTAT, Hallgrimur Snorrason, who — with the assistance of Eurostat’s legal adviser, Per Samuelson — advised Georgiou on how to change ELSTAT’s founding law in order to transform ELSTAT into one-man authority. It’s hardly surprising therefore that Eurostat approved the practices and the deficit figures of Georgiou. Of course, that does not mean that they were correct.

The final myth that I want to mention is that his proponents are saying Georgiou applied all proper European regulations. On the contrary, most European regulations and Eurostat’s own criteria for the deficit and debt calculations were violated by Georgiou and his advisers from Eurostat, in order to justify the unjustifiable integration of deficits of many public utilities into the 2009 deficit — a decision that would require a thorough study of several months for each public utility. You can’t just decide to include the deficit of a utility in the public debt; you need a thorough study, for several months, six months. So what kind of European regulations did Georgiou actually apply, I wonder? No one knows.

MPN: What is plainly evident is that there is a very extensive and very powerful network of support for the likes of Andreas Georgiou, a network that includes powerful media voices, major politicians and political figures, major centers of power and influence and decision-making. How can such a powerful and seemingly unified network of political and media forces even be countered by the Greek people?

NL: Indeed, Georgiou’s support network, composed of high-ranking political figures — domestic and foreign — is powerful. But no matter how much influence this network can have on political affairs in Greece, I think that it is not in a position to influence the Greek justice system, which I consider impartial. The fact that the case has reached up to the level of the Supreme Court, which so far has justified many of our objections and appeals against Georgiou, gives us hope that ultimately the systemic power network that exists supporting Georgiou can be successfully dealt with.

At the end of the day, our justice system, perhaps the only irreproachable institution in our country, seems to have borne the burden of this matter. I believe that the truth will soon be revealed, no matter how many powerful political and media forces try to force an acquittal of Georgiou.

MPN: What are the judicial cases still outstanding regarding the ELSTAT case and Andreas Georgiou? What are the charges which Georgiou is still facing? And what is your expectation regarding the outcome of these cases?

NL: Most importantly, the cases of the false inflation of data and of the breach of duty by Georgiou, involve crimes of public document forgery and violation of ELSTAT’s founding law. As I have already said, Georgiou was convicted of one of the more important accusations related to the breach of duty — that of the publication of the 2009 deficit figures without the approval of the ELSTAT board. He has been acquitted on the other two charges — the duplication of his appointment in the IMF and ELSTAT and the non-convening of the board — but we have appealed these two verdicts, and we hope that the Supreme Court will decide to repeat the trial for these two related charges.

If this affair is remanded back to the trial courts, we certainly expect Georgiou to be convicted, because the evidence we have against him is rock solid and undeniable. This is what Georgiou’s supporters know. That’s why they push as hard as they can to prevent the case from reaching the high court of justice.

MPN: In what way do you believe the verdicts that will be reached by the Greek justice system concerning the ELSTAT and Georgiou cases impact the future of Greece, particularly with regard to the austerity policies and memorandums that are being imposed and the non-serviceable public debt of Greece?

NL: I agree with you that Greek debt is non-serviceable. Even if we get away from the memorandums, we don’t get away from the related loan agreements, and we will continue to be under supervision by the EU until we pay 75 percent of our debt, something impossible for the next 60 years!

If, however, as we hope, there is an irrevocable conviction of Georgiou for the act of inflating the deficit figures, this will prove that all these medieval memorandums were imposed on the basis of false figures — which gives Greece the right to claim compensation from the European Union for the damage we suffered in the last seven years of the financial crisis.

Article 340 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union gives us the right to claim this compensation, and we have even estimated the financial loss since Georgiou set foot in Greece, a cost that may well exceed 210 billion euros. A compensation of this magnitude would certainly overturn the disgraceful economic situation we are experiencing today. However, I emphasize again that a necessary condition is an irrevocable conviction of Georgiou regarding the felony of inflating the deficit figures.

And what about these instigators who used Georgiou to carry out their treacherous plans? Even Grigoris Peponis — the impeccable investigator who proposed the criminal prosecution of Georgiou in the first place — has suggested that the possible existence of certain instigators within the Greek and European political systems, who directed Georgiou on what to do, has to be taken into consideration. These are the ones who do not want the case to reach an open court hearing — the ones who are so desperate for the acquittal of Georgiou as early as possible, in order to cover their own involvement in the above crime, because they’re well aware that we have evidence of their unlawful intervention in inflating the deficit and also in transforming ELSTAT from an independent authority into one-man authority.

If the Supreme Court sends Georgiou to trial in the high court of justice, all his supporters know that this will mean a likely conviction for him. The support network will then collapse, and they will find themselves accused for their betrayal of their homeland and crimes against its citizens. Our country will then pass from an underprivileged position of a beggar, to the strong position of a challenger, on the basis of specific articles of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union itself.

Protesters hold a banner during a rally in Athens, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. A nationwide 24-hour general strike called by unions against austerity measures disrupted public services across Greece on, while thousands marched in protest in central Athens. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

Protesters hold a banner during a rally in Athens, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. A nationwide 24-hour general strike called by unions against austerity measures disrupted public services across Greece on, while thousands marched in protest in central Athens. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

As far as we are concerned, we do not really care about the strict or non-strict punishment of Georgiou, who is now a pensioner of the IMF. What interests us is to prove his guilt and thereby to remove the injustice that has been committed against Greece through the false inflation of the public debt and deficit of 2009, and also prove the criminal involvement of the European Commission and Eurostat. This will only be done when the case is referred to an open court hearing, in which Eurostat and Georgiou will have to be present, in order to testify under oath whether or not they have falsely inflated the statistical figures of Greece, and the reasons for doing so.

I do not know when and if this will happen, and how many battles we have to give from now on in order to achieve this. Some tell us that there’s no point in continuing to fight, as it seems that with such a front of support for Georgiou by strong decision-making centers, the battle has already been won against us. We reply by saying that if we stop fighting, there will simply be no other battle — something we don’t want, because let’s not forget what Bertolt Brecht said once: “He who fights, can lose. He who doesn’t fight, has already lost.”

MPN: Looking at the situation in Greece today and the economic claims that are being made by the Greek government — that the country has returned to economic growth, that Greece has turned a corner — do you believe that the Greek statistical figures today are credible, or are they perhaps still being manipulated?

NL: Unfortunately, the statistical figures have already been exploited by any government in power so far in Greece. We have seen this happen with the alchemies of swaps in order to get into the Eurozone. By the way, I wish that we had never gotten into the Eurozone in the first place! Our economy was not in a position to handle such a strong and competitive currency. We saw another exploitation of the statistical figures, of the deficit, this time. They became the reason for an economic crisis of the past seven years.

I cannot say what is happening these days with the statistical figures, as I am not in ELSTAT. But we will find out sooner or later what is happening. The truth always comes out for any case of mishandling of statistical figures. We’ve seen this happen. But unfortunately, as long as there is no reliable team to correctly manage the handling of the statistical data in the Greek Statistical Authority, I’m afraid we should again expect irregularities and alchemies of the data.

Nov 092017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

People carry a large Puerto Rican flag as they protest looming austerity measures amid an economic crisis and demand an audit on the island's debt to identify those responsible, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monday, May 1, 2017. Puerto Rico is preparing to cut public employee benefits, increase tax revenue, hike water rates and privatize government operations, among other things. (AP Photo/Danica Coto)

People carry a large Puerto Rican flag as they protest looming austerity measures amid an economic crisis and demand an audit on the island’s debt to identify those responsible, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monday, May 1, 2017. Puerto Rico is preparing to cut public employee benefits, increase tax revenue, hike water rates and privatize government operations, among other things. (AP Photo/Danica Coto)

Part of the problem with the colonized mentality is that the one who is colonized begins to believe the lies that have been told by the colonizer: that we are inferior, we are backward, that we would be poor, that we would have no hope if it were not for a more developed, more civilized, more powerful entity.

ATHENS, GREECE and LAS PIEDRAS, PUERTO RICO – Until recently, the similarities were stunning. Puerto Rico, mired in a deep economic crisis for the past decade, has often been dubbed “The Greece of the Caribbean.” While there are a great many similarities in the “debt crises” both Greece and Puerto Rico have been experiencing, this superficial description hid a deeper truth: that colonial Puerto Rico, under the control of Washington and a Washington-imposed “fiscal control board” or “junta,” strongly resembles neocolonial Greece, under the thumb of the “troika” (the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund), on many levels above and beyond the economic difficulties both nations are experiencing.

This all changed after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. While the hurricane itself left a trail of destruction all across the island, the real catastrophe is the perfect storm of colonialism, bureaucracy, cronyism, and disaster capitalism that has followed. Almost two months after the hurricane, much of Puerto Rico remains without access to electricity, water, or telephone and internet service.

As the humanitarian crisis on the island continues to deepen, Puerto Rico’s colonial governing regime, and its U.S.-imposed “fiscal review board,” could be accused of sabotaging recovery efforts on behalf of monied interests.

Déborah Berman-Santana is a retired professor of geography and ethnic studies at Mills College in Oakland, California. Now permanently residing in Puerto Rico, she was fortunate enough to be in Greece when Hurricane Maria struck the island. Part One of the interview with Berman-Santana that follows was recorded in Athens in early September and broadcast on Dialogos Radio.

It largely focuses on the colonial similarities between Puerto Rico and the nominally independent country of Greece. Part Two of this interview occurred with Berman-Santana safely back in Puerto Rico, describing the destruction Hurricane Maria left behind and how recovery efforts are actively being stymied by colonial and U.S. authorities.

MPN: Puerto Rico has been facing a severe economic assault across multiple fronts. Just as Greece has the so-called troika, Puerto Rico has the so-called junta, which of course is also a historically loaded word in Greece. Describe the austerity measures and cuts and reforms that the junta has been imposing, or attempting to impose, in Puerto Rico.

DBS: The United States Congress imposed a fiscal control board, which in Spanish is “junta de control fiscal.” It has been in place for a year. Basically, when they do not approve of something in the Puerto Rican government’s budget, they say no, this is not acceptable, you need to cut this, this, this, and this.

They do not necessarily have information on how best to operate — for example with the university, the public university of Puerto Rico, they want massive cuts. They do not even have information on the university, they have not asked for information to see if there must be cuts, where might be the best place to cut. It’s just basically taking a machete and chopping it up. However, they have also increased the budget for themselves.

A protester holds a sign that reads in Spanish, “We didn't take out a loan. We didn't see a dime. We're not going to pay” during a protest in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 15, 2015.

A protester holds a sign that reads in Spanish, “We didn’t take out a loan. We didn’t see a dime. We’re not going to pay” during a protest in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 15, 2015.

The U.S. Congress bill, the PROMESA bill that we talked about last year, directed Puerto Rico to pay $2 million per month for the expense of the junta. The new budget the junta inserted said that they must be paid $5 million per month! And of course they use this for all their expenses; they use this to hire dozens of contractors for publicity, for legal fees, for lobbying, for who knows what. These are all their friends.

They have also created a new entity, which is basically in charge of seeing how we can privatize and sell off public resources. I believe that [German finance minister] Schauble, last year or two years ago, created some fund in Greece, basically the privatization fund. Well, this is basically what they inserted into our budget just now. And of course, they’re saying that the pensions must be slashed and there must be more furloughs of public workers.

The government of Puerto Rico is going through a theater; they’re saying “oh, we’re not going to cut.” We all know that the government of Puerto Rico is not going to really fight this. This is just a theater so that their supporters think that it is fighting the junta.

MPN: A big issue during the hurricane, of course, is the proposed privatization of Puerto Rico’s energy utility. How have the junta and proponents of privatization attempted to use the hurricane and its aftermath to make a case for the privatization of the electric company?

DBS: Interestingly, the case was actually made before [Hurricane Irma], for years now. Also, the government lackeys who are the managers of the [energy] authority — not the actual workers of course — have been cutting and cutting and cutting and not re-hiring and re-training enough people to work, and trying to get contractors to work for less money. And so, the infrastructure has been deteriorating — and of course, when people get upset, they say that it’s because it’s public and if it were privatized if we had more competition, it would work out better.

The interesting thing is that the only reason we are recovering much more quickly [from Hurricane Irma] is that [the privatization argument] is a complete lie. For example, before the hurricane hit, the government head of the [energy] authority said that it can take five to six months before we can put [the grid] together because the electric energy authority is so bad.

Well, here we are a week later, almost all of Puerto Rico is back online. San Juan is, interestingly, not completely, although the mountain towns are, and the union of workers are claiming that they are being deliberately impeded from finishing in San Juan, so that people will still be angry and demand privatization.

This is the most militant union in Puerto Rico, and they’re wonderful. They are really our best union that’s left, and they’re of course “left.” They’re working 16-hour shifts — unbelievable photos if you saw them — and they are working, doing heroic things to get Puerto Rico back online. So the interesting thing is, Irma has actually not been good for the arguments for privatization.

MPN: Just as in Greece, Puerto Rico is being sold the promise of foreign investment and large-scale, critical infrastructure projects that supposedly are meant to foster economic growth and development and recovery on the island. What sorts of projects are being proposed and what would their actual impact likely be?

DBS: Part of the PROMESA bill is for “critical infrastructure energy projects,” not for the distribution infrastructure but for [combustible] energy — gas or coal. That’s not what we actually need. If they actually wanted to do something, maintenance, and reconstruction of the transmission infrastructure, that might be helpful — but that’s not where the money is, that’s not where the profits are.

The critical-infrastructure energy projects basically say “we want to streamline the permitting process.” There are many processes — of course, we are a colony of the United States, so we have their laws and ours; and the process of permits takes years for any massive project because there are the environmental issues, there are land use issues, there are public hearings you have to do. They want to streamline it to, I think, 90 days — which means that we have a project and we don’t want to tell the public, we want to get it done as quickly as possible. Also because they want to avoid protests.

For example, the popular protests have stopped two projects for gas ducts. This is over the past years, not just now. These would be gas lines that they would start from natural gas [fields] in the south and they would blast through the mountains — remember that Puerto Rico is very mountainous — and go to the northern side where San Juan is. We have had civil disobedience; we have had legal teams basically challenge these in the courts; we’ve prepared testimony for all the public hearings. Well, they want to bring [the pipeline proposals] back, but without the public hearings, and the local government has passed laws to criminalize civil disobedience.

So this is how they intend to do this: they have an energy-generating project, burning garbage to create energy, and we don’t even have enough garbage! And they don’t say this, but what the project really is, is to burn the garbage [from] all around the Caribbean. But of course, it doesn’t matter what happens to us because they’d like us to emigrate anyway.

We have managed to stop it, but they have just contracted a coordinator of the critical energy projects. He is a Puerto Rican-born — I’m not going to say he’s Puerto Rican — U.S. military man whom they’re going to put in charge of putting this together. I have seen him interviewed several times. He knows nothing! He is completely ignorant —  he is just there to facilitate this [project], the gas ducts.

I am sure they have other things that they are planning, things that they have tried to do before that they could not do because of protests. If they get rid of the protesters, then they can just shove it all through. Of course, gas projects, coal projects, maybe mining. We have copper, we stopped the copper mining plans 20 to 30 years ago. Maybe that’s coming back again.

MPN: Recent big news in Greece is the sudden departure of Canadian mining firm Eldorado Gold from the Skouries gold mine in northern Greece (since postponed), which has been a hotbed of activist activity in recent years, owing to its environmental impact and dubious economic benefits, despite its being described as the biggest foreign investment in Greece. We are seeing something similar in Puerto Rico, with the controversy over a privately-owned coal-powered plant and the dumping of the coal ash from this plant. Tell us about this issue.

DBS: Even though our electric energy authority is public, we do have a few private plants, and of course some of the energy-generating implements are private. For example, we do have a couple of projects of windmills from Siemens. They’re looking at Puerto Rico, I guess, as Greece in the Caribbean.

In the 1990s, Applied Energy Systems (AES), which is a multinational corporation based in the United States, proposed a “clean coal” plant in Puerto Rico that was supposed to give more energy generation capacity for Puerto Rico. And of course there’s a myth that Puerto Rico does not have enough energy-generating capacity, and that is [supposedly] why our energy bills are so high. So that was their argument.

I actually participated in the campaign to stop it from getting built. So what they did — this was on the south coast — was to bring the local community to one of their clean-looking plants in the United States, and they took them out and basically told them we’ll give you many jobs and it’s very clean and you shouldn’t listen to these “radicals,” like me, who don’t even live in your community, since they’re against everything.

So they finally did get the permits to build, because they promised that they would not dump the coal ash in Puerto Rico. They finally built it — starting in 2004 — and they were dumping the coal ash in the Dominican Republic. What happened in the Dominican Republic, people started getting sick and launched a campaign against AES. There was a trial, they had a settlement, and part of the settlement is that they would stop dumping in the Dominican Republic. In the Dominican Republic, they have other types of plants; they don’t have coal plants. But they still had the contract [which said] they could not dump in Puerto Rico. So there were some illegal dumps.

A coal ash mountain, part of the AES Guayama plant in Puerto Rico. (Photo: CPI file photo)

A coal ash mountain, part of the AES Guayama plant in Puerto Rico. (Photo: CPI file photo)

Finally, they also had another idea — that they would take some of the ash, you put water on it and it becomes something called “agrimax,” and you can use that as a building material, and they built roads in Puerto Rico, they built homes in Puerto Rico. This is the asbestos of the 21st century. [Agrimax has been used] in many, many communities, mainly in the south of Puerto Rico, and San Juan is in the north. In San Juan [the prevailing attitude] is, what happens in the provinces stays in the provinces.

So in 2014, the government of Puerto Rico did a secret amendment to the contract, which allowed AES to dump the ashes in two of the landfills in Puerto Rico. One of them is actually not far from where I live, and the other one is in Peñuelas [in the south], in an area where we had the old petrochemical complexes, still dealing with a legacy of pollution.

So they filled up the one near where I live and they couldn’t dump there anymore for a while. They started dumping in 2015 in the one in Peñuelas, but that community has been dealing with the legacy of contamination for many years, and they started the protest camps, they started doing civil disobedience. It became an issue. With this government, the government agreed because there was a lot of pressure, and we’ve had a lot of arrests, a lot of civil disobedience.

[Recently] there was a trial, in San Juan, of the last group of people arrested there. At this point, the government of Puerto Rico had said we’re going to pass a law that prohibits the dumping of the ash, but they inserted a little amendment at the last minute, written by the company, that said that the ash is only what’s dry. If you put water on it, it becomes Agrimax. And so, they started again with the dumping. They’ve had to dump at night with four hundred police [officers] to protect them, and there are still people protesting, so this is a big deal.

Of course, they couldn’t do anything during [Hurricane Irma]. We found out that they did not even bother to cover the mountain of ash that they have next to the plant. Who knows where this ash is right now. It’s everywhere! And so the struggle continues. That is the story, and they’ve also said “Oh, you need our generating capacity,” because they have a plant. But they only generate maybe 11 percent of what we need.

They close every time there’s a problem. The public plants never close. We don’t even need their plant because Puerto Rico has twice the generating capacity that it needs, and if we maintained everything we would never need them. In fact, we don’t need them now.

MPN: In yet another similarity with contemporary Greece — where there is an activist movement that has sprung up surrounding the case of a student by the name of Irianna, who is facing charges under Greece’s anti-terror laws for participation in a terror group — in Puerto Rico there is the case of political prisoner Nina Droz. Why has she been imprisoned and what in your view are the similarities with the Irianna case?

DBS: I think the main similarity has to do with using a test case to see if you can turn the public against such a person — and also to scare people, to make them afraid to protest. Specifically in the case of Nina Droz, [she] was not really involved in any organized critical activism; she’s a student, a model, teaches also. She is a party girl, lots of tattoos, so there could be a lot of prejudice against her because of how she looks.

[On] May 1, we had a massive demonstration in Puerto Rico against the junta, against austerity, and, for most of us, against the [colonial status], because some of us know that the real problem is not the junta. The problem is that we’re a colony.

It was a massive protest. On one side there was a group of masked students or masked people — who knows who they were! — all dressed in black. Many of the banks were actually boarded up and protected, except for our most important bank, Banco Popular de Puerto Rico. The nephew of the head of Banco Popular is the president of the junta, to give you an idea. They did not cover up their windows, and there was a moment where all the police withdrew, and there was a group of people in masks who broke the windows. No police around.

According to some of the TV coverage and some photos, there was a young woman who has since been identified as Nina [Droz] who was with an unidentified masked man. They are on the sidewalk next to one of the windows that’s been busted. It looks like perhaps they’re trying to light a piece of paper, and nothing happens.

But one of her feet is inside the bank, and based on that, the U.S. federal government says—there were some other people arrested but they were processed in the Puerto Rican system—they said Nina is in the U.S. system, because she is inside the bank and the bank is involved in interstate commerce and it’s [covered under federal law]. So she has been charged in the media and by the federal court with conspiracy, attempted terrorism, for trying to “blow up” this building with a little piece of paper which may or may not have had some fire on it.

[As of the time of this interview], Nina has not had a trial. She was assigned a federal defense attorney, a public attorney. There is a gag law against her attorney, so they cannot respond to anything in the media, and she’s been demonized in the media. She is in the federal holding court — she originally pled not guilty to all charges. After about two months she agreed to a plea deal to conspiracy, which is very vague, in exchange for reduced time.

Alejandra "Nina" Droz Franco, 37, pleaded guilty to "conspiring to commit an offense against the United States," during the May 1 protest, she is accused of trying to set fire to a building that housed Banco Popular and other interstate businesses. (Josian E. Bruno Gómez/EL VOCERO)

Alejandra “Nina” Droz Franco, 37, pleaded guilty to “conspiring to commit an offense against the United States,” during the May 1 protest, she is accused of trying to set fire to a building that housed Banco Popular and other interstate businesses.
(Josian E. Bruno Gómez/EL VOCERO)

But she still [as of the time of this interview] has not been sentenced, and there have been issues such as, for example, her birthday. Some of us were going to [organize] something outside the prison with a sign, “Happy Birthday,” just a little thing, and the prisoners can normally see that. Right before that, there was some “infraction,” who knows what, and they put her in solitary, and she was in solitary for almost a month. She was not given the reasons for it — because there’s a process, everything was delayed — and now they say she cannot even have visitors, not even her mother, if you can imagine that.

The sentencing [was] supposed to be at the end of October, and even the prosecutor has suggested two years [imprisonment]; her attorneys have suggested one year, but the judge could give her more. You never know what can happen. Evidently, she is not as obedient as they’d like, and she has complained about things, and the only reason we know anything about what’s happened is that she can send and receive letters. I myself have received a letter from her. And, there is a friend who is an attorney — not her attorney but able to visit her and able to talk a little bit about the situation, with a lot of care. She’s very careful.

Actually, I’ve talked to [theattorney] before I came here [to Greece] to discuss what she thought I could talk about here in Greece. So when I heard about the Irianna case, it struck me — I know there are differences, but it nevertheless struck me — that the system criminalized her for supposed associations, alleged associations that may or may not be true. And it used these charges to justify a very long sentence for a young woman who basically, if she has to serve a whole sentence, it’s a terrible thing. The same thing with Nina [Droz].

Nina, her letter is wonderful to read; it made me cry when I received it, and she says:

We should never be afraid to speak up for justice, to speak up for what’s right, and to give a voice to those who have no voice, and you can count on me to give my voice until the end of my days.”

So I just wanted to share that. People are writing to her and we want her to know that she’s not alone. This is a little different situation from some of our early political prisoners, who spent many years in organizations and they had a very strong political formation which enabled them to survive many years in prison. Nina doesn’t have that background, but she’s one of us.

MPN: Continuing this theme of parallels between Greece and Puerto Rico, in Greece the current U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Pyatt was until recently the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. In Puerto Rico, an individual by the name of Natalie Jaresko, who herself attained infamy in Ukraine, is now the executive director of the junta in Puerto Rico. What is Jaresko’s background and what is her role now in Puerto Rico?

DBS: Natalie Jaresko was born in Chicago of Ukrainian parents. She has a graduate degree in economics from the University of Chicago, which is infamous for its economics department, widely views as the birthplace of neoliberal economic theory. She has worked in the State Department, she has worked with the IMF [International Monetary Fund], and we think she is a CIA asset. She’s also a fellow at the Aspen Institute, and you can even see pictures of her with “Open Ukraine” behind her — and that may ring some bells to some people, anything that’s “Open Society.”

She is definitely accused of enriching her own company in Ukraine from the privatization and sale of the telecommunications network there. She was only there for a couple of years. They gave her Ukrainian citizenship, I think, within one day. She was named to be the finance minister right after the coup, so she was basically put in as Ukraine’s finance minister by the United States, and the little minor detail that she wasn’t a Ukrainian citizen [was overlooked], so they gave her Ukrainian citizenship.

Natalie Jaresko, executive director, with the financial oversight and management board for Puerto Rico, speaks during a House Committee on Natural Resources hearing to examine challenges in Puerto Rico's recovery and the role of the financial oversight and management board, on Capitol Hill, Nov. 7, 2017 in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

Natalie Jaresko, executive director, with the financial oversight and management board for Puerto Rico, speaks during a House Committee on Natural Resources hearing to examine challenges in Puerto Rico’s recovery and the role of the financial oversight and management board, on Capitol Hill, Nov. 7, 2017 in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

Natalie Jaresko, she still goes back and forth to Ukraine, and part of her contract with Puerto Rico is we pay for business-class trips once a month from Puerto Rico to Ukraine. She was named by the junta to be the executive director. She is of Ukrainian background so she at least speaks Ukrainian, but she knows nothing about Puerto Rico — zero. She is there to do the same thing or worse in Puerto Rico as she did in Ukraine.

When I write about her, I always say Natalie “Carnicera de Ukrania” Jaresko — that’s Natalie “Butcher of the Ukraine” Jaresko. I just have to give you some of the terms of her contract. Her annual salary, which we are paying for, [is] $625,000 a year. That is more than $200,000 more than the president of the United States earns. And she has all of her expenses [paid for]; she has a private suite in a luxury hotel; she has an entire security detail and all of her communications, and she has her nice business trips to the Ukraine and anywhere else she wants to go.

In exchange for that, she comes in and says well, you need to cut and slash — for example, the university budget: the University of Puerto Rico needs to be more like the United States’ public universities. In other words, we should slash the government’s share of the budget to the university and students should all go into debt and become debt slaves, like they are in the United States. It’s [currently] relatively inexpensive.

The University of Puerto Rico is an excellent, excellent university. It is the best university system [on Puerto Rico], with 11 campuses (of course, they want to slash, cut all the campuses, maybe two or three left). Much better than the private universities, and it is the vehicle for people — the best students in Puerto Rico, especially if they’re poor — to get an education and to contribute to the future of Puerto Rico. They’re an incredible resource, and it is also a very militant university.

The students have had many strikes. They had one a few months ago — they shut it down for two months, and the issue was the cuts. It was interesting, they actually had a personal meeting with the junta, face-to-face, that lasted all day, which is something that the government of Puerto Rico has not even had. The students managed to do that and actually had a list of demands, none of which have been fulfilled, but just to give you an idea.

Natalie Jaresko has also said that I am here to help Puerto Rico, you need to listen to me, I’m going to cut everything. By the way, the government of Puerto Rico said we are not going to hurt the most vulnerable. Of course, they never identify who are the most vulnerable. The PROMESA bill says “essential services” must be protected. Of course, they are never defined, what “essential services” are.

They also have hired a special security detail and they are lobbying to expand the new criminalization law to further criminalize protests against the junta. So this should give you an idea of what the “Butcher of the Ukraine” wants to do in Puerto Rico.

MPN: Let’s turn now to the hot-button issue of Puerto Rico’s political status. A few months ago we saw a nonbinding referendum on statehood take place — an issue that, from what I understand, remains extremely divisive in Puerto Rico and parallels the debate that we see in Greece regarding continued membership in the European Union. Describe for us the current state of affairs regarding the island’s political status and the political divisions in Puerto Rico.

DBS: As I have noted in speaking with you before and have published before, Puerto Rico is a colony, is an “unincorporated territory belonging to but not part of the United States.” That is its official designation according to the U.S. Supreme Court. We do not even have the limited sovereignty of a Native American tribe, just to give you an example. In the United Nations, we’ve been trying for many years to get the issue [of Puerto Rico’s colonial status] on the agenda of the General Assembly, but have not managed to do so.

It has been extremely divisive because the advocacy of independence has been demonized and criminalized for many, many years in Puerto Rico. There have been many, many imprisonments; there have been many deaths; there have been many disappearances, many people who were unable to find work. And so, many people, most people in Puerto Rico are either very afraid of [independence], or they believe we have no chance, we need to depend on the United States. Most Puerto Ricans are not quite knowledgeable about our own history.

A woman photographs a burning U.S. flag set on fire during protesters in favor of Puerto Rico's independence after a referendum was held on the island's status in the financial district, known as the golden mile, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sunday, June 11, 2017. The U.S. territory overwhelmingly chose statehood on Sunday in a non-binding referendum held amid a deep economic crisis that has sparked an exodus of islanders to the U.S. mainland. Voter turnout was just 23 percent. (AP/Carlos Giusti)

A woman photographs a burning U.S. flag set on fire during protesters in favor of Puerto Rico’s independence in San Juan, Puerto Rico, June 11, 2017. (AP/Carlos Giusti)

At the present time, one of the major parties is a party that says our current status is okay if we can increase our autonomy. The other major party, which is currently in power, says no, we need equality, we need to become a state, the 51st state of the United States. And then there’s a smaller party and many people who do not vote at all, who say that without independence we cannot even begin to have this conversation because we don’t have control over our own affairs.

Puerto Rico has had five referendums since the 1960s about our political status. None of them was binding. The U.S. Congress has never committed to respecting the results. The last one was in June, and I actually wrote an article that was published in Greece in March, highlighting the interesting thing about that particular proposal, that there would be only two options: one was statehood, and the other was some kind of sovereignty.

Now, that’s kind of a loaded term, not always understood, but many independence supporters thought that this might be an opportunity, if we can actually have a very good showing of people who reject statehood and want some kind of sovereignty, then we might be able to push something. So many people who don’t even ordinarily vote were going to register.

Well, at that point the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, said to the governor of Puerto Rico that in order to have this referendum, you also need to include the current status. Now this is a referendum for the decolonization of Puerto Rico, that’s the name of it, and he said one of the options has to be to remain a colony. So one of your options to “decolonize” is to stay the way you are. The government said okay! And with that, all of the pro-independence, pro-sovereignty people said forget it, we’re boycotting. Then the other major party, the one that wants the current status with autonomy, also boycotted.

You had, in June, only one party [that] was represented, the pro-statehood party. No more than 23 percent of the voters even voted — and, because there was no oversight by the other parties, it may have been even less than 23 percent. Ninety-seven percent of voters voted in favor of statehood.

With that, the government went to Congress and said “97 percent of the voters want statehood.” They were completely ignored! Then they chose seven people and said “here are our Congressmen and we’re sending them anyway,” and they’re completely ignored, but they’re spending Puerto Rican public money that we supposedly don’t have, and they’re all sitting in Washington.

I’m not sure what they’re doing there, probably eating well and staying at a nice hotel, but Congress is completely ignoring them. They said “we’re going to meet with President Trump.” As far as I know there’s been no meeting. So we have not solved any problem — everything is exactly the way it was, except they spent $10 million of money that we don’t have on the stupid referendum.

MPN: Within this context of the broader economic crisis that Puerto Rico is experiencing, has the independence movement been able to gain any traction?

DBS: That’s always an interesting question. It’s not really easy to answer. One of the problems is that the independence movement, the left in general, is extremely divided. We have many, many little groups. People spend a lot of time, for example, on Facebook attacking each other. It’s very tiring. Sometimes when we have a meeting or protest people do show up together.

The interesting thing is, it’s not easy to say if we have support for independence or more support for independence. What I can say is, maybe there is more understanding that the United States is not going to help us — as if they ever did — that perhaps we need to figure out some way of not waiting for them to “rescue” us or to give us more power or to give us statehood.

A woman holds a sign up to police that reads in Spanish "The people are awake. Today we'll make history" during a May Day protest against looming austerity measures amid an economic crisis and demanding an audit on the island's debt to identify those responsible in San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 1, 2017. Puerto Rico is preparing to cut public employee benefits, increase tax revenue, hike water rates and privatize government operations, among other things. (AP/Danica Coto)

A woman holds a sign up to police that reads in Spanish “The people are awake. Today we’ll make history” during a May Day protest against looming austerity measures amid an economic crisis and demanding an audit on the island’s debt to identify those responsible in San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 1, 2017. Puerto Rico is preparing to cut public employee benefits, increase tax revenue, hike water rates and privatize government operations, among other things. (AP/Danica Coto)

The other thing is, because of what’s visibly happening in the United States — it’s always been happening, but the visible attacks, the visible oppression that is now getting a lot of media attention throughout the world — people are starting to believe that well, even if we became a state, we’re still Spanish-speaking, we’re still to a large extent of African descent.

How is it for the Blacks and the Latinos who live in the United States? They have statehood, do they have equality? So it’s beginning to open up things a little more.

The problem that we had is a question of getting rid of our own colonized mentalities, our colonized minds. I think that’s probably our biggest challenge. And to not just speak to ourselves, the people on the left, but to speak to our neighbors, to talk about this, and I constantly am talking to many of my neighbors, none of whom are independence activists, but they always want to ask me what I think about what’s going on.

MPN: One of the biggest stories of the past few months in Puerto Rico is the release of Oscar López Rivera, who was imprisoned in the United States for 34 years and was granted clemency by President Obama in the last days of his administration. Oscar is now back in Puerto Rico. What has the response to his release and repatriation been and what has he been doing since his release?

DBS: Oscar is now physically free — he has been spiritually free for a very long time, freer than many people I know, but he has been physically free, without restrictions, since the 17th of May. There has been a tremendous, overwhelming response among Puerto Ricans to his release, to basically being around. To be around him — I’ve been around a lot of political prisoners, and many of them, it takes a long time to adjust. His adjustment — he may have some adjusting to do that you don’t see, but you meet him in person, the smile, the hugs, he is very, very physical with everyone, for very good reasons.

He is constantly talking about unity, he is talking constantly about the decolonized mind, he is constantly asked to speak. So he has been not only speaking at many activities in Puerto Rico, but also elsewhere,  for example in the United States. He wants to thank communities all around the world for supporting him and for campaigning for him, so he’s been in many, many activities

Puerto Rico's activists show a picture of independence fighter Oscar López Rivera, center, jailed in the United States, during an event celebrating Revolution Day in Santiago, Cuba, Sunday, July 26, 2015. Cuba marks the 62st anniversary of the July 26, 1953 rebel attack led by Fidel and Raul Castro on the Moncada military barracks. The attack is considered the beginning of Fidel Castro's revolution that culminated with dictator Fulgencio Batista's ouster. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Puerto Rico’s activists show a picture of independence fighter Oscar López Rivera, center, at the time, jailed in the United States, during an event celebrating Revolution Day in Santiago, Cuba, Sunday, July 26, 2015. (AP/Ramon Espinosa)

He also went to Nicaragua, was at a conference, and President [Daniel] Ortega gave him the highest recognition of Nicaragua. He is scheduled to visit Cuba in November, and of course they were very, very active in working for his release, as well as release of earlier prisoners. So he is making a lot of the rounds still.

His plan, actually, is trying to set up a foundation to give him a little bit of [financial] independence, so that he can work in Puerto Rico. He was a community organizer before his imprisonment. He wants to do it in Puerto Rico, and he says he specifically wants to work on community-based alternatives, which already exist, but to unify them. He wants to unify the various activists, unify the people of Puerto Rico, speak to the people who are not necessarily activists and to break through this division that we have. He has the stature to force people to at least listen.

I can’t wait — I mean, some of us are a little impatient, we want to do this already, but he’s still speaking on many occasions. Sometimes it’s difficult to contact him — he has some people helping him because he will never say no to anybody, so some of the people who are helping him are trying to shield him a little bit. It’s a little bit of a coming out process, so to speak.

MPN: A famous quote from Oscar López Rivera concerns the struggle for independence and the anti-colonial struggle, which according to Oscar, begins with the decolonization of the mind. How are his words relevant in the present day, both for Puerto Rico and also for Greece, even if the country is nominally independent?

I think part of the problem with the colonized mentality is that the one who is colonized begins to believe the lies that have been told by the colonizer: that we are inferior, we are backward, that we would be poor, that we would have no hope if it were not for a more developed, more civilized, more powerful entity — for example, the United States, and in parallel, Northern Europe and Germany for the European Union. That we need to be developed, we need to be more advanced, we need to be more like them and less like the Global South.

I mean, Puerto Rico is without a doubt part of the Global South. But you get that idea, that we need for them to help us because we cannot help ourselves. We should not depend on ourselves because look how advanced they are, how happy they look, how well off they are, even if it’s not true. And if we believe that, it’s very difficult to do any of this. We won’t believe that we can make decisions on our own. We won’t demand our sovereignty, because we will think that we’re not capable of making those decisions by ourselves.

For many years we were told that if we were independent, Puerto Rico would be like Haiti. That, of course, completely ignores that Haiti, although nominally independent, is under military occupation, which benefits a very small oligarchy and keeps everyone else poor. If Haiti really could take sovereignty for itself, you would see a different Haiti. But that’s what they say to us.

There’s also the issue of our not being a European people — we have some European ancestry from the colonizers, but we are mainly not a European people. We are a Latin American-Caribbean-African-indigenous people with a very long history. We didn’t start our history when Columbus came. We have a history that goes back 7,000 years, and we have a lot of information about it. So we could draw on that and also our own history as Latin American people.

We’re in a lot of isolation. Everyone knows about the blockade the United States has against Cuba, but we have one also [the Jones Act]. It’s different, it’s very difficult for us to have direct contact, direct trade with the rest of the world. We have to do everything through the United States. And so we’re isolated.

I’ve heard many people in Greece say “I don’t know this story, why haven’t I ever heard this story?” I respond that you haven’t heard this story because it’s a blockaded story, it’s blockaded history. It’s one of the reasons that I’m here [in Greece]. And I think that the colonized mind is our biggest obstacle. I have seen that when we work together and we fight against the oppressor, the oppressor cannot stand against that. So that’s our biggest problem — I think it’s a bigger problem than U.S. military might or anything else that they can threaten us with.

MPN: The anti-colonial and independence movements that we’ve seen across the world, including those of the 1960s and 1970s, were by and large nationalist movements. Today though, we see arguments from many who associate nationalism with fascism, with racism, with xenophobia. How do you view the issue? Do you believe nationalism can be compatible with internationalism and a more cooperative worldview?

DBS: This is a very interesting question. I’ve had this conversation with many people. I know that in people there is a specific historical context of nationalism and fascism. I understand that. But the interesting thing, particularly in Latin America, is that the issue of nationalism has to do with national sovereignty, of controlling our own destiny, making our own decisions and not allowing the imperialists or neo-imperialists to make those decisions — whether it’s a European power or whether it’s the United States or whether it’s another country.

So in the context of Latin America, there is a nationalism that is called “anti-imperialist nationalism.” There is a tremendous amount of literature. It is not a nationalism that says we are better than everyone and we want to control others. We want to control ourselves.

Pro-independence demonstrators march demanding the release of political prisoners in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, June 14, 2011. Obama's trip marks the first visit to Puerto Rico by a sitting U.S. President since John F. Kennedy's 1961 visit. (AP/Ramon Espinosa)

Pro-independence demonstrators march demanding the release of political prisoners in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, June 14, 2011. Obama’s trip marks the first visit to Puerto Rico by a sitting U.S. President since John F. Kennedy’s 1961 visit. (AP/Ramon Espinosa)

Puerto Rico has had a very long history with the Nationalist Party. It’s very small right now, not very active. It was tremendously repressed. Our great martyr, Dr. Albizu Campos, was martyred, really, literally. He was the leader of the Nationalist Party. His politics, his economics, you could say were social democrat, more or less. But one of the main leaders was also Juan Antonio Corretjer, who was a communist. There are some revisionist historians who want to say that he was fascist, [but] there is no evidence for that.

I just want to share something very interesting: only a few months ago I was in Cuba, and we had this conversation because I had my conversations in Greece in mind when we had this conversation [in Cuba]. The people with whom I was talking said:

Of course, you will never find people more nationalist than Cubans. We love our country. We want to keep our culture. We want to defend our country against outside control, but we are internationalists. We want other countries to be able to defend their own sovereignty as well. We want to have relationships of mutual respect.”

And that, for them, is nationalism. And they also said, we understand there is a different history in Europe, but I think we need to rescue this word.

Now I am seeing with the very open racist attacks in the United States, I have heard some European friends say “oh, fascism is coming to the United States.” I say “No, that’s not it exactly. You’re seeing white supremacy, which is the founding principle of the United States, because it’s a European settler-colonizer regime that destroyed many indigenous nations and it maintains power through white supremacy.”

That’s not necessarily the same as fascism, and I believe the word “fascist” is thrown around a lot, but we are not talking about the actual alliance of the state and the private industry and the oligarchy. That seems to be lost a little bit.

So that’s a conversation that I think is very important also in Puerto Rico, because sometimes there are people who have read a lot of literature from Europe and they start saying “I don’t care about independence because it’s nationalist, I care more about socialism,” and I say “okay, but if we’re not independent, how are we going to be socialist? As a colony or as a state of the United States, are you expecting to be socialist? Are you expecting the communist ideal this way?” It’s less likely, I would say, and so I think it’s important to have this conversation in Greece as well.

MPN: This is the third consecutive year that you have visited Greece. What has brought you back to Greece for the third time, and where will you be speaking?

DBS: I’m very happy that I [was] invited back to speak at the Resistance Festival, which [occurred on the] 29th and the 30th of September at the Fine Arts School [in Athens]. I’m very, very happy to be working together with Dromos tis Aristeras, the wonderful weekly which I’ve also been able to send some updates on Puerto Rico and which was very, very active in the campaign to free Oscar.

I have a lifelong interest in and affinity with Greece. I even have some Greek ancestry — this is going way back. but it’s been a lifelong interest, a lifelong appreciation of the popular culture, the music And of course, with the issue of the austerity, with the resistance, and what’s happened with the troika, I immediately saw the similarities with what was happening in Puerto Rico.

And then they started calling Puerto Rico “the Greece of the Caribbean.” It’s a very superficial way that it’s used in the news, but there is a deeper truth there. Sometimes in my writings, I’ve talked about Greece as the “Puerto Rico of the Mediterranean,” because I think that we can learn from each other.

I’m hoping to increase the solidarity, increase learning about each other. At first, it was really just me, I kind of had this idea; now there is starting to be more interest. There are a couple of organizations in Puerto Rico that have contacted me to try to bring some people to speak from Greece, and there is more interest here. There are a number of different organizations [here] that are now trying to make contact with me.

I am open to speaking anywhere, with anyone, in English, in Spanish. I’m learning Greek — I’m still not speaking very well, but I’m reading more and I’m hoping at some point to be able to speak well enough to be able to present. If we have someone come [to Puerto Rico] from Greece who does not know Spanish or English, I hope I’ll know enough to help with that.

But I am hoping that we can continue this collaboration, continue solidarity. Maybe we can have young people from both countries visit each other, cultural exchange with the idea of helping each other’s struggle for a just society, for the ability to take care of ourselves and to stop this continued bleeding of our countries — the continued bleeding of our people, where our young people feel the need to leave.

I don’t want to see a Greece without Greeks. I don’t want to see a Puerto Rico without Puerto Ricans!

Part Two of Michael’s interview with Professor Berman-Santana, conducted in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, will be presented in an upcoming article.

Sep 232017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

Protesters hold a banner during a rally in Athens, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. A nationwide 24-hour general strike called by unions against austerity measures disrupted public services across Greece on Thursday, while thousands marched in protest in central Athens. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Protesters hold a banner during a rally in Athens, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. A nationwide 24-hour general strike called by unions against austerity measures disrupted public services across Greece on Thursday, while thousands marched in protest in central Athens. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

With the Greek psyche itself the victim of a relentless shaming campaign, the idea of Greece “going it alone” begins to seem outlandish and quixotic. It is not. But it is as much tied to a revival of spirit and self-esteem as to the nuts and bolts of economic transformation.

Eight years into the deepest economic depression that an industrialized country has ever experienced, we are now being told that Greece is a “success story.” Having accepted the “bitter medicine” prescribed by the “troika”—the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund—the storyline today is that Greece is on the road to recovery, firmly within the European Union and the eurozone.

This narrative was recently echoed by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in his annual speech at the Thessaloniki Trade Fair, Greece’s equivalent to the State of the Union address. In this speech, Tsipras triumphantly declared that talk of “Grexit”—or a Greek departure from the eurozone and the EU—has been replaced by that of “Grinvest.”

Within such a context, there is seemingly no room for discussions about whether it is in Greece’s best interest, even after so many years of implementing the troika’s austerity diktats, to consider a departure from the eurozone and the EU. Indeed, the narrative is that the people of Greece overwhelmingly have never supported the prospect of “Grexit.”

All throughout the economic crisis in Greece, it has been reported that polls have consistently shown clear majorities favoring the country’s “European trajectory” and rejecting the possibility of a departure from the eurozone and EU.

So the Greeks want the euro at all costs, even if it means more harsh austerity measures and cuts to wages, pensions and social services. Or so we are told. These claims would be believable if they were the product of robust public debate and deliberation on the respective pros and cons of remaining within the “European family” or departing. But in Greece, and in most of the global mainstream media, there is no such debate and never has been.

Instead, what has taken place in Greece during the economic crisis has been the complete elimination from public debate of opponents of the prevalent economic and political doctrines. Those who oppose the eurozone, the EU, or simply the austerity measures, are stamped with the “scarlet letter” of being “nationalists,” “xenophobes,” or “fascists.” Such rhetoric became even more polarized following the Brexit referendum result. The Brexit result and the rise of “populism” have themselves been demonized, while poll results that contradict the mainstream narrative are habitually buried by the supposedly “objective” major media outlets.

Following the first installment of this series – in which the less-than-democratic roots of the EU, the zeal with which the EU is lionized by the global media today, the EU’s present-day democratic deficit and hypocrisy, and the attempts to discredit opponents of the EU and neoliberalism were analyzed — this piece will focus on what has long been the “elephant in the room” in Europe: the possibility of departure from the eurozone and from the EU, and why it must, at the very least, be debated on equal terms in economically suffering countries such as Greece.

Fostering fear and lies

French president Emmanuel Macron, right, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, and Vlasia Pavlopoulou wife of the Greek President toast their drinks at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. Standing at a Greek site where democracy was conceived, French President Emmanuel Macron called on members of the European Union to reboot the 60-year-old bloc with sweeping political reforms or risk a "slow disintegration. (AP/Charalambos Gikas)

French president Emmanuel Macron, right, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, and Vlasia Pavlopoulou wife of the Greek President toast their drinks at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. Standing at a Greek site where democracy was conceived, French President Emmanuel Macron called on members of the European Union to reboot the 60-year-old bloc with sweeping political reforms or risk a “slow disintegration. (AP/Charalambos Gikas)

Throughout the crisis, the austerity measures that have been imposed on Greece, the arguments in favor of the necessity of remaining “in Europe,” the mythos surrounding the “European dream,” and the horror that would result from “Grexit” have been propped up by a series of lies and scare tactics that have been repeatedly propagated by politicians and media outlets alike.

This has fostered a form of learned helplessness in Greece, a belief that the country is incapable of surviving outside the eurozone and EU and therefore must remain, even if the preconditions for doing so are harsh.

One such myth pertains to the idea that Greece “doesn’t produce anything” and is therefore reliant on imports. These imports must, of course, be paid for with hard currency; therefore, the conventional line of thinking suggests that Greece would be unable to import vital necessities with its own “soft” currency.

Case in point: a 2012 Eurobarometer survey found that 94 percent of Greeks were concerned about national food security, the highest level in the EU. In addition, Greece was the only EU member-state where a majority (61 percent) expressed concern with national food production. Moreover, 79 percent of Greeks expressed the belief that Greece does not produce enough food to meet domestic needs. Again, this was the highest percentage recorded in the EU.

The claim that Greece doesn’t produce anything and is not nutritionally self-sufficient is constantly repeated by the media and used to justify remaining in the common market, but is it true? As of 2010, the most recent year for which complete statistics seem to be available, Greece met, exceeded, or came close to meeting domestic demand for staples such as eggs, meat and milk derived from sheep and goats, olive oil, several crops (including oranges, peaches, tomatoes, cucumbers, apricots, potatoes, and grapes), honey, whole grains, and poultry.

Furthermore, according to data from 2012, Greece is second worldwide in the production of sheep’s milk, third in olive and olive oil production, fourth in the production of pears, fifth in the production of peaches and nectarines, sixth in pistachio production, and in the top ten in goat’s milk, chestnuts, cantaloupes, cherries, and cotton. It is also just outside the top ten in the production of almonds, cottonseed, asparagus, figs, and other legumes. Greece is third in the world in the production of saffron and sixteenth in the world in the production of cheese products.

Outside of food production, Greece is a strong producer of such resources as aluminum and bauxite (first in Europe), magnesium (meeting 46 percent of Western Europe’s production), second in the world behind the United States in the production of smectite clay, and is the only European country with significant nickel deposits. Greece is also a significant producer of laterite and marble, as well as steel and cement.

Outside of production, Greece possesses one of the world’s largest shipping fleets, ranking second worldwide in total tonnage, while the Greek flag fleet and merchant fleet rank second in the EU and seventh globally. In addition, Greece is fourteenth in the world in tourist arrivals (but twenty-third in tourist revenue).

It is these three sectors — agriculture, shipping, and tourism — that have traditionally sustained the Greek economy, alongside domestic small businesses, which themselves have suffered during the crisis under the weight of decreased spending and increased taxation. Prior to the euro, the agricultural, shipping, and tourism sectors provided Greece with the hard currency with which it financed imports.

Indeed, it is membership in the EU that has led to a sharp decline in the domestic production of numerous staples in Greece. In 1961, twenty years before joining the EU, “impoverished” Greece produced 169,200 tons of figs, 6,374 tons of sesame, 52,000 tons of dry beans, 13,365 tons of chickpeas, and 19,246 tons of quince. In 2011, the respective figures were 9,400 tons of figs, 33 tons of sesame, 22,744 tons of dry beans, 2,200 tons of chickpeas, and 3,432 tons of quince.

In 1981, the year Greece joined the EU, production of fresh vegetables was at 123,298 tons, lemon production was at 216,874 tons, apple production was at 337,091 tons, almond production at 73,181 tons, tobacco production at 130,900 tons, tomato production at 1,884,600 tons, and potato production at 1,056,000 tons.

Thirty years later, the figures for each of these crops had sharply declined: 74,393 tons of fresh vegetables, 70,314 tons of lemons, 255,800 tons of apples, 29,800 tons of almonds, 20,287 tons of tobacco, 1,169,900 tons of tomatoes, and 757,820 tons of potatoes.

A major factor in this decline is the EU’s common agricultural policy, which sets production quotas for each country and each sector of production, and dictates to each country what to produce and which crop varieties to cultivate, what not to produce, where to export, where not to export, how much to export and at what price.

For example, until 2005 Greece’s sugar production sector was profitable and met a large part of domestic demand. In a 2006 deal with the EU, however, Greece agreed to reduce its domestic sugar production and increase imports. In 1980, the year before Greece ascended to the EU, pork meat production met 84 percent of domestic needs, while beef production met 66 percent of domestic demand. Those figures have declined to 38 and 13 percent, respectively.

The decline in beef production has also impacted the dairy sector. The EU’s influence is evident here as well: in 2000, Greece was fined 2.5 billion drachmas (over 7.3 million euros) for exceeding EU-imposed quotas for the production of cow’s milk.

And yet the myth persists: Greece “cannot survive” outside of the eurozone and EU. And while the lack of production—whether imagined or real—is one of the main arguments used by proponents of remaining in the EU, the lies do not stop there.

Greece wants to stay in the eurozone and EU — or does it?

A man walks past a graffiti made by street artist N_Grams that read ''NO'' in German but also ''YES, IN'' in Greek language in Athens, June 28, 2015. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

A man walks past a graffiti made by street artist N_Grams that read ”NO” in German but also ”YES, IN” in Greek language in Athens, June 28, 2015. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

One of the most prevalent and recurring myths to come out of crisis-stricken Greece is that despite the austerity measures and cuts that the Greek people have been faced with, the overwhelming majority wishes to remain in the EU “at all costs.”

This exact wording has been used in numerous public opinion polls, such as one published on July 5, 2015, the day of the Greek referendum on whether to accept or reject a new troika-backed austerity proposal. According to this poll, conducted by polling firm GPO on behalf of one of Greece’s most notoriously pro-austerity TV stations, Mega Channel, 74.1 percent of respondents wished to remain in the EU at all costs.

Is this really the case? It is worth considering that in Greece, there are no polling firms which conduct public opinion polls independently. Surveys are conducted on behalf of large media outlets which are, without exception, favorable to the policies of austerity and continued membership in the eurozone and the EU. The polling firms themselves also belong to similarly entrenched interests. The aforementioned GPO, for instance, was co-founded by construction and publishing magnate Christos Kalogritsas, who is said to still maintain a close friendship with GPO’s main shareholder, Takis Theodorikakos.

Further limiting their independence, Greece’s major public opinion polling firms are all recipients of state funding. Between 2010-2013, Kapa Research received 3,126,900 euros, MRB received 877,423 euros, GPO received 395,003 euros, Metron Analysis received 273,574 euros, Marc received 82,650 euros, VPRC received 55,500 euros, and ALCO received 50,677 euros.

Despite this though, the question remains: are the polling results accurate? What has been evident throughout the crisis is that poll results have often been woefully inaccurate. For example, prior to the 2015 referendum, major public opinion polls showed “yes” and “no” in a statistical dead heat. In reality, over 61 percent of voters rejected the EU’s austerity proposal, even if this result was itself overturned by Greece’s subservient SYRIZA-led government, which itself seemingly wishes to keep Greece inside the eurozone and EU “at all costs.”

More evidence can be found from the results of the few relatively independent public opinion polls which have taken place in Greece in recent years. For example, in a pan-European survey conducted by the Gallup International polling firm in December 2014, 52 percent of Greeks favored a return to a domestic currency, while only 32 percent favored remaining in the eurozone. Notably, Gallup International’s respective 2016 end-of-year poll found less than overwhelming support in Greece for remaining in the EU: while 54 percent of respondents stated that in a hypothetical referendum they’d vote to remain, 46 percent would vote to leave.

Furthermore, a March 2015 poll by Bridging Europe—an upstart polling firm which has since openly and unabashedly supported SYRIZA—found that 53 percent of respondents favored a return to a domestic currency. Together, these results contradict polling results which claim that overwhelming majorities of Greeks wish to remain, and at all costs to boot. However, these poll results have never been reported by either the Greek or the international media.

What the mainstream public opinion survey results in Greece aim to accomplish is threefold. First, they seek to impact public opinion in Greece by making it seem like there is such an overwhelming majority in favor of continued EU and eurozone membership that resistance is futile—and the product of “fringe” elements of society. Secondly, it impacts the international media in their reporting on Greece and the crisis, as they regurgitate these poll results without question.

Third, it reinforces the pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-austerity politics enforced by Greece’s current and previous governments, and the respective pro-EU and pro-euro positions of the entirety of the political spectrum that is represented in parliament.

Varoufakis: more blatant lies and pro-EU propaganda

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis speaks during a parliamentary session in Athens, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. (AP/Yannis Liakos)

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis speaks during a parliamentary session in Athens, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. (AP/Yannis Liakos)

When concealing inconvenient public opinion survey results isn’t enough, more blatant lies are employed. A characteristic example comes from the statements made by former finance minister and “heroic” celebrity economist Yanis Varoufakis, who in an interview with ABC Radio in Australia in 2015 stated that even if Greece wanted to return to a domestic currency, its printing presses were destroyed in 2000 prior to joining the eurozone. In reality, Greece’s mint is still in operation in the Athens suburb of Holargos and prints euro banknotes today.

In the minds of many Greeks, the old drachma is also associated with crippling inflation and economic instability, a perspective which the major media outlets have done nothing to dispel. Listening to certain Greeks discussing the pre-2002 era, one would think that prior to the euro Greeks must have lived in caves, without electricity, automobiles, or running water—and that such days will swiftly return if Greece dares to depart from the common currency.

Particular fears are expressed about inflation. However, this ignores the fact that from the 1950s through the early 1970s, inflation in “impoverished” Greece hovered at or below 5 percent. In the late 1990s, as Greece prepared to meet Maastricht criteria to join the eurozone, inflation once again fell into the single digits. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, other southern European countries, such as Italy and Spain, also frequently attained double-digit inflation levels similar to those seen in Greece.

When all else fails, stereotypes and collective guilt are employed to great effect. Greece lied in order to enter the eurozone, we are told, and therefore is reaping its just rewards. But as was pointed out in the first installment of this series, other countries such as Spain and Italy performed similar accounting tricks, but no similar calls to “punish” these countries have been heard.

What is heard though, by both the Greek and international media, is that the Greek people “lived beyond their means.” This viewpoint is consistent, whether you consult with the “leftist” Guardian, the right-wing Daily Telegraph, German finance minister-for-life Wolfgang Schäuble, or former EU economy commissioner Ollie Rehn. The head of the Eurogroup—the committee of eurozone finance ministers—and member of Holland’s Labour Party Jeroen Dijsselbloem stated earlier this year that Greeks spent their money on “drinks and women.” In turn, Dutch “eurosceptic” politician Geert Wilders claimed that Greeks spent their money “on souvlaki and ouzo.”

Never mind that Greece’s private sector debt has consistently ranked at the lowest levels among OECD countries and still does today. This has not stopped the Greek media and Greece’s politicians from repeating such claims, ascribing collective blame to the entire populace when it was a small cohort of politicians and crony capitalists who largely benefited from the public spending bonanza and augmentation of Greece’s public debt.

"Swindlers in the euro family:" A controversial cover has come back to haunt Germany's Focus magazine.

“Swindlers in the euro family:” The controversial cover of Germany’s Focus magazine.

Nevertheless, such statements are coupled with heavy doses of racism from Greece’s “European partners.” In 2010, the “reputable” German magazine Der Spiegel published, on its front cover, an image of the goddess Aphrodite, cloaked in a Greek flag, giving the finger to Europe, accompanied by the headline “Swindlers in the euro family.” Two studies, commissioned by the Hans Böckler Foundation and by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, have found that German media coverage of Greece’s crisis has been rife with stereotypes, bias, and superficial reporting.

The Feb. 13, 2010 edition of the Wall Street Journal featured a parody of ancient Greek art—now well-concealed on the Internet—displaying an ancient god begging for change. The Telegraph has referred to the crisis in Greece as the “ouzo crisis” while referring to the suffering economies of southern Europe as “Club Med.”

One of the many end results of this constant barrage of disparagement and insults towards the Greek people is that they have become ingrained in the national psyche. A common refrain heard in Greece in reference to anything negative occurring within the country is that “this is who we are.” Greece lied and therefore it must be punished. Greeks lived beyond their means and are now getting their just dues. Greeks were corrupt and “ate it all together,” in the words of ex-politician Theodoros Pangalos, and therefore collectively must share the blame.

Herein lies a paradox: on the one hand, Greeks are consistently ranked as among the unhappiest people in the world. Greece ranked fourth in this year’s Bloomberg misery index, and has been found to be the unhappiest country in Europe by both the Eurobarometer survey and by Gallup International. In such a toxic environment, the prevailing policies of economic austerity, cuts, and privatization are therefore met with tacit acceptance.

Collective guilt has set in for Greece’s supposed sins, and these painful austerity measures—and the misery they bring—are considered an inevitable result of these “sins.” On the other hand, the actors in large part responsible for the austerity that has delivered such misery, such as the EU, continue to receive support from a significant percentage of the population.

As for those who dare to openly speak out against austerity and in opposition to the EU and the eurozone? They are swiftly labeled. A favorite retort in Greece concerns the supposed existence of a “conspiracy of the drachma” in which diaspora Greeks and wealthy Greeks who have moved their money offshore favor a return to the drachma. As this line of thinking goes, these individuals would then move their money back to Greece and take advantage of a sharply devalued local currency, getting wealthier in the process.

Other attacks are simpler, often branding opponents of the prevailing European order as “fascists,” “xenophobes,” “nationalists” and “populists”—the latter two, of course, being rather dirty words in the present-day context.

When insults and labels don’t do the job, fear is effective. According to a European Commission adviser and as reported by Newsweek in 2015, Greece would promptly find itself out of oil and medical supplies once it leaves the eurozone and EU. In the lead-up to the 2015 referendum, both Greek and international media outlets, including the Washington Post—which later replaced the image on this article—circulated untrue and undated photos of supermarket shelves devoid of food. Greece’s Mega Channel broadcast images of senior citizens using ATMs in fear—images which actually were from South Africa.

Greek tabloid newspaper Press Star published a “heartbreaking” photo of an elderly man in tears while holding a solitary loaf of bread—even though the photo was actually from the aftermath of the Istanbul earthquake of 1999. The photo was shamelessly recycled one more time earlier this year, in the aftermath of an earthquake on the Greek island of Lesvos.

Another national TV broadcaster, Antenna TV, reported that in the 2015 referendum, Greeks were choosing between a future “as Europe” or “as Zimbabwe.” The same station, prior to the June 2012 parliamentary elections, circumvented a pre-election freeze on political broadcasts by airing, on the eve of the polls, a “documentary” on the (obviously adverse) impacts of “Grexit,” laughably insinuating that a SYRIZA victory would result in “Grexit.”

Never mind that Greek domestic production and industry have been decimated during the years of EU and eurozone membership. Never mind that the EU allowed for the debt of Greece’s national railway to be waived in order to facilitate its privatization—but refuses to allow the same for Greece’s national debt. Never mind that 92 percent of the “bailouts” (loans) Greece has received during the crisis have gone right back to its lenders. Never mind that even EU monies for major infrastructure projects often went right back to European contractors or consultants, in a process of crony capitalism described by former “economic hitman” John Perkins. Never mind that the austerity regime itself has been found to violate the fundamental human rights of the people of Greece. As the title of part one of this series suggested, for the Greek and international media and a substantial portion of the Greek populace, it is “EU über alles”—Europe or bust—even if Greece is the one that goes bust in the process.

The argument for leaving the eurozone and the EU

Pedestrians pass a poster depicting a map of Greece with the letter E being replaced by Euro symbols in Athens, Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Pedestrians pass a poster depicting a map of Greece with the letter E being replaced by Euro symbols in Athens, Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

If we truly support and believe in open and robust public debate, then the discussion as to whether Greece (or any other EU member-state) will be better served by departing from the EU or eurozone must be a part of that dialogue. So far, however, it has largely been excluded from the public sphere and from anything resembling equal footing in public discourse—whether that discussion is occurring in the media, in academia, or in the political arena.

Even if one is not a proponent of leaving the eurozone or the EU, the fiscally and politically prudent thing to do would be to have a plan in place for such a possibility. If, for instance, there is a collapse of the Italian banking system—which is presently teetering on the edge—or some other large-scale economic disaster in the eurozone, it’s not outside the realm of possibility for a domino effect to impact the entirety of Europe, forcing out some eurozone member states or resulting in the collapse of the eurozone system itself.

If this sounds far-fetched, consider the following: there are several examples of currency unions breaking apart, such as that of the Austro-Hungarian empire, or more recently the cases of the breakup of the Czech-Slovak union or Latvia leaving what was essentially a currency union with Russia in 1992.

While not exactly like the eurozone today, in the 19th and early 20th century, the Latin Monetary Union and the Scandinavian Monetary Union attempted to create a currency peg across multiple countries—which also occurred more recently in the lead-up to the launch of the eurozone via the creation of the European Monetary Union. For different reasons, both monetary unions ended up dissolving, with member-states eliminating currency pegs between them.

More recently, the United Kingdom departed the EMU in 1992 amidst doom-and-gloom scenarios highly similar to those heard today about departing the eurozone. Instead, what followed was one of the strongest periods of economic growth in the UK’s history.

Further precedent exists in the well-known examples of Argentina, which repudiated the IMF’s austerity diktats and declared a stoppage of payments on its public debt in 1999. What followed was over a decade of economic growth which exceeded the global average, and indeed even the eventual repayment of much of its previous debt at new terms that it negotiated with most of its creditors.

Iceland, following its banking collapse in 2008 which was, proportionally, the largest collapse sustained by the banking sector in a developed country in history, enacted policies which were in direct opposition to those being recommended by the IMF. Banks were allowed to collapse, foreign creditors were initially not repaid, bankers were jailed. The economy soon boomed, with GDP growthexceeding EU and eurozone averages and Iceland’s GDP eventually eclipsing pre-collapse levels. Meanwhile, a devalued currency led to a tourism and export boom. Eventually, creditors were repaid as well.

While Iceland and Argentina were not a part of a common currency bloc, their examples highlight how a nation can reject the austerity demands of institutions such as the IMF, can declare a stoppage of payments on its debt, roll back austerity, devalue its currency, and swiftly return to economic growth. Moreover, Argentina broke its 1:1 currency peg to the U.S. dollar — which, while not the equivalent to departing a currency union, had the result of restoring the Argentine government’s ability to enact monetary policy instead of being reliant on U.S. policy.

Therefore, even the most vociferous supporter of “remain” would be well advised to support the development of an exit plan in preparation for a worst-case scenario which may well emerge from outside the country’s borders. Unlike the “heroic” Yanis Varoufakis, who negotiated so fiercely as finance minister in 2015 that he openly stated he had no “plan B” and would not place “Grexit” on the table even as a negotiating tool, such a plan would be the most prudent option even for the most enthusiastically pro-EU regime.

The paragraphs which follow will outline why a country like Greece must consider leaving the eurozone and the EU, the various proposals which have been put forth as to how this could be accomplished, and how a departure could occur.

Why leave?

Protesting hospital staff sit in front of a wall that they built at the entrance of the Greek Finance Ministry with a banner depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Thipras , Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis and Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos wearing ties reading in Greek ''Ministry of broken promises" and " We drown in debt and bailouts" in central Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Protesting hospital staff sit in front of a wall that they built at the entrance of the Greek Finance Ministry with a banner depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Thipras , Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis and Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos wearing ties reading in Greek ”Ministry of broken promises” and ” We drown in debt and bailouts” in central Athens, June 16, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

The euro is essentially a debt instrument: According to economist and former central banker Spiros Lavdiotis, the European Central Bank does not lend directly to its members—i.e. the member states of the eurozone. It instead lends to the private sector, at interest. In turn, the private sector lends to states who seek to borrow money, at higher interest. This perpetuates the debt cycle, while the higher interest is often financed in the form of budget cuts or higher taxes.

Restoring monetary sovereignty – external devaluation instead of internal devaluation: What has taken place during the years of the economic crisis in Greece is essentially a process of “internal devaluation.” This means that the cost of labor in Greece—that is, wages, insurance contributions and the like—have been slashed, purportedly in an attempt to boost the country’s competitiveness.

Traditionally, however, many countries have employed a different remedy for responding to an economic downturn: external devaluation. Instead of cutting wages and pensions at home, the value of the national currency would be devalued, immediately making the country’s exports, services, and labor cheaper and more competitive on a global level, compared to other stronger currencies.

External devaluation also helped foster much-vaunted foreign investment (as the cost of investment would decrease) in economic sectors such as tourism, as the country proceeding with an external devaluation would automatically become cheaper for foreign visitors. With domestic wages, pensions, and social services unaffected, quality of life was largely not impacted by an external devaluation.

The main disadvantage with external devaluation is that the cost of imports rises. This, however, was traditionally offset in two ways: paying for imports with foreign hard currency reserves (which can indeed increase if foreign tourism and investment in the economy increases), and by increasing domestic production, where possible, to alleviate the need for imports. This promoted domestic industry and a policy of full employment.

But today, countries such as Greece are saddled with a hard currency that is overvalued for the needs of the domestic economy, and where there is no level of control on monetary policy. If this seems like a mere unfortunate consequence of the euro, think again: Roger Mundell, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and architect of the euro, foresaw precisely this eventuality.

In Mundell’s vision, as eurozone economies were squeezed with the first sign of an economic downturn, all of the traditional monetary policy tools would be unavailable in their policy-making toolkit. Unable to devalue the currency or to increase deficit spending due to EU rules, governments would be left with one choice: austerity. Cut wages, cut pensions, slash social services to the bone. It’s a neoliberal wet dream—and it is the European “dream” today.

Escaping stifling EU fiscal rules: Currently, EU member-states must abide to strict EU fiscal rules as part of its Stability and Growth Pact. The main rules are that total government debt must not be more than 60 percent of GDP, and government deficits must not exceed 3 percent of GDP.

At face value, this sounds reasonable and prudent. However, the problem with these rules is that they eliminate many of the traditional tools that were available in the fiscal policy toolkit during times of economic recession. Deficit spending, for instance, has enabled many sputtering economies to get back on track, as cash re-enters the economy, encouraging consumer and business spending and private lending. Limiting this ability handicaps countries which are stuck in a recession.

Indeed, one of the primary ideas behind such rules is, quite cynically, to reduce the political cost of what would otherwise be unpopular policies: cuts to social services and pensions and the like.

A man stands in front of a banner during an anti-austerity rally by workers in the health sector outside the Labour ministry in Athens, March 2, 2017. Monitors from Greece's European Union creditors and the International Monetary Fund re-launched talks in Athens on Tuesday on the country's stumbling bailout program. The banner reads : "Medical Association of Athens, We demand the immediate withdraw of the pension bill". (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

A man stands in front of a banner during an anti-austerity rally by workers in the health sector outside the Labour ministry in Athens, March 2, 2017. The banner reads : “Medical Association of Athens, We demand the immediate withdraw of the pension bill”. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

It should be noted here that leaving the eurozone or even the EU does not mean an automatic green light to act recklessly. But it will afford a country like Greece the freedom to take control of its fiscal and economic policy. Notably, for Greece, the EU has determined that the aforementioned strict rules do not go far enough. Greece’s current “leftist” SYRIZA-led government, entirely subservient to Brussels and Berlin, agreed earlier this year to achieve a primary budget surplus of 3.5 percent annually each year through 2023, and primary budget surpluses of 2 percent annually through 2060.

This certainly contradicts Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ current rhetoric regarding the official end of the crisis coming sometime in 2018. A primary budget surplus means that the state spends less than it takes in. For a country with a stagnant or shrinking GDP such as Greece, this means spending an ever-shrinking amount of money. And as government revenues dry up, the surplus target is met by further cutting spending, creating a perpetual austerity death spiral. As of now, this is the economic future Greece faces, no matter what Tsipras, the EU, or the media claim.

Increased competitiveness on the global markets: Free of EU fiscal and monetary shackles, Greece will be free to enact its own policy, including future devaluations of its newly-restored domestic currency (more on devaluation below).

When a country such as Greece is ready to take this step and devalue its domestic currency, it will be able to better compete globally in its three cornerstone economic sectors: tourism, agriculture, and shipping. Greece will be a less expensive destination for foreign tourists, while Greek agricultural products and Greek services will be comparatively less expensive. And this will take place via a process of external devaluation, rather than cutting domestic wages and reducing the quality of life.

Greece has an educated and multilingual workforce, as well as lots of untapped or deprecated (due to EU) agricultural potential. Tourism, while increasing in raw numbers, has a lot of potential for growth, especially since average spending per visitor is far less than other countries.

An increase in foreign trade, exports, and tourism will, in turn, ensure that Greece will maintain the necessary foreign hard currency reserves with which it will import vital goods that it cannot produce domestically. This is how the Greek economy operated prior to entering the eurozone in 2002, and it is how even the poorest of states are able to import oil, automobiles, medicine, or other necessities.

Rolling back austerity: Every sector of the Greek economy has been impacted by the austerity measures that have been imposed by Greece’s lenders in the troika since 2010.

Free of a requirement to sustain a primary budget surplus, Greece would have the ability to increase spending in vital social sectors such as healthcare and education, to at least partially restore pensions and salaries that have been repeatedly slashed, and to cut taxes, such as the heating oil tax which has resulted in most Greek households not being able to afford to heat their homes in the winter. Other cuts could be applied to the value-added tax (VAT), which even for many staple items is a hefty 24 percent, as well as high business taxes that are choking the life out of Greece’s traditional economic base of small businesses.

Even without funding coming from the EU, the ability to increase spending could also allow the state to jump-start infrastructure projects or to continue existing public works. Measures could also be financed to reverse the country’s “brain drain” and to attract some of the 600,000 Greeks who have emigrated back to Greece.

Protecting and promoting industry: Free of the requirements of participating in the European common market, a country like Greece will be less exposed to unequal or unfair competition from industrial powerhouses such as Germany, which has flooded domestic markets with cheap imports, while domestic industries have been shuttered or bought out.

Furthermore, liberated from the requirement of enforcing production quotas under such policy frameworks as the EU’s common agricultural policy, Greece will be able to enact measures to return agricultural production to its much higher pre-EU levels, thereby alleviating many of the concerns regarding the country’s self-sufficiency and “dependence” on Europe for its survival.

Think people don’t want it? Think again: As was shown earlier, public opinion poll results which claim that overwhelming majorities of Greeks wish to remain in the eurozone and EU at all costs are likely “fake news”—meant to influence public opinion and marginalize opposition. What independent polls have indicated is that, at the very least, a departure from the EU and, in particular, the eurozone will not be nearly as unpopular as claimed—and may perhaps even enjoy the support of a small majority.

Leaving the “Hotel California”?

Yanis Varoufakis has famously uttered that the EU (and by extension, the Eurozone) are like the Hotel California: you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. It’s one thing, of course, to understand why a country like Greece—and its economy—may be at a disadvantage within the Eurozone and the EU. It’s another thing, however, to actually leave these institutions.

In the next and final installment of this piece, it is the very process of leaving that will be analyzed. Contrary to a commonly-expressed sentiment that no coherent plan for a country to depart from the Eurozone has ever been presented, the third and final part of this series will present some of the proposals that have been developed by economists and scholars for an orderly departure from the Eurozone–and how some of the challenges and obstacles, which will inevitably be faced, may be overcome.

Jul 182017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

Ancient Greece is perhaps best known for its contributions to mankind in the areas of philosophy, architecture, and science. But a modern-day economist suggests that some of the economic practices that were used in ancient times could help to solve Greece’s current debt crisis.

A man waves a Greek flag in front of the Greek Parliament during a rally against new austerity measures in Athens, May 18, 2017. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

A man waves a Greek flag in front of the Greek Parliament during a rally against new austerity measures in Athens, May 18, 2017. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

ATHENS (Interview) — Closing in on a full decade in duration, the Greek economic crisis is unprecedented in the modern history of economically-developed nations. During this period, Greece’s GDP has declined by over a quarter, unemployment has skyrocketed to record levels, salaries and pensions have been decimated and a significant percentage of Greece’s population, particularly its young university graduates, have migrated abroad.

Four separate memorandum packages that allegedly “bailed out” Greece have instead squeezed the economy to its limits through the imposition of harsh austerity measures, cuts, and privatizations even of profitable public assets. Meanwhile, most of the “bailout” funds, which are actually monies that have been loaned to Greece, have been routed right back to European banks, with very little of that money actually entering the Greek economy.

MintPress News recently spoke with economist and author Spiros Lavdiotis in an interview that initially aired on Dialogos Radio in two parts in May and June. Lavdiotis is a former analyst for the Bank of Canada and has written several books and articles on the Greek economic situation during the crisis. He has also extensively researched the economics of ancient Greece and the connections of ancient philosophy with modern-day economic challenges.

In this interview, Lavdiotis discusses austerity, the present-day Greek economic situation, the reasons why he believes Greece must exit the eurozone and the manner in which it can do so, while also explaining what ancient Greece can teach us about dealing with debt today.

MintPress News (MPN): Share with us a few words about austerity as an economic doctrine, and how this doctrine developed.

Spiros Lavdiotis (SL): The modern form of austerity developed in the meeting of Toronto of the G20 [in 2010]. There was a split in the opinion, in that high-level meeting. The Americans espoused the principles of Keynesianism in trying to recover from the financial crisis of 2008, when the whole of the financial system collapsed, particularly after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Together with the United States in espousing the principles of Keynes were India, Russia, and China. At the same time, the Europeans split from this idea. They thought that in order to save their own weak financial system, that austerity is the only way to do it.

The crisis that started in the United States with the subprime loans and developed in a snowball fashion, to a great extent it disseminated its waves to the European system, which was weaker than the U.S. system. [The fact is] that the eurozone does not have and is not built on sound principles. It is a legal construction which is incomplete because there is no political union, banking union, or financial union. There is no such thing, it was simply a “reverse creation,” starting from a legal structure of the monetary union, and then trying to instigate a political union. It’s very unusual, it’s never happened in the history of civilization.

As a result, when the crisis came, everything fell apart. They didn’t know what to do. In a bulletin which was issued by the European Central Bank (ECB) in May 2010, they admitted that they were in a state of complete collapse. They didn’t have any mechanism, nothing. So they tried to save themselves—particularly the Germans, who had the biggest exposure to the system, the German and the French banks. They decided not to apply Keynesian principles and to follow austerity.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, right, welcomes the head of the International Monetary Fund Dominique Strauss-Kahn at his office in Athens on Dec. 7, 2010. Strauss-Kahn was in Greece to negotiate terms of the repayment of the three-year euro110 billion ($150 billion) bailout loan intended to saved the debt-ridden country from default. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, right, welcomes the head of the International Monetary Fund Dominique Strauss-Kahn at his office in Athens on Dec. 7, 2010. Strauss-Kahn was in Greece to negotiate terms of the repayment of the three-year euro110 billion ($150 billion) bailout loan intended to saved the debt-ridden country from default. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Austerity is a dangerous policy because it means that a country has financial problems due to the budget and due to deficits in the foreign exchange, in other words in the balance of payments. In order to alleviate itself, it has to impose austerity measures. How does this work? The theory says, through “confidence.” What does “confidence” mean? The theory says that when people and investors see that there is stability and the country can be saved, then “confidence” is going to build. These are unbelievable things. That’s why the measures of austerity were called “friendly to growth” measures. There is no such thing! These things never work.

In Greece, they miscalculated the “multiplier effects” of the policies which they imposed on debt and incomes. As a result, the Greek economy collapsed completely. In the second year of the imposition of the austerity measures, in 2011, GDP collapsed by 7 percent. All these measures were called “reforms,” but were not reforms. They killed the economy, salaries, pensions.

I remind you that in Greece, 50 percent of the national income arises from pensions. It was a total catastrophe. The unemployment rate, from 7.8 percent, shot up to 28 percent, and it is still measured artificially at 23 percent. This is a dismal situation. People have no hope about finding jobs, and they immigrate. The immigration rate has surpassed more than 600,000 people, from which 250,000 are educated people with degrees who are unable to find anything decent [in Greece].

Overall, the GDP from 2008 until now has fallen by 28 percent. This is the longest, in time and magnitude, drop in growth in economic terms of any developed country. This has never happened before. Even in the Great Depression in the United States, unemployment reached 25 percent and it took only three years to start recovering.

MPN: Why is there such a great insistence on economic austerity, such as in the case of Greece, and are there any examples that you can identify where any country was able to emerge from a financial crisis and return to growth as a result of austerity?

SL: Not to my knowledge. Herbert Hoover tried to impose austerity, and in two years the situation was very severe. There is no such example in the history of economics. I do not know how they developed this type of “friendly to growth” austerity. This is unbelievable, this is a myth, there is no such thing. They have tried to save the financial system of Europe, which was collapsing, and at the same time Germany went ahead and accepted this because it wants to keep the European free trade zone intact.

As you know, there are only nine EU countries which do not participate in the eurozone. The main thing was for Germany to maintain the primacy of its export power. In order to do that in this modern era, you have to maintain the financial system following the principles of free trade, the three basic principles of the Maastricht Treaty: freedom of commerce, freedom of services, and freedom of labor, and of course that presupposes the freedom of capital.

The euro is based on irrevocable exchange. In other words, it’s not like the Bretton Woods agreement, [based on] the gold standard. If a country was in a fundamental disequilibrium, they could devalue up to 10 percent and get out more easily from the predicament. Now with the euro, you cannot. As long as you entered with an exchange that was determined then, that’s it, there’s nothing you can do. It’s like an iron chain, and if you cannot fit from the very beginning—as was the case in Greece—but the European Union knew that, that the Greeks were cooking the numbers.

But the Germans wanted to sell frigates and planes to Greece, the same with the French, and therefore they closed their eyes. They wanted to have Greece there, due to the fact that they could expand their own markets to Greece, due to the different economic and industrial development of the country while at the same time not having to be afraid of devaluation. That was the main goal of Germany.

At the beginning, Germany was exporting two-thirds of their products to European countries. Then it shifted and started exporting to Asia, with its biggest market being China. But just remember that even now, exports constitute 46 percent of Germany’s GDP. They had the power to institute this policy, and the Greek politicians decided to protect the banks. This was a mistake. There were always interlocking interests between the politicians and the banking system in Greece, but I think it was also ignorance, they didn’t know the extent of that relationship in passing the losses of the banking system to the Greek taxpayer.

The amounts are tremendous. They involve a sum of 240-plus billion euros. [By comparison], Greece has a GDP of 175 billion euros. You have a small economy producing 175 billion euros [of economic activity] and you transfer 240 billion in banking system losses that have nothing to do with the Greek economy, this is close to 150 percent of GDP. This would be the same as a $25 trillion bank recapitalization in the United States.

The United States can still print money though, but in the eurozone, all the countries have to give up their monetary sovereignty. It was given to the EU, where in effect you had only one institution, the ECB, and therefore you are transferring all the rights of creating money to one institution which then, in order for you to have money, they will [fund] you by charging interest, but not directly to the member-states, only to the banking systems. The state, to finance its expenditures and the coverage of all programs for health and for welfare and whatever expenses were necessary for the state, had to borrow.

And to borrow from whom? Because the ECB does not directly lend to states, it had to borrow from the private sector, and the private sector had to borrow the funds from the ECB, which was charging interest. The commercial banks then had to charge extra interest to lend money to the Greek state. What happened then? The Greek state had to charge taxpayers with higher taxes to cover these expenditures. Greece entered the European Monetary Union in 2002. By 2008 we were already bankrupt, but they simply did not announce it to the public.

Internationally they did not know that the problem of the Greek state was mostly the banking system. They were talking about “corrupt Greeks.” Yes, there were corrupt Greeks, and the politicians are very corrupt in Greece, this is acknowledged, but the politicians never behaved in placing the common good ahead of themselves.

Right now we are faced, according to the latest budget, with more than 563 billion euros—which is the sum of all of the debt that occurred due to all the banking losses which entered the Greek budget—because there is no fiscal union in Europe.

MPN: “Seisachtheia” is a concept that many are not familiar with. It is also the topic of one of your books. Tell us about this ancient Greek concept and what it may teach us about debt today.

SL: There are a lot of similarities with what happened then, in the 6th century BC, in ancient Athens, with what is happening now. Back then, ancient Athens was in a great economic ordeal due to the fact that the wealth of the city was accumulated among the richest people, and the richest people of that period were landowners. They charged interest between 16 and 36 percent for those who did not have money and wanted to borrow money.

If an agrarian wanted to cultivate the fields, which were all owned by the landowners, they either had to pay one-sixth of the gross cultivation to them as a rent, or they had to go and borrow at the aforementioned rates. Eventually, it was impossible. If there was a bad crop one year, how could they give the one-sixth to the landowner? Therefore they had to borrow and they were going bankrupt.

In this Feb. 2, 2016 photo farmers stand behind a makeshift fire in front of tractors, near Kerdilia, Greece. Combine a rapidly aging population, a depleted work force and leaky finances and any country’s pension system would be in trouble. For debt-hobbled, unemployment-plagued Greece, it’s a nightmare.(AP/Giannis Papanikos)

In this Feb. 2, 2016 photo farmers stand behind a makeshift fire in front of tractors, near Kerdilia, Greece. Combine a rapidly aging population, a depleted work force and leaky finances and any country’s pension system would be in trouble. For debt-hobbled, unemployment-plagued Greece, it’s a nightmare.(AP/Giannis Papanikos)

At that time in history, it was not instituted to give land or other items as collateral. You were placing as collateral your own body, your wife, and your children. So if you were unable to pay, the debtor was given the right by law—not only in Greece but in all ancient regions, including Asia Minor, Sumeria, and Iraq—to be captured and sold as a slave. A famous site for slave exchanges at that time was the island of Aegina, just outside the port of Piraeus.

Solon was the highest official elected by the Athenians to solve this problem, because they were evacuating, just like right now the Greeks are evacuating Greece because they cannot find jobs. This is a very serious situation here in Greece because there isn’t even unemployment insurance. They say there is, but right now there are more than 1,200,000 people officially unemployed, and they pay unemployment insurance for less than 10 percent. And what kind of unemployment insurance? Its 260 euros per month, and only 10 percent [of the unemployed], or 117,000 people, get unemployment insurance.

This is the European system, which exists because there is no law or regulation or principle within the EU, particularly in the eurozone, which gives a right to work. While in the United States the Federal Reserve law says that all monetary policy will be in accordance to maximum employment, price stability and low long-term interest rates. The constitution, according to the Maastricht treaty, of the ECB says there is only one goal, and that goal is price stability. That’s it. Nothing about employment, they don’t even care about it.

This is why Greeks have to immigrate because at the same time there is no law to determine the minimum wage rate, which is the level at which a human being can survive decently. There is now a law which determines that the minimum wage rate for unskilled labor is 486 euros per month. Just think about all of you who are living in Canada or in the United States or Australia and you visit Greece. Is it possible, with 486 euros per month, for a person to live decently?

No, they cannot. You’re reduced to a pauper. It is undeclared slavery. And even the salaries, even as a civil servant, the monthly salaries are lower than that in many instances. As the minister of labor in Greece has announced, about 125,000 people are employed with a salary of fewer than 100 euros per month.

I say this because the situation in Greece is really very severe, and it’s not an accident that recently a report released by the Cologne Institute of Economic Research has said that Greece is in last place of all EU nations in terms of its poverty level, which has reached 40 percent. That’s not far from what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) acknowledged with the data of 2015, [showing] the poverty level in Greece then as 36 percent.

However, people think this is not important, particularly academics who completely dismiss all these things and say that we must remain in the eurozone, without taking into consideration the severe economic situation and the predicament that many people are in and the suffering that keeps going.

[In ancient Greece], Solon resolved those problems. The Athenians were deserting Athens and the fields were uncultivated. As a result, even the rich people said that a solution had to be found. The city was on the verge of civil war. So they elected Solon because he was famous for his integrity and knowledge and because he was middle class, not rich and not poor. Therefore, the rich trusted him and the poor also trusted him, because when he was young he showed characteristics of patriotism.

Solon enacted the “seisachtheia,” and this word remained for centuries, and even now as a word it is extremely powerful. It means “I remove the weight of debts.” It was the first macroeconomic plan that was instituted in the history of civilization. The first thing that Solon thing was institute laws which abolished lending by placing your body as collateral. That was the first time such a law was established in the history of humanity. That’s why Solon’s name remains today as such a significant light in the development of human civilization.

The next thing that he did was to devalue the Athenian currency at the time, which was the Greek drachma. He devalued the Greek drachma to make the foreign trade of Athens more competitive. At the same time, he created incentives for people to come and work in Athens, from other cities that were highly developed, promising to issue Athenian citizenship.

He tried to augment or develop foreign trade in the context that the exports of the city had to be equalized with imports. Solon was the person who instituted the principle that, in order for a country to have self-sufficiency and to be an independent nation, the revenues achieved from exports have to be equalized with the revenues given to imports. This was something that no Greek state politicians have achieved since Greece became an independent nation.

Solon was the person who instituted the “church of the demos,” meaning direct democracy. Officials were directly elected by the people, and Solon was elected as an archon of Athens for 21 years continuously because back then you were elected for one year. This was enough time for him to take [Athens] out of its economic morass and to develop its place as one of the highest civilized nations of the ancient period.

MPN: How and in what way could Greece denounce its public debt, and what does international law and international legal precedent foresee for the issue of its debt?

SL: It is very difficult to really try to eliminate the debt legally, because there is no international law which establishes the principles between creditors and debtors when nations are involved. International law, and every state have bankruptcy laws that concern companies and individuals, but in terms of international law, there are no specific principles [for nations]. This is why a national delegation, the debtor, has to sit down with creditors and determine bilaterally how they’re going to resolve this issue, because nobody can benefit by squeezing the other, like what is happening right now to Greece.

Protesting hospital staff sit in front of a wall that they built at the entrance of the Greek Finance Ministry with a banner depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Thipras , Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis and Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos wearing ties reading in Greek ''Ministry of broken promises" and " We drown in debt and bailouts" in central Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Protesting hospital staff sit in front of a wall that they built at the entrance of the Greek Finance Ministry with a banner depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Thipras , Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis and Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos wearing ties reading in Greek ”Ministry of broken promises” and ” We drown in debt and bailouts” in central Athens, June 16, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Greeks have nothing to do with the losses of the banks. They’re responsible for about 70 billion [euros] due to corrupt politicians, but 70 billion is manageable because it is less than 50 percent of GDP. Why does the Greek taxpayer have to pay because of irregularities and anomalies in the eurozone, due to the fact that this is a legal institution and is not a political or fiscal union? Why do the Greek people have to pay for all these losses?

There is no international law that can resolve this issue, and this is one of the reasons why we have a big advantage, legally and ethically, to tell them that we’re stopping payments because our country is impoverished, we’re in a humanitarian crisis, why should we pay unilaterally? When you make a deal of lending and borrowing, you have two parties. Why do banks get excluded and the borrower has to carry all the weight? It’s unbelievable.

The banks did all this damage because they invested in toxic bonds in various futures markets, in securitized products which they didn’t even understand, and they carried enormous losses, hundreds of billions, and they’ve placed it on the shoulders of a small country with a GDP of 175 billion euros. What type of justice is this? With the Greek situation and the suffering imposed on all Greeks, who are not all crooks, why should they be destroyed economically?

This is going to take more a generation, to put Greece back where it was. And probably not even that because right now, Greece’s national income and GDP growth are below 2003 levels. Greece has lost about 15 years. But in terms of moral values and general values, they’ve been completely demoralized. Only 3 percent of the public now believes in politicians. This is why this situation is not going to go away either. It’s the biggest economic crime that has ever been committed.

How is it possible for all these losses, which involve not just the Greek banks but also the German banks, the French banks, the Dutch banks, to have been passed only to Greece? The international system is connected, through the euro, which creates an international platform for capital to move freely from one country to another. At any time, any money can be transferred from Athens to Berlin, from Berlin to Frankfurt, from Frankfurt to Paris. All of these losses were in the end sustained by the Greeks because the politicians accepted this. This is why it’s going to be an issue that’s going to last, because the sums are huge.

According to the [Greek] national budget, which was voted and passed in December 2016, it has receipts from credit money—in other words, borrowed money—of 563 billion euros. The total budget of the Greek state, in other words, is 614 billion euros, while the revenues of the Greek state are 50 billion euros, of which 46 billion comes from taxes. This is 320 percent more than the GDP of Greece, and it’s signed by the Greek president and by the minister of finance! How is it possible to claim that Greece is benefiting from this money while at the same time the economy has collapsed by more than 28 percent?

You can understand here, the impasse and the unfairness and what has happened to the Greek state. A lot of people outside [Greece] have realized this. They are talking about the looting of Greece, because now in order to [pay the debt], they are saying to Greece that it has to sell all the public assets. Now we have to sell what our fathers and our ancestors tried to create. They fought for this land, now they have to sell it to pay interest upon interest which has already been paid.

Since we have entered the memorandums, we have paid over 60 billion euros [in interest], and they call this “solidarity.” And according to the new calculations, the payments the Greek state [is responsible for] up to 2030 total 160 billion euros just in interest. This is usury! This is one of the most extreme forms of usury. How is it possible to survive? Everything is going to fall apart.

If in the epoch of Solon they were escaping Athens to save their skins and not to be sold as slaves, here [in Greece] no decent person can remain. This is the situation of the eurozone, the legal laws that were passed creating this union which have nothing to do with humanity. It’s simply an interest scheme, a payment scheme for those countries that are richer. And the countries that are richer are the countries of northern Europe. This is why southern Europe has almost collapsed, and we’ll see this year whether Italy can save their own banking system.

MPN: Would it be correct to say that Greece would be able to undertake unilateral action to declare a stoppage of payments or to denounce or write down the debt once it leaves the eurozone and returns to a national domestic currency?

SL: We should remember that we [Greece] are a member of the eurozone. In other words, we cannot take unilateral action. The de jure bankruptcy of the nation will take place while the country is still a member of the eurozone. In other words, the government can declare a moratorium, a temporary stoppage of payments of six months to foreign lenders. At the same time, the government can immediately start negotiations with the European authorities: the European Commission and the ECB.

The main problem of the Greek debt is that the Greek debt that has been accumulated, [placed] in the budget of 2016, having the signature of the Greek state, amounts to 563 billion euros, which are credit receipts. The lenders forced the Greek government to pass all future debt of the Greek state [into the budget], and the problem, the time schedule of the Greek debt [repayment] is stretched to 2060. The ratio of debt to GDP exceeds 320 percent.

This amount, most of it—about 95 percent—has not accumulated due to the extravagance and excesses of the Greek state. Ninety-five percent of it is debt which has been incurred by the banking system as a whole, not just Greek banks, but also the whole eurozone system, involving mainly German and French banks who have lent to the Greek banks. Therefore, these payments are related to the whole eurozone system and not to the Greek state alone. Yet the taxpayers of the Greek state [are on the hook].

For that reason, we [can] expose all of the official records through a task force appointed by experts from other states—an international task force—that will verify what was published recently, one year ago by the Technical University of Berlin, which determined that the two initial memorandums, involving amounts [totaling] 240 billion euros that were given to the Greek state and named “bailouts,” weren’t given to bail out Greece. They were given to bail out the banking system!

According to this study, less than 5 percent has gone to the Greek economy, and the rest, about 95.5 percent, went for the repayment of the debt and losses of the banking system of Europe as a whole. That’s the problem that was created due to the inflexibility of the euro system. Because the euro has an irrevocable exchange rate, and after the global crisis in 2008, which was actually a financial crisis, it was impossible for the eurozone to cope with this.

For some reason, politicians accepted this, for the losses of the entire euro system to be taken by Greece, to be paid by the Greek taxpayers, while these losses involved the whole system, because the eurozone system is a system which is very incomplete, has many faults. It’s a creation where they put the carriage in front and the horse in the back.

MPN: What happens in the event that Greece does not find that the Europeans are willing to negotiate on the issue of the debt?

SL: In my view that would be almost impossible and it would be irresponsible, because Greece represents a huge bomb of debt. If they do not accept [a write-down], they’re going to expose the whole system to great dangers, due to the systemic risk that is involved in the banking system. The European banks are not only connected with the Greek banks, which are bankrupt, but also with the American banks – which according to certain financial analysts are exposed to a tune of more than 3 trillion euros to the European banks. Therefore, some analysts say that the Greek case is like Lehman Brothers squared.

This is why it’s so dangerous. This actually explains the political stance of previous governments in joining hands with the European authorities, for Greeks to bear this huge burden that doesn’t belong to them. As I said, 95 percent of the loans [given to Greece] are to save the banks and not the Greek state.

MPN: Recently, we have again begun to hear murmurs about the possibility of “Grexit,” as well as statements from various sources, such as the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises, and a joint statement by 14 Greek economists who are based outside of Greece, about the many “dangers” and “perils” of a Greek exit from the eurozone, and the economic “catastrophe” that would follow. How do you respond to these claims, and to this fear that is being repeatedly expressed?

SL: That’s why they don’t want Greece to get out from the eurozone, precisely for their own benefit. Greece holds a huge bomb of debt. Most of it, the Greek public was not responsible for. There were losses due to the imperfections in the architecture of the European system, and these losses have to be divided and shared by the other countries, not only by Greece. Greece and the Greek taxpayer are not responsible to pay taxes, a 24-percent value-added tax (VAT) and enormous prices for gasoline. Now we pay more than 1.50 euros for a liter of gasoline. How is it possible for this country to develop? It cannot.

Everybody is terrified of a Greek exit, but Greece has to exit in order to save itself. But Germany doesn’t want that. Why? Because of the domino effect, because of the systemic risk of the banking system. Germany wants to save their own system, a banking system which is also in terrible shape. [Germany] wants to maintain its status and the benefits that it gets from the eurozone.

The eurozone is a platform where all countries give up their monetary sovereignty and there is no convertibility of the euro. It is an irrevocable exchange, and therefore Germany has a uniform platform to export its own goods, to mobilize its great exporting machine, without having to fear a country devaluing. Since, from the very beginning, it was the net exporter, it was obvious that through time, all the wealth would be accumulated [in] Germany.

Right now, Germany sits on hundreds of billions of euros of net surpluses. Germany is following a neo-mercantalist model and has a tremendous benefit by exporting those goods. The other countries that have deficits, eventually they have to borrow the funds from the German surpluses. But Germany doesn’t do that. It makes direct investments in other countries, like Greece.

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015 file photo, a man walks past street art depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Athens, Greece. Tsipras' decision to sign off on a bailout led to many in his left-wing Syriza party to quit in protest.

A man walks past street art depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Athens, Greece. Tsipras’ decision to sign off on a bailout led to many in his left-wing Syriza party to quit in protest.

Right now, OTE [the formerly state-owned telecommunications company of Greece] doesn’t belong to Greece. Greece doesn’t have even 1 percent of shares in OTE. The majority of OTE now belongs to Deutsche Telekom, and the rest belongs to other international funds. Greece has no position there. Can you imagine if [there is a national emergency], what happens?

It is a fact that they call this “privatization,” but Deutsche Telekom is not a private company. It belongs to the German Federation. It’s a public institution. Similarly, [Greece] recently sold 14 airports to a German company [Fraport] that belongs to the German state, it’s not a private company. The [Athens international airport] Eleftherios Venizelos was sold initially to Germans, to Hochtief. Forty percent remains with the Greek state, but this [is also up for privatization]. But we already sold 14 airports. Why were they sold? Because we have to pay interest on the loans that have been imposed on us.

This is a situation where, I think, a decent politician with integrity can go ahead and try to tell the creditors “enough is enough, we have to settle this issue,” not to accept all these conditions just because Germany doesn’t want to resolve the issue because it has [upcoming] elections and because [German finance minister] Schäuble says that “debt is debt” and that it must be repaid. No, debt is not debt in this particular case, because [Greece] did not create that debt! You created it and passed it to us!

That’s why the banks are bankrupt, because the central bank decided, in order to fight the Greek people and to humiliate them, [prior to] the referendum of July 2015, to close the Greek banks. There is not even a legal definition to give the ECB the power to close the banks. Similarly, they closed the banks because they tried to affect the vote of the electorate. It was so obvious to close the banks and destroy all of the accounts, and nothing was said internationally!

The stocks of the banking issues in the Athens Stock Exchange had three “limit downs” consecutively, [a loss of] 30 percent. They lost 90 percent of their value, people were destroyed, firms were closed, and nobody said anything, people were waiting in line at ATMs to get money, [feeling] threatened and [worried] that they would be unable to feed themselves. They internationally humiliated the Greeks. Why did this happen? To frighten [the public] in order to [stay in] the eurozone.

The same tactic [is being used] now. Even though we have defaulted before, such as with the phony “PSI” [a “haircut” on Greek bonds enacted in late 2011 and early 2012] that supposedly “saved” Greece. By doing that, [this brought] the second memorandum, a loan of 130 billion euros. This did not save Greece. This money went, again, to recapitalize banks and to pay the debts that the Greek banks had from borrowed funds from the French and the German banks.

The creditor has a responsibility when lending money and therefore must accept losses from the borrower. But unfortunately this is not the story, and this is why “Grexit” is so important.

MPN: One option that we have been hearing about from analysts is the possibility of introducing a dual or parallel currency in Greece. What is the distinction between a dual or parallel currency on the one hand, and a national domestic currency on the other hand? And what would be the consequences of introducing a dual or parallel currency?

SL: First of all, a dual or parallel currency in Greece doesn’t solve the problem. This is simply a gimmick. The ECB has the monopoly power and according to the laws of the ECB, there is no such law or ordinance which allows nations to create a second currency. That would violate the principles of the treaty. That’s why the ECB [designed this system], to have control over the issue of money. For them, they have only one goal: price stability. Therefore, how would it be possible to give Greece the right to create a parallel currency when, at the same time, Italy is almost ready to default?

The debt-for-GDP [in Italy] now exceeds 132 percent, but at the same time, because Italy is a huge economy—it exceeds 2.3 trillion euros in debt—if something happens to Italy, the whole system is finished. It finishes because this is actually what they have developed in the eurozone with this primary purpose of the ECB to have the absolute control of money. It’s like creating another gold standard, and the gold standard died because it created so many anomalies and irregularities in the international system, and wealth inequalities.

Given this experience and given the fact that the eurozone is built on a gold standard—[one] based on fiat currency, which gives the right to the ECB to create unlimited money, like right now with the quantitative easing, it has already purchased one trillion-plus euros in securities. But Greece is not allowed [to participate in the quantitative easing program]. Why? Because they want to subjugate this nation in the form of “reforms.” These are not reforms! Simply, they didn’t purchase the Greek securities, just to make Greece pay the interest [to the ECB], and to subjugate and demoralize Greece, to not be able to provide resistance.

All this talk of dual currencies, all this is just to create a sundry understanding of the situation, providing false expectations that this can save the situation. It cannot save the situation. Nothing can really be saved or be improved by introducing this type of [dual or parallel currency] system, but I don’t think it will be introduced.

The only solution is the national currency, because then you are going to take back the power of creating your own money, and together with this, taking back the freedom of your country and getting out from this system, like England [with Brexit]. England has established the existing monetary system. That system is called the British model, where at the top of this system is the Bank of England. Now they see that system is collapsing and they’re leaving [the EU], because they created that system.

At that time [when this system was created], England prevailed globally because it established the gold standard. Having an advanced industrial [and shipping] sector, they were able to control other nations economically. At the same time, as with India, taking surplus value from India to England, and establishing the gold standard in a position to control deficit nations and [be paid] interest, because they did not have gold, like Greece.

Remember John Maynard Keynes. Interest reproduces so fast. “Tokos” [the Greek word for “interest”] means “to bring something into existence.” Aristotle said that it was hated by the whole society, because it creates [wealth] with no effort. The same thing has been instituted now. The Greek state gave the power to the ECB, and this ECB, through usury mechanisms, lends to the Greek state, but the Greek state pays double interest to the ECB and to the commercial banks because the ECB is not a lender of last resort! This abolishes the basic principle of central banks. That’s a function of a central bank, to be a provider of last resort funds if something goes wrong in the system. The ECB does the opposite!

The Cyprus situation shows exactly what I’m trying to say. This is why it’s crazy to talk about parallel currencies. What happened in Cyprus? One day, because [the ECB] did not properly supervise the banking system—which is one of the duties of the central bank, to have good supervision—and there were certain irregularities with certain banks, like Marfin Bank and the Bank of Cyprus. Instead of helping [Cyprus] alleviate the problem, the [ECB] went and did the so-called “bail-in.” A “bail-in” means “to capture,” to go and take money out of accounts. Whoever had their money in Cyprus banks, above 100,000 euros, lost money.

This is the situation, the banking institution that Greece wants? This is extraction, an extraction mechanism! This is like the old tyrants of Syracuse, which if you did not obey his order—and I mention this because Plato went there to educate him, and he didn’t like what Plato was saying, so he wanted to kill him. His supervisors intervened and he was sold as a slave in Aegina, and since then he was recovered from an old student and he was saved. The same thing [exists] in the eurozone.

I think all of these plans [for a dual or parallel currency] were publicized more to confuse the public.

MPN: Describe the steps that Greece could follow in order to depart from the eurozone in an orderly fashion, to transition to a national domestic currency and to avoid the dangers that many believe Greece would face, such as devaluation, high inflation or difficulty importing goods.

SL: A number of these things are a creation of imagination. Let me provide the basic steps of the exit of Greece from the eurozone and the adaptation of a national currency, based on two fundamental premises. First, that democratic institutions are maintained, and the constitution of the country, and second, that there is political will. Now, [those] are very important, fundamental assumptions, which right now do not exist. This is the system of exit for Greece, under the assumption that a light finally comes to the brains of the Greek politicians. If that happens, these are the steps that should be taken.

The country is declared in a “state of necessity,” and Article 44 of the Greek constitution is implemented, which means that after the suggestion of the council of ministers, which the prime minister presides over, power is transferred to the president of the nation. This declaration of the “state of necessity” is not required to be passed through the current representative assembly.

Then, the president declares a temporary stoppage of payments, an international moratorium. That moratorium is going to take a period of six months. During these six months, there is a plan for the reconstruction of the country—because it will be a reconstruction, it is economic devastation. So, at the same time when you declare a stoppage of payments—and this is going to be only for the foreign lenders, internally everything is going to be okay—this saves about six billion euros that are being paid in interest at this time, but also we stop payments of capital.

Therefore, we’ll have the ability to feed the nation and also to maintain salaries and pensions at the same level, because at this particular stage there is a slight surplus in the national accounts. Then we’ll have the benefit that we save six billion euros in interest payments, which would go directly to the reconstruction of the country and programs of employment.

This is what’s most important, to alleviate poverty and unemployment. That’s the primary thing, and that requires, of course, great coordination, to employ the people and to stop or to minimize the scourge of [outward] immigration. We need our educated people. This country cannot survive with old people, which continuously this is the case. It’s an aging population in Greece.

Then at the same time, we establish various capital controls, because we need the capital to remain here and not be exported abroad. Those are the major steps that should be taken simultaneously with a declaration of the nation in a “state of necessity.” It should not frighten [anybody], it’s a normal procedure which is [a result of] the extraordinary crisis taking place right now in Greece. Also it gives you the power to [declare] illegal all the measures that were taken through the austerity measures, which were based not on law, not on humanity, not anything, they were just horizontal measures [impacting] everybody without taking into consideration the principles of justice.

By placing the country in a “state of necessity,” immediately you can re-institute laws which would completely determine the unacceptability or the illegality of the existing laws of the memorandums, including the first memorandum of May 2010, the second memorandum of 2012, and the third memorandum of 2015, a total of 236 billion euros. Out of this sum, only 5 percent went to the Greek economy and for reducing poverty. Ninety-five percent went to payments. Those are known facts.

The third step after this is that you [create] a commission. We have to institute an agency which will go on to audit the Greek debt and to be confirmed officially, through the help of a task force of international [experts], to be a completely objective commission to determine which is the lawful debt and which is the unethical, unacceptable and odious debt.

In the meantime, the country, through its own people—Greek officials—start negotiations with the European authorities, whether this is the European Commission, the Eurogroup or the ECB. Of course, all those discussions have to take place when, first, the Bank of Greece is completely nationalized. This is important, because the Bank of Greece is a company and 92 percent of the shareholders are not yet known to the Greek public. This is an offense to the democratic spirit of the Greek people.

At the same time, things are not so straight, they are highly complicated because of the collapse of the Greek banks, the ECB has lent about 73 billion to “save” the banks after the fact, meaning that initially it was not accepting Greek state bonds as collateral. As a result, the banks could not really find funds to finance growth or to finance projects for businesses. [The ECB] did that, again, just to indicate that they are the power and they determine all political consequences in Greece. They decided to do so when the international public was misled that SYRIZA was a “radical left” party.

[Soon after SYRIZA] was elected on Jan. 25, 2015, the ECB, on Feb. 4, went and declared unilaterally that Greek bonds, the bonds of the Greek state, are not acceptable, they are junk bonds. That meant that they were not accepted as collateral. So the banks would not be borrowing money from the ECB, and therefore the loan activity in Greece has fallen apart, going into [negative territory]. That further aggravated the situation.

Therefore, this situation should be taken into consideration, and that’s why the banks, initially, should go to a bank holiday. It’s a necessary thing that has to be done. The banking system is going to be closed, because you need to protect whatever savings there are.

This is the situation, and I’m sure that this is inconceivable to all of you living abroad, that this is the European model of a monetary system, but it’s not a monetary system. It’s an extractive system that lives on the blood of small and [minimally-]industrialized countries.

The next step after the banks are placed on a necessary bank holiday is the nationalization of the Bank of Greece, like the Bank of England, [which was] nationalized in 1946 and the Bank of Canada was nationalized in 1938. It’s to the benefit of all the parties to agree on this, [since] this whole situation is explosive. Why is it explosive? Because that huge amount that is owned by Greece, that exists 560 billion euros, it is something that can trigger like a bomb and the whole monetary system can collapse.

It would be another situation like the great global financial crisis of 2008, and the reason is that the U.S. system is interconnected with the European system. According to the latest reports, the U.S. banks have exposures of more than $3 trillion in European banks.

That’s the situation, that’s why it’s very important, that’s why everybody is talking about the Greek exit, because if Greece decides to pull the trigger then there’s going to be a very dangerous situation around the European, the Italian banking system. Italy has exposure of more than 2.3 trillion euros. If something happened there, then the whole European monetary system is going to collapse. We have power, in other words.

If one considers the benefits of this nation and the people that live in Greece, then we can achieve tremendous results. At the same time, in order to avoid this chaotic situation which a lot of people and particularly the academics are [predicting] but which is not going to be chaotic, but a normal situation after so many years in another currency, simply we will establish a three-month freeze of salaries and prices, so as not to have the problem of inflation.

Let me tell you how we’re going to determine the first exchange rate between the drachma and the euro. The initial exchange rate is introduced at parity, one new drachma equals one euro. This is the conversion [rate] for all accounts. All the loans now would be paid in Greek new drachmas, and whatever accounts remain in the banks, in the form of accounting—in other words, electronic money—those remain in euros, but simply whatever money is [withdrawn] is paid in new drachmas.

In other words, what you do is you stamp the existing euros with an indication that this is a new drachma. All the money, therefore, that is circulating outside the banks, [becomes] new drachmas, until the new currency is ready. So there is no problem with changing the existing banking system in Greece or the ATM system. Everything remains the same, we simply stamp the existing euros into a new currency. So a 10-euro bill becomes 10 drachmas. Salaries, again, are frozen, the same for prices, for a three-month period.

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

This is not something new. President Nixon did this in 1971 when he decided to get out of the fixed relationship of the dollar with gold. Then, the relationship was that one ounce of gold equaled 35 dollars. This was the beginning of the collapse of the Bretton Woods agreement, as he let the dollar be exchanged in the free markets. This was very successful, because the U.S. had problems at that time because it lost the Vietnam War and they were experiencing deficits, like Greece.

All these myths that a vacuum will follow, this is nonsense, because at this stage, the Greek trade balance account is balanced, because the imports are equal to the exports. We export 25 billion euros’ worth, we import about 40 [billion euros], but the difference is covered by services, and the services are tourism and the shipping fleet that Greece has, one of the greatest shipping fleets in the world. Knowing from Solon that the expenses of imports are covered by exports, this means that we have currency, foreign currency to pay [for our imports].

Again, we should remember [that during] the bankruptcy, we are still in the eurozone. You don’t go to the drachma [immediately]. This is a six-month period [of transition]. At the same time, you have the money to feed your people and to buy medicine, to buy oil, to buy whatever items are needed and are not produced in Greece.

And in the meantime, you save the six billion euros [in interest payments]. We don’t pay them any capital for the repayment of debt, and according to the Bank of Greece’s latest report, we still have foreign exchange funds right now, which are mostly in gold—about 5 billion euros. Therefore, from where does all this fear arise?

It’s going to take two or three months until the first newly-produced drachmas are placed in the market. Don’t think it’s a huge amount of money, cash, that is floating in the market. It’s about 20 billion euros. It’s enough, this money, to be circulating around, because multiplied by the velocity effect of money, it’s enough to start motivating the Greek economy. Here we do not have that either, everything is collapsing, the velocity is collapsing, because they’re taking out [money] by taxes.

Taxes destroy money, they do not create money. Paying the unfair interest to the Europeans that they call “solidarity,” six billion euros is an enormous amount with the multiplier effect. So simply, it requires guts. Freedom requires to be courageous and to be just, and I would add to this, to really work hard to achieve this objective.

Those are the most important measures. Just to add: in order for the new drachma to get validity, immediately you institute a law through which only the Greek drachma is acceptable as a payment to the Greek tax authorities. This is something that was said by Aristotle, [who] said that money is the creation of the law. That’s why it’s called “nomisma,” from “nomos” [the Greek word for “law”]. Itis a product of law and not of nature.

All these are myths that there’s going to be a collapse, that [the new currency] will not be accepted. Why won’t be accepted if the tax office accepts the money at the same rate as one euro? As long as it’s accepted at [a ratio of] one for one, why is the market not going to accept it?

One of the benefits during this period is that we will be able to lower tax rates. This is very important, to bring out the necessary steps for motivating foreign capital, but also the growth and development of businesses, because you are going to print the money to recapitalize.

All this ideological bias, that the euro is the only solution for Greece, is completely disastrous. It’s no solution. It’s the only catastrophic element for the complete elimination of the Greek state eventually. This is an extraction mechanism and a mechanism where all the loans, if you are not able to pay them, you are going to pay them by selling the public assets of the country.

Those are the basic steps. As long as it’s understood that it’s going to take a couple of months before the new national currency is cut, in Greece from Holargos [location of Greece’s mint], and still has the old machines through which the drachma was circulated. It’s going to take some time, but as long as there is patience and a belief that our freedom and future prosperity is based on reacquiring the capacity to create our own money, then the last necessary thing is that we and the European authorities understand that we have to find, together, a solution. Otherwise, it’s going to be a situation where everybody loses.

I conclude with the hope that finally, a light comes to the brains of the Greek politicians.

michael-120x120ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Nevradakis

Michael Nevradakis is a Ph D candidate in media studies at the University of Texas at Austin and a US Fulbright Scholar presently based in Athens, Greece.

Jun 272017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews:

A homeless person changes clothes outside a bank in central Athens. Nearly one-in-four Greeks are unemployed and receive no benefits. Poverty rates have surged here since the start of the crisis in late 2009, with nearly 36 percent of the country living in financial distress. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A homeless person changes clothes outside a bank in central Athens. Nearly one-in-four Greeks are unemployed and receive no benefits. Poverty rates have surged here since the start of the crisis in late 2009, with nearly 36 percent of the country living in financial distress. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS (Analysis)– It has become an increasingly common sight on Greek streets, even in formerly prosperous neighborhoods. Elderly—and sometimes not so elderly—individuals rummaging through rubbish bins in search of scraps of food to eat. Beggars are now practically a universal sighting in Athens and other large cities.

More and more young Greeks are migrating abroad by the day, contributing to a “brain drain” that has totaled approximately 500,000 individuals since the onset of the crisis. In my neighborhood in central Athens, several parked cars are filled to the brim with a life’s worth of possessions, packed in boxes by individuals who have likely lost their homes and livelihoods and who now call their automobiles home. Everywhere, abandoned cars and motorcycles rust away on curbsides and sidewalks.

In another universe, the Greek coalition government comprised of the “leftist” SYRIZA and the “patriotic” Independent Greeks political parties is celebrating. Greece has, at the recently-concluded Eurogroup summit, once again been “saved.” In this latest agreement, an 8.6 billion euro tranche of “bailout” funds—a loan (not a “handout”) which had already been promised to Greece in previous agreements—was released and a long-delayed review of Greece’s “progress” under the austerity mechanisms was finally completed. Quite a cause for celebration!

Or is it? Out of the 8.6 billion, 7.7 billion euros will initially be disbursed, out of which 6.9 billion will be immediately paid back to Greece’s lenders: the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and bondholders. In exchange for the release of these funds, which will be funneled right back to those who are releasing them, Greece’s government has agreed to achieve a primary budget surplus of 3.5 percent of its GDP annually through 2023, and thereafter to maintain primary budget surpluses of 2 percent annually from 2023 until 2060.

Until 2023, the Greek government has agreed to pay 27 billion euros (15 percent of Greece’s GDP) in debt service alone, and that figure increases to a 36 billion euro annual sum until 2060.

For the uninitiated: what does a primary budget surplus actually mean? It means that the state spends less than it receives in revenue. While this may sound like a fiscally prudent policy direction for Greece or any country to take, what this actually means in plain language is that in an economy that is shrinking, as with Greece, the amount of money being spent by the state each year on investment, social services, salaries, pensions and other vital services will perpetually decrease, furthering the austerity death spiral.

To provide some perspective, the IMF itself considers a primary budget surplus of 1.5 percent “realistic,” while the Central Bank of Greece, 92 percent of whose shareholders are not known, considers 2 percent a “realistic” target. In a study by economists Barry Eichengreen and Ugo Panizza that examined economic performance across 235 countries, it was found that there were only 36 cases in which countries were able to maintain a primary budget surplus of 3 percent of GDP for a five-year period, and only 17 cases where countries maintained a primary budget surplus of 3 percent of GDP across an eight-year period. Germany, often touted for its fiscal prudence, was not one of these countries.

For the SYRIZA-led regime in Greece, this is a cause for celebration. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras publicly announced that “we got what we wanted” through this deal, which points the way towards Greece’s exit from the “supervision” of its lenders.

The newspaper Avgi, an official party organ of SYRIZA, announced for the upteenth time Greece’s impending “exit” from the economic crisis. And the Greek government is publicly touting the upcoming return of Greece to the international financial markets, ironically celebrating the prospect of Greece once again being able to attain more debt via borrowing, likely at usurious terms.

Unfortunately for Tsipras and his government, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble acted as a party pooper, putting a damper on the celebrations. Speaking publicly after the Eurogroup deal was reached, Schäuble stated that the agreement, which followed what were claimed by the Greek government to be fierce negotiations, was reached three weeks prior but was delayed because the Greek government requested additional time for PR reasons—in other words, to claim that hard negotiations took place.

Pensions, salaries see cuts as austerity steamrolls ahead

Indeed, if the rhetoric of the SYRIZA-led government is a guide to go by, then the successes have kept on coming. In February, the SYRIZA government reached yet another deal with its lenders to once again release “bailout” loan funds that already had been pledged to Greece from previous austerity agreements.

In this agreement, the government claimed that “not one euro” of new austerity would be enacted, as any austerity measures and cuts (including interventions to the tax system, which were previously claimed by the government to be “red lines” in its “negotiations” with lenders) would be offset by countermeasures in other areas, euphemistically referred to as “neutral fiscal balance” and “zero-sum fiscal interventions.”

In a “read my lips, no new taxes” moment for the Greek government, these declarations of “zero-sum fiscal interventions” and the “end of austerity” had only just barely been uttered when a host of new austerity measures were unveiled. Initially announced at 3.6 billion euros, these austerity measures now total 14.2 billion euros’ worth of cuts.

These include further reductions of 18 percent to already battered pensions, as well as salary cuts, tax increases, a cut in health expenditures, a further reduction of 50 percent to heating oil subsidies (in a country where the majority of households already cannot afford heating oil and have reverted to fireplaces and makeshift furnaces to keep warm), a reduced tax-free threshold and an increase in tax contributions, and the freeing up of home foreclosures and auctions.

Protesting hospital staff sit in front of a wall that they built at the entrance of the Greek Finance Ministry with a banner depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Thipras , Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis and Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos wearing ties reading in Greek ''Ministry of broken promises" and " We drown in debt and bailouts" in central Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Protesting hospital staff sit in front of a wall that they built at the entrance of the Greek Finance Ministry with a banner depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Thipras , Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis and Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos wearing ties reading in Greek ”Ministry of broken promises” and ” We drown in debt and bailouts” in central Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

In exchange, “countermeasures” that will be enacted in 2019 will only take place if Greece meets “fiscal targets” up until then, include minor tax cuts (such as a 70-euro reduction to the “unified property tax” which SYRIZA, prior to ascending to power, denounced as “unconstitutional”) and offering school lunches.

The Greek government, along with its bosses in Brussels and Berlin, continue to insist that tax increases will help, despite all economic evidence to the contrary. While revenues from the value-added tax (VAT) were at 16.3 billion euros when the VAT rate was at 19 percent, those revenues declined to 14.4 billion euros when the VAT was increased to 21 percent, and dropped further to 13.7 billion euros when the VAT was increased again to 23 percent. Today, the VAT for most goods and services is at 24 percent amidst an economic depression that has shown no real signs of abating.

While the SYRIZA-led government is congratulating itself for putting an end to austerity, the aforementioned unified property tax, which according to SYRIZA’s pre-election rhetoric was unconstitutional and to be abolished, will remain in effect at least until 2031. One year ago, in June 2016, a 7,500-page omnibus bill ratified by the Greek government without any debate transferred ownership of all of Greece’s public assets (ranging from water utilities to prime beachfront parcels of land) to a fund controlled by the European Stability Mechanism for the next 99 years.

The same bill also reduced the parliament to playing a rubber-stamp role, as it annulled the ability of the Greek parliament to formulate a national budget or to pass tax legislation, with automatic cuts to be activated if fiscal targets agreed upon with the country’s lenders are not met. Foreign experts working on the implementation of the austerity measures and privatizations in Greece were also, as of 2016, granted immunity from prosecution. If all of this seems exaggerated or far-fetched, consider a recent remark by the European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs Pierre Moscovici, who stated that “[The EU] often decide[s] Greece’s fate, in place of the Greeks.”

Move toward cashlessness benefiting “too big to fail” institutions

As all of this is taking place, Greek businesses—particularly small businesses—are being burdened further, required as of July 27 to install “point of sale” (POS) card readers and to accept payments via credit, debit or prepaid cards. Another law, which came into effect on January 1, pushes consumers towards card payments by setting a minimum threshold of spending at least 10 percent of one’s income via card in order to attain a somewhat higher tax-free threshold.

In a country where capital controls restricting withdrawals from bank accounts and ATMs have been in effect since June 2015, cash is being further withdrawn from the marketplace and is being delivered to a banking system that has already been recapitalized three times and is likely on its way towards a fourth taxpayer-funded “bailout,” keeping with the fine tradition of financial institutions that are said to be “too big to fail.” We are told, of course, that this is for society’s own good, in order to combat “tax evasion” and other terrible things.

As all of this has taken place, 14 profitable Greek regional airports of strategic and economic importance have been privatized—ironically by being sold to Fraport, itself owned by the German public sector. The port of Piraeus, one of the largest in Europe, has been completely privatized; sold for a pittance to Chinese-owned Cosco. Greek water and power utilities, having been transferred to the aforementioned fund controlled by the ESM, are among the next assets slated for privatization.

Foreclosures of homes are slated to be expanded to primary residences, leaving many households at risk of ending up on the streets, while come September, foreclosures are slated to take place electronically, in accordance with the Greek government’s agreements with its lenders. It should be noted that foreclosure auctions that take place in Greek civil courts each Wednesday have become one of the few remaining battlegrounds where citizens are actively, and often quite successfully, pushing back against one of the products of the economic crisis, preventing many foreclosures from occurring. Switching to electronic foreclosures would eliminate this “inconvenience.”

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Other “inconveniences” are also being done away with in swift fashion. In August 2016, police in the city of Katerini arrested a father of three for selling doughnuts without a license, fining him 5,000 euros for the offense. In another case, a vendor selling roasted chestnuts in the city of Thessaloniki was surrounded by 15 police officers and arrested for the high offense of operating without a license. In the meantime, Greek television and radio stations—almost the entirety of which are vehemently pro-EU and pro-austerity and which greatly impact public opinion—operate without valid broadcast licenses.

The SYRIZA government, elected in part on pledges to “nip oligarchs in the bud” (including taking care of the issue of unlicensed broadcasters), has instead allowed oligarchs to shift their money to offshore tax havens, while collectively treating ordinary citizens and small business owners as being guilty of tax evasion. Former finance minister with the center-right New Democracy political party Gikas Hardouvelis was recently acquitted in court for failure to submit a declaration of assets.

In a December 2015 interview, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos stated that the SYRIZA-led government “didn’t have time to go after the rich.” Unlicensed chestnut vendors, apparently, are another matter altogether, as are activists against the environmentally destructive and economically dubious gold mining operations in north Greece’s Skouries that are being conducted by Eldorado Gold with a Greek oligarch, Giorgos Bobolas.

In late May, the physically disabled 77-year-old Thodoros Karavasilikos was issued a 12-month suspended jail sentence for, apparently, physically assaulting 10 riot police officers in a protest against the Skouries mining operations. Furthering this war on the elderly, Dimitris Kammenos, a member of parliament with the “patriotic” Independent Greeks party which is co-governing with SYRIZA, stated in a televised interview in April that 100 euros that were being slashed from pensions were “better off being taken by the state” than to be “given by pensioners to their grandchildren to go out and have coffee.”

Civil unrest on the rise amid economic uncertainty

It can be argued that being a Greek citizen is a great disadvantage in Greece at the present time. In the blighted Athens suburb of Menidi, an 11-year-old Greek child was apparently killed by a stray bullet, said to have been fired from a residence of a Roma family. Civil unrest has followed in the area between the Greek and Roma populations, to which the SYRIZA-led government has somehow responded by proposing that Roma children be allowed to enter Greek universities and the police academy without taking entrance exams.

A protester reacts next to a flare outside the the Interior Ministry as thousands of striking municipal workers demonstrate in central Athens, June 22, 2017. Union officials want the left-led government to grant full-time, permanent state jobs to municipal workers employed on short-term contracts that have expired or are about to expire. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

A protester reacts next to a flare outside the the Interior Ministry as thousands of striking municipal workers demonstrate in central Athens, June 22, 2017. Union officials want the left-led government to grant full-time, permanent state jobs to municipal workers employed on short-term contracts that have expired or are about to expire. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

While migrants in Greece are receiving 400 euro monthly subsidies (greater than many salaries and pensions in present-day Greece) and free housing, thanks to assistance from the EU and numerous “well-meaning” non-governmental organizations, the same sensitivity has not been displayed to victims of a recent earthquake that severely impacted the island of Lesvos, one of the primary entry points for migrants. Instead, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the leader of the center-right New Democracy, the main opposition party in Greece which is favored to win the next national elections whenever they take place, promised those whose homes were destroyed by the quake a two-year waiver of the unified property tax, should his party be elected.

Tourism, however, is said to be saving the day. Greece is said to be receiving record numbers of visitors, and the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens is receiving a record number of passengers. These statistics are often repeated by the government and by Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura of the Independent Greeks political party, the minority partner in Greece’s coalition government. What is not said is who these tourists are, or what their real impact on the economy is.

Many of these tourists are visiting the country on package travel deals booked with overseas travel agencies, flying to and from Greece on foreign-owned charter airlines and staying in hotels which themselves are often owned by foreigners. Many of these hotels offer “all-inclusive” hospitality packages, often offering the very lowest-quality imported food and drink products in order to slash costs. While foreigners get to enjoy Greek resorts and sunshine at bargain rates, austerity-hit Greeks, battered by the crisis, cannot afford to—nor are they offered the same low rates provided to foreign visitors.

Most tourists on “all-inclusive” deals rarely venture away from their hotels, and businesses in tourist regions, ranging from convenience stores to restaurants, are seeing business suffer while their tax burden continues to increase. In a recent visit to Rhodes, one of Greece’s pre-eminent tourist destinations, I observed that the Old Town of Rhodes, perhaps the top tourist destination on the island, was almost deserted at 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night in a country that “stays up all night.” Tourists remained largely locked away in their all-inclusive resorts.

Greece’s “boom times” for tourism are evident by the country’s lack of a national air carrier, which has been the case ever since the previously state-owned Olympic Airlines was dismantled at the behest of the EU and purportedly for violating the European Commission’s competition rules. The privately-owned near-monopoly that has replaced it, Aegean Airlines, has somehow managed not to run afoul of such rules.

While Greece, one of Europe’s top destinations, does not possess any wide-body aircraft, countries such as Serbia and Rwanda do and are running nonstop flights to the United States. Aegean Airlines may not have long-haul flights, but it has delivered much-vaunted “foreign investment”—often touted as the cure-all for Greece’s economic ills, despite a major privatization push since the 1990s, which did not stop the crisis—as 25 percent of the airline is reportedly being purchased by Hainan Airlines of China.

Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura, apropos of nothing, recently brought us back to 2015 and to the referendum which took place that year, where 62 percent of voters rejected an EU-proposed austerity plan—only for the result to be overturned within days, as the SYRIZA-led government turned around and agreed to an even harsher austerity package, known as the third memorandum agreement, than the one voters had rejected.

The SYRIZA-led government has since agreed to a fourth memorandum agreement, but according to Kountoura, the negotiation that occurred in 2015 that led to the third memorandum—chock-full of austerity measures and the privatization of profitable assets—prevented 16 billion euros’ worth of austerity measures from being enacted.

No end in sight for bleak austerity

Unfortunately, two years after the “triumphant” referendum and rejection of austerity—which was promptly overturned and replaced with even harsher austerity—there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for the beleaguered nation. Nor does a political “savior” appear to exist. The aforementioned New Democracy party is part and parcel of the corrupt political duopoly, along with PASOK, which ruled Greece for 40 years after the fall of the military junta in 1974, and is vehemently pro-EU and pro-austerity (as long as they are the ones implementing the austerity and pro-Europe policies, instead of SYRIZA).

In previous elections, political “renegade” Vasilis Leventis and his Centrists’ Union political party were elected to parliament—likely as a protest vote. Leventis is famous for his supposed crusades against corruption and the two-party system, and for wishing cancer upon former Prime Ministers Kostantinos Mitsotakis (father of the current New Democracy leader) and Andreas Papandreou (father of George Papandreou, prime minister when Greece was led into the IMF-EU “bailout” and austerity regime) on live television in 1993.

A motorcyclist looks on as he drives next to a pile of garbage in Piraeus, near Athens, on Monday, June 26, 2017. Municipality workers have been on strike for almost a week , hindering trash collection across the country. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

A motorcyclist looks on as he drives next to a pile of garbage in Piraeus, near Athens, on Monday, June 26, 2017. Municipality workers have been on strike for almost a week , hindering trash collection across the country. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Today, Leventis is calling for the installation of a “government of technocrats” (much like the non-elected government led by banker Loucas Papademos in late 2011 and 2012, which passed the second memorandum agreement with no popular mandate) and who has also stated recently that Greece “does not deserve to have its debt restructured.”

In reality, the entirety of parliament—despite the eight political parties which comprise it and which create the facade of political pluralism—can be described as being pro-austerity, pro-euro, and pro-EU. The same can be said of smaller political parties, currently outside of parliament and vying to gain public support.

These include parties founded by Panagiotis Lafazanis and Zoe Konstantopoulou—who as part of the first SYRIZA government of January-September 2015 voted in favor of numerous pro-memorandum and pro-austerity pieces of legislation and in favor of the pro-Europe corrupt former government minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos as president of the Hellenic Republic, who recently stated that Greece will remain in the EU “indefinitely and irrevocably.”

Two years after saying “no” to austerity, this is the state of affairs in Greece today. Poverty, fear, unemployment and a continued brain drain, as well as corruption, lies, and above all, an undying attachment to the EU and the Eurozone, at least on the part of the almost complete entirety of the country’s political class. That’s life today in a modern-day EU debt colony.

Jun 222017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews:

A man makes a transaction at an automated teller machine (ATM) of a Piraeus Bank  branch in Athens, Greece. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

A man makes a transaction at an automated teller machine (ATM) of a Piraeus Bank branch in Athens, Greece. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

ATHENS (Analysis)– Day by day, we’re moving towards a brave new world where every transaction is tracked, every purchase is recorded, the habits and preferences of everyone noted and analyzed. What I am describing is the “cashless society,” where plastic and electronic money are king, while banknotes and coins are abolished.

“Progress” is, after all, deemed to be a great thing. In a recent discussion, I observed on an online message board regarding gentrification in my former neighborhood of residence in Queens, New York, the closure of yet another longtime local business was met by one user with a virtual shrug: “Who needs stores when you have Amazon?”

This last quote is, of course, indicative of the brick-and-mortar store, at least in its familiar form. In December 2016, Amazon launched a checkout-free convenience store in Seattle — largely free of employees, but also free of cash transactions, as purchases are automatically charged to one’s Amazon account. “Progress” is therefore cast as the abolition of currency, and the elimination of even more jobs, all in the name of technological progress and the “convenience” of saving a few minutes of waiting at the checkout counter.

Still insist on being old-fashioned and stuck behind the times, preferring to visit brick-and-mortar stores and paying in cash? You may very well be a terrorist! Pay for your coffee or your visit to an internet cafe with cash? Potential terrorist, according to the FBI. Indeed, insisting on paying with cash is, according to the United States Department of Homeland Security, “suspicious and weird.”

The European Union, ever a force for positive change and progress, also seems to agree. The non-elected European Commission’s “Inception Impact Assessment” warns that the anonymity of cash transactions facilitates “money laundering” and “terrorist financing activities.” This point of view is shared by such economists as the thoroughly discredited proponent of austerity Kenneth Rogoff, Lawrence Summer (a famed deregulator, as well as eulogizer of the “godfather” of austerity Milton Friedman), and supposed anti-austerity crusader Joseph Stiglitz, who told fawning participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year that the United States should do away with all currency.

Logically, of course, the next step is to punish law-abiding citizens for the actions of a very small criminal population and for the failures of law enforcement to curb such activities. The EU plans to accomplish this through the exploration of upper limits on cash payments, while it has already taken the step of abolishing the 500-euro banknote.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which day after day is busy “saving” economically suffering countries such as Greece, also happens to agree with this brave new worldview. In a working paper titled “The Macroeconomics of De-Cashing,” which the IMF claims does not necessarily represent its official views, the fund nevertheless provides a blueprint with which governments around the world could begin to phase out cash. This process would commence with “initial and largely uncontested steps” (such as the phasing out of large-denomination bills or the placement of upper limits on cash transactions). This process would then be furthered largely by the private sector, providing cashless payment options for people’s “convenience,” rather than risk popular objections to policy-led decashing. The IMF, which certainly has a sterling track record of sticking up for the poor and vulnerable in society, comforts us by saying that these policies should be implemented in ways that would augment “economic and social benefits.”

The IMF’s Greek experiment in austerity

These suggestions, which of course the IMF does not necessarily officially agree with, have already begun to be implemented to a significant extent in the IMF debt colony known officially as Greece, where the IMF has been implementing “socially fair and just” austerity policies since 2010, which have resulted, during this period, in a GDP decline of over 25 percent, unemployment levels exceeding 28 percent, repeated cuts to what are now poverty-level salaries and pensions, and a “brain drain” of over 500,000 people — largely young and university-educated — migrating out of Greece.

Protesters against new austerity measures hold a placard depicting Labour Minister George Katrougalos as the movie character Edward Scissorhands during a protest outside Zappeion Hall in Athens, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. The placard reads in Greek"Katrougalos Scissorhands".

Protesters against new austerity measures hold a placard depicting Labour Minister George Katrougalos as the movie character Edward Scissorhands during a protest outside Zappeion Hall in Athens, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. The placard reads in Greek”Katrougalos Scissorhands”.

Indeed, it could be said that Greece is being used as a guinea pig not just for a grand neoliberal experiment in both austerity, but de-cashing as well. The examples are many, and they have found fertile ground in a country whose populace remains shell-shocked by eight years of economic depression. A new law that came into effect on January 1 incentivizes going cashless by setting a minimum threshold of spending at least 10 percent of one’s income via credit, debit, or prepaid card in order to attain a somewhat higher tax-free threshold.

Beginning July 27, dozens of categories of businesses in Greece will be required to install aptly-acronymized “POS” (point-of-sale) card readers and to accept payments by card. Businesses are also required to post a notice, typically by the entrance or point of sale, stating whether card payments are accepted or not. Another new piece of legislation, in effect as of June 1, requires salaries to be paid via direct electronic transfers to bank accounts. Furthermore, cash transactions of over 500 euros have been outlawed.

In Greece, where in the eyes of the state citizens are guilty even if proven innocent, capital controls have been implemented preventing ATM cash withdrawals of over 840 euros every two weeks. These capital controls, in varying forms, have been in place for two years with no end in sight, choking small businesses that are already suffering.

Citizens have, at various times, been asked to collect every last receipt of their expenditures, in order to prove their income and expenses — otherwise, tax evasion is assumed, just as ownership of a car (even if purchased a decade or two ago) or an apartment (even if inherited) is considered proof of wealth and a “hidden income” that is not being declared. The “heroic” former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis had previously proposed a cap of cash transactions at 50 or 70 euros on Greek islands that are popular tourist destinations, while also putting forth an asinine plan to hire tourists to work as “tax snitches,” reporting businesses that “evade taxes” by not providing receipts even for the smallest transactions.

All of these measures, of course, are for the Greeks’ own good and are in the best interest of the country and its economy, combating supposedly rampant “tax evasion” (while letting the biggest tax evaders off the hook), fighting the “black market” (over selling cheese pies without issuing a receipt, apparently), and of course, nipping “terrorism” in the bud.

As with the previous discussion I observed about Amazon being a satisfactory replacement for the endangered brick-and-mortar business, one learns a lot from observing everyday conversations amongst ordinary citizens. A recent conversation I personally overheard while paying a bill at a public utility revealed just how successful the initial and largely uncontested steps enacted in Greece have been.

In the line ahead of me, an elderly man announced that he was paying his water bill by debit card, “in order to build towards the tax-free threshold.” When it was suggested to him that the true purpose of encouraging cashless payments was to track every transaction, even for a stick of gum, and to transfer all money into the banking system, he and one other elderly gentleman threw a fit, claiming “there is no other way to combat tax evasion.”

The irony that they were paying by card to avoid taxation themselves was lost on them—as is the fact that the otherwise fiscally responsible Germany, whose government never misses an opportunity to lecture the “spendthrift” and “irresponsible” Greeks, has the largest black market in Europe (exceeding 100 billion euros annually), ranks first in Europe in financial fraud, is the eighth-largest tax haven worldwide, and one of the top tax-evading countries in Europe.

Also lost on these otherwise elderly gentlemen was a fact not included in the official propaganda campaign: Germans happen to love their cash, as evidenced by the fierce opposition that met a government plan to outlaw cash payments of 5,000 euros or more. In addition, about 80 percent of transactions in Germany are still conducted in cash. The German tabloid Bild went as far as to publish an op-ed titled “Hands off our cash” in response to the proposed measure.

Global powers jumping on cashless bandwagon

Nevertheless, a host of other countries across Europe and worldwide have shunned Germany’s example, instead siding with the IMF and Stiglitz. India, one of the most cash-reliant countries on earth, recently eliminated 86 percent of its currency practically overnight, with the claimed goal, of course, of targeting terrorism and the “black market.” The real objective of this secretly planned measure, however, was to starve the economy of cash and to drive citizens to electronic payments by default.

Indians stand in line to deposit discontinued notes in a bank in Jammu and Kashmir, India,, Dec. 30, 2016. India yanked most of its currency bills from circulation without warning on Nov. 8, delivering a jolt to the country's high-performing economy and leaving countless citizens scrambling for cash. (AP/Channi Anand)

Indians stand in line to deposit discontinued notes in a bank in Jammu and Kashmir, India,, Dec. 30, 2016. India yanked most of its currency bills from circulation without warning on Nov. 8, delivering a jolt to the country’s high-performing economy and leaving countless citizens scrambling for cash. (AP/Channi Anand)

Iceland, a country that stands as an admirable example of standing up to the IMF-global banking cartel in terms of its response to the country’s financial meltdown of 2008, nevertheless has long embraced cashlessness. Practically all transactions, even the most minute, are conducted electronically, while “progressive” tourists extol the benefits of not being inconvenienced by the many seconds it would take to withdraw funds from an ATM or exchange currency upon arrival. Oddly enough, Iceland was already largely cashless prior to its financial collapse in 2008—proving that this move towards “progress” did nothing to prevent an economic meltdown or to stop its perpetrators: the very same banks being entrusted with nearly all of the money supply.

Other examples of cashlessness abound in Europe. Cash transactions in Sweden represent just 3 percent of the national economy, and most banks no longer hold banknotes. Similarly, many Norwegian banks no longer issue cash, while the country’s largest bank, DNB, has called upon the public to cease using cash. Denmark has announced a goal of eliminating banknotes by 2030. Belgium has introduced a 3,000-euro limit on cash transactions and 93 percent of transactions are cashless. In France, the respective percentage is 92 percent, and cash transactions have been limited to 1,000 euros, just as in Spain. Outside of Europe, cash is being eliminated even in countries such as Somalia and Kenya, while South Korea — itself no stranger to IMF intervention in its economy — has, similarly to Greece, implemented preferential tax policies for consumers who make payments using cards.

Aside from policy changes, practical everyday examples also exist in abundance. Just try to purchase an airline ticket with cash, for instance. It remains possible — but is also said to raise red flags. In many cases, renting an automobile or booking a hotel room with cash is simply not possible. The aforementioned Department of Homeland Security manual considers any payment with cash to be “suspicious behavior” — as one clearly has something to hide if they do not wish to be tracked via electronic payment methods. Ownership of gold makes the list of suspicious activities as well.

Just as the irony of Germany being a largely cash-based society while pushing cashless policies in its Greek protectorate is lost on many Greeks, what is lost on seemingly almost everyone is this: something that is new doesn’t necessarily represent progress, nor does something different. Something that is seemingly easier, or more convenient, is not necessarily progress either. But for many, “technological progress,” just like “scientific innovation” in all its forms and without exception, has attained an aura of infallibility, revered with religious-like fervor.

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Combating purported tax evasion is also treated with a religious-like fervor, even while ordinary citizens — such as the two aforementioned gentlemen in Greece — typically seek to minimize their outlays to the tax offices. Moreover, while such measures essentially enact a collective punishment regardless of guilt or innocence, corporations and oligarchs who utilize tax loopholes and offshore havens go unpunished and are wholly unaffected by a switch to a cashless economy in the supposed battle against tax evasion.

This is evident, for instance, in the case of “LuxLeaks,” which revealed the names of dozens of corporations benefiting from favorable tax rulings and tax avoidance schemes in Luxembourg, one of the original founding members of the EU. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, formerly the prime minister of Luxembourg, has faced repeated accusations of impeding EU investigations into corporate tax avoidance scandals during his 18-year term as prime minister. Juncker has defended Luxembourg’s tax arrangements as legal.

At the same time, Juncker has shown no qualms in criticizing Apple’s tax avoidance deal in Ireland as “illegal,” while having been accused himself of helping large multinationals such as Amazon and Pepsi avoid taxes. Moreover, he has openly claimed that Greece’s Ottoman roots are responsible for modern-day tax evasion in the country. He has not hesitated to unabashedly intervene in Greek electoral contests, calling on Greeks to avoid the “wrong outcome” in the January 2015 elections (where the supposedly anti-austerity SYRIZA, which has since proven to be boldly pro-austerity, were elected).

He also urged the Greek electorate to vote “yes” (in favor of more EU-proposed austerity) in the July 2015 referendum — where the overwhelming result in favor of “no” was itself overturned by SYRIZA within a matter of days. In the European Union today, if there’s something that can be counted on, it’s the blatant hypocrisy of its leaders. Nevertheless, proving that old habits of collaborationism die hard in Greece, the rector of the law school of the state-owned Aristotle University in Thessaloniki awarded Juncker with an honorary doctorate for his contribution to European political and legal values.

Cashless policies bode poorly for the future

Where does all this lead though? What does a cashless economy actually mean and why are global elites pushing so fervently for it? Consider the following: in a cashless economy without coins or banknotes, every transaction is tracked. Buying and spending habits are monitored, and it is not unheard of for credit card companies to cancel an individual’s credit or to lower their credit rating based on real or perceived risks ranging from shopping at discount stores to purchasing alcoholic beverages. Indeed, this is understood to be common practice. Other players are entering the game too: in late May, Google announced plans to track credit and debit card transactions.

Claudia Lombana, PayPal's shopping specialist, stamps a guest's passport as he visits the travel section of PayPal's Cashless Utopia in New York (Victoria Will/AP)

Claudia Lombana, PayPal’s shopping specialist, stamps a guest’s passport as he visits the travel section of PayPal’s Cashless Utopia in New York (Victoria Will/AP)

More to the point though, a cashless economy doesn’t just mean that financial institutions, large corporations, or the state itself can monitor all transactions that are occurring. It also means that the entirety of the money supply — itself now existing only in “virtual” form — will belong to the banking system. Not one cent will exist outside of the banking system, as physical currency will simply not be in circulation. The banking system — and others — will be aware not just of every transaction, but will be in possession of all of our society’s money supply, and will even have the ability to receive a percentage of every transaction that is taking place.

So what happens if your spending habits or your choice of travel destinations raises “red flags”? What happens if you run into hard times economically and miss a few payments? What happens if you are deemed to be a political dissident or liability – perhaps an “enemy of the state”? Freezing a bank account or confiscating funds from accounts can take place almost instantaneously. Users of eBay and PayPal, for instance, are quite aware of the ease with which PayPal can confiscate funds from a user’s account based simply on a claim filed against that individual.

Simply forgetting one’s password to an online account can set off an aggravating flurry of calls in order to prove that your money is your own — and that’s without considering the risks of phishing and of online databases being compromised. Many responsible credit card holders found that their credit cards were suddenly canceled in the aftermath of the “Great Recession” simply due to perceived risk. And if you happen to be an individual deemed to be “dangerous,” you can be effectively and easily frozen out of the economy.

Those thinking that the “cashless revolution” will also herald the return of old-style bartering and other communal economic schemes might also wish to reconsider that line of thinking. In the United States, for instance, bartering transactions are considered taxable by the Internal Revenue Service. As more and more economic activity of all sorts takes place online, the tax collector will have an easier time detecting such activity. Thinking of teaching your child to be responsible with finances? That too will have a cost, as even lemonade stands have been targeted for “operating without a permit.” It’s not far-fetched to imagine that particularly overzealous government authorities could also target such activity for “tax evasion.”

In Greece, while oligarchs get to shift their money to offshore tax havens without repercussion and former Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis has been acquitted for failure to submit a declaration of assets, where major television and radio stations operate with impunity without a valid license while no new players can enter the marketplace and where ordinary households and small businesses are literally being taxed to death, police in August 2016 arrested a father of three with an unemployed spouse for selling donuts without a license and fined him 5,000 euros. In another incident, an elderly man selling roasted chestnuts in Thessaloniki was surrounded by 15 police officers and arrested for operating without a license.

Amidst this blatant hypocrisy, governments and financial institutions love electronic money for another reason, aside from the sheer control that it affords them. Studies, including one conducted by the American Psychological Association, have shown that paying with plastic (or, by extension, other non-physical forms of payment) encourage greater spending, as the psychological sensation of a loss when making a payment is disconnected from the actual act of purchasing or conducting a transaction.

But ultimately, the elephant in the room is whether the banking system even should be entrusted with the entirety of the monetary supply. The past decade has seen the financial collapse of 2008, the crumbling of financial institutions such as Lehman Brothers in the United States and a continent-wide banking crisis in Europe, which was the true objective behind the “bailouts” of countries such as Greece — saving European and American banks exposed to “toxic” bonds from these nations. Italy’s banking system is currently teetering on dangerous ground, while the Greek banking system, already recapitalized three times since the onset of the country’s economic crisis, may need yet another taxpayer-funded recapitalization. Even the virtual elimination of cash in Iceland did not prevent the country’s banking meltdown in 2008.

Should we entrust the entirety of the money supply to these institutions? What happens if the banking system experiences another systemic failure? Who do you trust more: yourself or institutions that have proven to be wholly irresponsible and unaccountable in their actions? The answer to that question should help guide the debate as to whether society should go cashless.

Feb 142017
 

By Michael Nevradakis99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews:

The Global South is growing unintelligible from the European South amid harsh austerity measures and other maneuverings that suit the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and working class.

Maria de Jesus Oliveira da Costa, known as “Tia Zelia,” takes down an autographed photo given to her by Brazil’s impeached President Dilma Rousseff, to show it to journalists at her restaurant in Brasilia, Brazil, where photos of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also hang. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

Maria de Jesus Oliveira da Costa, known as “Tia Zelia,” takes down an autographed photo given to her by Brazil’s impeached President Dilma Rousseff, to show it to journalists at her restaurant in Brasilia, Brazil, where photos of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also hang. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

BRASILIA, Brazil — Harsh austerity. A 20-year public spending freeze. A non-elected government. A coup backed by the United States and corporate world.

This is the new reality that Brazil has faced following the impeachment and ouster of the democratically-elected Dilma Rousseff in August of 2016 on charges of corruption and her replacement by vice-president Michel Temer, a favorite of Washington.

This is also a new reality that has been met by widespread disapproval, occasional large-scale protests, and a new economic uncertainty for a country which, just a few years ago, was seen as an up-and-coming economic powerhouse, along with the rest of the BRICS, the bloc composed of emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. This optimism has been quickly supplanted by an increasingly volatile social situation in Brazil and great pessimism for the future.

Much has been made in the media about the progressive credentials of the Rousseff government and that of her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, both of whom represented the Workers’ Party (PT) of Brazil. Much has also been made of the mass protests which led to Rousseff’s outster, which bore similarities to protests seen in countries such as Venezuela against the Maduro regime, and the relative lack of protest that the Temer government has faced since ascending to power.

What is actually happening, though? As is often the case in such situations, reality is far more multifaceted and complex than frequently presented, while parallels can be drawn with other austerity-ravaged countries such as Greece.

A radical break or austerity lite?: The Rousseff and da Silva governments

A man pulls a cart with an electoral poster of Workers Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff, right, at Manguinhos slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010. (AP/Felipe Dana)

A man pulls a cart with an electoral poster of Workers Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff, right, at Manguinhos slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010. (AP/Felipe Dana)

The governments of da Silva and Rousseff were often compared to those of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina, in representing a break with the doctrines of neoliberalism, economic austerity, and privatization that much of Latin America experienced during the 1980s and 1990s.

This claim is borne out by some policies and certain economic indicators. In a 2014 article, well-known commentator Pepe Escobar, who frequently focuses on the BRICS nations in his writing, pointed out the tripling of the minimum wage between 2002 and 2014, a decline in unemployment, increased GDP per capita, the repayment of Brazil’s debts to the International Monetary Fund, higher purchasing power, plus social programs which benefited almost 50 million Brazilians.

Similarly, in a 2014 interview with me for Dialogos Radio, investigative journalist Greg Palast cited da Silva’s refusal to privatize state banks and the national oil company, while creating the “Bolsa Familia,” or a minimum income offered to many Brazilians, in an effort to lift them out of poverty. According to Palast, these policies — the opposite of the privatizations and austerity dictated by the International Monetary Fund — fueled Brazil’s phenomenal growth during this time, reaching 7 to 9 percent annually at its peak.

But did da Silva and Rousseff go far enough? Numerous commentators have expressed doubts.

For instance, the Rousseff government appointed Joaquim Levy, known as a pro-austerity “fiscal hawk,” as finance minister (this, it should be noted, was when Temer was Rousseff’s vice president). Scholar and author James Petras, an expert on Latin America, pointed out in November that da Silva implemented IMF-mandated austerity programs soon after being elected, and he appointed neoliberal economists to his cabinet whilst supporting the interests of agribusiness and major oil and mining concerns — all while overseeing policies which left numerous peasant families landless.

The Brazilian “economic miracle,” according to Petras, was a mirage fueled by high export commodity prices which the Brazilian economy temporarily benefited from, enabling programs such as the “Bolsa Familia.”

This was echoed by Palast, who in a 2016 follow-up interview with Dialogos Radio cited the sharp decline of oil prices and collapse of its commodities trade with China, as factors in the Brazilian economic slowdown — and increased unrest in the country prior to Rousseff’s ouster. In turn, Escobar also cited Rousseff’s concessions to big banking and agribusiness interests and a swing to the center as mistakes which also led to the emerging middle class increasingly flirting with the right once economic difficulties began.

In an interview with MintPress, Kat Moreno, a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science and visiting scholar for Global Workers’ Rights at the Penn State University, argued that the Rousseff government was quite austere, and that despite a militant, leftist background, the material conditions she faced pressured her to enact austerity policies during her reign.

A recent analysis published by TeleSUR further argues that austerity measures were implemented by the Rousseff government as a defense mechanism of sorts, in an effort to fend off Rousseff’s impeachment by appeasing the right.

In his 2014 interview, Palast cited Rousseff’s return to IMF-sponsored austerity policies and the reduction of pensions as factors which were disastrous for the Brazilian economy, calling the IMF “a society of poisoners,” while in his 2016 interview, he cited Rousseff’s political inexperience and her inability to effectively communicate with the public as factors which made her impeachment possible.

An uprising from below or from above?

Soldiers stand guard outside Planalto presidential palace where protesters have projected the word “Impeachment” on the building, as they call for the impeachment of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, March 21, 2016. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

Soldiers stand guard outside Planalto presidential palace where protesters have projected the word “Impeachment” on the building, as they call for the impeachment of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, March 21, 2016. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

2013 could be seen as a hallmark year for Brazil, one in which the tide began to turn against the ruling PT. The “Brazilian Spring” — following in the footsteps of the protests seen in Turkey that year, the Arab Spring, protests of the “indignants” in Spain and Greece, and the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 — emerged out of protests against public transportation fare increases and perceived government corruption. These protests could be seen as having served as a “dress rehearsal” of sorts for those which followed in 2015 and 2016, when fed-up Brazilians took to the streets en masse, including an estimated 7 million citizens during a March 2016 protest, to rally against worsening economic conditions and continued government corruption.

Or did they?

It has been pointed out that the protests of 2015-2016, leading up to the impeachment of Rousseff were not led by the impoverished or the working class, but by such groups as the Free Brazil Movement (MBL) and Students of Liberty (EPL).

Who are these groups?

In this March 18, 2015 photo, anti-government protest leader Kim Kataguiri poses for a picture in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP/Andre Penner)

In this March 18, 2015 photo, anti-government protest leader Kim Kataguiri poses for a picture in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP/Andre Penner)

Largely consisting of well-to-do, white academic circles, it has been revealed that they were financed by the decidedly right-wing Atlas Economic Research Foundation, itself funded by the notorious Koch brothers.Pepe Escobar has described the events of 2015-2016 as a “white coup,” fueled by the country’s major media outlets, who were “salivating” for regime change.

This scenario closely mirrors the protests seen recently in Venezuela against the increasingly embattled Maduro regime. Venezuela, like Brazil, has been battered by falling commodities prices — especially the sharp decline in the price of oil. This has brought to the forefront protests, led by right-wing elements seeking regime change and sensing an opportunity to make it happen.

Such protests are also not confined to Latin America. Greece, itself embattled by years of economic depression and austerity, has begun to see occasional (but, for the time being, relatively small-scale) protests led by supporters of the center-right parties such as New Democracy.

Prior to the country’s July 2015 referendum on approving or rejecting an austerity package demanded by Greece’s European “partners,” these elements organized fairly large protests in favor of “yes” (accepting austerity in order to “remain in the European Union”). In turn, smaller protests in 2016, organized with such social media hashtags as ftanei pia (“enough already”) ironically protested the austerity measures imposed by the purportedly left-wing Syriza-led government whilst supporting closer EU ties and the New Democracy party.

Similar to Brazil, Greece’s major media groups — all owned by oligarchic interests with a huge stake in the country’s major economic sectors — have vehemently supported austerity and supported the “yes” vote in the 2015 referendum.

Speaking to MintPress, Guilherme Giuliano, at Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of São Paulo and member of the “Catso” social workers’ autonomous collective, described the 2016 protests as not having been solely against Rousseff or her government. Nevertheless, the protests were co-opted by certain parties and movements and used as a catalyst for the coup against Rousseff.

Kat Moreno described the MBL as one of the movements which freely took to the streets, while other protest movements not organized by formal actors and representing poorer strata of society were met with police repression.

Petras classifies the capitulation and eventual fall of the PT governments, led by da Silva and Rousseff, as another in a long string of failures of the left. These “failures” have also been evident in countries such as Greece, where Syriza was, in January 2015, elected on promises to “tear up” Greece’s memorandum agreements with its lenders and to put an end to austerity but has instead faithfully continued enforcing such policies and signed further austerity agreements with the country’s lenders, implementing further cuts and reneging on all of its pre-election pledges.

The ‘shock doctrine’ returns to Latin America

A police officer pepper sprays demonstrators as a scuffle breaks out during a protest against the money spent on Rio’s 2016 Summer Olympics on the route of the Olympic torch, in Niteroi, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016.

A police officer pepper sprays demonstrators as a scuffle breaks out during a protest against the money spent on Rio’s 2016 Summer Olympics on the route of the Olympic torch, in Niteroi, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016.

In her 2007 book “The Shock Doctrine,” Naomi Klein highlights how the global capitalist class uses crises and disaster situations — both real and invented — as an opportunity to pounce upon suffering countries when they are at their weakest, imposing harsh austerity christened as “free market” policies and imposed, when necessary, by force, including police violence and brutality.

This has been characteristic of Brazil following Rousseff’s impeachment and Temer’s takeover.

It has also been characteristic of the crisis-hit countries of the European South, where protesters in Greece have been dispersed and stunned into submission by tear gas and police violence which invariably goes unpunished, while riot police enforcing home foreclosures is a common sight in Spain.

Klein traces the origins of the “shock doctrine” to the neoliberal doctrine first espoused by economists such as Milton Friedman, the father of the “Chicago School” of economics, which Latin American countries such as Chile became intimately familiar with under autocratic regimes such as that of Augusto Pinochet.

It is ironic, therefore, that Klein openly and vocally supported the Syriza government prior to the January 2015 elections in Greece which first brought it to power. But she has remained conspicuously silent since then, while Syriza has continued the policies of its predecessors. Nevertheless, the “shock doctrine” serves as a useful guide to explain what is happening in such countries today, including Brazil.

In another one of his analyses on the Brazil situation, Escobar classified Brazil as a victim of a “hybrid war” launched by the world’s neoliberal elite one which is also targeting other BRICS nations such as Russia.

How has the “shock doctrine” unfolded in Brazil?

With a lot of shock, and a lot of awe, to say the least.

From left: Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff , Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma sit during a signing ceremony at the BRICS Summit in Ufa, Russia, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (Sergei Ilnitsky/AP)

From left: Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff , Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma sit during a signing ceremony at the BRICS Summit in Ufa, Russia, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (Sergei Ilnitsky/AP)

A 20-year federal freeze on public spending was almost immediately imposed by the Temer regime, placing caps on spending for health care, education, and social expenditures and shrinking a welfare state which, according to Moreno, was already much more limited than its European counterparts. This was followed up by the announcement of job cuts in the public sector (despite rising unemployment which has more than doubled since the country’s recent economic peak), and a special “Christmas gift” for Brazilian workers: the expansion of the workday from 8 to 12 hours, complete with a reduction in the lunch hour.

This closely resembles the sharp reduction in pay, dismantling of collective bargaining rights, and massive layoffs which have been seen in countries like Greece. (There, pensioners were treated to a “Christmas gift” of their own by the Syriza-led government: a paltry “Christmas bonus” used by the government as a ludicrous PR stunt after it had already slashed most pensions by approximately 50 percent in 2016 and announced further tax increases for 2017.) In Brazil, environmental regulations have also been scrapped or relaxed, posing a particular threat to the country’s indigenous peoples.

In a rare moment of frankness, Temer told an audience of business and foreign policy elite assembled in New York in September that Rousseff — who was no radical while in office — did not go “far enough” in implementing the harsh economic reforms demanded by Temer’s party.

The new Temer government does not feel itself constrained in any way in terms of going “far enough.” Corruption charges are now being faced by da Silva, who currently leads overwhelmingly in opinion polls for Brazil’s next presidential elections, and members of his family.

Not even bothering to keep up appearances, Temer’s appointed cabinet consists exclusively of wealthy white men, while his government attempted to legislate self-amnesty for itself in September — a privilege already enjoyed by members of the Greek parliament and Greek government ministers, who are immune from prosecution for any crimes committed while in office and who regularly “write off” internal parliamentary investigations into previous governments’ wrongdoings.

This comes as the Temer government, which led the ouster of Rousseff on corruption charges, is itself facing corruption scandals.

In such a climate, it is inevitable that corruption will “trickle down” to other sectors of society. Brazil is currently said to be experiencing a far-right resurgence, shattering the common image of the country as one of racial inclusiveness and harmony.

Tourists to Brazil now have the unique opportunity to visit a real-life plantation and be served by black “slaves.” Police violence, already a major problem under the Rousseff administration, continued to grow in 2016 and 2017. There’s also the increasing prison riot crisis, which has been encouraged by elements within Temer’s government who view it as an effective means of culling the population in the country’s overcrowded prisons.

How have Brazilians responded?

Demonstrators march with a sign that says in Portuguese “Get out Temer” and a drawing of Cuba’s late President Fidel Castro, as they demand the impeachment of Brazil’s President Michel Temer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Nov. 27, 2016. (AP/Andre Penner)

Demonstrators march with a sign that says in Portuguese “Get out Temer” and a drawing of Cuba’s late President Fidel Castro, as they demand the impeachment of Brazil’s President Michel Temer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Nov. 27, 2016. (AP/Andre Penner)

The spotlight of the international media was thrust upon Brazil in 2013 and again prior to Rousseff’s impeachment in 2016, when protests sprung up in the streets—which may have been fueled, at least in part, by Koch-funded and wealthy elements in Brazilian society.

With a regime in place which may not be supported by the majority of Brazil’s population but is very much supported by the global banking and business elite and by Washington, protests against Temer’s government have not been afforded the same level of coverage, perhaps giving the impression that the Brazilian populace has resigned itself to a tacit acceptance of the new regime. Reality, however, seems to be a bit more nuanced.

There have been both strikes and protests on a fairly wide scale in Brazil since Temer’s takeover, including protests which erupted following the enactment of the 20-year public spending freeze, further significant protests against the Temer government on Brazil’s Independence Day, and a strike of workers at oil refineries all across the country at the end of the year.

These movements are accompanied by abysmal approval ratings for the new government in multiple public opinion surveys, even if approval ratings and poll numbers are often meaningless or inaccurate. Just look at the low approval ratings and exceptionally high re-election ratings for members of the U.S. Congress, for instance, or the multiple polls which all but assured a Hillary Clinton victory in the U.S. presidential elections, or the public opinion polls in Greece which have repeatedly been not just grossly inaccurate but always in a pro-austerity direction. For instance, Greek polling firms predicted a neck-and-neck referendum result in July 2015, when in fact, the “no” vote rejecting the European Union’s proposed austerity package received an overwhelming 62 percent of the vote.

Demonstrators protest Brazil’s President Michel Temer after a military Independence Day parade in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

Demonstrators protest Brazil’s President Michel Temer after a military Independence Day parade in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016. (AP/Eraldo Peres)

Despite the protests that have taken place ever since Temer took over in Brazil, Kat Moreno points out the factors that have prevented them from being more widespread or long-lived.

According to Moreno, some strata of society do not feel safe in taking to the streets, and Moreno cites fear as a “strong variable” to consider when examining responses to the political situation in the country, as a result of the high degree of police repression and brutality, which has been especially evident during protests of left-wing groups and protesters who are not affiliated with any major organization or party.

Such a situation could also be said to foster “protest fatigue,” which is often seen as a factor in the lack of wide-scale protest in Greece and other crisis-stricken countries of the European South in recent years. Following large-scale protests seen in the 2010-2012 period, which peaked with the movement of the “Indignants” in Spain and Greece in the spring and summer of 2011 and which were eventually met by a violent and heavy-handed police response, protests have largely disappeared or been confined to ephemeral and single-issue efforts without longevity.

In Greece, a common response to questions as to why Greeks no longer take to the streets is that protesters will simply get tear gassed again and sent back home. The “shock doctrine” described by Naomi Klein may also serve as another psychological factor: When protests turn out to be fruitless and unpopular policies are rammed through despite opposition, feelings of discouragement and despair become more prevalent and serve as obstacles to further action.

To some extent, Brazilian society may be experiencing some of these symptoms.

Familiar Tactics

Brazil’s acting President Michel Temer arrives to speak, at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, May 12, 2016.

Brazil’s acting President Michel Temer arrives to speak, at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, May 12, 2016.

Escobar refers to the “toolbox” of tactics employed in Brazil leading up to Rousseff’s ouster. This set of strategies included the creation of manufactured consent amongst the populace, for the impeachment and the new regime.

This bears a great similarity to the cases of countries such as Greece, where public opinion polls conducted by polling firms which are not independent of the state and which are commissioned by pro-austerity media outlets have repeatedly shown vast majorities purportedly in favor of EU and eurozone membership at all costs, while the very few independent surveys conducted in Greece, such as those by Gallup International, have actually found such majorities to be slim or nonexistent.

Manufactured consent is used to legitimize the austerity policies which then follow, and to characterize any dissent as belonging to a small, marginal minority.

Indeed, similarities between the case of Brazil and the case of countries of the European South such as Greece abound. Just as the Temer government has not been elected and overthrew a government which apparently did not go “far enough” in its austerity regime, the EU imposed a non-elected technocrat prime minister, Lucas Papademos, a former banker, on Greece in late 2011 to ensure that a new package of austerity measures and “reforms” would be railroaded through parliament.

At around the same time, a non-elected prime minister, Mario Monti, was also installed in Italy, with the blessings of the EU — technocrats from which described this unelected government as “the best thing that ever happened to Italy” during a visit of mine to the EU in 2013 as part of a week-long academic program. Italy is now being governed by no less than its third consecutive non-elected prime minister.

The Greek referendum overwhelmingly rejecting EU-proposed austerity was shot down in short order, replaced by an austerity package even harsher than that which had originally been proposed, and even more onerous than the two prior memorandum agreements signed by Syriza’s predecessors, the New Democracy and PASOK (“socialist”) political parties.

The manufactured consent and “shock doctrine” which imposed the “bitter medicine” of austerity on Greece could be viewed as a pre-emptive strike against any thoughts of “Grexit,” a Greek exodus from the Eurozone or even the EU, much like the “hybrid war” against countries like Brazil and Russia described earlier by Escobar.

A man holds a sign that reads in Portuguese “Respect, I’m a teacher, the vandal is the state” at a burning barricade set up by protesters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP/Silvia Izquierdo)

A man holds a sign that reads in Portuguese “Respect, I’m a teacher, the vandal is the state” at a burning barricade set up by protesters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP/Silvia Izquierdo)

Kat Moreno identifies certain parallels between the Global South, of which Brazil is part, and the European South, which has in recent years experienced much of the same IMF-supported austerity which Latin America is all too familiar with. She highlights the “clear relationship” between being a part of the Global South and being dependent on and the hostage of the international financial system.

And in looking to the future, it is difficult to say who can lead these countries, whether it is Brazil or Greece or Spain or Italy, out of their current death spiral unscathed. Guilherme Giuliano points out that what has been happening in Brazil, as in Greece, Argentina (where the Kirchner government was replaced by one much friendlier to Washington and to global capital), or even the United States, are symptoms of a global crisis — a crisis which, according to Giuliano, “nobody has a progressive way out.”

Indeed, many progressives and much of the global left seem to be focused more strongly on identity politics and a notion of a world without nations or states. In doing so, they have supported such undemocratic, austerity-driven institutions as the EU, while demonizing phenomena such as the “Brexit” as the exclusive realm of racists and xenophobes, widening their chasm with vast sections of the poor and working classes in the process.

Meanwhile, a blind eye has been turned to the actions of former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who in conjunction with Wall Street, supported right-wing coups and electoral takeovers all across Latin America, from Brazil to Venezuela to the Honduras. In this vein, James Petras chastises “left politicians who speak to the workers and work for the bankers.”

As for Brazil, Moreno describes the country as finding itself at a crossroads.

“People are seeking autonomy over their destinies, but where it is going we are not sure,” she said. “It can lead to neo-fascism, or it could go towards leftist  positions.”

 

Feb 092016
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

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A version of this commentary originally aired on Dialogos Radio, during the week of February 4-10, 2016.

Once again, Greece is experiencing a time of political and social uncertainty, a time where yet again many citizens have begun to search for a new political savior, one that will pull Greece out of its current economic abyss and provide the promise of “hope” and “change”, putting an end to the crisis and placing Greece back on a path towards growth and better days.

This is highly similar to what was taking place in Greece just over a year ago, when millions of people within and outside of Greece believed that SYRIZA could comprise this sort of political force. And they believed this purely on the basis of rhetoric and promises. The big promises made by Alexis Tsipras and the rest of SYRIZA regarding the abolition of the austerity measures with one law and one article, the supposedly anti-austerity Thessaloniki policy platform, the tearing apart of the memorandum agreements, promises, promises and yet more promises from SYRIZA, including promises that all of these wonderful things could take place firmly within the confines of the European Union and the Eurozone, and that SYRIZA, when in power, would indeed manage to change Europe!

No one, however, seemed to notice how SYRIZA’s pre-election rhetoric was already being significantly watered down compared to their earlier promises. No one noticed that whereas Tsipras had once said that remaining in the Eurozone is not a fetish, SYRIZA was now not even contemplating an exit from the euro, not even as a Plan B. No one noticed that SYRIZA abandoned its platform to nationalize the banking system. Formerly radical economist Costas Lapavitsas, whom we have unfortunately interviewed in the past on our program, had once been proposing a so-called “radical economic platform” including a euro exit. In January 2015 however, just prior to the elections, he appeared on the BBC to defend SYRIZA’s economic platform as a form of “mild Keynesianism.” Dozens of candidates on SYRIZA’s ballot were former members of the corrupt PASOK party which ruled Greece for most of the 40 years following the fall of the military dictatorship, and many of them were elected and attained cabinet posts in the new government of supposed hope and change.

However, perhaps the biggest sign of the flip-flop and broken promises that were to follow was the inclusion of the false prophet Yanis Varoufakis on the SYRIZA ballot and his selection as Greece’s minister of finance after the elections. Varoufakis, a former adviser to PASOK’s George Papandreou, who brought austerity and the IMF to Greece, had carefully developed a reputation as a supposedly “radical” anti-austerity economist who was not afraid to clash with the system and who would demand the end of austerity and the memorandum agreements. Yet this same Varoufakis was telling us, long before the elections, that it was impossible for a country to leave the Eurozone, while rejecting the actions of countries such as Argentina and Iceland, stating that he instead sought a so-called “European solution” for the Greek crisis. Nobody seemed to notice this, and instead, Varoufakis earned the most votes of any individual candidate in the January 2015 elections.

Now, one year later, we are once again seeing the same theater of the absurd take place before our eyes, and this time Varoufakis, the son of a wealthy industrialist who is married to the daughter of another wealthy industrialist, is being presented as the best and only hope for change and for the elimination of austerity, not just in Greece but for all of Europe. On February 9th, he will announce the launch of his new pan-European political movement with a presentation in, where else, Berlin, a movement that is already promising to “restore democracy” to Europe and to “save” Europe from itself. And everyone who last year was ridiculing and insulting anyone who dared to suggest that SYRIZA was not what it presented itself as being and that it would break is promises, has now forgotten what they were saying a year ago and is doing the same exact thing to anyone who dares to question Varoufakis, his record, or his sincerity.

Let’s take this opportunity, therefore, to remind everyone about the major “achievements” of Varoufakis, before, during, and after his term as Greece’s finance minister.

Varoufakis is the man who, as Greece’s finance minister in the first days of the new SYRIZA government last year, had gone to the initial negotiations at the Eurogroup summit proposing the continuation of 70% of the previously existing austerity measures and memorandums, for another six months, as he said. He refused to even raise the specter of a Eurozone exit for Greece, not even as a negotiation tactic or as a Plan B. In fact, Varoufakis, while he was supposedly negotiating hard with the troika, publicly stated that Greece has no Plan B! It should therefore come as no surprise that the 70% proposed by Varoufakis became 100%, meaning continuation of 100% of the previous austerity measures and memorandums, for the next four months. Varoufakis agreed to this and had the audacity to return to Greece claiming that the agreement was an example of “creative ambiguity” and that the troika would now be known as the kinder, gentler “institutions.”

At the same time, Varoufakis, in countless appearances and interviews in the media, kept parroting the same stale myths about Greece and the people of Greece, such as the myth, which was proven to be a lie, that Greece had the highest rate of Porsche Cayenne ownership in the world. Varoufakis lectured us about the, quote, “hard working German taxpayers,” who were, quote, “bailing out Greece,” and who, quote, “wanted a return on their investment,” neglecting to say, however, that Germany and the troika have profited quite handsomely just off of the interest that Greece is paying on its forced loans, without even getting into the lucrative assets which Greece was forced to privatize and which they bought up. Instead, Varoufakis was telling us about the need to lead a so-called “austere existence,” all the while he and his wife were photographed for a French magazine’s photo shoot, in front of a table full of lobster and champagne at their home with a full view of the Acropolis.

This was nothing, however, compared with what was to follow. Varoufakis, along with the other saviors within SYRIZA, nominated and elected the corrupt, conservative, pro-austerity former New Democracy minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos as president of the republic. Once again, the SYRIZA and Varoufakis apologists told us to give them more time. Varoufakis repeatedly stated that Greece’s debt would be repaid, quote, “in perpetuity” and that it is legal, at the same time that the Greek government had put on a big show of creating a parliamentary committee to investigate the legality of this very same debt. In an interview with the Associated Press, Varoufakis flatly stated that he will “squeeze blood from a stone” in order for the IMF to be repaid, while in another interview, Varoufakis stated that he sought to develop good relations with Christine Lagarde and the IMF, which held views that he, quote, personally agreed with.

Varoufakis repeatedly stated that his homeland is Europe and not Greece and that he would like to see the development of a so-called United States of Europe. He stated that the Eurozone is like the “Hotel California,” where you can check out any time you like but you can never leave. Such was the nature of Varoufakis’ supposedly fierce negotiation, just as when he told ABC Television in Australia that even if Greece wanted to it was unable to mint its own currency, because Greece’s mint was destroyed when Greece joined the Eurozone. It seems he was unaware of the fact that Greece’s mint is still alive and well and is where the 20 euro notes are still printed today.

Moving forward, the “heroic” Yanis Varoufakis stated that the previous privatizations would not be rescinded and that he agreed with the privatization of public assets such as airports and harbors under certain supposed conditions. Indeed, he spoke out in favor of further so-called “investments” by China’s Cosco in Greece, including the privatization of the port of Piraeus, saying that this would be a positive development for the country.

Forging ahead, Varoufakis selected Elena Panaritis as Greece’s representative to the International Monetary Fund. The same Panaritis who was a former World Bank official and who had designed the destructive Fujishock policies which had been implemented in Peru and which drove millions of people into poverty, which led to price increases on basic goods of up to 8000%, where hundreds of public assets were privatized, and all of this done under the rule of an autocratic government whose ruler, Alberto Fujimori, is now serving a 25 year sentence for murder and other serious charges. The same Elena Panaritis who, as a member of parliament with PASOK, voted in favor of austerity and the memorandums. This was the selection of the supposedly “heroic” Yanis Varoufakis, who however never raised the issue of German war reparations to Greece and never investigated the actions of Yannis Stournaras and other former finance ministers for their role in bringing the austerity agreements to Greece.

Continuing on, Varoufakis, in the spring of 2015 when he was still finance minister, oversaw the issuance of a governmental decree, a practice which SYRIZA had promised it would not follow when in government, which confiscated the cash reserves of the entire Greek public sector. This decree was then ratified by the Greek parliament, including with the vote of Varoufakis, and the cash reserves of the Greek public sector were confiscated and used to make the May IMF loan repayment. After this, Varoufakis and the SYRIZA government, as part of their supposedly hard negotiations with the European so-called partners, presented a 47 page proposal which foresaw 8 billion euros of new austerity measures, including a perpetually increasing primary budget surplus—meaning more austerity—further tax increases, elimination of early pension benefits, which do in fact exist in countries like the US and elsewhere, and the privatization of public assets such as major airports and harbors. Everything that the current SYRIZA government is doing and that Varoufakis apologists claim to be against. At around the same time, Varoufakis presented a proposal for the introduction of a parallel currency following the model of the IOUs issued by the state of California, while he publicly admitted that capital controls would be introduced in Greece.

After this followed the big, “heroic” example of democracy in action, the referendum on whether to approve or reject the austerity measures proposed by the European so-called partners of Greece. Varoufakis, who was still finance minister, did not present any proposal to the Greek people, however, of what the governments plans would be if the “no” vote prevailed. And indeed, when the “no” vote did in fact prevail, not only was there no plan, but Varoufakis coincidentally was absent from the parliamentary vote which gave authorization to Alexis Tsipras to reach a deal with the lenders. Varoufakis did state publicly, however, that if he had voted, he would have voted yes to give Tsipras this authorization, authorization which resulted, of course, in the third and harshest, thus far, memorandum agreement for Greece.

This is the charlatan whose record as Greece’s finance minister is one of nothing but austerity, and who yet is now being touted as the savior not just for Greece but for all of Europe, the man who will end austerity and, quote, save Europe and save capitalism from itself. Varoufakis is the man who has praised the, quote, “radical” and “dynamic” individualism of Thatcherism, in other words, of neoliberalism, and the man who publicly eulogized Thatcher on his blog after her death in 2013. He is the man whose new book was presented in the Athens Music Hall in January 2015, just prior to the elections which brought SYRIZA to power, by far-right Greek television talking head Mbambis Papadimitriou, who once expressed his support for a so-called “serious Golden Dawn.” Varoufakis is the man who has repeatedly heaped public praise on German chancellor Angela Merkel for her handling of the refugee crisis, the same Merkel and the same Germany which has contributed militarily to the carnage in the Middle East, the same Germany where there have been dozens of arson attacks of refugee housing facilities, the same Germany which has housed some refugees in former concentration camps, the same Germany which has confiscated valuables from refugees entering the country, the same Germany which is accused of paying off African governments to take back asylum seekers and to prevent them from coming to Germany again. And we are supposed to believe the words of this man, Varoufakis, when he says that he can somehow change Europe and the EU for the better, but that the euro cannot be changed and that a country could never leave it.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the bold, brilliant, anti-austerity savior Yanis Varoufakis. And the unfortunate reality is that even when faced with the facts, Varoufakis’ many fans and apologists will dismiss all of the above, even doubting the facts of Varoufakis’ actions during his tenure as Greece’s finance minister. A selective amnesia which begs the question, when will we stop believing in the “hope and change” that the system itself presents to us?

Mar 082014
 

Posted by SnakeArbusto, 99GetSmart

Source: CADTM Europe

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The CADTM affirms its full and complete solidarity with the people of Cyprus and their organisations struggling against privatizations in the energy, telecoms, and shipping sectors – privatizations required by the Memorandum imposed by the Troika in March 2013. Cyprus is the fourth country to be placed under the budgetary supervision of the European Union, after Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

In the face of the demonstrations of 27 February (a 3-day renewable strike by Electricity Authority of Cyprus workers and a strike by longshoremen at the ports of Limassol and Larnaca), the Parliament was unable to reach a majority to adopt the initial bill (25 votes for, 25 against, 5 abstentions; a majority of 29 is required for adoption). The following day the government handed in its resignation. The media, in total complicity with the Troika, have observed total silence over this situation – an extraordinary one, to say the least.

Despite the refusal expressed by the population in the streets, the Cypriot legislators have just adopted (4 March), by a vote of 30 to 26, a bill that is only a slightly modified version of the one they had themselves rejected the preceding week and which would result in the privatisation of the major public services: EAC (electricity), CYTA (telecoms), and CPA (the port authority). This new version of the law claims to guarantee the jobs of the employees of these companies, but no one actually believes that.

Adoption of the law was a condition for the granting of a new 236-million € tranche of the 10-Bn € loan granted by the Troika in March 2013.

The causes of the crisis in Cyprus have been clearly identified: 

1) A hypertrophied banking system
 that was completely out of control. The banks, who have considerable liquid assets provided by the “financial markets,” have recklessly made risky investments.

In 2012, Cyprus’s banks speculated on the restructuring of the Greek debt – 40% of their external commitments, which cost them 4.5 Bn €, or the equivalent of a quarter of Cyprus’s GDP, and brought on the collapse of this overinflated sector (whose assets represent seven times the country’s GDP).

These private losses were then promptly transformed into public debt. These debts are totally illegitimate and must be abolished, along with those stemming from the assistance plan!

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In 2009 and 2010, Cyprus’s public debt was only 52.4% and 60.8% of GDP, whereas in the Euro zone as a whole it was 80% of GDP in 2010.

In Germany, the percentage was 74.5% in 2009 and 82.5% in 2010.

2) A tax situation that is highly advantageous for companies: Corporate tax, which until the Memorandum was at an official rate of 10%, has only been raised to 12.5% (not enough to resolve the budget deficit).

To obtain the 10-Bn € assistance plan from the Troika (9 Bn € from the ECB and 1 Bn € from the IMF), Cyprus’s government also agreed to the restructuring of its banking system, a 10% reduction in public expenditures, and the privatization of the island’s main public sectors.

The IMF, represented in Cyprus by a former executive of Lehman Brothers, itself recognizes the economic ineffectualness of such measures. The IMF’s goal is not to provide support for the population of Cyprus, but to protect and guarantee the interests of the creditors! That is why the agents of the IMF must be run out of Cyprus, along with the representatives of the European Commission and the ECB!

Aside from the obvious risk of growth in unemployment (forecast to reach 19.4% in 2014), Cypriots fear skyrocketing prices, with wages and pensions already reduced by 20% in one year. The people’s mobilisation, practically uninterrupted for months, goes well beyond the industry sectors that are directly concerned.

Rubbish bins brought by the population are piled up in front of bank branches. There are regular interruptions of electrical power and the people are besieging the Parliament and official buildings. All sectors, both private and public, are present around the Parliament, demonstrating their opposition to the Troika’s structural adjustment plan.

The CADTM considers:

  • that the entire debt of Cyprus to the Troika is illegitimate and odious, and must be abolished in its entirety;
  • that the austerity plan imposed by the Troika must be revoked.

The population does not want to pay for the speculators and the wealthiest 1%. International solidarity must organise as soon as possible in support of this exemplary struggle. The CADTM will do all it can.

Translation by Snake Arbusto

Photo : CC – Eu Council Eurozone
Discussion before the meeting begins : Christine LAGARDE, IMF ; Thomas WIESER, President of the EFC (Economic and Financial Committee) and Michael SARRIS, Finances Minister of Cyprus (on the right).