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The Movable Green Zone: Blanking the Beach - "The Second Tsunami" - Part 7

Politics / Iraq War Oct 03, 2007 - 12:04 AM GMT

By: Stephen_Lendman

Politics For coastal Sri Lankans, like those in Arugam Bay, December 26, 2004 felt more like 1945 Hiroshima than life before that fateful day changing everything for them. A devastating tsunami took 250,000 lives and left 2.5 million homeless throughout the region. It affected Arugam Bay, "a fishing and faded resort village" on the island's east coast that government was showcasing in its plans to "build back better." Indeed, but not for the villagers hoteliers, developers and the government wanted removed but weren't sure how until nature did what they couldn't.


Everything was gone, and a blank slate remained for what the tourist industry long wanted - "a pristine beach (in a prime area), scrubbed clean of all the messy signs of people working, a vacation Eden. It was the same up and down the coast once rubble was cleared....paradise."

"New rules" forbade homes on the beach and a "buffer zone" imposed insured it. Beaches were off-limits, displaced Sri Lankans were shoved into temporary grim barracks camps inland, and "menacing, machine-gun-wielding soldiers" patrolled to keep them there.

Tourist operators were treated differently. They were encouraged to build and expand on prime vacated oceanfront land. It was all in a document called the "Arugam Bay Resource Development Plan" to transform the former fishing village into a "high-end 'boutique tourism destination' (with) five-star resorts, luxury....chalets, (and even a) floatplane pier and helipad." Arugam Bay was to be a model for transforming up to 30 similar "tourism zones" into a "South Asian Riviera." When the plan leaked out, people in Arugam Bay and around the country were outraged.

The grand scheme to remake Sri Lanka was around two years earlier and began when the civil war ended. It was to be the country's reentry into the world economy as one of the last remaining uncolonized places globalization hadn't touched, and a high-end tourism project was seen as the right option. It would be a luxury destination for the "plutonomy set," once a few changes were made. Government's 80% land ownership had to be opened to private buyers, more "flexible" labor laws were needed, and modernized infrastructure had to be developed with World Bank and IMF providing funds on their usual shock therapy terms discussed above. With mass public opposition to the ideas, it wouldn't be easy, and before the tsunami hit, militant strikes and street protests held it back.

Sri Lanka's president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, was elected on an "overtly antiprivatization platform," but the tsunami changed everything and helped her see "the free market light." Four days after the disaster, her government passed a bill "pav(ing) the way for water privatization." It also raised gasoline prices and began crafting legislation to privatize the electricity company in pieces. It was like a second tsunami, and the same scheme followed hurricane Mitch in October, 1998 with Hondurus, Guatemala and Nicaragua hardest hit like New Orleans discussed below.

Klein explained when the tsunami struck in 2004, "Washington was ready to take the Mitch model (now familiar) to the next level - aiming not just at individuals laws but at direct corporate control over the construction." Sri Lanka's president complied and created a new body called the Task Force to Rebuild the Nation fully empowered to proceed. On it were the most powerful business leaders from banking and industry including key players from the beach tourism sector. Absent were villagers, farmers, environmentalists or even a "disaster-reconstruction specialist." Klein called the task force a new type corporate coup d'etat mother nature made possible.

In ten days, then had a complete reconstruction blueprint from "housing to highways" with aid money directed to corporate development and nothing for disaster victims. They were destined to become permanent shantytown dwellers similar to the kinds ringing most Global South cities and populating Global North inner ones. Similar stories of law changes and land grabs came out of other affected Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Thailand, the Maldives and India where around 150 Tamil Nadu displaced women had to sell their kidneys for food.

A year after the tsunami, NGO ActionAid surveyed the aftermath in five Asian countries and found the same pattern everywhere - residents barred from rebuilding, living in militarized temporary camps, hotels "showered with incentives," no restoration of homes lost, and "entire ways of life" destroyed. In July, 2006 in Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers ended their cease-fire and war resumed. It's hard knowing if disaster capitalism had a role because peace was always precarious, the government offered little, and continued violence at least promised a chance for something better before and more than ever now given the choice between disaster capitalism and hope.

Disaster Apartheid - A World of Green and Red Zones

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and flooded New Orleans. The well-off left town, "checked into hotels, and called their insurance companies." For 120,000 others without cars or means of transportation, it was another story. They depended on the state, waited for help and got none. FEMA is supposed to provide it, too, but it was one of the many government functions Bush gutted advancing savage capitalism at the expense of public service.

Katrina was disastrous for those affected, but Milton Friedman saw "an opportunity" in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. It was easy for him to say from his luxury San Francisco digs as well as his like-minded ideologues who met 14 days later to plan how to pounce on the tragedy for profit. They produced 32 Chicago School-type schemes packaged as "hurricane relief" that was a wish list for developers and hell for the displaced. They ranged from suspending Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws in disaster areas and making the whole area a flat tax free enterprise zone to erasing public schools by giving parents vouchers for privately-run charter ones. They also wanted environmental regulations suspended on the Gulf Coast and permission to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that showed how far afield they'd go to capitalize on the shock of a local tragedy.

Things moved fast, and within weeks "the Gulf Coast became a domestic laboratory for the same kind of (outsourcing schemes) pioneered in Iraq." The names were familiar with Halliburton first in line along with Bechtel, Blackwater USA and a host of others homing in for the kill. Billions were at stake, and no open bidding was required, just good connections. As Klein put it: "within days of the storm it was as if Baghdad's Green Zone....lifted from....the Tigris and landed on the bayou....As in Iraq, government once again played the role of a cash machine equipped for both withdrawals and deposits." Corporations took one and repaid with the other in sizable campaign contributions in a pattern now familiar.

They also ignored unemployed locals and relied instead on cheap imported undocumented labor easily exploited. The Bush administration showed its type compassion, too, with $40 billion in budget cuts for essentials like Medicaid, food stamps, student loans and more so funds could go to contractors and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Again, a familiar pattern.

In visiting Iraq, Klein first thought the "Green Zone phenomenon was unique to the war in Iraq." She then discovered it emerges wherever disaster capitalism lands with the same stark divisions between the included and excluded. It was evident in New Orleans with "gated green zones and raging red" ones - not from flood damage but from predatory free market solutions only for the privileged.

The Bush administration refused emergency funds for public sector salaries so 3000 city workers were fired. Charity Hospital closed and still isn't open. Public transit was gutted losing half its workers, and most public housing is still boarded up and empty by design. Some sits on prime land close to the French Quarter, developers want it for luxury properties, and New Orleans is being erased for profit just like Iraq. It was all planned with the storm the excuse to do it.

Earlier "creative destruction" opportunities generated "rust belts," neglected neighborhoods, and underfunded inner city public schools. Creative neglect is at work as well as the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2007 said it will cost $1.5 trillion over five years to bring essential public infrastructure back to standard. Instead it continues to deteriorate while the well-off withdraw into gated communities and luxury condos with all their needs met by private providers. Klein calls this trend a "state-within-a-state that is muscular" and as able as the public one is frail. It no longer can function without help from contractors as government is hollowed so business can prosper.

New Orleans is a window on the future in which survival depends on the ability to pay, and those who can't are discarded like trash. It promises a world of protected Green Zones with those outside it neglected, abandoned, ignored and forgotten.

Reviewing Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" - Introduction ,
Part 1 - Two Doctor Shocks - Torture and Chicago School Fundamentalism
Part 2 - Chile The First Test - The Bloody Birth of the Counterrevolution
Part 3 - The Shock Doctrine: Surviving Democracy
Part 4 - The Shock Doctrine: Lost in Transition: Slamming the Door on History
Part 5 - The Rise of the Disaster Capitalism Complex - Shock Therapy in the USA
Part 6 - The Shock Doctrine: Iraq, Full Circle - Overshock - Erasing A Country - Part 6

By Stephen Lendman

http://sjlendman.blogspot.com

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached in Chicago at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com Saturdays at noon US central time.

Stephen Lendman Archive

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