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Brazilian Dialogue

Briefcases can be as dangerous as guns.

For most of the 17th century the Quilombos city states of free blacks under Lumbi's leadership lived in abundance, raising all manner of food on the rich soils of the coastal zone of Brazil.

At the same time, children of slaves on the Portuguese sugar plantations were eating soil, their bodies spurring them on in a vain attempt to acquire the necessary minerals. (The overseers interpreted this as a sign of African kinship with the beasts, making blacks natural candidates for enslavement. Children eating dirt were beaten unmercifully.)

While the Dutch were challenging the Portuguese all along the coast, the Quilombos were safe. Once the Dutch were driven off, the inhabitants of the Quilombos were once again enslaved.

So interesting a comparison: the "backward" but free blacks living in abundance while their enslaved brothers and sisters had to grub in the soil as pigs do for nutrients. Their "masters," of course, lived in luxury.

That's the microcosm of unbridled capitalism. The macrocosm is similar but harder to see because of its vast scope, its global nature.

It's easy to spot unbridled capitalism at work when parrots begin to copy the bark of dogs rather than human voices because the humans have fallen silent from hunger and abuse.

It is less easy to see how unbridled capitalism has unleashed a 48-year war on Guatemala's people and how that war was instigated by a marriage of Guatemala's oligarchs and military with U.S. interests. The then president Dwight Eisenhower explained U.S. intervention thus: "We had to unseat this Communist government that had come to power."

What a handy justification! The PM of Nov. 20, 2002 reveals how that war on Guatemala's people continues to this day. Brazil's president Vargas committed suicide in 1954 to protest the sudden and dramatic drop of 33 per cent in North American wholesale prices for coffee. Did the price of coffee go down in retail stores? No, it went up 13 per cent. And so the intermediaries gained not only 33 per cent more profit, but an additional 13 per cent. Good business deal. U.S. folk who package and sell coffee earn salaries more than 100 times as high as the Latin American peasant who sows it, hoes it, reaps, separates and collects the beans.

Juan Valdez of the coffee ads smiles all right, but only because he gets paid the way Tiger Woods does: obscene millions to camouflage, and to hide, the corporations' exploitation of helpless workers.

President Taft in 1912 said, "The entire Western Hemisphere, North Pole to South Pole, will be ours by moral right, by virtue of our racial superiority."

The corporations backed by their political allies devour whole countries. "Don't bring me stories," they say. "Bring me ears."

The corporate world sets the agenda. The media dominate it. The government executes it. The public (First World) believes it.

Even more dangerous than the gun, we are learning, is the man with the briefcase, backed up by the "best" accountants, the "best" lawyers. Capital never sleeps!

Al Gerwing