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The Parable of the Golden Parachute

This is an excerpt from Born Under a Bad Sky.

At the precise moment George H. W. Bush, famous sky-diver, burst back into the headlines by renouncing his long-standing and ill-used membership in the National Rifle Association, the putative architect of the New World Order quietly sold his services to a much more invidious enterprise: American Barrick Resources Company.

In May 1994, I learned that Bush had signed on as a senior advisor on international affairs for this transnational mining company, breaching a promise he had made prior to leaving presidential office not to serve on any corporate boards. “President Bush doesn’t do boards,” Bush spokesman Jim McGrath told me. “This is the exception that proves the rule. President Bush is very concerned about avoiding any apparent conflicts of interest.”

In fact, Bush’s position with Barrick appeared to be a direct payoff for the special attention his administration lavished on the multi-billion-dollar Canadian company.

Barrick is the most profitable gold mining company in North America, owed largely to its ownership of the vast Goldstrike mine near Elko, Nevada. The 1,800-acre Goldstrike mine contains an estimated $10 billion worth of gold; yet, under the 1872 Mining Act, the land was “patented” by Barrick from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for less than $10,000. When Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt handed Barrick the title of the land in the spring of 1993, he called it the “greatest gold heist since Butch Cassidy”—a comment notable for its grotesque understatement.

In fact, Barrick’s patenting of the Goldstrike mine was made possible by the Bush administration, which in the summer of 1992, secretly adopted a “fast-tracking” process to accelerate the Goldstrike mine’s patent-approval. Under the traditional procedures of the BLM, patenting of mine claims takes two to four years and is overseen by officials at the BLM. The “fast-tracking” approach developed by the Bush administration allowed Barrack to hire an “independent” consultant to supervise an abridged approval process. The Goldstrike mine was patented in six months.

This was a triumphant maneuver. At the time, it appeared likely that the Congress would approve a mining reform bill ending patenting of federal lands and imposing a token 8 percent royalty on the value of minerals removed from federal lands. Ultimately, the bill failed by two votes. If the measure had passed, and Barrick had not been granted the fast track exemption, the Goldstrike mine would have been forced to pay the government about $80 million a year in royalty payments.

Barrick is owned by Horsham Corp., a Toronto-based holding company controlled by Canadian financier Peter Munk. Munk is close friends with former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. It was Mulroney who recommended that Bush take the position as a senior advisor to Barrick. Mulroney and Bush developed an intimate personal relationship when forging both the US / Canada trade accords and the outlines of NAFTA.

Barrick spokesman William Bork told me that former-President Bush would advise the company on “geopolitical issues” as it explores new mining opportunities in the Third World. The former President may be particularly helpful in Barrick’s pursuit of mining claims in the gold-laden mountains of Indonesia. A minor impediment to the swift extraction of this buried lucre is fierce opposition by native tribes in East Timor and Irian Jaya. For years, the Indonesian government has moved to brutally dislocate and suppress indigenous people in order to secure control of the country’s rich oil, timber, and mineral resources, which it could then sell off to Western corporations. The result has been a genocidal campaign (actively supported by the Bush and Clinton administrations) leading to the deaths of more than 500,000 people. By some accounts, more than 20 percent of the indigenous population in the mining region has been slaughtered in the past twenty years. Bush’s congenial relations with the Suharto regime helped speed Barrick’s entry into this spooky landscape of gold and death.

Bush was joined on Barrick’s senior advisory board by former-Senator Howard Baker (whose law firm represented corporations seeking to exploit natural resources in Siberia and other Asian countries) and Vernon Jordan, consigliore to Bill Clinton. Jordan, who headed the Clinton transition team and still spends (non-billable?) hours as Bill’s golfing partner, presides as chief rainmaker at the notorious DC law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss (as in former Democratic Party chairman and Ambassador to Russia Robert Strauss), Hauer & Feld.

One of the most powerful influence peddlers on Capitol Hill, Akin, Gump’s client portfolio represents a dark list of transnational corporations and vicious government regimes, including Bechtel, the governments of Chile and Colombia, Enron, Loral, RJR Nabisco, and Westinghouse. Clearly there are no hands too dirty or bloody for this liberal firm to hold and wash.

It will be recalled that in the spring of 1993 Vernon Jordon was summoned to Houston for a consultation with Maxxam Corporation’s CEO, Charles Hurwitz, ransacker of redwoods and S&Ls. Jordon’s assignment was to use his influence with federal officials to shield the corporate raider from suffering a near certain indictment at the hands of Janet Reno’s Justice Department for his role in the pillaging of the United Savings Association of Texas and the illegal raid on the Pacific Lumber Company. Jordon also attempted to broker a federal buyout of the Headwaters redwood grove for the outlandish sum of one billion dollars.

Vernon Jordan proved his worth to Barrick in the early days of Clintontime when he got the White House to pressure Babbitt to back off his campaign to reform federal mining policies. During the early months of the Clinton administration, Babbitt was eager to push mining reform as a top priority at the Interior Department. By the summer of 1993, however, the Clinton administration had totally abandoned its commitment to end the give-away of federal minerals.

Most of the blame for this retreat was laid at the feet of Western governors and legislators, such as Cecil Andrus and Max Baucus. While they certainly were influential factors in the decision, a more decisive figure in this debacle was Vernon Jordon, who, according to a high level official at the Interior Department, personally advised President Clinton to delete mining reform from his political agenda.

Bush and Jordon were also useful front-men for Barrick as the company advanced its interests in the international mineral marketplace. Outside the United States, Barrick’s most profitable existing operations are the huge Nevada and El Tambo mines in Chile. The company acquired the El Tambo property during General Augusto Pinochet’s wretched tenure as dictator. At the time of this deal, Pinochet’s regime was loudly praised by the Bush administration for opening up Chile’s economy to “western investment.”

At the time, Jordan’s firm, Akin, Gump, represented the  Chilean government (business-suited followers of Pinochet), and  judiciously advised them to accelerate the General’s policies of selling off the country’s vast forest and mineral resources at cheap prices to North American corporations. In return, Jordan (and Bush, for that matter)  actively promoted the inclusion of Chile (which he called the “greatest democracy in South America”) in a post-NAFTA free-trade pact—a move supported by Newt Gingrich.

Dismaying as these events may appear, such nefarious activities are standard operating procedure for the power elite in DC these days—people who sell their services to the highest bidder, regardless of the company’s resumé of crimes against the environment and humanity. Indeed, the worse the rap sheet, the higher the consulting fees. In George Bush’s case, the door revolved slowly, but lucratively.

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, is just out from AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

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