Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Wikileaks cables: the portrait of an empire

Not really the image that America would like to project at this moment

David Seaton's News Links
There are Wikileaks cables from almost every imaginable part of the world, but since I live in Spain, I'll fill you in on some of the dump's specific effects on Spanish political life.
Just yesterday we saw how the Wikileaks dump has made it impossible for Spanish politicians to pass a stiff law protecting intellectual property, which was one of the primary objects of US pressure on the Spanish government.
Communications from the U.S. State Department show the U.S. government threatened to blacklist Spain by putting it on its Special 301 list unless its government toughened its anti-piracy laws.  The cables were based on meetings between top Spanish economic ministers, industry representatives concerned about protecting their copyrights and U.S. officials. Spanish editorial writer Esperanza Hernandez wrote this week that Spanish officials “behaved in a way that was subservient in defending the interests of the United States to the detriment of the rights of Spanish citizens to access culture and knowledge through the Internet.” AHN News
It was never going to be an easy sell, Spain has 20% general unemployment and youth unemployment is estimated at around 40%.  Movie tickets are expensive, at around €8 ($10.50), a typical, legal CD might cost €18 ($25) and a legal DVD of a film  about the same. Bought from a sub-Saharan African street vendor,  operating in a market known as the "Top-Blankets", all these entertainment goods can be had for a fraction of those prices... and downloaded bootleg from the Internet, for the cost of the bandwidth and the virgin disk. An Internet connection sufficient to download films can he had for as little as €20/month. If you consider that average salaries for (employed) workers range from €12,000-€18,000/year, then you can see that legal entertainment is out of the reach of the average working class family, not to mention the unemployed.
Just doing a bit of math you can see that no  Spanish politician in his or her right mind would want to risk his career by  repressing pirate downloads without enormous pressure from the USA. The Minister of Culture was reported publicly wailing that "Obama is worried" about Spanish pirate downloads.
Below are a few more press clippings to give an idea of other ways that  the data-dump specifically affects Spain:
The US embassy in Madrid pressured Spain to shelve court cases against US government and military officials concerning incidents during the Iraq war and alleged torture at Guantanamo, according to WikiLeaks documents. Monsters and Critics

In what could be the first legal case to use filtered WikiLeaks documents as evidence, the family of a Spanish cameraman killed in 2003 by a US tank shell during the battle for Baghdad filed a complaint Monday. They seek to open an investigation into whether high-ranking officials here colluded with the US Embassy to stop charges being filed against three American soldiers, including a colonel. Christian Science Monitor
Heavy stuff.
The story of how the US embassy pressured the Spanish government and judiciary over the News cameraman killed in Iraq is especially galling to Spanish sensibilities:
Among the cables is one from May 14, 2007, authored by Eduardo Aguirre, a conservative Cuban-American banker appointed U.S. ambassador to Spain by George W. Bush. Aguirre wrote: "For our side, it will be important to continue to raise the Couso case, in which three U.S. servicemen face charges related to the 2003 death of Spanish cameraman Jose Couso during the battle for Baghdad." Jose Couso was a young cameraman with the Spanish TV network Telecinco. He was filming from the balcony of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad on April 8, 2003, when a U.S. Army tank fired on the hotel packed with journalists, killing Couso and a Reuters cameraman. Ambassador Aguirre was trying to quash the lawsuit brought by the Couso family in Spain. The U.S. ambassador was also pressuring the Spanish government to drop a precedent-setting case against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials. In that same memo, Aguirre writes, "The Deputy Justice Minister also said the GOS [government of Spain] strongly opposes a case brought against former Secretary Rumsfeld and will work to get it dismissed. The judge involved in that case has told us he has already started the process of dismissing the case." These revelations are rocking the Spanish government, as the cables clearly show U.S. attempts to disrupt the Spanish justice system. Ambassador Aguirre told Spain's El Pais newspaper several years ago, "I am George Bush's plumber, I will solve all the problems George gives me." Amy Goodman
At this writing, former ambassador Eduardo Aguirre is now on the board of Spanish bank operating in the USA.
For someone who is American born and bred, but who lives in Spain and will probably end up as a dual national over here, Wikileaks is very much a mixed bag.
On one hand, having lived abroad most of my life in several different countries, over several decades, I understand that, at least for the moment, the United States of America, with its diplomacy and with its military and economic presence, warts and all, devoid of any of its professed ideological transcendence or "exceptionalism", provides the world with what little real structure it presently possesses*. The leaked cables in their banality are the sound of the world being governed in much the way that the British ruled India. The Wikileaks cables show us clearly, if we ever doubted it, that we are the citizens of a de facto empire, the wilting "Pax Americana".
That is on one hand, and on the other hand, because of what the spam diploma mills of the Internet call "life experience", I am more aware than the majority of Americans that this "governance" of the world is applied mostly without the consent or, much of the time, without even the knowledge of those so "governed". Wikileaks has made official what most informed people have always suspected: the power is in constant use, but functioning under the law of diminishing returns.
We can feel the symptoms all around us: this empire is beginning to crumble and there doesn't seem to be much of anything to take its place. That crumbling sensation and the realization that the world has no "plan B", no viable substitute for the Pax-Americana is what, for me, defines our era. The Wikileaks data-dump has now made this situation clear for all to see.
In a sense this is like the world being told that it has an untreatable disease of uncertain prognosis. No coherent plan of action immediately presents itself. Perhaps ignorance and simply getting on with life would be the better option.  That may no longer be possible. DS
*The United Nations, in which many of us had placed our best hopes for a "world government" appears to have turned into a sort of travel agency for serial rapists.


Jonathan said...

With structure like this, who needs a nanny state? From cable reference 09MADRID482:

¶12. (SBU) ACTION REQUESTED: In response to recent urgent requests
by MARM State Secretary Josep Puxeu and Monsanto, post requests
renewed USG support of Spain's science-based agricultural
biotechnology position through high-level USG intervention in
support of the EFSA findings. Post also requests USG support for a
non-USG science fellow to meet with influential Spanish
interlocutors on this issue and assistance with developing an
agricultural biotechnology action plan for Spain. Post would also
welcome any comments from other posts concerning the anti-GMO

Anonymous said...

I have always preferred the term "Pox Americana".

Good riddance to it.

Anonymous said...

WHy do some of the WIkileaks cables from the Tel Aviv Embassy have a website address on them that doesnt exist? HAs this been done deliberately by Mr Assange or did he fail to rad thoroughly every one of the few thousand cables that he has put up on his website