James Carville has been all over the news lashing out at Obama for not being strong enough in his response to the BP oil disaster. And with the news that the oil geyser will continue spewing its stuff until August, I don't blame the man. He is, after all, from Louisiana.
But for some reason I'm not convinced he's being completely sincere. In fact, Colombia held a presidential election yesterday and (this may seem somewhat bizarre if you don't know much about him) Carville actually helped the establishment candidate who wants to encourage "foreign investment," at a time when BP is considering offshore drilling in Colombia's waters.
A political guru, frequent CNN pundit and a personality who was featured in the well known documentary The War Room, Carville moves in powerful circles in the U.S. What’s less commonly known, however, is that Carville is also a virtual kingmaker in Latin America --- indeed, his professional contacts have ranged from Mexico’s Ernesto Zedillo to Brazil’s Fernando Enrique Cardoso to many others.
In an interesting article on CounterPunch, Nikolas Kozloff examines Carville's ties to South America and his subsequent ties to the very company that (partially) caused the oil spill he crows about on TV. With Kozloff reporting that a job in Bolivia - also connected to BP, as I will explain in a bit - netted about $30,000 a month for the man, it's not hard to imagine why he didn't have a problem with the company before this.
Somewhat strangely, after Clinton's presidency, Carville became an international political consultant. In what could probably be described as some weird new kind of imperialism, he brought American style politics (including reverence for a corporatist "free market" and militarism) to campaigns as diverse as Tony Blair's in the UK, Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis', the President of Panama's, and now the establishment candidate's in Colombia, among others. As it is described on the website of "Democracy Corp," the consulting firm Carville is part of:
Carville also has international campaign experience, having worked as a political advisor to Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis and done political work in Central and South America.
Kozloff goes into detail about Carville's various stints in South and Central America, talking first about his role in Panama, then Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, and now Colombia. Aside from the highly questionable ethics of what Carville is doing (because of the fundamental undemocratic nature of it, among other aspects), his work in Colombia and Bolivia is of particular interest.
To back up a step, let's just look at a few things Carville has said about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill...
"I do know, for too long, they were taking BP's word for everything which turned out to be wrong at every junction. It's all turned out on the wrong side... I think the president has to address the nation. His legacy depends on what happens with the oil in the Gulf of Mexico."
"Man, you got to get down here and take control of this, put somebody in charge of this thing and get this moving. We're about to die down here."
"I think they actually believe that BP has some kind of a good motivation here," he said. "They're naive! BP is trying to save money, save everything they can... They won't tell us anything, and oddly enough, the government seems to be going along with it! Somebody has got to, like shake them and say, 'These people don't wish you well! They're going to take you down!'"
In Bolivia, Carville helped a president who was - at least for Bolivian politics, where the strong socialist Evo Moralez is now president - very favorable to "free markets," Gonzalo Sánchez de Losada. A 2004 piece in the Nation gives a brief overview of how Bolivia's relationship with the oil industry has progressed since then, from the perspective of examining a referendum that was passed repealing the privatization laws of Carville's candidate:
Early returns indicated an 80 percent majority in favor of repealing the existing hydrocarbons law pushed in the 1990s by the hated Sánchez de Lozada (or "Goni"), whose political consultants were the star liberal Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg and former presidential campaign manager James Carville. The Washington-based Greenberg firm represents British Petroleum, one of the multinationals with billions invested in Bolivia. BP supported the referendum, along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, as did US Embassy officials, because the possible alternative--an Indian-led revolution--was even worse.
Now in Colombia, Carville actually helped a candidate who might be friendly to BP's offshore drilling - because of his friendliness to, as Kozloff says, "foreign investment" - at the same time he has become such a presence in the US media over the oil spill in the Gulf.
To briefly summarize the Colombian election, held yesterday, from an American perspective: the militaristic and relatively capitalist candidate Juan Manuel Santos was the candidate of the establishment and the favorite of current president Uribe. But Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus, who was previously part of a line of very successful mayors of Bogotá, unexpectedly surged in the polls in the past few months, actually overtaking Santos for a while. In a field of nine candidates, yesterday Santos received about 46% of the vote while Mockus got about 21%, meaning that there will be a June 20 runoff. Mockus is viewed as a kind of anti-politician politician, and will be the first Green Party head of state anywhere in the world if elected.
So. Back to James Carville, who has been consulting Santos. Here, Kozloff explains it much better than I could:
All of this prior history is now being brought to bear on Colombia, where Carville in his role as political confidant once again stands to play an influential role. In Colombia, as in Bolivia, energy companies loom large. Recently, Bogotá has militarily taken on guerrilla forces and undertaken measures to make the investment climate more promising for foreign oil corporations.
As a result, the country has seen rising petroleum investment, and currently BP is a key player in Colombia. A company which has already accumulated a sordid environmental and human rights track record in Colombia, BP is ---incredibly --- thinking about commencing exploratory drilling in offshore Colombian oil blocs.
Colombia needs to give BP the boot if it wants to avert disasters like the one in the Gulf, yet it’s by no means clear that Carville’s man Santos is the one to take on the oil industry. An establishment politician who favors the military and foreign investment, Santos would seem to be an unlikely environmental champion.
His opponent, Antanas Mockus, is no radical either and it’s not clear whether he would usher in an environmental revolution in Colombia. However, if Mockus was victorious he would be the first Green Party president in the world. A politician who wants to restore integrity and legality to Colombian politics, Mockus is therefore more likely to rein in Big Oil.
I am not writing this in order to defend President Obama. In fact, I agree to a certain extent with James Carville on Obama's handling of the situation. And if Obama had been more concerned about this problem before the spill occurred, then maybe it wouldn't have happened. I do not blame Obama entirely, either. The message of this is not that Obama is at fault or James Carville is entirely wrong - it is that James Carville is a hypocritical political power player who really does not care about ordinary people. His hypocrisy is emblematic of many of those in power, those who put their own self-interest above the good of the people of the world. Even if Carville has genuinely started to come around since he's been personally affected by the oil spill, then that just proves that he is selfish enough not to realize the consequences of what he was doing.
Carville's brand of international corporate-dominated politics is exactly what allowed the BP disaster to occur. And now Carville has the cajones to not only continue practicing this work, but to do it at the same time that he is condmening the exact same company which he is, in reality, helping. As long as our politics is dominated by hypocrites like Carville, we won't see an end to disasters like the Deepwater Horizon spill.