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The Eighth Commandment – Lies

Eduardo Galeano

Until a short while ago, the mainstream media were regaling us daily with cheery statistics about the international war against poverty. Poverty, it was reported, was beating a retreat, though the poor, ill-informed, didn’t hear the good news. Now, however, the best-paid bureaucrats of the planet are confessing that they were the ones who had it wrong.

The World Bank has made known that its International Comparison Programme (which seeks to measure the relative social and economic well-being of the world's countries) has been brought up to date. The Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development are all part of the initiative.

In the new findings, the experts correct a few of the errors present in earlier reports. Among other things, they inform us that the poorest of the world’s poor, the so-called ‘indigent’, number 500 million more than had been previously calculated.

Poverty, it was reported, was beating a retreat, though the poor, ill-informed, didn’t hear the good news

We also learn that the poor countries are quite a bit poorer than the earlier statistics indicated and that their condition deteriorated while the World Bank was selling them the free-market happy pills. And as if that weren't enough, it turns out that the universal inequality between the rich and the poor was also incorrectly measured, and that, planet-wide, the abyss between the two is still deeper than that of Brazil, an unjust country if ever there was one.

Another Lie

At the same time, an ex-Vice President of the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, in a book written with Linda Bilmes, has investigated the costs of the Iraq War.

President George Bush had announced that the war might cost at most about $50 billion, which at first glance didn’t seem too high a price for the conquest of such an oil-rich country.

In round numbers – perhaps squared is the more accurate term – the slaughter in Iraq has now lasted more than five years and in this period the US has spent $1,000 billion killing innocent civilians. From above the clouds the bombs kill without knowing whom as, beneath the shroud of smoke, the dead die without knowing what for. The figure cited by Bush only paid for about a trimester of crimes and speeches. The figure lied, in the service of this war that was born of a lie and has been generating more lies ever since.

And Another Lie

After the entire world knew that in Iraq there were no weapons of mass destruction other than those used by its invaders, the war continued, although the pretexts for it had been forgotten. Then, on 14 December 2005, journalists asked how many Iraqi civilians had been killed in the first two years of the war.

And President Bush spoke of the issue for the first time. He answered: ‘About 30,000, more or less.’ And then he made a joke, confirming his ever-tasteful sense of comic timing, and the journalists had a good laugh.

The following year he repeated the figure. He didn’t clarify that this 30,000 referred only to civilian Iraqi deaths that had been reported in newspapers. The real number was far higher, as he well knew, because the majority of deaths are not reported. He also knew that the victims included many children and old people.

This was the only information provided by the US Government on the results of its practice of openly firing on Iraqi civilians. The invader country keeps a close tally only of its own dead. The others are the enemy, or collateral damage, and do not deserve to be counted. Anyway, counting them would be dangerous: the mountain of dead bodies might give the wrong impression.

And then some truth

Bush was still taking his first steps as President when, on 27 July 2001, he asked his fellow citizens: ‘Can you imagine a country that was unable to grow enough food to feed the people? It would be a nation that would be subject to international pressure. It would be a nation at risk. And so when we’re talking about American agriculture, we're really talking about a national security issue.’

This time the President wasn’t lying. He was defending the fabulous subsidies that protected his country’s fields. ‘American agriculture’ meant, and still means, nothing more than the ‘Agriculture of the United States’.

But it is Mexico, another American country, which best illustrates his insight from that 27 July. Since it signed the free-trade agreement with the US, Mexico has not grown enough food to meet the needs of its population and has been exposed to international pressures, making it a vulnerable nation whose national security is in grave danger.

Today Mexico buys from the United States $10 billion worth of food that it could have produced itself; Washington’s protectionist subsidies make competition from other countries impossible; Mexican tortillas are Mexican only inasmuch as they are eaten by Mexicans – the corn they are made from is imported from and subsidized by the US, and is transgenic to boot.

The free-trade treaty promised prosperity from trade, but Mexico’s primary export has been the ruined peasant farmers that emigrate north.

Some countries know how to defend themselves – only a few. And those few are rich. Other countries are trained to work towards their own ruin – almost all of the others, that is.

*Eduardo Galeano* is the author of The Open Veins of Latin America, Memories of Fire, and Mirrors/An Almost Universal History. © IPS