Steve Weissman: When the Clintons Mine Big Bucks
When the Clintons Mine Big Bucks
By Steve Weissman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Frank Giustra has never been a lobbyist and has never contributed a dime to Hillary Clinton's presidential bid, at least not directly. But if Hillary were to win in November, the Canadian mining mogul could reasonably expect to have a big say. Money talks, and Giustra is giving lots of it to Bill - not merely to enrich the Clinton family, but to redefine philanthropy toward the world's poor.
Giustra and his agenda should rank among the major issues in the Democratic primary. They do not, mostly because the Obama campaign has so far failed to question the newfound Clinton riches, both in the family coffers and the William J. Clinton Foundation. I suspect the Illinois senator will raise the issue in the run-up to the Pennsylvania primary on April 22.
To their credit, the major corporate media have already dug up the dirt, though with small factual errors that let Giustra counterattack under the banner of sweet charity. Cleaned up, pared down and pieced together, the story is classic.
A financial force in Canadian mining and oil, Giustra met Bill Clinton at a tsunami fundraiser in 2004 and soon joined the Clinton Foundation board. "All of my chips, almost, are on Bill Clinton," Giustra told The New Yorker last year. "He's a brand, a worldwide brand, and he can do things and ask for things that no one else can."
In June 2005, Giustra provided his luxurious MD-87 jet for Clinton to make speeches in Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Brazil. According to Bloomberg News, the tour earned Clinton $800,000 in personal income. Giustra "has since put his plane at Clinton's disposal at least a dozen times to raise money for charity, his wife's presidential campaign or himself," Bloomberg reported.
American law does not permit Giustra, as a Canadian, to contribute directly to Hillary Clinton's campaign. Whether providing his plane to raise campaign money counts as a contribution, I leave to the legal eagles.
A far more telling payoff involved Colombia, which has long faced international condemnation for its well-documented violations of labor and other human rights. In the oval office and after, Bill Clinton never let this get in his way, steadfastly backing a free trade agreement with the country along with a $3 billion "Plan Colombia" to fight drug traffickers and guerrillas. As he publicly told Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and others in Bogota, he was "absolutely convinced that it was vital to American interests that Colombia succeed" against the left-wing narcotraficantes.
In September 2005, Clinton hosted "a philanthropic event" at which one of his aides arranged for Giustra to meet Uribe. According to The Wall Street Journal, the two men sat in the hallway speaking for about ten minutes. A Clinton aide later told Giustra the meeting had gone well.
Giustra wanted Colombian oil. He was working with a Canadian group that subsequently paid more than $250 million to operate oil fields in conjunction with Colombia's state-owned petroleum company. Giustra's associates - now operating as Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp. - also signed an oil pipeline deal and was invited to do further oil-development work in Colombia, the Journal reported.
September 2005 was a busy month for Clinton and Giustra, but they made time to fly together to the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. According to The New York Times, the two men "were whisked off to share a sumptuous midnight banquet with Kazakhstan's president, Nursultant A. Nazaebayev, whose 19-year stranglehold on the country has all but quashed political dissent."
As Giustra and Clinton later explained it, they were visiting the country to see first hand the philanthropic work of the Clinton Foundation. Charity aside, Clinton enthusiastically backed the Kazakh strongman's bid to head the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors elections and supports democracy. Within two or three days, Giustra signed a deal to buy into three uranium projects run by Kazakhstan's state-owned monopoly. And, a month later, he gave the Clinton Foundation $31.3 million.
Giustra subsequently pledged far more - $100 million, plus half of all his future earnings - for the Clinton-Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative. So important has Giustra become to the Clintons that Bill left Hillary's campaign in Ohio on March 1 to fly to Toronto, where the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) were hosting an international conference. The unofficial opening event was a $25,000-a-seat gala to raise money for the Clinton-Giustra Initiative. Clinton used the occasion to announce the Initiative's first three projects. All would be in Columbia and Peru, all undoubtedly good works and all in cooperation with, among others, Pacific Rubiales Energy.
A soft-spoken man who had for most of his life shunned the public spotlight, Giustra strongly protested the corporate media's concern he was using the former US president for personal financial gain.
"The underlying question in these stories is whether, or not, I used my ongoing and considerable charitable relationship with former President Bill Clinton, or his Foundation, to benefit my business or myself," he wrote in a widely circulated press release to Bloomberg News. "Without any hesitation, the answer is an emphatic, no."
"Whatever success I've had in business over the past 25 years was earned long before I met President Clinton three years ago. To imply that President Clinton had the heads of state of foreign nations bending over backwards to advance my business or personal interests is ridiculous."
Others took a different view, as The New York Times made clear in its initial story on the Clinton-Giustra flight to Kazakhstan:
Neil MacDonald, the chief executive of a Canadian merchant bank that specializes in mining deals, said Mr. Giustra's financial success was partly due to a "fantastic network" crowned by Mr. Clinton. "That's a very solid relationship for him," Mr. MacDonald said. "I'm sure it's very much a two-way relationship because that's the way Frank operates."
The more disturbing question goes beyond Frank Giustra's ethics or the Clinton family's new net worth. From King Leopold's Belgian Congo to today's Iraq, mining the earth and pumping its oil have a long history of making a few people disgustingly rich, while leaving the vast majority desperately poor. Mining and oil have also created more than their share of environmental disasters, hideous dictators, civil wars and foreign military interventions.
Giustra might insist "the natural resource industry" has changed its spots, as brand Clinton flashes his million-dollar smile and talks the talk of "sustainable growth." But why should anyone believe them? Not when they start out defending indefensible governments and refusing to reveal who has helped the Clintons get rich. Transparency and social responsibility need to be more than just a sales pitch.
Even worse, all this comes as less developed countries are vigorously pursuing their own independent strategies for growth, especially in Latin America. Would a new Clinton administration welcome these efforts, or work to subvert them in the interests of those oh-so-charitable mining and oil investors?
I can guess which way Frank Giustra and his friends are betting.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France.