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Awards


1. In spite of the terrorists who, with some regularity, are born in its sacred sands, Saudi Arabia is the main bastion of the Western world in the Middle East.

It is a democratic monarchy: it sells every day–at low prices–one and a half million barrels of oil to the United States; and it buys every day–at high prices–ten million dollars worth of arms from the United States.

It is a monarchy that loves freedom: it forbids political parties and unions, it beheads or mutilates its prisoners, Taliban style, and does not allow women to drive cars or travel without permission from their husbands or fathers.

Since May 2000, Saudi Arabia has been a member of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

2. Such international recognition of Saudi Arabia’s merits–a country so dedicated to the human rights of its five thousand princes–has encouraged me to suggest additional awards.

We could bestow, for example, the World Cup of Representative Democracy upon the U.S. oil company Unocal. Before he landed his current job as President of Afghanistan, the elegant Hamid Karzai used to work for that company, and so did Zalmay Khalilzad, who is now Washington’s special envoy to Kabul. The barrage of missiles that wiped out the Taliban tyranny has cleared the way for the representative democracy of Unocal, which is already rounding off the details for the start of its old project: the construction of a pipeline that will allow natural gas from the Caspian Sea to be sent to the West, through Afghanistan.

3. The Latin American “Clean Hands” award would have many candidates.

A head-to-head finale: Many leaders have charged a handsome fee for services rendered to their countries during the last few years of the great privatization raffle.

Raúl Salinas, brother of the former President of Mexico, used to be called “Mr. Fifteen Per Cent.” Carlos Menem created a Department of Special Affairs to collect his commissions. The son of Abdalá Bucaram, President of Ecuador, gave a party to celebrate his first million. 500 schools could have been built with what was found in just one of the bank accounts of Vladimiro Montesinos–the right arm of former Peruvian President Fujimori.

During the time he served as mayor of Managua, and later as President of Nicaragua, Arnoldo Alemán–who is worth his weight in gold–increased his fortune from $26,000 to $250 million, according to his Ambassador to the European Union, who knows well the business dealings of his boss. Was it for these kinds of accomplishments that Ronald Reagan bled dry one of the poorest countries on earth in a protracted war?

4. I also suggest that Daimler-Chrysler be honored with the Social Responsibility award.

Last year, during the Davos Forum (something like a reverse Porto Alegre Forum), a Daimler-Chrysler executive gave the most-applauded speech. Jürgen Shrempp moved the audience with his exhortations to acknowledge “the social responsibility of corporations in today’s world.” In today’s world, he said. The following day, his company laid off 26,000 employees.

5. In keeping with this congratulatory vein, George W Bush deserves a prize for Involuntary Honesty.

It is common knowledge that the President of Humanity has some problems with his mouth. Despite his mother’s advice, sometimes he forgets to chew before swallowing, and so he chokes on Enron pretzels. He often gets his words mixed up, and then he ends up saying what he actually thinks. His expression problems operate in the service of truth. On March 2nd of last year, to give just one example, Bush proclaimed: “I want to communicate this equivocal message to the world: Markets must be opened.”

An equivocal message indeed. In the United States (a closed market) agricultural subsidies have increased sevenfold during the last five years. Meanwhile, in the countries of the South (open markets), millions and millions of peasants have been condemned to live like snails, which are known to survive a full year without food.

6. The “Impunity in Power” award should go to Newsweek magazine.

A couple of months after the fall of the World Trade Center, this magazine published an article by his star journalist, Jonathan Alter, who minces no words in advocating torture. Alter earns points by developing the ideas of President Bush, who in earlier speeches had already warned us: from now on, everything goes. According to the article, torture will be the most appropriate means of dealing with the enemy in the times ahead.

Alter does not mention (certain things are best left unsaid) that the war on Satan and on terrorism are nothing new in the way of excuses for state terror. From the executioners in the times of the Inquisition to the military personnel who learned how to torture in the School of the Americas, we know that torture is not very efficient as a means to extract information, but it is extremely efficient as a way to spread fear.

7. The Economic Dynamism award should be given, I think, to the industry of fear.

Now that everything is being privatized, law enforcement could not be an exception. Crime grows, and it causes fear. In Brazil, for instance, private security firms employ an army that is five times larger than the Armed Forces: one and a half million employees, including both legal and illegal ones.

This is the most dynamic sector of the economy in the world’s most unjust country. In a relentlessly productive chain, Brazil produces injustice, which produces violence, which produces fear, which produces employment.

8. The Medal to Military Merit ought to be given to retiree Norberto Roglich.

This happened in Argentina at the beginning of the year. In a full-fledged war against the people, the banks had confiscated their savings. Roglich–an ill and desperate retiree–mounted an attack on a financial fortress, holding a grenade in his fist:

-Either you give me my money or we’re all going to blow up.

It was only a toy grenade, but they gave him his money back.

Then he was arrested. The prosecutor asked for 8 to 16 years–for him, that is–not for the bank.

9. There is no doubt in my mind: the Social Sciences award must go to Catalina Álvarez-Insúa. She has defined poverty better than anyone.

-The poor are those who have the door closed.

If her criteria were to be applied, the numbers would have to be corrected: there are many more poor people in the world than statistics tell us.

Catalina is 3 years old. The best age to look out the window–and see the world.

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