Pretzel logic

July 16, 2012

There has been much excitement amongst the stupider media pundits in Cambodia over the last week or so because Hillary Clinton came to the country. This seems to confer a level of legitimacy on the despotic regime that means it’s possible to ignore the shooting of dissenters and the wholesale theft of the countryside in order to sell it to the highest bidder.

But Hillary did indeed come. Not for very long, and she didn’t say anything particularly exciting, but she was In The Country, and that apparently means that all is well.

She brought with her a large group of US business leaders: GE, Coke, Proctor & Gamble – all the good people. Cambodia’s useful idiots became sweaty with lust because of their presence, convinced that the economic salvation of the country was close at hand once kindly corporate behemoths like Coca-Cola favoured us with their attentions. They may have slightly missed the point that they were all on their way to Burma, five days after the easing of US sanctions on the country. None of them could give a stuff about Cambodia, which is tiny, has no money, and no useful way of getting goods in or out of the country.

The main obstacle for any large-scale US corporate investment in Cambodia, which the moronic cheerleaders seem to keep forgetting, is the existence of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which stops listed US companies from paying bribes in foreign countries. Bribery and corruption are normal parts of life here, especially with this government, which has turned the issue into an art form.

I’ve lived in some pretty corrupt places, but Cambodia takes First Prize – even the border guards extort you when you arrive. As to what Hun Sen and his cabinet are up to: a simple look at the houses these fuckers live in gives the lie to the fiction that they exist on government salaries, as they claim. Hun Sen’s house, on Phnom Penh’s grandest boulevard, is an obscene confection of cascades of vast roofs and high walls: I would imagine it could house about 400 people at PP’s average population density.

So the US business types appeared, failed to sign any deals at all (actually, GE did, via some untouchable subsidiary, agree to build a rice-husk power plant, for about $45) and then pushed off to eat more free dinners elsewhere and send some exotic postcards home.

I was reflecting on this, when I went to a meeting with two Cambodian-American businessmen a day or two ago. Both of them were removed from the country during the Khmer Rouge era, and grew up and were well educated in the States. Both very nice guys, slick, bright: one a banker and the other a lawyer. They both said they had come back to help the poor beleaguered country of their birth.

Towards the end of the meeting, we got on to the subject of my broken leg. The lawyer looked at me significantly, and asked, “Did it happen on private property?” Well, yes, I admitted, it happened on the outside area of a bar I was walking past. “So you know Cambodia passed a law last year that means you can sue them for damages? And I can help you with that?”

I was speechless. It had, honestly, never occurred to me that I might be able to palm off the responsibility for slipping and falling on to someone else. And that I could potentially put a small business owner out of business for money. I thanked him for his offer and left, concerned more than ever about the corrosive effects of US business practices. So thanks, Hillary, but it’s a ‘No’ from me right now.



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