A reference alleging connections between journalist Andrew MacGregror Marshall and Thaksin Shinawatra’s lawyer Robert Amsterdam has been removed as of Thursday, February 26.
There is a false narrative from the Western media, including the internet alternative media, about the demonstrations in Thailand. This narrative is a simple-minded approach that pits the so-called “Bangkok elite” against the “rural poor” with the “Bangkok elite” mounting a full-scale attack on democracy. The protesters are described as ultra royalists, pro-military, along with a sprinkling of poor farmers from the South. The defenders of the Thaksin Shinawatra proxy government invariably are described as poor rice farmers from the northeast and north. Further, they are described as having risen from poverty since Thaksin first became prime minister and launched his populist schemes. These schemes have continued to be launched through Thaksin’s proxy governments of 2007, 2008 and 2011. There is hardly any mention of Thaksin’s over-the-top corruption,
People in the Western world are being fed lie upon lie, omission upon omission while the reasons for the protests are reduced to defending the “Bangkok elite” from poor northeastern farmers.
and the psychopathic murders of more than 2,800 innocent people during his three-month war on drugs is glossed over. No mention is made of his changing policies in the southernmost provinces, which are populated by Malay-speaking Muslims. The south was comparatively quiet, with the army in charge of working with the southerners until 2004, when Thaksin removed the army and installed the police as the group responsible for executing Thaksin’s policies. The result has been more than 10,000 people killed between 2004 and 2014, including about 900 police and soldiers. There is absolutely no mention of the Tak Bae village massacre nor the Khrue Mosque battle. In the former, more than 89 people were killed by being stacked on top of each other resulting in death by suffocation. Thaksin blamed the victims for fasting during Ramadan, which caused them to be weak. The latter was an attack on a mosque following a day of fighting between southerners and Thai authorities. The attack on the mosque involved tanks and heavy artillery.
People in the Western world are being fed lie upon lie, omission upon omission while the reasons for the protests are reduced to defending the “Bangkok elite” from poor northeastern farmers. The Thai people across all sectors are fed up with Thaksin’s dictatorship masquerading as democracy. How else can we define a government that is being openly micromanaged by a convicted former prime minister who lives outside Thailand? Defenders of the government always cite the 2011 election as legitimizing this government. The fact is Thaksin’s proxy party, Pheua Thai, won 47.8 percent of the vote; not a majority. The fact is Thaksin bragged on the 2011 campaign posters that: “Thaksin Thinks; Pheua Thai Acts.” Yet in 2011 Thaksin did not appear on the ballot and received no votes. His proxy received 47.8 percent.
Would this be acceptable in the United States or Europe? Would it be OK for the US to be run by a fugitive living in Dubai? Does an election wipe out all criminal wrongdoing?
Perhaps the worst articles I have read were written by Andre Vltchek for Counterpunch.org. Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. His previous works have been highly praised by Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti and others. I, too, have enjoyed reading his articles over the years, but now I have some doubt about the accuracy of his reporting.
Thaksin’s connections with the Western neocons and neoliberals date back to his invitation to join the Carlyle Group, an investment group which invests heavily in the defense industry.
On January 29, 2014, Counterpunch.org published his article “Down and Out in Thailand: Elites F*** Up Bangkok.”1 And on February 3, 2014, Counterpunch.org published “How the West Manufactures Opposition Movements.”2 The first article is riddled with half-truths and serious omissions. The second article compares Thailand with Syria, Ukraine, Egypt, China, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Zimbabwe and other countries as examples of places where the United States is manufacturing an opposition to overthrow the incumbent governments and to install a subservient regime that would be friendly to the US government. Both articles have the desperate feel of a public relations campaign in which Vltchek appears now to be a participant. I will describe the errors and serious omissions, which I speculate have originated with Robert Amsterdam, Thaksin’s current global propagandist. Previously, Thaksin employed the likes of James Baker (Council of Foreign Relations, former secretary of state, former presidential chief of staff), Kenneth Adelman’s PR firm (Freedom House, International Crisis Group, PNAC) and Robert Blackwell (CFR) of Barbour, Griffith, and Rogers. These individuals act as heavyweight lobbyists and PR flaks for wealthy clients. Thaksin’s connections with the Western neocons and neoliberals date back to his invitation to join the Carlyle Group, an investment group that invests heavily in the defense industry. His appointment to the Carlyle Group’s advisory board along with George H.W. Bush, James Baker, Frank Carlucci, John Major, Fidel Ramos and others cemented his role as a major player in opening doors for the neocons and neoliberals to enter. One of the Carlyle Group’s major investors at that time was the bin Laden family of Saudi Arabia, which may help explain why Dubai allows the fugitive former prime minister to micromanage Thailand from its soil.
Vltchek proceeds to condemn, rightly, the collaboration between the US military, CIA and various Thai military governments for the 1976 massacre of students – some of whom were placed in oil barrels and burned alive.
Vltchek begins the first article by describing Thailand as a “deeply feudal society,” supporting this claim by writing that Thailand has always “served those, whoever, that came. Be it the Japanese or Americans or now the millions of foreigners that descend on the capital city for a variety of reasons.” Neither Thailand nor the United States can claim to be democratic societies. Thailand is a developing capitalist country with global capitalists circling it like vultures over a dying carcass. The circling vultures include Thaksin, whom Vltchek now supports.
Vltchek also claims there is “very little mingling between locals and residents. … Real dialogue between the cultures is not common.” This is not true at all. There are many instances of Thais and foreigners mingling along with real dialogue every day in Bangkok and elsewhere in the country. In fact, there are more opportunities for mingling and dialogue with strangers than in the United States.
He then goes on to discuss the era of the US invasion of Vietnam, without mentioning the United States. Instead, he refers to “neo-colonial masters,” when he obviously means the United States. The US military and CIA could be described as controlling Thailand’s military governments of that era through mutually beneficial business alliances, including the production and export of heroin.3 He uses the prostitution industry as evidence of a feudal society where girls must become prostitutes to send money back to their families, especially in northeastern Thailand. True, the US military and Thai military together created the sex industry in Thailand to service our troops fighting the peasants in Vietnam. The sex industry involves high-ranking politicians, police and military, who profit by selling their protection to the industry. The same happens in the United States. Does that qualify the United States as a feudal society? Perhaps Vltchek and I can agree the United States is now more feudal than democratic.
His next assertion is that King Bhumiphol (Rama IX) is a US puppet because he was “born in the United States, brought back, implanted into Thailand. … The West needed him. It generously rewarded him and lifted him up to a divine level.” This fantasy insults all Thai people and has no relationship to history or reality.
Vltchek proceeds to condemn, rightly, the collaboration between the US military, CIA and various Thai military governments for the 1976 massacre of students – some of whom were placed in oil barrels and burned alive. Following this massacre in October 1976, the only place where the students could find safety was by joining the communist insurgency. The insurgents essentially fought the Thai army to a standstill until an offer of amnesty was extended in the early 1980s. Today, we find the same students and communists on both sides of the political divide. However, many of the students who joined Thaksin did so out of belief his politics were sincere; some have stayed on, and some have left Thaksin after becoming disillusioned over his practices. The rest were not excited about the salaries offered and have remained in the opposition.
Vltchek goes on to describe Thaksin as committing “the most unforgivable crime in the eyes of the Thai elites: Some years back he actually attempted to convert Thailand from a backwards feudal nation, into some sort of modern capitalist state”; “Mr. Shinawatra was not an angel and when he was in power, I criticized him on several occasions. … And so they forced Mr. Shinawatra out from office, from Thailand, and in the end they massacred those that demanded his return.”
At this point I will pause and explain why Thaksin was “forced … out from office, from Thailand.” I will also discuss Vltchek’s point that “in the end they massacred those that demanded his return.”
Thaksin was removed from office in 2006 by a military coup conducted while Thaksin was in New York preparing to give a speech at the opening session of the United Nations. The night before, Thaksin paid tribute to the masters of United States foreign and domestic policy, the Council of Foreign Relations. He was there in his capacity as a vital cog in the neoliberal policies of creating global corporate government. The coup was conducted following large-scale protests against Thaksin’s autocratic rule during which he implemented many policies solely to benefit corporations in which he was the major shareholder. The last straw came when he sold his telecommunications firm to a Singaporean entity for several billion dollars. Two days before the deal was finalized, Thai laws limiting foreign ownership of Thai corporations were changed to increase that limit to 49 percent. Furthermore, Thaksin also arranged to have a capital gains tax precedent removed so the deal would not be subject to any Thai taxes. Yes, the Thai prime minister, patron saint of populist policies, arranged not to pay more than $400 million in taxes. He did not share any of this with the poor in Thailand. This “last straw” followed a long train of abuses while he was prime minister. One Thai politician admitted there was corruption in Thai politics for a long time. He said, “Taking a bite out of the apple is expected among politicians, but Thaksin put a fence around the apple tree for himself only.”
Thaksin was convicted of abuse of power in 2008 for the land case. During the trial, Thaksin’s lawyers were caught handing 5 million baht in a lunchbox to court officials handling the case.
Previously, I wrote about the long train of abuses in an article published by Truthout titled “More Dishonesty About Thailand’s Upheaval From the International New York Times.”4 Some of these include:
– The war on drugs, killing more than 2,800 innocent victims in a three-month period in 2003.5
– The crackdown on Malay Muslim Thais in south Thailand from 2004-13, resulting in more than 10,000 deaths.6
– He held a 50 percent share in AirAsia while prime minister and used his position to reduce or waive service fees at Thai airports for AirAsia, thus increasing its market share and share value.7
– He created an excise tax on all telecommunications companies except the one he owned, AIS, again increasing market share and share value.8
– He sold his television station, ITV, to the government after he granted favorable fee arrangements and removed programming restrictions benefitting ITV.9
– He arranged the sale of prime central Bangkok real estate to his wife at well below market price. This is the only case for which he has been convicted.10
– To please his fellow neoliberals, Thaksin began to privatize Thailand’s government-owned assets when he arranged the sale of 30 percent ownership in the Thai National Petroleum Company (PTT). The sale ended two minutes after it started with relatives of Thaksin and relatives of other government ministers buying the entire allotment.11
Thaksin was convicted of abuse of power in 2008 for the land case. During the trial, Thaksin’s lawyers were caught handing 5 million baht in a lunchbox to court officials handling the case.12 However, before the court decision was announced, Thaksin fled the country and has not returned. The gist of both Vltchek articles is the US government is busy creating the environment in Thailand in the same manner as it has previously or is currently in Venezuela, Honduras, Paraguay, Haiti, Libya, Syria, Yugoslavia, Ukraine, etc. Vltchek states in the second article that “fascism is raising its ugly head, once again. And the West is fully aware of it, and, in fact, is openly supportive of the regime that is now de facto governing Thailand from behind the curtains. Because it is the regime it helped to manufacture.” I would agree “it is the regime it helped to manufacture,” if he were describing the Thaksin regime beginning in 2001 and the US government. Thaksin won in 2001 with the help of former president George H.W. Bush and James Baker, the quintessential Washington DC insider and horse trader. Bush and Baker stayed at Thaksin’s home in well-publicized visits leading up to the election in 2001. The visits were separate. His ties to the investment giant Carlyle Group already have been mentioned.
Thaksin, as prime minister, sought to ram through a Free Trade Agreement with the United States without parliamentary approval until large protests derailed that attempt. He sent Thai soldiers to Iraq as part of Bush’s “coalition of the willing.” He did this in spite of opposition from the Thai public and military too. Following a suicide bomber attack on the Thai camp, which killed several soldiers, Thaksin was forced to withdraw the Thais from Iraq. He also opened Thailand for the CIA’s rendition to torture campaign, joining Poland, Syria, Libya, Egypt and others as “black site torture centers.” He was speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations the night before the coup in 2006. The CFR, founded by David Rockefeller, serves as the major policy center for foreign and domestic policy in the United States and beyond.
Thaksin was and still is the neocons’ and neoliberals’ guy in Southeast Asia. They know he will perform any task that benefits, first, him and, second, the birth of global corporate rule. He is so trusted and needed that the Obama-Clinton State Department granted fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra a visa allowing him to visit the United States about two years ago. In so doing, the Obama administration thumbed its nose at the Thai legal system, especially its courts.
Vltchek mentions Henry Kissinger in “Down and Out in Thailand” when he describes that “tens of thousands of young girls, even children, were brought from the North to Pattaya and to other bases, in order to ‘service’ those foreign men (Americans-my note), who were so busy implementing Kissinger’s dogma of using ‘all that flies against all that moves.’ ” Vltchek rightfully condemns serial war criminal Kissinger’s order to commit genocide and is using Kissinger as a device to demonstrate how evil the United States and its collaborators are. What Vltchek fails to mention is when Thaksin used the Obama-Clinton gift of a visa to visit the United States, Thaksin met privately with Kissinger in New York for more than an hour, after which Thaksin said Kissinger walked him to the elevator.13
Vltchek’s claim the US government is supporting the Thai protestors falls apart even more when we look at three major events of the past four years. While the (Thai) Democrat Party-led coalition held power, the United States requested the use of the U-Tapao air base for the US military. This was most certainly a major move in the “pivot to Asia; surround China militarily” plan of Obama. The Democrat government delayed responding, and the United States became impatient, demanding an answer by a certain date. The date passed, and the Democrats still had not answered, so the plan faded. This did not endear the Democrat Party to the US government. The plan faded until Thaksin took power through his youngest sister, Yingluck. Obama visited Thailand recently, and the U-Tapao base was discussed, along with seeking assurances Thailand would support and join the Trans Pacific Partnership as soon as it is ratified. Thaksin signaled his backing of the TPP by forcing through an amendment of Article 90 of the Thai Constitution that requires parliamentary approval of all international agreements or treaties. The amendment removed the requirement of parliamentary participation and left all power to the prime minister. Last year, the Thai Constitution Court ruled this attempt to amend Article 90 unlawful and unconstitutional.
No evidence exists that Thaksin has been deserted by US government neoliberals and neocons.
The third event follows the story of a sting by the US Drug Enforcement Agency and Thai police involving Victor Bout, a Russian citizen. Bout was lured to Thailand and arrested in Thailand for allegedly conspiring to sell weapons to the Colombian rebel force FARC. The Democrat Party-led coalition dithered in its response to an extradition request by the US authorities. The United States did not want Bout tried in Thailand even though the crime he was alleged to have committed happened on Thai soil. Thailand delayed its response for months, finally agreeing to extradite Bout. This disobedience along with the disobedience in regard to U-Tapao renders any thought of US support for the demonstrators absurd at best.
No evidence exists that Thaksin has been deserted by US government neoliberals and neocons. Vltchek’s assertion the US government is now backing the protesters in the streets of Bangkok requires a walk through the looking glass.
The allegation of a cold-blooded massacre of the Redshirts in 2010 is exaggerated. Vltchek is correct insofar as the Redshirts did demonstrate in Bangkok to demand Thaksin’s return and also the return of his money, confiscated as a result of his conviction. Thousands of Thaksin’s supporters from the north and northeast parts of Thailand put on their red shirts and came to Bangkok. Vltchek does not mention that among the Redshirts was a paramilitary group, heavily armed with automatic rifles and RPGs, that engaged in several gunbattles with the army.14 They also fired RPGs at a group of unarmed protesters gathered under the Sala Daeng Skytrain Station, killing one and injuring many. Throughout the Redshirt protests, this group would hurl grenades and fire rifles at government buildings, mostly in the early morning. Now the same pattern exists, except the shots and grenades are directed by unknown gunmen at the security guards on the perimeter of the protest sites. I have always wondered why the brains behind the Redshirt protests allowed these gunmen to position themselves and fire while standing among unarmed protesters.
While describing the people who were massacred, Vltchek identifies them as “individuals and movements as far apart as community, and the moderate, pragmatic business folks. There were maids, peasants, as well as technicians and engineers in their ranks.” If he had done even a little investigation about the current protesters, he would find his description of the Redshirts applies to the current folks on the streets today.
As to the charge of payments to the protesters, it fails. During the red shirt protests I saw, on many occasions, Redshirts lining up to fill out daily sign-in sheets to receive their allowance of 500 baht per day. I have never seen any of the current protesters line up to sign in. I do not doubt that the security guards are being paid because they have become targets for late-night shootings and RPG attacks designed to inflict terror. The police are unable to catch any of the gunmen even though one site in particular is fired on several times each week and there are only two roads leading in or out.
The claim the protesters are out to make war on culture does not wholly hold up. He writes, “The iconic Bangkok Art and Culture Center is closed down. No wonder, culture is dangerous. When the red shirts occupied this area in 2010, BACC was wide open.” Five days later in his second article he repeated that the BACC had been closed. His assertion the Redshirts “occupied this area in 2010” is not true. The Redshirts’ camp ended more than 100 meters from the BACC plaza, and their main stage was at least a kilometer from the BACC. The first day of setting up eight protest stages was on January 13. 2014 – a Monday. BACC is closed every Monday. BACC did close on January 14 and 15 to coordinate security procedures with the protesters. Unlike 2010, the protesters are camped in most of the BACC plaza and on the street directly in front and to the side of BACC. The protesters’ main stage is in front of the BACC. I have been there many times for a look around and a coffee since January 16, when they reopened after closing for two days.
Vltchek’s bio at the end of both articles informs us he has just completed a feature documentary, Rwanda Gambit, about Rwandan history and the plunder of the DR Congo. Thaksin has admitted he is part owner of ten Ugandan gold mines. Uganda is Rwanda’s partner in the plunder of the Congo.15 The problem is there is not much of a gold mining industry in Uganda. What exists is the laundering of blood gold from the Congo, where more than 9 million Congolese people have been killed since 1999. They are murdered so Rwanda and Uganda can control the vast mineral resources of the Congo.16 How is it possible Vltchek can defend Thaksin in such a passionate fashion while ignoring Thaksin’s role in the killings of Congolese and the theft of Congo’s natural resources? Will Vltchek call back his documentary to include Thaksin’s role in plundering the Congo?
3 Alfred W. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade (New York City: Harper & Row Publishers), pp. 178-191, 409-435
6 Pasuk Pongpaichi and Chris Baker, Thaksin (Chiang Mai Thailand: Silkworm Books), pp 241-243
7 IBID, p 218
8 IBID, pp 201-207
9 IBID, pp 149-150 & 219-220
10 IBID, pp 329-330
11 IBID, pp 120-121 & 229
12 IBID, p 329
14 Human Rights Watch, “Descent Into Chaos: Thailand’s 2010 Protests and the Government Crackdown,” May 2011
15 Ferguson, “Thaksin Sits Down With Forbes”