The Power Elite: Enron and Frank Wisner

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On 28 October 1997, Enron Corporation announced the entry of Frank G. Wisner
Jr. onto its board of directors. Most of the business press did not find this
untoward and it certainly did not emerge as part of the US discussions  on
corruption at the highest level. Frank Wisner, as we know in India, was the
US Ambassador from 1994 until this year and his entry into Enron must be seen
in light of the scandal of Dabhol. Enron, like most US corporations, uses its
close association with the state (both its elected and bureaucratic arms)
for its own ends.

     US campaigns are financed by corporations whose money not only enables
politicians to win elections, but it also buys businesses the state's power
both for domestic subsidies and for the use of US power in the international

Frank Wisner, Jr. was a big catch for Enron Corporation. His lineage is
impeccable, since his father, Frank Wisner Sr., was a senior CIA official
(from 1947 until his suicide in 1965) who was involved in the overthrow
of Arbenz of Guatemala (1954) and Mossadeq of Iran (1953). Wisner Junior
was well-known in the CIA and he worked as Under Secretary of Defense for
Policy and Under Secretary of State for International Security Affairs;
his current boss, Kenneth Lay, Chief Executive Officer of Enron Corporation,
also worked for the Pentagon during the US war in Vietnam. With "economic
espionage" as a task for the CIA (see PD, 12 October 1997), there is little
doubt that Wisner used this instrument during his long-tenure as Ambassador
in Asian nations. A Wisner staffer told InterPress Services this year that
"ifanybody asked the CIA to help promote US business in India, it was
probably Frank".

When Wisner was US Ambassador to the Philippines (1991-92), Enron was in the
midst of negotiations to manage the two Subic Bay power plants. When Wisner
left Manila in July 1992, Enron won the deal and began to manage the plant
in January 1993. During Wisner tenure in India, he fought long and hard to
secure various deals for Enron. He  went so far as to boycott the "India
Power '96 -- Beyond Dabhol" summit, despite being scheduled to give an
address (this was part of a US advisory to companies to avoid India for
six-months, a pressure tactic on India during the winter of 1995-96). Wisner
left India earlier this year only after it seemed like Enron's place was

Enron, like most monopoly corporations in the US, uses money as a means to
buy influence and power. To gain access to a lucrative contract to rebuild
the Shuaiba power plant in Kuwait, Enron hired former US Secretary of State
James Baker as a consultant who travelled to the oil kingdom to negotiate
with his Gulf War allies for his new employer. The sons of George Bush also
helped Enron win this contract despite a lower bid from Deutsche Babcock,
a German firm. The Bush brothers also helped Enron in their deal to win a
contract to build a pipeline from Chile to Argentina in 1988. Finally,
Wendy Gramm (wife of Senator Phil Gramm) joined Enron's Board of Directors
in 1993 after she resigned from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
This Commission, just days after Gramm's resignation, deregulated energy
futures, thereby allowing Enron to earn 10% of its profits by adventures
on the financial markets. Beside all this evidence, it appears hypocritical
for Rebecca Mark, Chairperson of Enron Development Corporation, to declare
that "Enron's reputation is being attacked, and we do not do business
under the table".

The story does not end there. In 1991-92, Enron donated $28,525 to the
Democratic Party and in 1993-94, it gave $42,000. These monies enabled
Enron to send its executives on international tours with the late
Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown in January 1995 (when Kenneth Lay came
to India) and in March-April 1994 (when Chief Executive Officer of Enron
International, Rodney Gray came to Russia). In the former, Enron was in
negotiation for the Dabhol plant among other things (such as the $1.1
billion offshore holdings) and in the latter, Enron was interested in
the marketing of Russian gas in Europe. President Clinton noted that
Brown's trips resulted in "expanded opportunities for American business
in [the USA] and abroad". The "pay to play" project of US "democracy"
is once again in evidence. The example of Enron and Wisner proves beyond
a reasonable doubt that the US state is not a neutral actor in world
affairs and that US transnational corporations are part and parcel of
the corruption within the US Empire. The hearings in Washington on
"campaign finance reform" do not bother with this level of corruption,
for most of those who are running the investigation are beholden to
business interests. Enron, for instance, will not be a part of the
investigation, since it is deemed to be a patriotic US entity out to
create jobs for US workers and to accumulate wealth to defer the costs
of the US's mercenary army.

Vijay Prashad is Assistant Professor of International Studies at Trinity
College in Hartford, Connecticut.

Source: People's Democracy, 16 November 1997


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