EP 61 What Is Disaster Capitalism?
So Haiti, the story, is a natural disaster. It happened and it’s how to react to it. Bougainville, the story there is a population that fought back against the system and won. But what were the costs of winning? And can they make the turn to their original goal of why they fought in the first place? So then we look at Afghanistan, which, you know, we start to film there, it’s a man-made disaster.
[TODD DEVOE] Hey, welcome to EM Weekly, and I’m really excited to have Thor Neureiter here with me today to talk about his new film, Disaster Capitalism. And as people in emergency management, you know, one of the criticisms that we get frequently is that we’re not putting the money into the right locations, when we’re doing things, and it’s really in that recovery aspect of it. And I think Thor and his team really uncovered, in some aspects, appalling issues that are going on with the international disaster recovery.
And I know that we all want to do the best that we can do, and I think Thor has brought some really good questions. And I got to watch his documentary and I walked away there with more questions than answers, and I think as somebody who is in academics, I think that’s a really great thing for us, I think you guys all should watch this film and really start this discussion about how we can do better with the funds that we have.
So, before we get into the interview with Thor, I just want to talk about– kind of like Ask Todd, I guess. It didn’t come directly from the Ask Todd, it came from a question that was brought into one of the groups on Facebook, and it’s from Gilbert, from (inaudible), Illinois. And he asked a question regarding– for your emergency operation center or your mobile command post, do you have a digital antenna? Not DirecTV, not Dish, not Cable, but your digital antenna? I guess it’s the one that replaced the content of the analogue antenna a few years ago. The idea of getting just (inaudible) TV, I suppose, from basic NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and whatever your local affiliates would be, those antennas.
It’s kind of an eye-opening conversation, right? I mean, we always rely upon the internet, we rely upon the digital stuff coming from your cable into your EOC. And in some cases, that cable is given to us for free and we kind of rely upon that, and it may fail during a disaster. So this was really a good conversation regarding that. And so, you see, Gilbert, he’s a meteorologist, so he really understands that need for information coming in to your emergency operations center and to your mobile command post. And he talks a little bit about the fact that most RV’s even come with a digital antenna already attached to the car, and not waiting for satellite or other avenues.
So, I think it’s really a good conversation. So, I’m going to post this back out to you guys, and if you can go to the comment section, or if you want to go to forums.emweekly.com to discuss this, what kind of non-technology communication devices do you have? And what I mean by that is stuff like, ham radio, digital antennas, analogue telephones inside your EOC’s. Do you have those still? And I think it’s kind of a cool conversation to have, I know, again, Gilbert, I’m not coming up with a lot of answers, but I do like the conversation that we’re having. Gilbert and I have been chatting back and forth in the chat box regarding this question, and I really go appreciate it. I want to hear what you guys have to say. What kind of basic technology do you have in your emergency operations center to be able to communicate and hear information from the media? So well, let’s get into that interview.
[TODD DEVOE] Thor, welcome to EM Weekly. How are you doing today?
[THOR NEUREITER] Thank you very much for having me, Todd. I’m doing well today, thank you.
[TODD DEVOE] Thor, just tell me a little bit about your background and then how you got involved with the idea of Disaster Capitalism.
[THOR NEUREITER] So, I’ve been making documentary films, on one level or another, for close to twenty years now. My background, I started working with Ken Burns on his jazz series, and then I worked at HBO Sports for a while, they had a series called Sports of the Twentieth Century, which was really great, we got to look into how sports and societies collide and shape who we are. And you know, that was also another great experience, but a lot of it was very historically driven, and I really had a desire to get into more contemporary issues. And that’s when I started working on journalistic films. I worked on a number of frontline films with some really great directors.
And then, at some point, I just knew I had to start working on my own ideas and projects. It takes some time, but Disaster Capitalism is my first independent film. I produced a few films along the way, from the time I left Frontline until releasing this film late last year, or late this year. And also, I’m the director of video and I teach documentary filmmaking at the Columbia Journalism School. So, right now, those are my two jobs. Working here at Columbia and sharing this film, and getting it out to as many eyes and people as we can. And my partners are based out of Australia, so it’s a truly global film.
[TODD DEVOE] Cool.
[THOR NEUREITER] From the production to who we’re looking at, and we’re trying to, you know, in the distribution, take that same approach.
[TODD DEVOE] So, what gave you the idea to research and to explore this concept if disaster capitalism?
[THOR NEUREITER] It’s something that formed over time. I began working on a project that was looking fully at the potential of mining and Afghanistan. I was drawn into that topic, specifically, by one article in the New York Times. And it seemed like a story that was too good to be true, a trillion dollars of untapped minerals in Afghanistan, and if the mining industry could start, it’s going to change the economy in the future of Afghanistan for the better.
I looked at it with a skeptical eye. Not necessarily because of the journalists, not because of The New York Times or anything like that. Just the reality of Afghanistan, the infrastructure that is there. When you start looking at buzzwords like capacity, there’s not a lot of capacity for heavy industry in Afghanistan. So, I read it with a critical eye for those reasons, and it almost read like a press release from the department of defense. So I began doing a little digging there.
Fast-forward a couple of years later, I got introduced to my film partner, Anthony (inaudible). He was on his way to Afghanistan, we were connected by a fellow journalist. And Anthony wanted to talk to me and pick my brain a little bit about Afghanistan because that’s what we do as journalists, we try and help each other out, and talk about our experiences. And he started telling me about the book that he was working on, which was very fascinating, and he said he wanted to try and make a film out of it. He had been shooting along the way.
And we just started having conversations, and slowly but surely, as we were talking, and he’s like, “Look, I’m coming to New York at the end of the summer,” this was in 2012. “And I’m going to take a trip to Haiti.” And that’s when Disaster Capitalism was born. We actually met three days later in person and we were on a flight to Haiti and started shooting. So it started out as a story about mining in Afghanistan, and it blossomed into this idea of Disaster Capitalism, which is a bit of I guess an amoeba, if you look at the form, you can follow where the story goes or try and shape it, which is a little bit difficult, but it took us a few years and we ended up with the film, Disaster Capitalism.
[TODD DEVOE] So, let’s talk about Haiti a little bit, for a couple of reasons. One, personally, those of us in emergency management, it’s one of those stories that we follow closely. And I have some questions specifically about that. So, Haiti happens, and we flood in with international workers, Red Cross goes down there, other international organizations go down there, and they start setting up camp. And I mean, how many years has it been since Haiti happened, it’s ten years now, right?
[THOR NEUREITER] Yeah, it’s 2010.
[TODD DEVOE] Oh, so eight years. So that occurs, and they’re still not any better off than they were before, and in some cases, they seem to be worse off than they were after the aid comes in. Why is Haiti such that hot bed of controversial, where money is being sent but it doesn’t seem to be being spent?
[THOR NEUREITER] That is a really great question. I mean, if you look at how to reform international aid, the industry and deliver system, there is a silver bullet. And I think in Haiti, I don’t think there’s any one answer. But I think it is rooted in Haiti being the first nation born from a slave rebellion. I think the legacy of how France treated Haiti after the Haitian rose up and won their independence, it basically had an embargo against them for decades. And none of the friends of France were doing any trade with Haiti. And then you fast-forward to the twentieth century, and that’s when the US really started to get involved, and we have, you know, supporting of dictators, overthrowing government, supporting coups. And it happened all through the twentieth century up until the 90’s.
And then the UN basically occupied the country when they dissolved the Haitian military. And then, you know, MINUSTAH, that operation, it ran up until– they officially ended it, I guess, about six months ago or so. So, the sovereignty of Haiti has not existed in the way that most nations experience sovereignty. So, I think that’s the root of it. If you can’t have a government that’s (inaudible) and can make its own decisions, can make its own trade policies, can make its own domestic policies, whether it’s economic or it’s agriculturally based. And it’s an agrarian society. So if you have all these things stacked against you, I think it’s right for bad things to happen.
[TODD DEVOE] So, one of the gentlemen that were interviewed in the Haiti section of the film, he said, “Yeah, eight workers come in, they provide some services for a short amount of time, and they leave, and in some cases, it’s worse than it was before.” And does Haiti become that feel-good, for lack of a better term, that feel-good fundraiser project that organizations will go to, to go, “Look, this is what we’re doing,” go in, film them doing some stuff, and then come back out and say, “Look, we’ve done all this great work, give us some money.” Is that what’s going on with Haiti as well? Or am I reading that wrong?
[THOR NEUREITER] I think in some cases that’s what happens. As we have, you know, one person in the film said, it’s like a republic of NGO’s. I think there are all kinds of stats that are out there, I don’t think anyone did a true counting. But the number of NGO’s in Haiti was ridiculous, and they weren’t all just foreign NGO’s, they’re domestic NGO’s. It’s almost like, anybody who had an idea, in an entrepreneurial way, it’s like, “Ok, this is where the money is. How can I set up an NGO and get some of this money?”
There is truth to that. In what we looked at, we didn’t look at that issue. Haiti, as a story for a journalist, it’s so big and all-encompassing, it’s almost easy to get lost in what your story is, the story that you’re trying to tell. And what we focused on was the influence that USAID has in Haiti, and specifically, the money that was spent for earthquake recovery and where that money was allocated. But there is a lot of truth to the number of NGO’s that are foreign NGO’s and domestic NGO’s. When there’s so many on the ground that no one can get a true accounting of how many are there, then there’s no way to track the money, and that would fall on the donors. And as we know– maybe I shouldn’t say we know. Donors don’t do the best job in tracking where the money is and how it’s actually being spent and allocated.
Some organizations, they do a very good job of highlighting the good ways that the money is being spent and ignoring the bad ways. I think more importantly with Haiti, when you look at the amount of NGO’s and foreign aid workers that flooded into the country after the earthquake– and this isn’t to criticize them, but what it did, and this happens all over the place, is it really changed the economy in such a way that it became unaffordable for Haitians. They were pushed out of any place where there were still standing homes.
People were renting their homes and living in tents or in shacks in their backyards. And that just created an economic burden that most Haitians could not survive. I think that’s another part of the story, of why, as we begin discussion about Haiti, why Haitians are doing so much worse after all this money poured in. Economically, they can’t afford money, they can’t afford housing, they have to look for other ways, so transportation becomes a huge burden. And then the housing that was destroyed, that was not an emphasis on recovery efforts, to build new affordable housing for people.
[TODD DEVOE] In the film, you show Secretary Clinton talking about these great homes they’re building kind of far away from everything, and they kind of show that as a good thing. And then you go into a little bit about the companies, and people may not know this, but my political leans are pretty libertarian, and so, I see capitalism as a good tool. And you see these companies coming in, and I’m like, ok, how can this be bad?
And then you show that the companies that are coming in are really taking advantage of the situation and putting people in the company homes, more like a company slum, for lack of a better term. And really not paying them a lot. And you contrast that with the independent woman that you guys interviewed. She was making shirts, beautiful shirts, and she was able to make a living, but she still lived in a tent. And she was talking about how hard it is to get out of that.
Are the companies that are coming in, are they really exploring the worker to the point to where it just doesn’t make sense to work for the factory? Is that what’s going on? I mean, it seems to be that the government subsidizes as well, which I don’t necessarily agree with, but they’re coming in, they’re being subsidized by government. Are they really doing what they say they’re doing?
[THOR NEUREITER] Right. The complexity of the answer to that question is, I guess, the heart of what we’re trying to find out. So, Timothy Schwartz, who’s been in Haiti for over 20 years now, working. He’s from the United States, he went down as an anthropologist, and he’s done a lot of work with rural Haitians on the agrarian side, and in forestry. And we talked to him at length. We were able to get a little bit into the film, but that company that we specifically showed, they’re called SAE-A. They are a Korean garment manufacturer. They make cheap clothing for cheap.
And they have had a pretty back track record when it comes to workers’ rights, when it comes to human rights. And that company had run afoul in Central America. I can’t remember exactly which country, but they were kicked out of one country, and they would set up a shop in a new country. And the Haitian government did not approach them; the US government approached them. The Us government said, we’re building this factory in Haiti, we’re building an industrial park, and we want you to be our tenant. And they were like, “We’re fine, we’re good where we’re at.” And taxes incentives started to be thrown in, better tax incentives started to be thrown in. Moving costs were thrown in, guarantees of having free electricity, free rent was thrown in. And then they were like: ok, we’ll move. That sounds good, we can deal with all of that.
So, it’s not necessarily that SAE-A was like, oh, we’re going to go and take advantage of Haiti, and we’re going to go and take advantage of Haitians. But they were given a deal that they couldn’t turn down by the US government, not by the Haitian government. It may have been channeled through the Haitian government, but it was not their design. And so, what are they going to do?
They come and apparently, they’re supposed to pay a living wage, but you talk to anybody who works in one of those facilities, it’s not a living wage. And I think, when throw on top what I was speaking about previously, you talk about the economies are thrown upside down because you have this influx of foreigners living in your homes and your hotels, and everywhere that you can imagine, it just exacerbates the problem. So, SAE-A, they’re not evil. You said that you believe that Capitalism can solve these problems, I feel the same way. But what’s the process? So you have this company that comes in, they get cheap labor, which is what they’re looking for; they don’t have to pay taxes! So, what is the Haitian government getting out of it?
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[THOR NEUREITER] They’re not paying living wages, so what are the Haitian people getting out of it? So it’s a cycle. And that’s why we went to Cite Soleil, and you see, and it’s a really horrible place to live.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[THOR NEUREITER] But that’s where people live, I can’t call it horrible. I mean, it’s someone’s home, it’s hundreds of thousands of people’s homes. But that’s where they’re forced to live, and it started the same way. It’s almost apocalyptic-looking. There is a huge, abandoned manufacturing– I believe it was a sugar factory. And it was the same thing. We’ll build a sugar factory, we’ll build homes next to it, people have a job, a place to live. And it just doesn’t last, and it becomes a slum, and then it grows, and it grows, and it becomes lawless.
When people have their stereotypical visions of the lawless Haiti, it’s Cite Soleil, because it was for a very long time, it was a very violent place. And not for Westerners, for Haitians.
[TODD DEVOE] Right. Yeah, the one lady, she lost her daughter, right? And she tells that story, and it’s really heart-wrenching. It’s that touch right there that really gets you on, “Wow, what’s going wrong?” And we, we being the United States government, we’re dumping a lot of money into this situation, but it doesn’t seem to be getting down to the people that really need it. And I have to ask the obvious question, and maybe you don’t have the answer. But what is the level of corruption– I guess it’s assumptive, right, that there is corruption. But what is the level, or is there corruption, at the Haitian government level? Is there something that’s making money in the Haitian government that’s not getting down to the people?
[THOR NEUREITER] We did not look into that extensively. There is a level of corruption. I mean, the government is barely functioning. There is a very distinct class separation in Haiti, between two classes of people, and it’s based on skin color. So, I think, with the money that’s coming in, those that are in power and the access they have to money, I think it’s just inherent. I can’t speak specifically about any individual or instance to where this is a glaring problem. I do feel the people in the Haitian government that I spoke with, that they’re sincere. But there are people that we’ve been wanting to speak with that we never had the chance to.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[THOR NEUREITER] So, I think I should probably leave it there.
[TODD DEVOE] Sure.
[THOR NEUREITER] But one last thing to add about the industrial park from SAE-A, the garment factory, or the company that was moved into the garment factory. That was in the very north of the country. And you couldn’t get much further away from the earthquake, and from Port Au Prince, than where that industrial park was built. After the earthquake, with reconstruction funds from the United States taxpayer, we drove there, and it took us about five hours to drive there, and it’s probably 100 miles. Because that’s how bad the roads are, and it’s extremely bumpy, as you can imagine, a road that is basically a path that goes up, and over and through a mountain range.
And there weren’t people affected by the earthquake there, but that’s where they were building this industrial park, with all this brand-new housing.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[THOR NEUREITER] So, the question is, why did the US Government decide to build it there? And two, who is going to move there? Is this a relocation program?
[TODD DEVOE] I was going to ask that.
[THOR NEUREITER] Is it actually what it is? Because we couldn’t get answers to that, but the implication is that’s what the issue is, or that’s what the solution is. It’s built in the middle of fields, where people had their farm lands.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[THOR NEUREITER] And again, this is an agrarian society. So, that’s another layer, as you’re now building homes for the people that are unaffected by the earthquake and an industrial park on farmland, which is one of the only things that Haitians can do on their own, and sell their produce in the market, now that’s being taken away from people as well. So, we didn’t look at corruption because that was a lot to dig into.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[THOR NEUREITER] And I think to look at how US tax dollars are being spent on earthquake recovery, I thought was the story that we were looking at, as opposed to in-country. And that’s one of the things we wanted to do with this film, is we wanted to try and take a different lens on these stories, as opposed to something that we both feel it’s done too often, and something that we don’t agree with, is sort of turning their question back around. Like, why are the Haitians in this situation that they find themselves in? We tried to take the question of, how are we aiding the continuation of this misery?
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah. This is a really deep conversation. And the thing is, like I said, I walked away from there with more questions of like, how did this get there, and why is it there? And that’s why I asked that question about corruption, like I said, it was assumptive. But it’s because, in my mind, there has to be some cause of the issue. And everybody, the amazing part about this whole thing, is it’s not just a US problem. You guys delve into an issue that’s an Australian problem, and it seems to be very similar to the issue that happened in Haiti. Can you talk a little bit about that?
[TODD DEVOE] You guys delve into an issue that’s an Australian problem, and it seems to be very similar to the issue that happened in Haiti. Can you talk a little bit about that?
[THOR NEUREITER] Yeah. So, Papua-New Guinea, there is an island province in Papua-New Guinea, which is actually closer to, or you could say, it is within the Solomon Islands. It’s one of those colonial, line-drawing scenarios to where who knows why lines were drawn where they were. I’m sure that there was some sort of knowledge about the resources in Papua-New Guinea, on Bougainville. So, it was claimed to be part of Papua-New Guinea. I think there’s a lot of similarities.
The really big difference between Haiti and Papua-New Guinea, in relation to the United States and Australia, is that Papua-New Guinea was actually a colony of Australia. We can never say that Haiti was a colony of the United States. But it has been treated like one for a very long time. So, I think that’s one big distinction. So, Australia does have a political connection to the country, a historic one. And so, the largest copper mine in the world was open on Bougainville, and it was run by Rio Tinto, Australia. And anybody could write this story, that knows anything about these issues.
It’s a Western company, they come in, they get what they want, ecological conditions aren’t taken into consideration, people are taken advantage of, workers’ rights, human rights were violated. So, this goes on for some time. There’s a track record of this happening historically around the globe. So eventually, the people of Bougainville, they were fed up, and eventually, they started a rebellion, a civil war and revolution. But it wasn’t people against people; it was people against a corporation, which was Rio Tinto.
The Papua-New Guinea police and military, they came in and fought this fight on behalf of the mining company. And eventually, Australia stepped in as well, and they provided training and funding to the Papua-New Guinea central government, to fight the rebels of Bougainville. And it lasted for about a decade, and no one knows for sure, but it’s estimated about 20,000 people were killed on this very small island with a small population. But the Bougainvillians, they won. They won the rebellion. Rio Tinto pulled out, the central government basically took their hands off of any dealings with the island. They’re semi-autonomous, the Bougainville province. And for the last decade or so, it’s been hanging in balance. Are they independent, are they not?
They have a vote that’s supposed to come up next year, 2019. So, we’ll see if that actually does happening. But with hanging in the balance, it’s not only their independence, but what happens with this huge copper mind, which is just a large scar on the island. The pollution in one of the main rivers on the island is just devastating. All the tailings, which is the rock, the mountain top, was just thrown into this river, as waste.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[THOR NEUREITER] So the people, the leaders on the island, our main character, (inaudible), who’s a young woman, they’re fighting for true independence, and they are not 100% opposed to the mine reopening, but they want to reopen it in a different way. They want a say on how it’s run, they want to guarantee that they will get revenue from the minerals that come out of the mine. And most importantly, they just want acknowledgment of the past atrocities that were committed against them.
In other words, they want an apology, and no one seems willing to give it. And it just seems like such a small thing. But that’s where things stand in Bougainville. There is some traction that this independence vote is actually going to happen. Rio Tinto has released all claim to the mine, so it’s between Bougainville and the central government of Papua-New Guinea. That seems to be where things stand today.
But Australia has a lot of influence. They can put their thumb on the scale, and from what I understand, my partner Anthony, who’s Australian, he knows much more about this story. It was brand-new to me, when we met, and it’s an amazingly tragic story and I can’t believe I never heard of it. Let’s just put it that way.
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah. Me neither. And I’m pretty globally-minded when it comes to my reading and getting my information, and this was one of the first times I’ve heard of this civil war, let alone just the ecological tragedy that occurred there. And that’s the thing that really blew my mind. In that particular case, it’s really a three-fold issue. One is, a corporation that comes in, and literally destroys the land, and takes advantage of the people. Two, the civil war, which people on both sides, died. And third is a colonial government, Australia, in this case, that kind of, in one case, abandoned them. And in the other case, trained troops up to put down the rebellion.
And sort of was apathetic in its approach to anything on it, and it just seems to be that– how do we clean that up, you know what I mean? Who needs to come in and clean that mess that is left behind in that little providence? You know? And that’s my question that came out of there.
[THOR NEUREITER] Yeah, and I think that’s probably why no one has given an apology, because I guess once you do that, you’re legally bound. I’m not a lawyer, I never worked at any large, multi-national mining corporation. But my hunch, and as a journalist, I guess we’re not supposed to vocalize our hunches, but that’s what I’d look into if I wanted to examine more. And it’s worth noting, for those who haven’t seen the film, because neither of us mentioned it. This wasn’t the 1950. This was the 1980’s and 1990’s when this happened.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[THOR NEUREITER] In Bougainville. So, that’s just worth mentioning. It’s a very difficult place to get to, so I can see, you know, if you’re a large corporation, a mining corporation, and you’re set up in a very hard to get, remote location, you’re going to want to fight for it, indeed. I can’t blame anybody for taking that stance. But I guess just in the manner of everything that led up to it, the involvement of the Australian government, and then the way that– you know, fighting a war is probably a little bit extreme. People can probably agree with that. It’s a very remote, hard place to get to and to get around.
So, what happens with the mine? I mean, that question has to be answered. What’s the price of copper? How much can one get out of the mine still? And what are the costs to set up (inaudible)? Again, there’s another apocalyptic scene. When the company left, they literally left all their equipment behind and just left. Now it’s just completely picked through. Chinese scrap companies have come in and dismantled the remaining heavy movers and cranes. There’s still a little bit left. But it’s a bizarre-looking world to someone who lives in New York City or California. Any city in the United States.
[TODD DEVOE] So, kind of going backwards in the way things went. You start off in Afghanistan with your story, and you talked a little bit about this in the beginning, regarding the mines that are over there. But what really kind of got my questions up there wasn’t so much the mining company, although that’s very interesting. But it was the small business man that, in some of the towns, that were relying upon America to come in and then settle things down.
And now there’s this sense of unsecure. They feel unsecure there, amongst their own political people, the insurgents are gaining footholds in areas, and there is one village that they spoke to, that people are on the verge of joining the (inaudible). Can you talk a little bit about the unpredictability that’s there, because of the American pull-out, I suppose, for lack of a better term?
[THOR NEUREITER] Yeah. So, Haiti, the story is, it’s a natural disaster. It happened, and it’s how to react to it. Bougainville, the story there is a population that fought back against the system. But what were the costs of winning? And can they make the turn to their original goal of why they fought in the first place? So when we look at Afghanistan, which, you know, we start to film there, it’s a man-made disaster. War is a man-made disaster. So, what are the effects?
And then, I was drawn to that story, what I said in the beginning, about the minerals. But I started looking at Afghanistan in the first place because I’m interested in US foreign policy and how it affects people in other countries. So, the militaries are our most blunt instrument of foreign policy, it’s the largest organization in the world, it has the most money that’s spent in its budget annually. So I wanted to look at Afghanistan. And not necessarily why bullets are flying, but how people are being affected.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[THOR NEUREITER] So that’s just a little background to your story. So, that village is in (inaudible) province, which is where the mine that the article in The New York Times, that I read, was based on, Mes Aynak. Mes Aynak is actually an ancient Buddhist city. So the mine, which the mineral rights were won in a bidding process, which is up to debate, how fair that was, by a Chinese multinational consortium, which is a fancy way of saying a Chinese government mining company.
So they started to build housing units and started to prepare for mining, when this ancient Buddhist city was “discovered,” and things just were just ground to a halt. There is an entire film called “Save Mes Aynak,” which is made by this filmmaker named Brent Huffman, which is a really great film, and it really gets into the details. But that stopped the momentum of the mine opening. Now, in the concessions, people agreed with the Afghan government and with the Chinese mining company, that they would relocate in order for this mine to open, and with guarantees of– if you see the film, they’re going to build all this infrastructure. They’re going to build a mosque, and roads, and schools for the entire community.
Well, none of those promises were ever kept, and the only thing that was given to these people, that agreed to be relocated, has been no jobs, has been increased insecurity, and has been fighting between the Afghan government and the mining company over who gets what, what part of what deal is being reneged or what part of the contract is being reneged upon, and by whom. So, it’s just been a mess, and this has been going on for about fifteen years.
So, all of that uncertainty has led people to trust no one, basically. They don’t trust their government, they don’t trust their local government. Their local government, if you want to talk about corruption, most of the corruption that people feel on Afghanistan is on a local level. Those villagers, they told us stories about just how corrupt the local police chief is, how the locally governor or mayor, for lack of a better word. And it’s not just corruption, but there’s a lot of violence that goes along with it. They talk about how (inaudible) are just harassed and beaten by police officers. All these amazing stories that we couldn’t include in our film.
So, they’re at the end of the rope, and they say in the film, if someone doesn’t come and talk to us, you know, and they say, leave their guns off the table. Which means, let’s talk. What other choices do we have but to arm ourselves and to rise up against the government?
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[THOR NEUREITER] And your choices of doing that, you can either do it on your own, or you can join somebody who’s already doing it. And in that area, is basically the battle lines between Taliban, the ANA, which is the Afghan National Army, they’re allies, which is (inaudible) the US Military, and ISIS is there as well. And it’s very close to Pakistan, so it’s the poorest border. And they’re in a very tough spot. And we really wanted to let them tell the world, that’s how the sausage is made.
These are the people that are being affected, and that are kicked off of their land. And to oversimplify, “Oh, it’s the Taliban, and they just want to run the country.” It’s not that simple. There is a reason why people are doing the Taliban, it’s not because they love war. Though a lot of people, that’s all they’ve known in Afghanistan, because it’s been at war for over four decades.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[THOR NEUREITER] But we wanted to let them explain why they’re unsatisfied. And it’s a very good argument, to say the least, of why they are unsatisfied.
[TODD DEVOE] So, there are parts of Afghanistan that you went as well, that like I said, it was a small business man that you guys talked to, and they’re talking about how, just due to the uncertainty and insecurity, that their businesses have suffered. How do they feel about this urgency, the Afghan government, and everything that’s going on? What’s the pulse of the nation, I guess, for lack of a better term.
[THOR NEUREITER] To go wholesale, their view on it is the view that I would expect on any John-Doe on Main Street, USA to have. In Main Street, United States, is that the insecurity is caused by bad economy. Bad economy is caused by political infighting. Political infighting is caused by security, and sort of this cyclical thing. And they just want things to be as normal as possible. And when you look at the way the economy is, under the current president, Ashraf Ghani, this isn’t a judgment on him, it’s far worse, and that’s because the political infighting is far greater than when Hamid Karzai was president.
And if you look at the corruption of Ghani and Karzai, there’s probably a really big difference. I don’t know enough to put a comparison number between the two, but I think there was less infighting because people were happy on a higher level with the government. And then when they’re happy and there’s less infighting, there’s less security issues, the economy runs a little bit better, the US NGO’s were more involved back then, so there was more money and resources coming in through foreigners than there is now, since the 2014 withdraw that Obama had sent.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[THOR NEUREITER] So there are a lot of factors that go into it. You know, that place, Bush’s market, it actually grew and became a very popular place, because there’s a lot of contraband that was sold there. There’s plenty of news reports that say, you know, there was one that came out last week, about night vision goggles getting into the hands of the Taliban. It’s like, where is that coming from? And some are saying it’s coming from outside forces and others were saying it was being sold, it’s US military equipment. That’s been going on for as long as the US has been there.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[THOR NEUREITER] And that’s a high level of corruption that not many people talk about. But there’s so much you can get into. Who’s paid off for these military convoys, and the money gets back to the Taliban, because they’re running these checkpoints, and you know, stuff goes missing when it comes to these checkpoints, and where does it go? Some of it goes to the Taliban, some of it goes to militia, and some of it ends up at Bush’s Market, which was named after George W. Bush because they loved him so much.
[TODD DEVOE] This is just amazing. For anybody, I just highly recommend it, and we’ll put the link to where you can purchase the video to watch it, and we’ll put this on here. So if you guys are interested, please do click on it, and watch it. I highly recommend it, it’s a really eye-opening documentary and it’s awesome. It’s well put-together. So Thor, if somebody was interested in learning more about your work, how can they get a hold of you?
[THOR NEUREITER] The best way to learn about this film, and that’s solely the work that I want people to focus on, I think it’s the most important, is we have a website, we have a Facebook page, a Twitter page. They’re all linked on the website, which is disastercapitalismfilm.com. And on the website, we have a page that lists the screenings, we have a page, which I think is really important, if anyone is interested in this film, they can host a screening. So we have a “host a screening” page. You can contact us through the page, we get back to you very quickly. There’s links to our Facebook, our Instagram, and our Twitter pages, and we’re pretty active about upcoming screenings and events.
And you know, our main goal is to get this film into as many eyes as possible. We have a sales agent who’s trying to get it on broadcasters, we’ve made a couple of sales, we’re applying to film festivals, which is a traditional route. But having this impact outreach that we’re doing on our own, we think it’s very important, because we want the conversation to grow with everybody who works in this industry, anybody who is an informed or concerned citizen. That’s really what we’re looking for.
[TODD DEVOE] Awesome. Ok. So, there is the toughest question of the day. What book, or books, or publication, do you recommend to somebody who is really interested in learning more about this?
[THOR NEUREITER] You know, I can’t give you just one, because I have some other needs. So, Disaster Capitalism is a term that was coined by Naomi Klein. So, if you haven’t heard of or read her book, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” I think it’s a must read. And then Anthony wrote a book while we made this film, it’s called “Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe.”
The book that I really suggest, and this goes back to Haiti, it’s by Paul Farmer, it’s called “Haiti After the Earthquake.” It’s a collection of essays between, I think, about ten or fifteen different contributors, and they were all people that were on the ground on Port Au Prince immediately after the 2010 earthquake. I had heard of this man named Timothy Schwartz, we talked about him a little bit. He wrote one of the essays, and after a journalist told me about Tim, I needed to find him, because he’s not afraid to talk about any sacred cow.
I saw that he had written an essay in here, and it was very impactful. Kudos to Paul Farmer for pulling it all together. But Timothy Schwartz, basically, his essay is called “First we need Taxis.” And the storytelling is really good, because he talks about the need for help. So you have all of these doctors and first responders that are coming to help, which is very important. We do not think that people should stop helping, we do not think that aid should stop flowing, we just think that it needs to be done in a different way.
But it gets to the point, you have all these people here, but no one is thinking about logistics. Where logistics are extremely difficult, so you have this mass of people and you can’t move them around, you can’t get them to the right place, no one is talking. And so, he’s driving this baby, this infant, with a (inaudible) trying to get the baby care, and the doctors are like, “I need an X-Ray machine.” He’s like: can you take this baby? They’re like: no, no, no, I can’t take that baby. I need an X-ray machine. So he puts a really human experience on the problem. And then, by the end of the essay, he’s at this trauma tent, and he’s talking, and all these people are talking about coordination, and no one knows what to do, and the end of the essay is a woman that’s at the tent, she’s like: the first thing we need are taxis.
That was kind of a long story, but there are other essays, like I said, ten to fifteen essays, and I think it’s not like, a pat on the back, we’re doing great. But it’s, here’s what works, here’s what doesn’t work, here’s what we can improve, here’s where we can get better, this is where we should challenge ourselves more. And I think those are the questions that people in the international aid industry and emergency response, that’s what they should be asking themselves and their peers. And that’s what we want the film to do. We want to further discussion, we want this to get better.
I mean, we are journalists, so we’re not telling people what to do, but we think it’s a really helpful tool for people to have that conversation.
[TODD DEVOE] Awesome. Well, Thor, thank you so much for your time today, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about the great work that we’re doing, and let’s do this again sometime.
[THOR NEUREITER] Alright. Thank you so much for having me, Todd, and yeah, I’d love to do it again.
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