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The Power Elite: Enron and Frank Wisner

by Vijay Prashad, People's Democracy, 16 Nov 1997


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 arena.

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 "if anybody 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 secure.

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.

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