Sri Lanka Express

Harvard’s “economic diplomacy” course for SL foreign ministry: beginning of a Soros incursion?

Billionaire George Soros
By Hassina Leelarathna
March 31, 2017
E-learning, aka online courses or self-paced learning, is practically par for the course in the present-day workplace.  In tech-savvy Sri Lanka, for example, in 2014, the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka launched seven online degree programs for  government employees.   The offering of another such program should get barely a yawn.  Yet an 18-week online course in “economic diplomacy” for foreign service staff, offered by Harvard University’s Center for International Development (HCID) under its Growth Lab initiative, received a “ceremonial” launch at the foreign ministry office in Colombo, March 7.

What didn’t get any attention in reports of the event was the one fact that makes it newsworthy: that it is funded by the messianic (“I’m God”) billionaire George Soros via his flagship NGO the Open Society Foundations (OSF).
Acting foreign minister Harsha de Silva (center) flanked by  Mrs. Sonali Wijeratne, Director General, Department of Commerce and Professor Matt Andrews of Harvard. (Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
This Course is a result of the Foreign Ministry’s collaboration with the Department of Commerce and Harvard University, one of the most prestigious Universities in the world,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.

Acting foreign minister Harsha de Silva presided over the event at which Mrs. Sonali Wijeratne, Director General, Department of Commerce, Professor Matt Andrews, Senior Lecturer, HCID, invited guests and officials selected to take the course were all present. 

Prof. Andrews in an email response to some of my questions about  the program attributed the excitement to novelty.  “This is quite innovative, I guess, and very well suited to training of officers in foreign missions.” He said the course will allow participants to learn without leaving their desks and apply lessons in their work. “This is a strong point of the online modality and I think the government counterparts are excited about the prospects such modality offers.  I am very excited about the work as well!”
Billionaire George Soros flanked by Prime Minister Wicrekamsinghe and Prof. Ricardo Hausmann at the 2016 Economic Forum in Colombo.
The genesis of the Harvard program could be traced back to January 2016 when hot on the heels of the change of government the billionaire tycoon arrived for a much-publicized economic forum in Colombo.  With him came Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University, Prof. Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard, and several others with Ivy League credentials.  Soros’ promise of a $300m investment, the presence of several “international experts,” and a panel dedicated to the inveigling topic of  “A million jobs (with good wages)” caused the expected splash in the local media.  Despite the heavy baggage Soros carries as a much-reviled financial manipulator who has destabilized nations, and as a  “globalist” who has meddled in the internal affairs of several countries, he was received warmly, even reverentially, in Colombo as a “philanthropist” and financial wizard.  A year later, he has still to come through on his investment promise and nothing more has been heard about the creation of a “million- jobs-with good-wages.”  But the Soros footprint in the island is deepening.     
 
That the billionaire tycoon has conquered new territory in yet another small nation with plenty of economic woes was apparent in Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe’s response in parliament to an opposition member’s query about the 2016 economic forum.  He practically admitted to being a mere bystander in the path of the Soros blitzkrieg: “The Government did not fund the economic forum in Colombo and neither did the government invite Soros to participate in the event.
It was Soros who visited Sri Lanka and conducted the forum, and invited
me to participate in it.” 

And even before the Colombo economic forum was held, Prof. Hausmann
revealed on Facebook that the Soros-funded HCID would be playing an
advisory role in the new Sri Lankan government: “I will be leading an effort
by the Center for International Development at Harvard University to advise
the recently elected government of Sri Lanka in their economic development
strategy. It will be an honor to work with Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe
and his team. I thank George Soros and the Open Society Foundation for
funding this effort.” 


As indicated on the HCID website, the Growth Lab’s Sri Lanka program funded by Soros and led by Hausman has grown in scope since that FB posting into a more comprehensive program falling under these headings: Growth and Transformation, Implementation, and Trade & Development.  With the expansive goal of achieving “sustainable and inclusive growth,” the collective scope of these programs, which has no beginning and ending time period indicated, opens the door to the Harvard group to introduce “actionable reforms” across the entire spectrum of GOSL: the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade (MODSIT), and “other agencies and ministries across the government.”

For an example of how Soros uses his wealth to influence and control virtually every branch of government there’s Albania, another of HCID’s Growth Lab countries.
Prof. Ricardo Housmann
On May 26, 2015, Hausmann posted on FB that he was
in Albania with 13 Harvard Kennedy School students,
“working on agriculture, manufacturing, oil, electricity,
tourism, regional integration, foreign direct investment,
diaspora strategy, development banking and other issues.” 

That all-encompassing subject scope is no exaggeration. 
"All of Albania's economic reforms are designed by
[Harvard’s] CID, including banking sector reforms,
privatization reform, deregulation, micro-finance and
public private partnerships," notes Republika.mk, a
weekly Macedonian magazine in an article on how
Soros' network grew powerful in countries such as
Albania.  The Soros network has been around for more
than 2 decades in Albania and has a total grip on the
socialist government of Prime Minister Edi Rama,
which it helped to bring to power in 2013. 
 

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama addressing an audience at Harvard's JFK Forum.

The Soros network in Albania, comprised of NGOs, politicians, and individuals direct and indirectly controlled by the billionaire, is so powerful that it is reportedly the conduit through which foreign aid, including funds from USAID, World Bank, and the EU flow.  Clearly, these funds fail to reach the people that need them most:  according to the World Bank 46% of the people of Albania are below the poverty threshold, but Mr. Rama has amassed more than $200 million.    His critics accuse Mr. Rama of  a luxurious lifestyle and of stashing his ill-gotten gains in international banking accounts established by family members and close associates that work together on “sustainable development”projects with Harvard’s Prof. Hausmann. These projects, according to one critic, “have had little to no impact on the lives of average Albanians.” 

No review of the Harvard group advising the Sri Lankan government will be complete without a look at its relationship with Venezuela --  Hausmann’s native country which is listed on the HCID website as another of the Growth Lab’s projects. 

On January 9, 2016, after attending the economic forum in Colombo, Hausmann made the following comparison between Sri Lanka and Venezuela:

“For a country that started so much poorer than Venezuela  when I was born and that had a 28 year civil war that ended in 2009, the country has made incredible progress. I flew to Sri Lanka on January 5th while the Venezuelan National Assembly was being sworn in. The following day, Maduro announced a new cabinet. I was struck by the dramatic difference in the quality of the debate between Sri Lanka and Venezuela. While the debate in Sri Lanka featured real challenges with tough choices, the statements of the new ministers in Venezuela exhibited plain lies (such as the "economic war") and absurd theories... A country can be destroyed by people acting on lies and wrong ideas.”

While on the surface it might look like an objective statement by a world-renowned Harvard academic, Hausmann’s pronouncements on Venezuela (and other governments) should be read along with the small print, viz.,  he’s: a right-winger rabidly opposed to Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro;  a foot soldier for the neoliberalist cause of open markets and IMF austerity interventions; he’s been accused of attempting to destabilize Venezuela under the guise of academic analysis.  For example, on Sept. 5, 2014, he published an article titled “Should Venezuela default?” A seemingly innocuous question which he himself answered with an ominous prediction, “Markets fear that it might,” it sent shockwaves through the financial industry resulting in bond prices tumbling, hikes in interest rates and, of course, more woes for the populace.  All of which, his critics say, was calculated.  Maduro lashed out, calling Hausmann a “financial hitman.”  In his response, the professor described the attack as “the despotic diatribe of a tropical thug.” 


While dissing his country of birth Hausman fails to acknowledge his own role in Venezuela’s troubled history.  According to his Harvard bio, Hausmann served as Minister of Planning of Venezuela from 1992-1993 under president Carlos Andres Perez.   Left out is his earlier stint, in 1989, as an economic advisor to Perez and his responsibility for setting off one of the worst riots the country has seen.  Perez ran the  1989 campaign on a platform of anti-neoliberalism, describing the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as “ the bomb that only kills people.”  Regardless, as a solution to Venezuela’s severe debt and international reserves crisis, Hausmann together with other advisors, all pro-market technocrats, helped Perez implement an IMF assistance package that entailed privatization, deregulation, and the dismantling of social welfare programs and subsidies.  The result was the infamous “Caracazo” – riots -- in 1989 in which thousands took to the streets to protest rising prices and economic hardships.  Pérez suspended civil rights and imposed martial law: an estimated 3000 protesters were killed.  Prof. Hausmann denies any responsibility, claiming on social media that he was at Oxford at the time.

Hausmann’s academic integrity took a hit in 2004 when he published a paper about the recall referendum against Hugo Chavez in which he claimed that “statistically” the outcome (Chavez’s victory) could only have been the result of fraud.   Eventually, the highly-respected Carter Center’s statisticians determined that the poll results “reflect the will of the Venezuelan electorate.”   Hausmann was accused of relying on fake exit polls and going to elaborate lengths to make up a conspiracy theory against Chavez. 

In October 2015, in the run-up to the December 6 elections to elect deputies to the National Assembly, the Venezuelan government aired an alleged audio recording of a telephone conversation between  Ricardo Hausmann and Lorenzo Mendoza, CEO of food giant Polar.  The Harvard professor affirms that he is still committed to the “war in Venezuela” despite his absence from the country and then  recommends a 40-50 billion dollar loan from the IMF, which he says will entail a significant restructuring of the country’s “debt profile” and “what they euphemistically term, private sector involvement.”   He indicates that the IMF is “worried” that it will have to “intervene” in Venezuela and that the only way for the international community to coordinate economic support is through the IMF.  

The audio recording sparked a furor, with the Venezuelan government accusing Hausmann and Mendoza of “trying to mortgage the country through a new external debt” and of trying to topple Maduro.   
 
The take-away for Sri Lanka from the Albanian and Venezuelan narratives, (there are several such  cautionary tales from other countries), is that a gift horse from the puissant billionaire inevitably comes with heavy ideological, political, and social  baggage. As for that ceremonially-launched online course in  “economic diplomacy:"  looks like the soft opening of another Soros incursion. 


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