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2000-03-15

G.W. Bush Uses Family Name to Secure $300 Million Deal in Argentina

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After the results of last night’s primaries in the South, G.W. Bush has garnered a sufficient number of delegates to capture the Republican nomination for President. Last night on ABC’s Nightline, political strategists David Gergen and George Stephanopoulos conceded that Bush has some problems, particularly in the area of foreign affairs. They say the Texas Governor will benefit from some trips overseas and lessons from foreign policy experts. [includes rush transcript]

Well, an article in the latest edition of Mother Jones says that although G.W. Bush has problems with the names of world leaders, he knows the value of his own family name in world affairs. The article begins with Bush’s making a phone call to secure a $300 million deal for a U.S. pipeline company in Argentina. The deal caused a firestorm in Argentina, drawing attention from lawmakers and prosecutors.

Guest:

  • Louis Dubose, co-author of the Mother Jones article "Don’t Cry for Bush, Argentina."

Related link:

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

We move now to Texas and further south, as well, to Argentina. There was a piece in Mother Jones magazine, “Don’t Cry for Bush, Argentina.” George W. may not recall the names of world leaders, but when it comes to foreign affairs, he knows the value of his own family’s name. And it begins, “Texans watched with interest last winter as Governor George W. Bush was home-schooled on international affairs by former Secretary of State George Shultz and other veterans of his father’s foreign policy team. Even Carl Bildt, the former prime minister of Sweden, was brought in for a tutorial at the governor’s mansion, in the hope that his recent U.N. experience in the Balkans could help Bush understand that Kosovars are not ‘Kosovarians’ and that Greeks are not ‘Grecians.’ But no one had to prepare a prompt card to remind him who stepped down as president of Argentina in December.”

We’re joined right now by one of the authors of this piece, Louis Dubose, “Don’t Cry for Bush, Argentina.” Can you tell us about George W. Bush’s connection to Argentina?

LOUIS DUBOSE:

I can, Amy. George W.’s connection to Argentina went way back beyond the golf game that was played in Austin last year. And as a matter of fact, the Bush family has been all over Argentine business and oil fields.

The piece, the story that we focused on, has to do with a call in 1988 on behalf of a company, Enron, which is the world’s largest pipeline company and is based in Houston and has invested $525,000 in Governor Bush’s short political career in Texas. There was — at the end of the military dictatorship, Raul Alfonsin took over, of course, in Argentina, and struggled with an economy that was out of control, tried to keep the troops in the barracks, and finally was working on some — at the end of his tenure was working on some final privatization efforts, one of which was a large gasoducto, which would connect Argentine gas fields with gas fields in other South American countries. It was a $300 million project. Two companies were involved and had been involved for quite some time: an Italian company, ENI, and Perez Companc, an Argentine company who was working in partnership with Dow.

At the very end of this process, the bidding process, a representative from Enron appeared at the offices of Rodolfo Terragno, who was then the Minister of Public Works and has got to be one of the great stand-up guys in the western hemisphere, because Enron showed up with a one-page double-spaced bid on a very complex contract, which included what Minister Terragno called — described as a laughable price for natural gas, because Enron was naming its price for natural gas, and they wanted to get in on the bidding at the very end.

There was a full-court press put on by Ambassador Gildred, a Florida developer — a California developer appointed by Reagan. There was a lot of arm-twisting. And then there was a phone call to Rodolfo Terragno by Vice President George Bush — I’m sorry, by the son of Vice President George Bush, George W. Bush. Vice President Bush had just — was about to be elected president. He and George W. called the Argentine Public Works Minister and said that on behalf of — I’m calling on behalf of Enron, and I think it would be better for Argentine-US relationships if this company would get that contract. And Terragno said no. And that’s the story, in a nutshell.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

Now, this is according to Terragno’s recollection of what occurred, right, because the G.W. Bush people have denied that he ever made such a phone call?

LOUIS DUBOSE:

In all fairness to George W. Bush, he has denied it twice, and in all fairness to David Corn of The Nation, who did a brief take on this story in 1994 during the election, he denied it to David first. We decided to further explore it and to go back to Terragno and with Carmen Coiro, a wire service reporter that I know in Buenos Aires, we started looking into the Bushes’ work — the work of the Bushes in Argentina. Some of this is also documented by Argentina’s really best investigative journalist, Horacio Verbitsky.

So, the governor has — Governor Bush has now twice said that he did not make this phone call, but there’s a pattern. I mean, his brother was working in Argentina at the same time. Neil was selling — was prospecting for oil in Argentina, using money — previously, actually, using money from the Colorado Savings & Loan collapse, a million dollars in credit from Silverado in Denver.

AMY GOODMAN:

I think a lot of people have forgotten that that is George W. Bush’s brother, Neil Bush —

LOUIS DUBOSE:

That’s his brother.

AMY GOODMAN:

— implicated in the whole Silverado Savings & Loan scandal.

LOUIS DUBOSE:

That’s his brother, yeah, Neil Bush, who was banned forever from practicing banking in this country, because of his role in Silverado in Denver.

AMY GOODMAN:

How much did that cost the taxpayer?

LOUIS DUBOSE:

I don’t recall, Amy. It was one of the big ticket items, though.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

But then, you’ve uncovered continued involvement of the Bushes. What happened subsequently to that, after Terragno turned down the Enron last-minute bid?

LOUIS DUBOSE:

Well, he said no, and then the embassy really put on what was what — and Terragno was not so — let me say a word about Rodolfo Terragno. He — you know, he fled. He had enough public integrity in his work as a journalist that he had to flee the country for ten years during the dictatorship, before Alfonsin was elected. He came back to work for Alfonsin and is now the chief of President de la Rua’s cabinet, the new president, who has succeeded President Carlos Menem.

So, you know, at the time of the — at the time of — when we, along with The Nation, ran this story in 1994 in an abbreviated version, Karl Rove called me. Karl Rove, who is now George Bush’s chief campaign strategist, he called. He must have called at the time the issue arrived at his office, because it was midday on Saturday. He called me in a rage.

AMY GOODMAN:

You were working at the Texas Observer.

LOUIS DUBOSE:

I was at the Observer, yeah. We ran it simultaneously, or maybe a few days ahead of The Nation, because of publication schedules, and there was an election going on here at the time, which was really what set Karl Rove off. He was running Bush’s campaign against Ann Richards. This was very late in the campaign. But, you know, Karl called screaming, and, you know, this is — up to then he had thought even the Texas Observer had some journalistic standards, and now we were listening to some guy in Argentina.

Well, some guy in Argentina just happens to be, today, the number two in command — or number one in command in the Argentine cabinet and really an incredible public servant in his own right. But he was later under full-court press, a lot of pressure by the American embassy, which wrote him a very threatening letter, implying that US investments would be pulled out and that there were a number of US investors lined up, and unless Argentina played ball with the US embassy, these investors were going to withdraw their bids to buy into the privatization projects that were going on in Argentina. And this was a subsequent administration, because President Alfonsin was out, but they put huge pressure on the Menem administration early on to sort of define who they were, the Bush administration, and what their relationships were.

When I called Governor Bush’s press spokesman recently and asked what the Governor’s role in this was when his Ambassador Todman, subsequently the next ambassador, pressured the government to open the door to US businesses, he said Governor Bush knew nothing about it. However — President Bush, I’m sorry. However, President Bush had been in Argentina two days before the Todman letter, which was leaked and published all over the Argentine press. He’d been there two days before the Todman letter was written.

And it’s a real example, I think, of how — of what — how globalization actually works when the doors are closed and some Minister of Public Works is in a headlock with the US embassy working him over. It was — it’s very — it’s not just unseemly, I mean, it sort of borders on illegal.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

And how many times did President George Bush visit Argentina in his —

LOUIS DUBOSE:

We’ve tracked down about a half-dozen times. Most recently, while we were working on this story, President Bush showed up in —- Carmen Coiro, who’s really a fine reporter, called me as our story was closing -—

AMY GOODMAN:

We just have a minute to go.

LOUIS DUBOSE: OK, and there was Governor Bush. There was President Bush’s airplane had shown up at the airport, and he was meeting with bankers and big deal makers in Argentina. So, the Bushes —

AMY GOODMAN:

In fact, right after George Bush, President George Bush, left office, wasn’t one of his trips to Argentina where he got some millions of dollars from Sun Myung Moon in Argentina?

LOUIS DUBOSE:

There was the Moon connection in Argentina. And I think that there’s a lot more to be told about the Bushes in Argentina, including his dealings on behalf — with Raul Moneta, a fugitive banker who came out of hiding several days after Bush left there — President Bush left there — recently, and who is a major investor with Tom Hicks, who is the chair of Hicks, Muse, which is a company in which the Bushes are invested, and Tom Hicks is the chairman of — is a regent that George W. Bush, Governor Bush, appointed to the University of Texas Board of Regents.

AMY GOODMAN:

And as you —

LOUIS DUBOSE:

There are a lot of interesting connections.

AMY GOODMAN:

And as you talk about Enron, Kenneth Lay, the company’s chief executive, Enron gaining a lot from its involvement in Argentina from pressure from the Bushes, George W. has a long relationship with Kenneth Lay. He got — he personally contributed $100,000 to Bush’s two gubernatorial campaigns, and when Bush announced he was running for president, executives and political action committees connected to Enron contributed close to $90,000 to his campaign, and Lay signed on as Bush Pioneer, pledging to raise $100,000.

LOUIS DUBOSE:

Yeah, they’re big Bush underwriters. And they have — you know, James Baker, the former Secretary of State, is an Enron drummer. He’s a salesman for Enron.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

And did Enron finally get the contract in Argentina?

LOUIS DUBOSE:

No, they didn’t. The whole deal collapsed. And they — ultimately they own a small piece of the contract, not for fault — not for lack of trying, but the deal did not work.

AMY GOODMAN:

But they did get Menem to agree to sign a presidential decree that included Enron in a national program, freeing it from tariffs and value-added taxes.

LOUIS DUBOSE:

Yeah, Enron got huge tax breaks in Argentina and really pressured Menem, who is, you know, Governor Bush’s golf buddy now. They really pressured President Menem, one of the more corrupt presidents in Latin America. They pressured, they persuaded him to include them in what — a program that was really designed for domestic industries.

AMY GOODMAN:

Louis Dubose, I want to thank you for being with use. The piece in Mother Jones magazine, “Don’t Cry for Bush, Argentina.”

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