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The Earthquake, The Deregulation, Corruption & The Erdogan Government

by WorkWeek
The catastrophic earthquake in Turkey has exposed the massive privatization, deregulation and corruption by the Erdogan government. The WorkWeek show looks at the growing social and economic crisis
The Earthquake, The Deregulation, Corruption & The Erdogan Government
WorkWeek looks at the causes of the catastrophic earthquake in Turkey with Pacifica's Mehmet Bayram. He discusses the
1999 earthquake and the role of the IMF and World Bank in pushing privatization and deregulation that has directly led to the
corruption of the AKP Erdogan government.
This interview was done on 2/13/23

The Catostrophic Earthquake In Turkey, Privatization, Corruption and The Erdogan Government
By Mehmet Bayram

An earthquake registered as 7.8 hit Turkey’s southeastern provinces, causing significant damage in more than ten large cities. Another quake hit later that registered 7.5 in magnitude bringing down buildings, roads, bridges, and infrastructure.

The death toll between Turkey and Syria on the third day is already reaching close to 12,000, while many remote areas have not been reached yet. Several geologists even predict a death toll that is in the hundreds of thousands.

The disaster came at a turbulent time in Turkey. Under a 20-year rule by the Justice and Development Party, Turkey has been transforming to fully integrate with imperialism under neo-liberal policies. The devastation that occurred is not due to fate as the current government is trying to portray, nor was this destruction unavoidable.

Only last year, in a small mining village, a blast in the coal mine caused 41 miners to lose their lives. In 2014 it was near this village that another mine blast killed 301 miners. What brings the two mining disasters and the recent earthquake together is how the religious Turkish government blamed fate and God for the tragedy while not mentioning the corruption it organized. Are these events and the death toll simply fate, or are they the expected results of a system that has gone out of control for the pursuit of profits, money, and greed?

The main supporters of Erdogan, the new and improved leader of Turkey tasked to integrate the country to imperialism, are the construction industry and the building contractors. When the country sold off its primary industries and curbed production, the only area to make money became tourism and construction. Buildings, high-rises, roads, airports, and bridges started to mushroom throughout Turkey and were mistaken for indicators of growth and development. However, together with this rose corruption, theft, bribery, gang rule, and the Mafia run by the government.

The contractors knew they had to make a quick buck and to do that, all safety regulations and requirements were ignored. The government looked away as the government-friendly industry built building after building without observance of regulations or safety. This was the method, the practice, the new way of profiteering. And every few years, the government would pass a “construction forgiveness law” that allowed this to continue. Even the government buildings that were supposed to be the safest places proved in the last quake to crumble and collapse with the first shake. The state hospitals, the police headquarters, and schools were the first to go, although they were all built after the earthquake regulations were put in effect.

Engineers and scientists warned that an earthquake disaster was waiting at the door. The foremost geologist, a professor, even gave the magnitude and the location of the coming earthquake years earlier. Unfortunately, he was proven correct in both accounts. Yet, the government ignored not only him but the entire geological engineering association and other experts. Profits and making a quick buck were more important than safety. Religious people appointed by the Muslim government of Erdogan occupied offices and looked down upon science.

The construction industry keeps Erdogan in power, and he keeps them happy by allowing them to do whatever they want. The largest construction companies are called the “gang of 5,” They get nearly all the government building projects. These corporations are mainly in the construction business. Turkish government contracts out unnecessary building projects to these corporations, which in turn pay back bribes with the exorbitant earnings from these sweetheart deals. As a boondoggle for the friendly building corporations, the Turkish government built an airport near a very small city, guaranteeing over a million passengers. According to the agreement, if there are fewer than a million passengers, the government pays for those missing flyers to the airport managing corporation. Both the contractors and the managing corporation hit the jackpot with this deal. There have been months when not a single plane flew or took off from this airport. However, the government paid all the expenses of air conditioning, security, electrical bills, personnel, and cleaning as well as the cost of those missing million passengers.

A contractor association claimes Turkey has 500,000, half a million, contractors while entire Europe had only 37,000. Germany, a much larger and more prosperous country than Turkey, has only 2,700. It does not require any special skills or education to be a contractor in Turkey. And the result of their work proved deadly in the last earthquake. Brand new buildings being sold as luxury apartments, missing the necessary columns to hold the structure, lacking sufficient iron, and having the low-quality cement crumbled, with the people still in them.

While the corrupt contractor industry enjoyed a free hand, other structural organizations of the country were opened to the feeding frenzy of the so-called free-market, neo-liberal capitalist system.

This had devastating effects, as witnessed in the last earthquake disaster.

The Red Crescent, similar to the Red Cross organization, was turned into a trading post business, modeled after the thought that organizations perform better if they are run like businesses. Behind the move was privatizing this outfit and looting its assets, and bankrupting the state treasury for the benefit of the friends and families of the government. While millions of dollars of tax monies were poured into the organization, after the earthquake for several days, not a single Red Crescent tent or rescue center was to be seen. However, the organization has a CEO, 11 sub-corporations, and 11 general managers. It has been turned into a holding corporation and organized to do business instead of helping people in need. The Red Crescent acts like a branch of the religious ruling party AKP and is disinterested in organizing or preparing for disasters or relief efforts

After the 1999 earthquake, the government imposed a tax for earthquake preparations. With some estimates, billions of dollars were collected for earthquake preparedness. However, this money has completely evaporated. When questioned, the minister in charge admitted the money was gone and dismissively stated that it was used for farmer education and road building. That is, projects given to the friendly corporations in the gang of five. Later, documents revealed that soccer clubs and other entertainment were also paid with this money.

Red Crescent diverted the funds to give unnecessary contracts to a religious organization close to the government. It rented a mansion with spectacular views and a swimming pool for 12,000 US dollars a month. Is it any wonder this organization was missing in action when hundreds of thousands of people lay dead under the rubble of houses built by corrupt contractors? When international organizations sent funds to the Red Crescent, they chose to buy luxury SUVs with this money, claiming they were needed for off-road emergency rescues. However, they were not seen in the rescue efforts, even in the city centers with wide roads when the earthquake hit.

However, these should not surprise us when we live in a capitalist, get-rich-quick system.

The Turkish government is desperate. But not for rushing aid to the survivors spending nights hungry, thirsty, and without shelter under the freezing temperatures. Erdogan is worried about the media, damage control, and the upcoming elections on May 14th. When not a single day passed without his presence on national TVs in the past; curiously, the president disappeared for two and a half days after the earthquake. And in his first speech after he reappeared, he threatened those who criticized the lack of government in the disaster area. He said the government was keeping a secret book on those who were spreading false information, and when the day came, the books would open, and those would be dealt with. Two journalists are being investigated by the General Attorney for questioning why the government was absent. They will probably be prosecuted for inciting riots and hate speech, a catch-all charge to intimidate the opposition. A social scientist was detained for the very same reason. The government took down Twitter to prevent people from complaining about receiving no help.

The government started confiscating the aid people gathered and transported to the disaster region. The Communist Party of Turkey has opened help centers. Communist doctors have gone to the region to help with the relief efforts. However, the police tried pushing them out and closing their help centers. Any foreign aid coming in must declare which municipality it is sent to. This allows the government to confiscate any necessities and divert them to the friendly areas and starving the opposition neighborhoods. Obviously, the foreign senders will have no idea about local municipalities, and the help will be confiscated and used for Erdogan’s propaganda. Help and trucks sent by opposition organizations are being confiscated, banners taken down, and government banners are hung on the same trucks to give the impression that the help is coming from the Erdogan government.

The earthquake showed the total collapse of a regime in Turkey. A regime that squandered and sold off its resources for privatization and profit-making. The regime had lifted regulations so the friendly contractors could benefit, resulting in the tragedy we see on TV. A regime that benefitted only a very few at the top while people were left vulnerable to the coming earthquake, mining disasters, or the covid pandemic is criminal. The blood of all the people crushed under the debris is not due to God or fate but is dripping from the hands of the Erdogan government.
The miners of Turkey have been fighting privatization pushed by the US and IMF. They are now working to help dig out victims of the earthquake caused by the deregulation, corruption and lack of oversight of construction sites by the Erdogan government. They have also faced growing mine disasters on the job by bosses connected to the Erdogan government.
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