Reflexions on building
the post-COVID-19 society
An interview with Frédéric Pierucci about the foundations for a new post-pandemic era
by Luc Archambault
Luc Archambault interviewed Frédéric Pierucci, author of the book, The American Trap (awarded with the 2019 Human Rights Literary Prize, Hodder & Stoughton publisher), in which he recounts how he was used as a hostage in the “war of law” waged by the United States against large European companies and how he unwittingly discovered the workings of American justice, where everything is negotiated and everything has a price.
- How will the pandemic affect not only the global health system but also politics, economics and culture around the world? Are we entering a new era?
The crisis we are experiencing is different from all previous crises. In addition to its dazzling speed and the need to react in the short term, its long-term ramifications are equally terrifying. Indeed, it is to be feared that this one will quickly give birth to many other crises: economic, migratory, political etc.
The crisis we are experiencing is different from all previous crises. In addition to its dazzling speed and the need to react in the short term, its long-term ramifications are equally terrifying.
For the time being, each government is defending its management of the health crisis caused by COVID-19 with extremely varied strategies, often dictated by their capacity to implement them. A good example is France where, for a long time, the government considered the wearing of masks and mass screening tests unnecessary until it was able to procure them.
The impact on the economy is enormous and again unprecedented. In some countries, a few companies and, at best, a few sectors of industry will be rescued from bankruptcy by nationalization or massive state aid, but the majority of them will not be able to do so and will close down permanently.
When the emergency is over, each government will be judged not only by its citizens but also by other governments. Comparisons between states will be unavoidable and each will use the propaganda at its disposal to “sell” its version of events and its post-COVID-19 worldview, both inside and outside the country.
- Why will the choice between nationalism and global solidarity be most urgent, and what will be the advantages, and disadvantages, of an authoritarian system versus a democratic system, particularly concerning environmental protection, internal and external trade, public health, humanitarianism, etc.? Why is it urgent to abandon ideological competition?
The countries that will have badly managed this crisis or those that will not be able to hide their failures, will see their “soft power”, i.e. their capacity to influence others, collapse. This loss of influence will affect all aspects: economic, cultural and above all political. The winners will be those who have won the information war, not necessarily the health war. Global redistribution of the cards is therefore underway. Europe, having failed to react politically in a united and coordinated manner, risks being the great absentee of this redistribution, even if some European states, such as Germany, will emerge strengthened.
‘The winners will be those who have won the information war, not necessarily the health war. Global redistribution of the cards is therefore underway.’
The very principle of universal access to health care, which for many was one of the last great symbols of equality between citizens in some democracies, has been shattered by the overwhelming demands made on healthcare systems. Choices had to be made between patients, often based on age, which led to a deep sense of betrayal among the population. The word “state propaganda” has emerged from the limbo of history in many democratic countries.
This crisis has shown us forcefully that there is no “ideal” political system that can guarantee the health and safety of its citizens. Some authoritarian systems have reacted much better than those in large democracies and vice versa. The traditional dividing lines between so-called democratic and authoritarian regimes have become blurred. Some democracies have urgently taken repressive measures, abandoned parliamentary debate and have manipulated the media more than usual. The result is a deep sense of unease among the population, whose certainties about real democratic guarantees, although enshrined in the constitution of their political system, are being called into question. For example, the precedent of temporary anti-terrorism legislation, which was subsequently incorporated into ordinary law, leads us to fear that these new restrictive measures will not be temporary.
In the end, whatever the political system, the countries that will have managed this crisis best are those that were able to listen to scientists independent of the lobbies and implemented their recommendations quickly, sometimes at the risk of temporarily calling into question their rules on individual freedoms.
Having also experienced a similar health crisis, that of SARS in 2003, was also a positive factor in the rapid reaction of some Asian countries that were well prepared with stocks of masks and with an alert and already tested population ready to submit to key barrier gestures.
This crude comparison, easily measurable in terms of excess mortality due to COVID-19, came as a shock to the Western world, which until then had been convinced of the superiority of its health, economic and, above all, political systems. To govern is to foresee. Many governments have failed in their primary mission to protect their citizens.
- Is the tariff policy implemented by the United States against the European Union and China appropriate? Will it undermine the current international trading system and delay the recovery of the world economy?
As a result of this crisis, tens of millions of people are already unemployed in the United States, Europe and Asia. Migration flows will intensify and risk rapidly destabilizing certain regions of the world, notably Europe.
We live in a society where the economy is globally integrated and it is an illusion to think that anyone can withdraw behind their national borders. This health crisis has confirmed the over-dependence of our economies on globalized, low-cost supply chains with a high socio-environmental impact. It is therefore essential to get the global economy back on track together, but this must be done under certain conditions.
The problem is not the movement of goods and services, which would be counterproductive to impede through customs barriers. Rather, the conditions for restarting the world economy must be built on new foundations, taking into account ecological, safety and health aspects and redefining which goods and services to trade and how.
‘As a result of this crisis, tens of millions of people are already unemployed in the United States, Europe and Asia. Migration flows will intensify and risk rapidly destabilizing certain regions of the world, notably Europe.’
For example, certain short-term industrial policies, like that of just-in-time supply chains without stocks, have deprived many European citizens of necessities and have led to many deaths preventable with a little more anticipation. A local reindustrialization of strategic products and services and the creation of national stocks should, therefore, be a priority for many states.
Any moves towards renewed economic warfare between the United States and China during and after this health crisis will have disastrous effects for everyone and risk plunging the world economy into uncontrollable chaos.
- Competition or cooperation between China and the United States will, to a greater extent, determine the global capacity to respond to the crisis. Should the Sino-US trade war be ended?
The United States has long used legal weapons to achieve its goals of economic or technological superiority. The US government and the Department of Justice (DOJ) base their actions on a range of extraterritorial laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the Cloud Act, the rules for controlling exports to countries under US embargo such as the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), regulated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), etc.
‘The United States has long used legal weapons to achieve its goals of economic or technological superiority. The US government and the Department of Justice (DOJ) base their actions on a range of extraterritorial laws…’
Under the pretence of defending universal moral values such as the fight against corruption or terrorism, this legal arsenal is hijacked and instrumentalized to regulate world trade for the benefit of American companies. There are many examples of European or Asian competitors in key sectors being destabilized by these laws.
- Is the United States justified in using political means to block Huawei’s expansion? Should Meng Wanzhou, Vice Chairman of the Board and Chief Financial Officer of Huawei Corporation, who was arrested on December 1, 2018, in Canada at the request of the U.S. and subsequently released on bail, be released? Should the Canadian government be aware of its responsibilities in this matter?
I cannot comment on the merits of the Huawei/Meng Wanzhou case, but it is very similar in form to what happened to me and Alstom. When, on February 6, 2020, Attorney General Barr (the head of the DOJ himself) launched a call for private American funds to buy out Huawei’s European competitors (e.g., Ericsson and/or Nokia) to control 5G technology, the lack of separation of powers, the crossover and interpenetration between the judicial, economic and political powers were revealed very clearly.
In this context where justice is instrumentalized, where opportunities to defend oneself are undermined by a Kafkaesque system, leading people to plead guilty to avoid a very long prison sentence and where human and defence rights are not respected, no government should authorize the extradition of defendants to the United States. I am trying to take this fight to Europe as well, where until now there has been no European solidarity in the field of extradition.
- Should the forces that support multi-polarization and multilateralism act to maintain international order and build a community of sharing for humanity?
This crisis is an opportunity to rethink the way we produce and consume and to encourage sustainable growth that will take place within the limits of the planet’s capacity for renewal and with respect for human rights. Paradoxically, this crisis could, therefore, be an opportunity to build a low-carbon economy compatible with the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement.
This time, we cannot afford to react as neo-liberal leaders have done in previous crises, taking advantage of these difficult times to speed up the privatization of entire sectors of economic activity and further deepening social inequalities. This system is out of breath. It is time to reread Naomi Klein’s “Shock Therapy” to see what awaits us if we do not react very quickly.
International institutions, as defined by the United States at the end of the Second World War, must be rethought to take into account the reality of today’s world and learn the lessons of this unprecedented crisis. Multilateralism is the only possible way forward if we want to build the era of American post-hegemony.
Images: courtesy of Frédéric Pierucci
Frédéric Pierucci headed Alstom’s Boiler Division from Singapore until 2013. Arrested by the FBI when he got off a plane at JFK in April 2013 for having learned of corruption activities orchestrated by Alstom in Indonesia ten years earlier, he spent 25 months in American high-security prisons where he unwittingly discovered the workings of the American justice system, where everything is negotiated and everything has a price. Since 2015, he has been running Ikarian, a strategic and operational compliance consulting firm.
Luc Archambault, writer and journalist, globe-trotter at heart, passionate about movies, music, literature and contemporary dance, came back from an extensive stay in China to Montreal to pursue his unrelenting quest for artistic meaning.