“While paying lip service to the encouragement of representative democracy in Latin America, the United States has a strong interest in just the reverse.” – Gordon Connell-Smith
The United States is often criticized for its role in inciting chaos in the Middle East through its reckless aggression, torture, and support for brutal dictatorships which suppress any hope of a democratic uprising.
Indeed, America’s record in the Middle East is shameful, and there is no need to review it. But the Middle East and its confusing and terrifying affairs often overshadow another region of the world that the United States has been raping and looting for a century: Latin America.
From support for genocidal dictatorships to the funding and training of death squads, to the direct support for anti-government forces, and of course the implementation of economic warfare against those who resist the disastrous neoliberal principles being imposed upon them by force, the record of U.S. intervention in Latin America is beyond disgraceful.
Many of the countries designated for U.S. exploitation may never recover, which is perhaps a testament to the efficiency with which multinational corporations and corrupt governments can suck an economy dry, giving no thought to the condition of the masses, which is typically horrifying.
In the post-WWII period, interventions in Latin America were justified (when they were even mentioned to the public) with crude Cold War rhetoric: The overthrow of the democratically elected governments of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala and Salvador Allende in Chile (often called “the first 9/11“) were an attempt to root out a the horrifying threat of Communism, or, in Henry Kissinger’s word, to stop the spread of a “virus.”
Here’s Noam Chomsky on the significance of “the first 9/11”:
Suppose that on 9-11 the planes had bombed the White House…suppose they’d killed the president, established a military dictatorship, quickly killed thousands, tortured tens of thousands more, set up a major international terror center that was carrying out assassinations, overthrowing governments all over the place, installing other dictatorships, and drove the country into one of the worst depressions in its history and had to call on the state to bail them out Suppose that had happened? It did happen. On the first 9-11 in 1973. Except we were responsible for it, so it didn’t happen. That’s Allende’s Chile. You can’t imagine the media talking about this.
What the United States is in fact worried about is independence, what’s called the “threat of a good example,” or a rotten apple which might spoil the barrel, or some formulation of “the domino theory”: The idea that if one country decides to develop crazy ideas about democracy and popular control, other countries might do the same, leading to a widespread revolution.
This is directly antithetical U.S. business interests, so it must be rooted out, brutally and quickly, so that others get the message.
Noam Chomsky writes in Interventions that,
The United States has long reacted harshly to the “successful defiance” of Third World countries like Cuba that sought a path to independent development, assigning priority to domestic needs rather than those of foreign investors and Washington planners.
After the “virus” is removed, “stability” must be established, often through a nasty, corrupt dictator or a national security state which will not give in to such petty concerns as human rights and living conditions.
In fact, much has been written on the relationship between U.S. aid to Latin American countries and human rights violations. Here is Lars Shoultz:
The correlations between the absolute level of U.S. assistance to Latin America and human rights violations by recipient governments are . . . uniformly positive, indicating that aid has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens. In addition, the correlations are relatively strong. . . . United States aid tended to flow disproportionately to the hemisphere’s relatively egregious violators of fundamental human rights.
This “assistance to Latin America” constitutes, in the words of Edward Herman, “indirect aggression by a long-term subversive arming, training, and other support of rightwing military and paramilitary thugs,” but this fact is of course completely repressed or downplayed by the mainstream media, while the crimes of official enemies are highlighted at length.
Although not as violently or as explicitly, U.S. attempts to interfere with the sovereignty of Latin American countries continue to the present, with President Obama recently declaring Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy” of the United States, for reasons that are quite transparent to the critical observer: Venezuela will not submit to U.S. domination.
Here is John Pilger in an interview with Z Magazine:
The ‘threat’ of Venezuela is greater, of course, because it is not tiny and weak; it is rich and influential and regarded as such by China. The remarkable change in fortunes for millions of people in Latin America is at the heart of U.S. hostility. The U.S. has been the undeclared enemy of social progress in Latin America for two centuries.
It doesn’t matter who has been in the White House—Barack Obama or Teddy Roosevelt—the U.S. will not tolerate countries with governments and cultures that put the needs of their own people first and refuse to promote or succumb to U.S. demands and pressures. A reformist social democracy with a capitalist base—such as Venezuela—is not excused by the rulers of the world. What is inexcusable is Venezuela’s political independence; only complete deference is acceptable.
The same is true of Cuba: Although relations do seem to be moving in a more positive direction, the United States has been doing its best to subvert and control Cuba since the days of Thomas Jefferson.
And, since the Cuban revolution of 1959, the U.S. government has carried out massive terrorist operations (beginning with the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and continuing with Operation Mongoose, which included multiple attempts to assassinate Castro) in an effort to subvert the Cuban government, hoping to beat the country into submission.
Their crime? “Successful defiance”:
The very existence of his regime [Castro]…represents a successful defiance of the U.S., a negation of our whole hemispheric policy of almost a century and a half.
This led to many problems for the United States, including,
The poor and underprivileged, stimulated by the example of the Cuban revolution, are now demanding opportunity for a decent living.
(Citations available in Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival pages 80-90, and The Iraq War and Its Consequences. I will email them to you if you would like; let me know through the contact page)
Imagine that. People want to live with dignity, make a decent wage, and support their families.
But this, in the eyes of U.S. planners, is “Communism”, a “virus” which must be extracted. Thus, JFK advised his brother and Attorney-General Robert Kennedy, along with the CIA to “unleash the ‘terrors of the earth’ on Cuba” and to encourage “gangster elements”, sparing “no time, money, effort – or manpower.”
These are the consequences of striving for independence from the global economic order and resisting U.S. exploitation.
The bravery of the Latin American people and governments is quite astonishing, given the endless terror that has been visited upon them for decades. There is no doubt that they have internal problems to deal with, but this in no way justifies the treatment they have received from the world superpower.
If we share their principles, and a modicum of their courage, we should take direct action in our own countries, starting, I would suggest, with the propagandists in the media. Yes, it’s our responsibility, and it has never been more urgent.
What’s more, the U.S. government continues to insult the intelligence of the American people by claiming that these countries are grave threats to the survival of the United States: This may have worked during the Kennedy and Reagan years, but it doesn’t work anymore. We’re tired of brutalizing innocent people, whether through economic warfare or warfare of any other kind.
Continued interference with the sovereignty of other nations and attempts to “steer” their policies are bringing about greater security threats to the United States, not lessening them. This has always been true, not just in Latin America.
But what matters are the goals of the U.S. government: Can they tolerate the independence of other nations, or do they wish for global dominance at all costs, allowing no disobedience whatsoever?
Latin America as a a whole offers a gruesome look into the effects of U.S. domination, and it is the people of the United States who have to ask themselves: Would I tolerate this kind of abuse from an external power? Would I tolerate my democratically elected government being overthrown and my friends and family being systematically tortured, murdered, and “disappeared”?
This kind of introspection is not encouraged by the mainstream media. We are taught to focus on, and often over-inflate, the problems of these countries, making ourselves feel better about ruining them.
Again, there are doubtless problems to be dealt with internally for these Latin American countries, but is it the right of the United States to impose its own will upon them, even when it has its own domestic issues to confront?
We are constantly reassured by our exalted leaders that our actions abroad are working to promote democracy and freedom, just as Reagan reassured Congress and the public that, by supporting the murderous Contras in Nicaragua, we are providing much needed aid to “freedom fighters,” insisting righteously that they were “the moral equivalent of our founding fathers.”
This never has been true, and it never will be true. The United States wants to destroy democracy in these countries, not promote it, as Lars Shoultz observes:
[The objective of authoritarian regimes in Latin America, supported by the United States, was not necessarily to ‘seize power for the sake of personal gain’, but] to destroy permanently a perceived threat to the existing structure of socio-economic privilege, by eliminating the political participation of the numerical majority, principally the working or (to use a broader, more accurate term) popular classes.
Once again, as John Pilger never ceases to emphasize, the problem is independence.
Image via Wikimedia Commons