8) Foreign Policy

“The war got good ratings. It was on every channel and cable. We like war. We like it because we’re good at it. We’re good because we get a lot of practice. This country’s only 200 years old and we’ve already had 10 major wars. That’s an average of one war every 20 years!

We’re good at it. And it’s a good thing. Because we’re not much good at anything else! We can’t make a decent car anymore. Can’t make a VCR or a TV worth a fuck. Got no steel industry left. Can’t provide decent health care for our old people. Can’t educate our young. But, we can bomb the hell out of your country alright! Especially, if your country is full of brown people. Oh, we like that. That’s our hobby That’s our new job in the world – bombing brown people!

Iraq, Panama, Greneda, Lybia – you got some brown people in your country? Tell them to watch out! Or we’ll god damn bomb them. Who were the last white people you can remember that we bombed? The Germans. They’re the only ones. And that’s because they wanted to cut in on our action – dominating the world. Bullshit! That’s our fucking job!” – George Carlin

The economic disparity created by our system in the United States is but a microcosm of that which has been created throughout the world. Under the capitalistic structure, rich countries are encouraged to exploit poorer and weaker countries. President Eisenhower, one of our few exceptionally candid presidents, when asked why he thought we were involved in Viet Nam, replied: “I believe it has to do with the tin and the tungsten!”

Since the inception of the industrial age there has been a large gap in wealth possessed between the rich and the poor countries. This disparity shows no sign of diminishing to this date. It certainly may be argued that great material and technological progress has occurred under the prevalence of the perhaps misnomered free-enterprise system. Yet, economic parity appears to be the victim. This, at a time now when parity is becoming ever-increasingly essential to the survival of the human species!

The wealthy industrialized societies have at their disposal many means of maintaining their advantages. Military might, bribery, economic embargoes, trade tariffs, espionage, sabotage, assassinations, propaganda, even religion, are tools enhanced by wealth, which have throughout the past and into the present, enabled the rich and powerful nations to plunder the resources of impoverished, but mineral rich countries. The Gulf War is a prime example of the use of military superiority used to maintain the mineral exploitation which has existed in the Near East for the last seventy years (refer to section on the Gulf War). As well, highly visible in this case were the elements of bribery, embargoes, and propaganda.

The Spanish, of course, used religion, as well as might, to subjugate and plunder the South American continent in the past. However, for the last century it has been mainly the good old U.S.A. which has taken the lead in suppressing the efforts of indigenous peoples of that continent to gain control of their own resources. In keeping with U.S. policy of installing and maintaining puppet dictators who take bribes and offer sweetheart deals to northern industrialists. The dictators pad the pockets of themselves, the military and the surrounding oligarchies, while the majority remain in poverty and fear.

Author Gore Vidal (The Nation, June 5, ‘95) credits his stay in Guatemala during his early twenties with providing the enlightenment which initiated the transformation of his political philosophy from conservative to liberal. Vidal relates a prophetic conversation he had in the late forties with a man named Mario Monteforte Toledo, then President of the Guatemalan Congress, during the days when Guatemala was a bonafide democratic republic. The experience, incidentally, led to one of Vidal’s first novels, “Dark Green, Bright Red”.

Here is Gore Vidal’s account: “After a ritual denunciation of the rich and indifferent, Mario started to talk politics, ‘We may not last much longer,’ “We …who?”

“Our government. At some point we’re going to have to raise revenue. The only place where there is any money to be raised is ‘el pulpo”. El pulpo meant the Octopus, also known as the United Fruit Company, whose annual revenues were twice that of the Guatemalan state. Recently workers had gone on strike; selfishly, they had wanted to be paid $1.50 a day for their interesting work.

“What’s going to stop you from taxing them?” I was naive. This was long ago, and the United States had just become the Leader of the Lucky Free World.

“Your government. Who else? They kept Ubico in power all those years. Now they’re getting ready to replace us.”

I was astonished. I had known vaguely about our numerous past interventions in Central America. But that was in the past. Why should we bother now? We controlled the world. Why should we care what happens in a small country like this?”

Mario gave me a compassionate look–compassion for my stupidity. “Businessmen. Like the owners of United Fruit. They care. They used to pay for our politicians. They still pay for yours. Why, one of your big senators is on the board of El pulpo.”

I knew something about senators. Which one? Mario was vague. “He has three names. He’s from Boston, I think…”

“Henry Cabot Lodge? I don’t believe it.” Lodge was a family friend; as a boy I had discussed poetry with him–he was a poet’s son.

As we drank beer and the light faded, Mario described the trap that a small country like Guatemala was in. I can’t say that I took him seriously. With all the world, except the satanic Soviet Union, under our control it was hardly in our national interest to overthrow a democratic neighbor, no matter how much it’s government irritated the board of directors of United Fruit. But in those days I was not aware to what extent big business controlled the government of our own rapidly expiring republic. Now, of course, everyone knows to what extent our subsequent empire, with it’s militarized economy, controls business The end result is much the same for the rest of the world, only the killing fields are more vast than before and we make mischief not just with weak neighbors, but on every continent.”

A few years following his conversation with Mario Toledo, Vidal relates, “ Senator Lodge denounced Arbenz (Popularly elected Guatemalan President), as a communist because, in June 1952, Ar,valo (Arbenz’s predecessor) had ordered the expropriation of some of United Fruit’s unused land, which he gave to 100,000 Guatemalan families. Ar,valo paid the company what he thought was a fair price; one based on the United Fruit Company’s own evaluation of the land for tax purposes. The American Empire went into action, and through the C.I.A., it put together an army and bombed Guatemala City. Arbenz resigned. U.S. Ambassador John Peurifoy wanted the Guatemalan Army’s chief of staff to become president, and gave him a list of “communists” to be shot. The chief of staff declined: “It would be better,” he said, “that you actually sit on the presidential chair, and that the Stars and Stripes fly over the palace.”

Peurifoy picked another military man to represent the interests of company and empire. Since then, Guatemala has been a slaughterground.”

More recently U.S. lawyer, Jennifer Harbury has managed to gain the public eye. She was “outraged” to learn that the C.I.A. payroll included Guatemalan military officers implicated in the 1990 assassination of U.S. citizen Michael Devine and the 1992 torture-murder of Efrain Bamaca, her own husband. She learned that Col. Alpirez, the officer responsible for the Devine and Bamaca killings, participated in two officer training programs at the U.S. School of the Americas. She has to live with the knowledge that American tax dollars contributed to the killing of her husband – yours, mine, and her own!

Upon investigation, Jennifer came to the conclusion that “What we know about the C.I.A. involvement in Guatemala, represents only the tip of the iceberg.” In the past 40 years, nearly 50,000 Guatemalans have been “disappeared;” more than 150,000 civilians killed; and over 440 indigenous villages have been completely destroyed by army violence.

Michael Willis, National Coordinator for NISGUA (Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala) reports that “At this very moment (June, ‘95) the United States continues assisting the Guatemalan army with training, funding, and weapons sales programs. Army Reserve and National Guard troops are working “shoulder to shoulder” with the Guatemalan army in a six-month long “nation-building” exercise which lasts from January to June involving 4,500 U.S. soldiers. The United States claims programs like these helps provide leverage over the Guatemalan army and train them in democracy-building skills.”

Under Pres. Nixon, the C.I.A. through a process of bribery and assassination had Chilean Pres. Salvador Alenede eliminated. Alenede was a popular democratically elected leader who espoused socialism as a means to restore parity to the people of his country. He was replaced by a military dictator for the following decade. Chilean strong-man Pinchot presided over a police state decried by Amnesty International as one of the worst in the continent on human rights abuses.

Cuba, is another example, where the people, through the installation of socialism, have attempted to break the stranglehold of outsiders on the resources, production and local economy. Though U.S. attempts at military force, and assassination failed to bring the Cubans to their knees, a prolonged economic embargo appears to be having a telling effect.

In the more recent, Haitian crisis, a curious reversal of normal U. S. policy has surfaced. Pres. Clinton appears to be determined to restore (a better word would be create) democracy on that downtrodden island county off the U.S. coast. He undertook this task in the face of apparent opposition from those commercial interests which routinely thrive off low-cost labor available in Haiti, the majority of the American people as well as members of both parties in Congress. (This also being somewhat abnormal presidential behavior) Ordinarily “restoring democracy” is used as a code-word or an excuse for maintaining or restoring some form of imperialism. Surprisingly this appears not to be the case with the Haitian adventure! Pres. Clinton deserves plaudits for initiating this first step towards restoring a measure of compassion and human cooperation to American foreign policy.

Nevertheless, all good intentions notwithstanding, Pres. Clinton may be headed for a rude awakening! If the plan be to simply move in; restore former Pres. Aristide to power and leave, the desired outcome is seriously in question. Realities must be faced. Haiti is an impoverished country. The principle violated here relates to the previously mentioned adage. There can be no real democracy in an impoverished land where there exists a vastly unequal distribution of what meager wealth exists.

Having gained power in the first real democratic election is the history of his country, Aristide had immediately set about to carry out the mandate given to him by the people. He tried to restore some measure of economic parity to his land. He took land from the wealthy church establishment to distribute among the poor, and proposed heavy taxes on the 500 or so rich families to build schools sorely needed in all the provinces.

Naturally the entrenched oligarchy was non-plussed by the whole idea. Of course, wealth equals power and power equals money – money to buy the guns and soldiers to dispel Aristide. It appears democracy is no match for unbridled wealth. And unless Americans are willing to remain with it in Haiti until a great deal of economic and social parity is established, we’re simply looking at a repeat of the past.

If we take a more in depth view of the Haitian crisis, we may detect a microcosmic picture of the overall malaise which envelopes the world of the 90’s, including the dilemma of democracy. Alexis De Toqueville, a famous French writer, upon touring the fledgling United States in the 1840’s, questioned whether the affairs of state could be successfully handled with power placed in the hands of the majority which consisted of comparatively uneducated masses, rather than the more capable intelligentsia. (Echoes of Plato several thousand years earlier) There may have been some validity to De Toqueville’s point. However, Karl Marx, a few years later may have been even closer to the point! He seemed to feel that economic parity was the prime ingredient to the successful working of democracy. Indeed, it may be readily observed that throughout the world there is a correlation between the economic status and the level of democracy operating in most countries.

The history of Third World countries is replete with experiences similar to those experienced by the Haitians. Whenever any type of revolution takes place with the goal of establishing a more equitable distribution of wealth between the impoverished and the rich, utilizing the well-intentioned establishment of a democratic structure, the outcome is generally failure. This occurs primarily because the freedom of action allowable under the democratic structure enables the more powerful rich to buy and bribe their way back to the more advantageous position. A dictatorship appears almost necessary to establish any measure of economic parity. Of course, if this dictatorship sincerely attempts to raise the impoverished to a higher standard of living, it is inevitably viewed as a communistic menace by the capitalistic “Free World”, which then engages in economic embargoes, boycotts, and perhaps even military intervention to restore the status quo. And if that ensuing dictatorship turns out to be simply self-serving, and insincere, (actually unlike the recent situation in Haiti) The “Free World” will generally decry the absence of democracy, but go on to make profitable industrial deals with the powers that rule. All this, as one can see, bodes ill for the hope of establishing a world climate of trust and cooperation needed to cope with the problem of world survival omnipresent in our future. In fact, one might conclude that unless some concerted effort is made to restore a measure of economic parity throughout the world, we stand doomed.

<< previous | next >>