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The American Empire in Latin America: “Democracy” is a Threat to “National Security”


The American Empire in Latin America: “Democracy” is a Threat to “National Security”

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

NOTE: This is an excerpt from a chapter in a current book-in-progress being funded through The People’s Book Project. The chapter is on the American Empire’s early implementation of its “Grand Area” designs in Latin America, as defined by the Council on Foreign Relations during World War II. The Project is currently in dire need of funding, so please donate if possible to allow progress on this book to continue.

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A cohesive American imperial strategy to manage the “Grand Area” of Latin America in the post-War period was established by the newly formed Eisenhower administration in the National Security Council’s draft paper, “U.S. Policy With Respect to Latin America,” in January of 1953. In March, a final draft was submitted as NSC 144, a report on “United States Objectives and Courses of Action With Respect to Latin America.” As the strategy document was produced through the NSC, the highest policy-planning body in the American government, it necessarily involved the participation of high-level officials from the Departments of State, Defense, Treasury, the C.I.A., the Mutual Security Agency, and the Office of Defense Mobilization.[1]

Issued on March 18, 1953, the “Statement of Policy by the National Security Council” outlined the primary threat posed to American interests in Latin America:

There is a trend in Latin America toward nationalistic regimes maintained in large part by appeals to the masses of the population. Concurrently, there is an increasing popular demand for immediate improvement in the low living standards of the masses, with the result that most Latin American governments are under intense domestic political pressures to increase production and to diversify their economies… [Thus, a] realistic and constructive approach to this need which recognizes the importance of bettering conditions for the general population, is essential to arrest the drift in the area toward radical and nationalistic regimes. The growth of nationalism is facilitated by historic anti-U.S. prejudices and exploited by Communists [emphasis added].[2]

Thus, the true threat – far from the “strategic sham” of Cold War rhetoric (as Zbigniew Brzezinski referred to it) – was the actualized and very realistic challenge to American domination posed by “nationalistic regimes” which support “the masses of the population” of various Latin American countries. Worse still, the masses were demanding “immediate improvement in [their] low living standards,” thus threatening the traditional elite-dominated system of control and subordination which had been established in Latin America for so many centuries. These “radical and nationalistic regimes” had to be prevented from meeting the demands of the masses. Almost as an afterthought, the document stated that – by the way – these “radical and nationalistic regimes” are given strength “by historic anti-U.S. prejudices and exploited by Communists,” as if to simply brush over the immediate imperial threat with the common rhetoric. The use of the word “prejudices” also portends to portray such views of the United States as unwarranted and unjustified, as if the United States were the victim. Indeed, for the strategists in the National Security Council, the threat of radical nationalism had the potential to victimize them of their vast imperial domains.

Thus, the NSC-144 document listed a number of “Objectives” for the United States to undertake in this highly threatening situation where the poor masses of an entire continent no longer wanted to be subjected to the ruthless domination of a tiny domestic and foreign minority. These ‘objectives’ included: “Hemisphere solidarity in support of our world policies, particularly in the UN and other international organizations,” which, in other words, means towing the line with the United States in regards to American foreign policy around the world; “An orderly political and economic development in Latin America so that the states in the area will be more effective members of the hemisphere system and increasingly important participants in the economic and political affairs of the free world,” which can be roughly translated as supporting the development of a Western-oriented middle class which would support the elites and keep the lower classes – the masses – at bay; “The safeguarding of the hemisphere… against external aggression through the development of indigenous military forces and local bases necessary for hemisphere defense,” which implies allowing America to establish military bases throughout the continent – naturally for “defensive” purposes – in offensively defending America’s resources (which happen to be in other countries), as well as establishing local military proxies through which America can exert regional hegemony. Further objectives included: “The reduction and elimination of the menace of internal Communist or other anti-U.S. subversion,” which equates to purging and liquidating the countries of dissenters, a patently fascistic policy objective; “Adequate production in Latin America of, and access by the United States to, raw materials essential to U.S. security,” which means that American corporations get unhindered access to exploit the region’s resources; and “The ultimate standardization of Latin American military organization, training, doctrine and equipment along U.S. lines,” which implies making every country’s military structure and apparatus of internal repression dependent upon U.S. support, and thus, it would ensure a structure of dependency between domestic elites and the American Empire, as the domestic elites would need the military and police apparatus to repress the “masses” whom they rule over and exploit. Therefore, America would need to essentially subsidize Latin America’s systems and structures of repression.[3]

In identifying “courses of action” to achieve America’s “objectives” in Latin America, the NSC document stated that the United States could achieve a “greater degree of hemisphere solidarity” – i.e., hegemony – if it utilizes the Organization of American States (OAS) “as a means of achieving our objectives,” because this would “avoid the appearance of unilateral action and identify our interests with those of the other American states.” It further recommended undertaking consultations with Latin American states, “whenever possible,” before America took unilateral action within Latin America. The “consultations,” it should not be confused, were not designed to weigh the opinions of Latin American states in the decision-making processes of the empire, but rather to explain “as fully as security permits the reasons for our decisions and actions.” So essentially, it’s more of a courtesy call, a polite announcement of imperial actions.[4]

Importantly, one major “course of action” included the encouraging – via ‘consultation,’ assistance, and “other available means” – of “individual and collective action against internal subversive activities by communists and other anti-U.S. elements.” What this amounts to, then, as a “course of action,” was for America to undertake a comprehensive program aimed at advising (“consulting”), financing, arming, and organizing Latin American states to internally and regionally oppress, control, or eliminate dissidents and activists. Not unrelated, of course, the “courses of action” also stated that the United States should work to “encourage” Latin American nations to “recognize” (i.e., submit) to the idea that the “best” way to “development” for them is through “private enterprise,” which required “a climate which will attract private investment,” which meant to grant favourable concessions, low tariffs, and easy exploitation of resources to foreign conglomerates, namely, American. The document even directly recommended simplifying “customs procedures and reduction of trade barriers” in order to “[make] it easy for Latin American countries to sell their products to us,” which is kind of like saying, “If I give you a large loan, it will make it easier for you to pay a higher interest to me.” What it really implies, then, is not to improve conditions for Latin American countries in “selling” products, but in making it “easier” for Northern countries to buy products, as in, making them much cheaper, and thus, Latin American countries will get less for them, and their resources could be appropriated with greater ease than previously. Naturally, the “courses of action” in the economic realm also stipulated that the United States should “assist” Latin America in playing “a more vigorous and responsible role in economic development of the area.”[5]

The notion of “responsible” development means that the nations would not be attempting to nationalize their resources or impose strict trade controls over their national wealth and products so as to industrialize and develop internally (as the United States did following the American Revolution), because this is “irresponsible” behaviour. It is irresponsible precisely because it is effective in the process of national development, as evidenced by the fact that every major industrial economy in the early 20th century had been established through state protections and interventions into the economy, and this is what allowed them to rise as industrial giants and become powerful global powers. Thus, the notion of a ‘Third World’ state possibly becoming a powerful industrial nation in its own right is not a “responsible” way to establish oneself as a vassal state for a regional and global empire, which requires its protectorates to be dependent, not self-sufficient.

Conveniently for the United States, then, which articulates the rhetoric of “free market” capitalism (which it does not practice, with heavy state subsidies, trade restrictions, and market controls), the Soviet Union – its new ideological ‘enemy’ – overtly imposed and openly advocated state control of the economy (though in practice it relied quite heavily upon American industrial corporations for support), and thus, any state which nationalized resources or imposed state controls and interventions in the economy could be said to be following the path of the Soviet Union, and subsequently be presented to the domestic American populace as a “Communist threat.” This is, indeed, exactly what took place throughout the Cold War period.

On this very note, the NSC-144 document directly stated that in relation to its propaganda efforts in the region – “Information and Cultural Programs for Latin American states” – the United States “should be specifically directed to the problems and psychology of specific states in the area,” of which the objective would be to ‘alert’ these states and their populations “to the dangers of Soviet imperialism and communist and other anti-U.S. subversion,” and thus, indirectly “convincing them that their own self-interest requires an orientation of Latin American policies to our objectives.” In other words, unless following the strict dictates of the United States, these states will be branded as Communist or “subversive.” Subversive elements, as the NSC-144 document stipulates, were to be dealt with largely through military means. The United States recommended as a “course of action” to “provide military assistance to Latin America,” which would “be designed to reduce to a minimum the diversion of U.S. forces for the maintenance of hemispheric security,” or in other words, building up domestic Latin American military and police forces so that the American military won’t have to directly respond to every threat to its hegemony in the region. On this note, it was also vital to ensure that America had several military bases in the region, and, as the document suggested, “the United States should take political, economic or military action, as appropriate, to insure the continued availability of U.S. bases in Latin America.”[6] What this implied was that if U.S. military bases were threatened in the region, that was reason enough to take military action against any entity which challenged the presumed permanence of the bases.

NSC-144 even directly stated that, “where necessary,” the United States should directly protect certain resources and industries and their transportation routes to the United States, but that each Latin American country “should organize its own civil defense.” One example of this would be the American bases along the Panama Canal. The United States should also, according to the document, “establish where appropriate, military training missions in Latin American nations,” as well as “to provide training in the United States for selected Latin American personnel.” Ultimately, then, a key aim of U.S. military assistance to the region was to “seek the ultimate standardization along U.S. lines of the organization, training, doctrine and equipment of Latin American armed forces,”[7] a very typical imperial phenomenon, along the notion of God creating man “in his own image.”

The NSC-144 document of 1953 and its appendage in NSC 5432/1 of 1954 were incredibly important in establishing a method and process of United States hegemony in Latin America during the Cold War period. With the Eisenhower administration in power in 1953, America took a hard-line approach to Latin America. His Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, stated – following the Caracas Conference in 1954 which adopted an “anticommunist resolution” for the OAS – that the United States could “operate more effectively to meet Communist subversion in the American Republics.”[8] One of the most important examples of American imperialism in Latin America almost immediately followed NSC-144, with the 1954 coup in Guatemala.

Guatemala: Democracy is not in the “American Interest”

In 1950, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was elected President of Guatemala under the popularly supported pretense of continuing socio-economic reforms such as instituting land reform, an extremely popular policy among the people. President Eisenhower identified the ‘threat’ posed by the Arbenz regime to the “American interest” when he wrote that, “the Arbenz government announced its intentions, under an agrarian reform law, to seize about 225,000 acres of unused United Fruit Company land.”[9]

The Council on Foreign Relations had many interests in the issues presented by Guatemala, as the Council’s early “studies on Latin America had focused precisely on United States economic interests there.” As Shoup and Minter wrote:

In 1952 and 1953, Spruille Braden, former assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs and a consultant for the United Fruit Company, led a Council study group on Political Unrest in Latin America… the first meeting, in the fall of 1952, was devoted to Guatemala, with John McClintock of the United Fruit Company as the discussion leader.[10]

One member of the study group wrote in his journal, following one of the meetings, that “the Council on Foreign Relations the other night agreed generally that the Guatemalan government was Communist,” and that the United States “should welcome” the overthrow of the Arbenz government, “and if possible guide it into a reasonably sound channel.” Those most involved in deciding U.S. policy towards Guatemala within the U.S. government were also members of the Council:

Most important were President Eisenhower himself, the CIA head Allen Dulles, who continued on the Council’s board of directors at the same time, and Frank Wisner, another Council member who was the CIA’s deputy director for plans (the man in charge of clandestine operations).[11]

It should also be noted that U.S. Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, while not a member of the Council, was the brother of Council board member and CIA Director Allen Dulles. Arbenz in Guatemala represented exactly the “threat” as identified in NSC-144 of, “nationalistic regimes maintained in large part by appeals to the masses of the population,” and was thus considered to be a “radical and nationalistic” regime. The immense threat posed by such a regime to America was in the Arbenz government’s willingness to direct its policies to meet “an increasing popular demand for immediate improvement in the low living standards of the masses,” as the NSC-144 identified as the key trend in Latin America.

Operation PBSUCCESS, authorized by Eisenhower in August 1953, boasted a $2.7 million budget for “psychological warfare and political action” and “subversion,” among the other components of a small paramilitary war.[12] As the CIA officer in charge of the operation, E. Howard Hunt (later infamous for the Watergate burglary), explained in an interview some years later, “What we [the CIA] wanted to do was to have a terror campaign… to terrify Arbenz particularly, to terrify his troops, much as the German Stuka bombers terrified the population of Holland, Belgium and Poland at the onset of World War Two.”[13]

In December of 1953, an organization established by the U.S. government called the National Planning Association on the Guatemala Situation produced a report proclaiming that, “Communist infiltration in Guatemala constitutes a threat not only to the freedom of that country but to the security of all Western Hemisphere nations.” With twenty-two committee members signing this statement, fifteen of them were Council on Foreign Relations members.[14]

In short, the Council on Foreign Relations made the argument that the “improvement in the low living standards of the masses” presented a Communist threat to the entire Western Hemisphere and threatened the “freedom” of Guatemala itself. While the notion of “Communism” here is a metaphor for “radical nationalism,” such nationalistic regimes which were listening to and acting on the needs of the “masses of the population” – what can be called democracy – are indeed a major security threat to the United States and its hegemony over the entire region, and this is no metaphor.

It is not an exaggeration to say that a comparatively small country presents such an enormous threat to American regional and even global hegemony if it were to actually meet the “demand for immediate improvement in the low living standards of the masses,” and this is so not in spite of the country being a small Central American nation, but because it was a small, seemingly insignificant nation to the course of global affairs. This is precisely so because if a small nation could successfully chart its own path separate from the United States, especially one so geographically close to the United States, it could serve as an example to other nations in the region and around the world as presenting a method of independence and autonomy which could become increasingly attractive, especially to the “masses” of the world. Such an example could not be permitted to exist, least of all in such close regional proximity to the United States, for if a nation could successfully resist American dominance in its own “backyard” – as Latin America was established to be with the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 – then it could happen anywhere. Nothing would appear to be a greater threat to a large global power than a successful resistance by a small, local actor: David and Goliath.

In regards to U.S. policy toward Guatemala, the ties between the government, United Fruit Company and the Council on Foreign Relations were well established so as to create a consensus on defining the “national interest” as seeking to replace the Arbenz regime:

Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes, a future President of Guatemala, recorded that his cooperation in the coup was sought by Walter Turnbell, a former executive of United Fruit, who came accompanied by two CIA agents… [U.S. Secretary of State] John Foster Dulles, while at [Wall Street law firm] Sullivan and Cromwell, had represented the United Fruit Company in negotiating a contract with Guatemala some years before. [Assistant Secretary of State] John M. Cabot’s brother was a director and former president of the United Fruit Company. Spruille Braden [at the State Department] served as a United Fruit Company consultant. Former CIA director Walter Bedell Smith, after leaving the government, became a director of United Fruit, as did Robert D. Hill, a participant in the operation as ambassador to Costa Rica.[15]

The Council itself also had extensive ties to United Fruit Company, with three Council members serving on the board of United Fruit, not to mention the Dulles brothers who were very close with the Council and United Fruit, while being in the key positions of CIA Director and Secretary of State.[16]

Propaganda as Policy

Another major facet of the significance of the U.S. operation to overthrow the democratic government of Guatemala was not simply that it was the first post-World War II U.S. coup in Latin America, but that it involved a monumental propaganda campaign aimed at shaping domestic American opinion, which would ultimately come to define much of the methods and substance of U.S. domestic propaganda throughout the Cold War. Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud and the “Father of Public Relations” was pivotal in this program.

Bernays was hired as a public relations counsel for United Fruit Company in the early 1940s in order to help sell bananas during the winter. Bernays began finding new ways to sell bananas by marketing them not simply as a product to be consumed, but as a healthy life choice, and he further emphasized the need that United Fruit not simply educate North Americans about bananas, but about Latin America in general. Thus, Bernays established the Middle America Information Bureau, which was “in part an honest attempt to educate, providing scholars, journalists, and others with the latest information about a nearby place that most Americans knew almost nothing about.” However, Bernays wrote a memo to all employees of the Bureau that, “all material released by this office must be approved by responsible executives of the United Fruit Company.” The information that informed the articles produced by Bureau staff was provided directly by United Fruit.[17]

Bernays had early persuaded the United Fruit Company to begin framing the reformist democratic government of Arbenz as Communist, and had launched a campaign of planting stories in the media embracing this perspective. Articles began appearing in the New York Times, Atlantic Monthly, the New York Herald Tribune, Time, Newsweek, and even the left-leaning progressive magazine, The Nation, which “was especially satisfying to Bernays, who believed that winning the liberals over was essential to winning America over.”[18]

In January of 1952, Bernays took a group of journalists on a two-week tour of the region. The trip was “under the [United Fruit] Company’s careful guidance and, of course, company expense… The trips were ostensibly to gather information, but what the press would hear and see was carefully staged and regulated by the host.”[19] Bernays had control over media information on Guatemala up to and during the CIA coup. The government in Guatemala that came to power then ruled for decades with an iron fist “as it condemned hundreds of thousands of people (mostly members of the country’s impoverished Maya Indian majority) to dislocation, torture and death.”[20]

The achievement of scaring the American public with the threat of Communism proved to be incredibly successful in terms of creating public support for regime change in Guatemala. Thus, in 1954, when the exiled army officer in Honduras, Carlos Castillo Armas, had crossed the border into Guatemala with two hundred men who had been recruited and trained (and armed) by the CIA, Bernays framed this invasion in the American media as an “army of liberation.”[21] These tactics of media manipulation and the shaping of public opinion would come to define the Cold War propaganda strategy of the United States. For decades to come, every liberation struggle, every government, and every policy of foreign peoples and nations that threatened the dominance of U.S. hegemony and in particular, U.S. economic interests, would henceforth be framed as ‘Communist.’ As such, any force or process set against the ‘Communists’ in these regions would be seen as “liberators” and “democratic freedom fighters,” whether the strategy was that of fomenting rebellion, supporting death squads and terrorists, undertaking coups, “terror campaigns,” or outright war.

The underlying and far-reaching implications of this has been to create a historically unique situation in which the home population of the imperial nation (in this case, Americans) are subjected to a process of indoctrination so profound that they are in a state of ‘imperial denial.’ As such, Americans see their country and its role in the world as exceptional, in that they do not by and large accept or even contemplate the imperial nature of America and its policies, but rather are imbued with a type of ‘manifest destiny’ in which they believe that America is the “greatest nation” on earth, and thus have the ‘responsibility’ to ‘protect’ the world as a type of global policeman. This is unique in the history of empires, which until the dawn of the American empire, never denied their imperial nature as such (though they still justified it in various rhetorical ploys), nor were their populations entirely ignorant of their countries’ imperial status.

The Regional Politics of Global Dominance

As a result of the coup in Guatemala, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Henry F. Holland, stated that America “had paid a price in terms of prestige and good will” in the eyes of many Latin American nations and peoples.[22] It is telling to note the perspectives of several other Latin American nations and politicians in the lead-up to the Guatemala coup in late June of 1954. The United States learned an important lesson from their intervention in Guatemala, best examined with the case of internal politics in Chile, an important U.S. ally in the region, that the U.S. had to cultivate friendly perceptions and undertake propaganda efforts within Latin American countries, not simply within the United States itself.

Chile was an important source of resources for the United States, but in the early 1950s, its economy was in deep trouble, which then began to translate into political trouble for the United States. Chile elected a new president, Carlos Ibañez del Campo in 1952 (who had previously been a dictator in Chile from 1927-1931), with a priority to deal with Chile’s economic problems, though in ways that frustrated American interests. America appointed a new Ambassador to Chile, Willard L. Beaulac, who saw Chile’s economic problems as a threat to “solvency but also the stability of its political institutions.” As the Chilean public became increasingly dissatisfied with Ibañez’s handling of the economic situation, U.S. officials worried that he may try to do away with the democratic model and resort back to his dictatorial ways, modeling himself along the lines of Argentina’s Juan Peron, a populist dictatorship disliked by America. In the 1952 Chilean elections, Ibañez had framed himself as a “Peronist populist,” running as “the General of Hope.” Thus, the-then Ambassador to Chile declared, “The grave danger to Chile, and to us, is still Ibañez.” Further, a Socialist senator from northern Chile, Salvador Allende, increased in popularity, and declared: “If the President of the Republic does not consider himself capable of resolving [Chile’s] problems and fulfilling the promises he made, he would do well to take the democratic course of calling the country to resolve the problem through new elections.”[23]

Ibañez began courting the dictatorial path. His Undersecretary of Defense, Colonel Horacio Arce, approached U.S. Ambassador Beaulac “about how the United States would react to an Ibañez-led authoritarian regime,” to which Beaulac stated the American preference for a democratic regime. Ibañez had twice stated personally to the American Ambassador that he intended to impose an authoritarian regime. In Chile, American officials at the State Department did not view Communists as a real threat to the country, despite having one of the largest Communist organizations in Latin America (the others being in Brazil and Cuba). In 1948, the Chilean Congress had passed the Law for the Permanent Defense of Democracy, “which banned the Chilean Communist party and removed all Communists from the voter rolls.”[24] Thus, the ‘threat’ was generally contained.

With the Eisenhower administration’s focus on handling Guatemala and expanding U.S. actions against the Arbenz government, it then attempted to mobilize other Latin American countries to support its policies. The U.S. undertook a policy recommendation right out of the playbook – NSC paper 144 – which stated that the United States could achieve a “greater degree of hemisphere solidarity” if it utilized the Organization of American States (OAS) “as a means of achieving our objectives,” because this would “avoid the appearance of unilateral action and identify our interests with those of the other American states.”[25] Thus, for the OAS’s approaching Tenth Inter-American Conference, set in Caracas, Venezuela in March of 1954 (one year after the final draft of NSC-144 was published), U.S. officials proposed the addition of an “anti-Communist” resolution. This resolution stated:

That the domination or control of the political institutions of any American state by the international Communist movement… would constitute a threat to the sovereignty and political independence of the American states, endangering the peace of America, and would call for appropriate action in accordance with existing treaties.[26]

The treaty referred to specifically was the 1947 Rio Treaty, which stipulated that “if two thirds of member nations agreed, the OAS could take action against the nation that posed the threat.” One historian, Stephen Rabe, contended that the Secretary of State John Foster Dulles – with this resolution – essentially expanded “the Monroe Doctrine to include outlawing foreign ideologies in the American Republics.” The greatest opposition to this resolution at Caracas, interestingly, came from the Chilean delegation of Left and Center politicians and representatives, who openly opposed the Caracas Conference itself, as well as U.S. policy in Guatemala. One Chilean politician pointed out that the OAS should be concerned with the internal policies of the region’s dictatorships, not with Guatemala, and noted the irony of holding the conference in Venezuela, ruled by a “ruthless” dictator, General Marcos Pérez Jiménez. Eduardo Frei of Chile’s Falange party refused to attend the Chilean delegation to Caracas, stating:

I do not believe that the Department of State would be so bold as to suggest, least of all, an intervention into the internal affairs of [Guatemala] which is at liberty to determine freely its own destiny. If [the Department of State] did, all democratic forces of America would rise up to repudiate the aggression and to make common cause with Guatemala.[27]

Apparently, he underestimated the extent of America’s domestic propaganda system, which presented the “terror campaign” against a democratically elected and incredibly popular government as a victory for freedom and democracy. Orwellian artistry at its most malevolent.

Two weeks prior to the Caracas Conference, a group was organized within Chile’s Chamber of Deputies, led by the Chamber’s president, Baltasar Castro, as well as a number of Socialist party members and other radicals, calling themselves the “Friends of Guatemala,” who expressed their support for Arbenz in Guatemala, as well as their opposition to U.S. policy. Other “Friends of Guatemala” organizations appeared in El Salvador, Cuba, and Mexico, but Chile’s was the most influential and best mobilized, as they focused on the issues of “self-determination, Arbenz’s status as a democratically elected president, and the United States abusing its power to pressure smaller neighbors.” Baltasar Castro, as leader of the “Friends of Guatemala,” attracted negative attention from the U.S. embassy in Santiago, Chile. As their criticism intensified, other Latin American neighbours increasingly expressed reservations regarding the OAS meeting and specifically the anti-Communist resolution. Thus, they amended the resolution to stipulate that instead of taking “direct action,” they would “call for future consultations on additional measures,” and Chile, as well as several other nations, then voted in favour of the resolution, believing that it no longer stood for “unilateral or collective intervention” against Guatemala. A member of the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning Staff who attended the meeting observed that Latin America had “more fear of U.S. interventionism than of Guatemalan communism.”[28]

Salvador Allende, an important Socialist party politician in Chile, had not yet reached the national political stage in Chile (as he would later), but was generally considered by U.S. officials in the region to be “a friend,” whom they thought could act as a significant counter-weight to Ibañez. However, Allende had been increasingly critical of poverty and malnutrition among the poor and lower classes of society. This was tolerated by American officials who felt Allende had “no use” for Communism. Thus, as Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Edward G. Miller stated, Allende could “do substantial damage to Ibañez,” so he was tolerated. With the 1954 Caracas conference, Allende was provided “with a new political issue,” and began speaking out against U.S. policy in the region, stating that the anti-Communist resolution at the OAS conference was “nothing more than an instrument of the Cold War,” and it did “not reflect any of the fundamental concerns of the peoples of this part of the continent.” Further, Allende admonished Secretary of State John Foster Dulles for leaving the OAS conference “ten minutes after obtaining” the acceptance of the anti-Communist resolution, which exposed, according to Allende, how the conference was an instrument “for approving the anti-Communist resolution of Mr. Dulles.” As Allende presciently observed, American propaganda gave:

the impression that the mountains of [our] countries are infested with communists, that our coasts are full of communist ships, that the small country of Guatemala threatens the existence of the largest of the bourgeois countries. Like David and Goliath. But Guatemala does not have a sling. Its only sling is showing the road to follow for introducing progress and liberty into the nations of America.[29]

That was, however, certainly enough to make an enemy of America. After all, “introducing progress and liberty into the nations of America” is inimical to the interests of the United States, which sought to control and dominate the region and exploit its resources under the obedient command of local elites and with the ultimate pacification and submission of the “masses.”

Following the Caracas conference, as some State Department officials observed, “anti-U.S. sentiment runs quite high” in Chile, and that U.S. diplomats in the country were “striving to preserve such good-will as we still have.” U.S. officials, growing increasingly frustrated with the “anti-U.S. sentiment” in Chile, then began to hope that Ibañez would undertake an “anti-Communist campaign,” in order “to change the existing Chilean attitude that communism in Chile is a local phenomenon.” As U.S. Ambassador Beaulac noted, “The communists were Chileans… and it was difficult for the United States to compete with Chileans in Chile.” As the U.S. stepped up pressure against Guatemala in the lead-up to the coup, the “Friends of Guatemala” in Chile stepped up their own efforts against U.S. policy in the region, and proposed to hold a conference in Chile on the matter, focusing on three major agendas for deliberation:

(1) The self-determination of peoples, (2) the right of nations to dispose of their raw materials and autonomously to conduct their diplomatic and commercial relations, and (3) the internal democracy of countries, the full exercise of human rights, and the inviolability of individual guarantees.[30]

Naturally, this angered U.S. officials, who accused the Friends of Guatemala of attempting “to create pro-Guatemala propaganda,” and Assistant Secretary of State Holland stated: “I sincerely hope something will shock the Chileans out of their present posture of complete irresponsibility, political and economic.”[31] This goes again to the NSC-144 document which emphasized the need for America to “encourage” Latin American nations onto “responsible” modes of governance, politically and especially economically. Thus, supporting the “self-determination of peoples” is politically “irresponsible,” and worse yet, “the right of nations to dispose of their raw materials and autonomously to conduct their diplomatic and commercial relations,” is incredibly “irresponsible” for U.S. officials, who, as stated in NSC-144, were to “assist” Latin America in playing “a more vigorous and responsible role in economic development of the area.”[32] The Latin American countries were viewed by the United States as being akin to misbehaving children, and thus, they had to be properly disciplined and have their behaviour ‘corrected.’

The “shock” for Chile came with the coup in Guatemala, though not a ‘shock’ in the sense that U.S. officials had hoped. When the invasion of Guatemala began on June 17 with Colonel Castillo Armas and his CIA-backed army, mass protests erupted in Chile (and elsewhere in the continent), “often in front of the U.S. embassy,” and in Santiago’s city center, protesters burned a U.S. flag “amid the cheers of thousands of students.” A U.S. reporter took a photo of the flag burning which ended up in several U.S. newspapers, and the protests continued, even burning effigies of U.S. President Eisenhower. Ibañez’s Undersecretary of Defense told Ambassador Beaulac that Chilean students thought “that the United States is persecuting Guatemala.” Apparently, Chileans and other peoples in the region had no misunderstandings about who was responsible for the invasion and coup in Guatemala, as Chilean public opinion “continued to run high” in support of Guatemala and showed “accumulated pent up resentment against the United States,” as the American Embassy in Chile admitted.[33]

Chile’s Chamber of Deputies and Senate passed a resolution opposing U.S. policy and in support of Arbenz in Guatemala, and discussed the role of United Fruit in “supporting movements designed to overthrow a government which is not amenable to its interests.” Salvador Allende, Baltasar Castro, and others organized protests against the United States in cooperation with workers organizations, student groups, and radical political parties, of which American officials lamented that these men were “giving comfort to the communist cause.” As the U.S. Embassy in Chile cabled to Washington, the invasion of Guatemala “provided the communists with an issue – U.S. ‘aggression’ against the integrity of a duly constituted government, around which many in Latin America are quick to unite.”[34]

When the image of a U.S. flag being burned in Chilean protests showed up in American newspapers, the New York Times, in its usual animosity toward truth and justice, declared that Chilean Communism “comes the nearest to being a menace now,” while the New York Herald Tribune suddenly cited “recent reports of growing Communist strength in Chile.” Thus, the image of a U.S. flag being burned in protest against a violent action of state terror against an innocent country and its people who were only seeking liberty, autonomy, and justice, suddenly became represented in the American media as an act of “Communism” against American ‘democracy.’ The role of the aggressive superpower waging a brutal assault and “terror campaign” against an innocent country was removed from the dialogue, and it was presented as a “Democracy versus Communism” issue, with those who oppose U.S. terrorism being “Communists.” This negative image of Chile in the American media, however, urged several Chilean elites to quickly address the situation, and President Ibañez conducted an interview with NBC in which he stated that Communism was “a real menace in Latin America,” but Chileans would “defend inter-American principles,” and that, “Chilean public opinion is in no way represented by the provocations of certain uncontrolled groups.” In a meeting with Ambassador Beaulac, Ibañez declared, “I don’t know how much longer I am going [to] stand for this. I am going to do something but I don’t know yet what it is. You can be sure of one thing, however, and that is that Chile will not go Communist. I will cut off their heads when the time comes.” Thus, as Ibañez pursued constitutional “reforms” to give himself more power, American media and public officials responded negatively (fearing he was attempting to resort to his dictatorial origins), and they sought to discourage such moves. At the same time, the Friends of Guatemala were mobilizing their efforts, holding a conference in July of 1954 with delegates from Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Paraguay, at which, the U.S. Embassy later wrote, “oratory was uniformly and usually vehemently critical of the United States and the OAS.” U.S.-supported dictators in the region were also denounced, including Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Manuel Odria in Peru, Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, and Tiburcio Carias in Honduras. More worrying, still, was that American corporations like Standard Oil, United Fruit, and Anaconda Copper were presented “as the present-day counterparts of the pirate marauders of yore.”[35]

The conference ended with the approval of five resolutions, the first of which rejected the Caracas anti-Communist resolution, “which give[s] the United States a presumed right of intervention in complicity with illegitimate Latin American governments [i.e., dictatorships] in the political and economic life of our peoples.” The second resolution was in recognizing “the inalienable right” of self-determination; third, they would fight against the pact which created the OAS; and fourth, to “fight against all forms of colonialism, especially on the American continent.” The fifth resolution was to express “sympathy for all underdeveloped nations” in the struggle for “self-determination and called on them ‘for common action in defense of this right’.”[36]

Frustrated with the “anti-U.S. sentiment” within Chile, Ambassador Beaulac increased his rhetorical assault on those who opposed U.S. policies, and speaking before the American Chamber of Commerce in Santiago, Beaulac lambasted those who are “quick to talk against the United States, as though the United States and not Russia… menaced freedom everywhere,” and divided these “anti-U.S.” elements into two groups: the “dupes,” who were “simple-minded people who know no better and who will never know any better,” and secondly, the “demagogues,” who were “ambitious men” seeking to advance “their own political fortunes.” The lesson of Guatemala, then, for Beaulac, was “for decent men [i.e., those who support U.S. policy] to work as hard to tell the truth [i.e., the American version of the truth].” As the Chilean press attacked Beaulac for “interference” in domestic affairs, the American media countered with suggesting that “responsible quarters” in Washington had been concerned that “Communists are gaining power in Chile.”[37]

As Chile was portrayed in a negative light by the American media, Chilean officials complained to U.S. State Department officials who replied that it was “normal for the American public, press, and Congressional opinion to interpret the many of these acts as indicative of a strong pro-Communist bias in Chile,” and that, “acts like burning of the American flag are bound to cause resentment in the American people,” and thus, “the public would draw its own conclusions.” The Eisenhower administration had grown increasingly frustrated with Chile, a country it had given the status of “a favored nation” to, and Ambassador Beaulac told a Chilean official that Chileans should not “try to make political capital at the expense of the United States,” as “Chile cannot gain the good will and cooperation [of] the Government of the United States by attacking it.”[38]

In surveys of Chilean public opinion conducted in 1955 and 1956, the United States Information Agency (USIA) discovered that Chileans had the least “favorable impression” of the United States, being “inclined to say that U.S. words do not agree with U.S. actions,” referring to the rhetoric of democracy versus the actions and support of tyranny.[39] Reports increasingly emerged within the United States that Chile was “the major source of anxiety for many weeks” in the U.S. State Department, with its Communist movement (relative to its population size), being “the largest and most alarming in Latin America.” In 1955, Ambassador Beaulac stated, following a visit to Washington, that “a number of highly placed people” in Washington felt that “communism in Chile constitutes a serious threat to the stability of the Chilean government.”[40]

Over the following years, Salvador Allende mobilized the Chilean left into a wide coalition of Socialists, workers, democratic parties, populists, and others, leading to Allende being the nomination for the presidential election of 1958. At a rally of more than sixty-five thousand supporters in 1958, Allende declared that, “The Department of State insists upon a policy that is odious and anti-popular… We demand the right to seek our own solutions and to follow the roads that best suit our habits and traditions.” His political rise coincided with that of Fidel Castro in Cuba, leading to intense frustrations and fears among State Department and other foreign policy officials in Washington. As one official stated, “our political interests will not permit us to stand by and watch Chile ‘go down the drain’.”[41]

Indeed, some years later, Salvador Allende rose to great political prominence in Chile, becoming the president in the early 1970s, and this set in motion one of Latin America’s most infamous American-led coups which established a dictatorship of infamous brutality. However, that story will be told later.

What the story of Guatemala in the 1950s underscored was the continuing relevance of the Monroe Doctrine, established by the United States in 1823, which declared Latin America to be the “backyard” of the United States, and thus, the U.S. would inevitably control the entire Western Hemisphere, which it would exploit for its own benefit and imperial expansion. Over 125 years after the Monroe Doctrine, the United States finally had the means to make it an established fact: America was the ultimate empire, and most especially, the only dominant power in the Western Hemisphere. Thus, no opposition – no matter how small or large – would or could be tolerated. This doctrine remained throughout the rest of the Cold War, and led to countless coups, dictatorships, “terror campaigns” and ruthless repression and mass murder on a monstrous scale. Perhaps more than anywhere else, the history of the United States in Latin America presents an image of America not as a “benevolent empire” as some American commentators have suggested, but as a truly brutal, dehumanizing, oppressive and transnational tyranny: a continental terror state. This, however, does not reinforce American perceptions of themselves or the role of their country in the world; thus, this history is – as George Orwell predicted it would be – thrown into the “memory hole.” In truth, it’s known little to those outside Latin America itself. The best way to gain a clear conception of the nature of a particular nation is to look at how it treats the most vulnerable. In the case of America, looking at Latin American history is a character study of the United States itself, from which one can only deduce that its ‘human’ characteristics more closely resemble a technocratic psychopath than a benevolent leader.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project.

Please support The People’s Book Project and donate today!

Notes

[1]            NSC 144, United States General Policy With Respect to Latin America, Foreign Relations, 1952-1954, Volume IV, page 1.

[2]            Ibid, page 6.

[3]            Ibid, page 7.

[4]            Ibid.

[5]            Ibid, page 8.

[6]            Ibid, page 9.

[7]            Ibid, page 10.

[8]            Dennis M. Rempe, “An American Trojan Horse? Eisenhower, Latin America, and the Development of US Internal Security Policy 1954-1960,” Small Wars & Insurgencies (Vol. 10, No. 1, Spring 1999), pages 35-36.

[9]            Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter, Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy (Authors Choice Press, New York: 2004), page 195.

[10]            Ibid, pages 195-196.

[11]            Ibid, page 196.

[12]            Kate Doyle and Peter Kornbluh, CIA and Assassinations: The Guatemala 1954 Documents. The National Security Archives: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB4/

[13]            Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (Random House, New York: 2008), pages 112-113.

[14]            Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter, Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy (Authors Choice Press, New York: 2004), page 197.

[15]            Ibid, page 198.

[16]            Ibid, pages 198-199.

[17]            Larry Tye, The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998), pages 161-163.

[18]            Ibid, pages 167-168.

[19]            Ibid, page 170.

[20]            John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays & The Birth of PR. PR Watch, Second Quarter 1999, Volume 6, No. 2: http://www.prwatch.org/prwissues/1999Q2/bernays.html

[21]            Larry Tye, The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998), page 176.

[22]            Mark T. Hove, “The Arbenz Factor: Salvador Allende, U.S.-Chilean Relations, and the 1954 U.S. Intervention in Guatemala,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 31, No. 4, September 2007), page 623.

[23]            Ibid, page 628.

[24]            Ibid, page 629.

[25]            NSC 144, United States General Policy With Respect to Latin America, Foreign Relations, 1952-1954, Volume IV, page 7.

[26]            Mark T. Hove, “The Arbenz Factor: Salvador Allende, U.S.-Chilean Relations, and the 1954 U.S. Intervention in Guatemala,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 31, No. 4, September 2007), pages 629-630.

[27]            Ibid, pages 630-631.

[28]            Ibid, pages 631-633.

[29]            Ibid, pages 633-634.

[30]            Ibid, pages 635-636.

[31]            Ibid, page 636.

[32]            NSC 144, United States General Policy With Respect to Latin America, Foreign Relations, 1952-1954, Volume IV, page 8.

[33]            Mark T. Hove, “The Arbenz Factor: Salvador Allende, U.S.-Chilean Relations, and the 1954 U.S. Intervention in Guatemala,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 31, No. 4, September 2007), pages 636-639.

[34]            Ibid.

[35]            Ibid, pages 639-642.

[36]            Ibid, pages 642-643.

[37]            Ibid, pages 643-646.

[38]            Ibid, pages 646-648.

[39]            Ibid, page 654.

[40]            Ibid, page 655.

[41]            Ibid, pages 658-661.

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17 Comments

  1. Thanks for your efforts in writing this book. The true history of the twentieth century should never be allowed to drown amidst the propaganda of empire… I always try to educate people but honest and thorough texts such as this are sometimes hard to come by…

  2. [...] The American Empire in Latin America: “Democracy” is a Threat to … The United States recommended as a “course of action” to “provide military assistance to Latin America,” which would “be designed to reduce to a minimum the diversion of U.S. forces for the maintenance of hemispheric security,” or in . On this note, it was also vital to ensure that America had several military bases in the region, and, as the document suggested, “the United States should take political, economic or military action, as appropriate, to insure the continued . [...]

  3. Alex Thomas says:

    Absolutely outstanding research, just posted on The Intel Hub, keep up the great work!

  4. Christopher Cruz says:

    Great post

  5. [...] The American Empire in Latin America: “Democracy” is a Threat to “National Security” [...]

  6. [...] The American Empire in Latin America: “Democracy” is a Threat to “National Security” [...]

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