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Corporate Culture and Global Empire: Food Crisis, Land Grabs, Poverty, Slums, Environmental Devastation and Resistance
Corporate Culture and Global Empire: Food Crisis, Land Grabs, Poverty, Slums, Environmental Devastation and Resistance
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Corporate power is immense. The world’s largest corporation is Royal Dutch Shell, surpassed in wealth only by the 24 largest countries on earth. Of the 150 largest economic entities in the world, 58% are corporations. Corporations are institutionally totalitarian, the result of power’s resistance to the democratic revolution, which was begrudgingly accepted in the political sphere, but denied the economic sphere, and thus was denied a truly democratic society. They are driven by a religion called “short-term profits.” Corporate society – a state-capitalist society – flourished in the United States, and managed the transition of American society in the early 20th century, just as Fascists and Communists were managing transitions across Europe. With each World War, American society – its political and economic power – grew in global influence, and with the end of World War II, that corporate society was exported globally.
This is empire. The American military, intelligence agencies, and national security apparatus operate with the intention of serving U.S. – and now increasingly global – state and corporate interests. Wars, coups, destabilization campaigns, support for dictators, tyrants, genocides and oppression are the products of Western interaction with the rest of the world.
In the same sense that “God made man in his own image,” corporations remade society in their own interest; and with equal arrogance. Corporations and banks created or took over think tanks, foundations, educational institutions, media, public relations, advertising, and other sectors of society. Through their control of other institutions, they extend their ideologies of power – and the variances between them – to the population, to other elites, the ‘educated’ class, middle class, the poor and working class. So long as the ideas expressed support power, it’s ‘acceptable.’ It can extend critiques, but institutional analysis is not permitted. Ideas which oppose institutional power are ‘ideological’, ‘idealist’, ‘utopian’, and ultimately, unacceptable.
Corporate culture dominates our society in the West. Being inherently totalitarian institutions, the culture – and its institutions – become increasingly totalitarian. This is the response by private economic power to undo the achievements in human history which came through increased democracy in the political sphere. Corporations and banks seek to control and consume all things, to dominate without end.
The only reason corporations were and are able to be the defining cultural institution of the 20th and now 21st century, is because of their economic power. This is derived from exploitation: of resources, the environment, labour, and consumers. It is enforced with repression: the job of the state in the state-capitalist society, along with massive subsidies and protectionist measures for corporate and financial interests. As corporate power extended around the world, the rapid destruction of the environment and resources accelerated, and Western powers ‘outsourced’ the environmental devastation our consumer societies ‘require’ to the so-called Third World. We consume, and they suffer; a marriage of inconvenience that we call “civilization.” Corporations and our state keep the rest of the world in a state of poverty and repression, eternally attempting to block the inevitable global revolution to create a human society that acts… humanely. We were busy buying things. Couldn’t be bothered.
Now what our societies have done to the people on whose land we now live, or everyone else in the world, is being done internally, to us. Everything is up for sale! Corporations make record profits, hoard billions and trillions in cash reserves, NOT being invested, but likely waiting until your standard of living is significantly reduced so that your labour and resources are cheaper, and thus, ultimately more profitable. This is called ‘austerity’ and ‘structural reform,’ political euphemisms for impoverishment and exploitation.
Corporations, banks and states have in recent years caused a massive global food crisis, driving food costs to record highs almost every subsequent year from 2007 onward. With billions of people in the world living on less than $2 per day, the majority of humanity spends most of their income on food. Price increases in food, caused primarily by financial speculation (big players include Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Barclays), push tens of millions more people into poverty and hunger. Roughly one billion – 1/7th of the world’s population – live in slums. And they are growing rapidly. Massive urban slums were developed out of the imperialism Western states and corporations imposed upon the rest of the world, pushing people off the land and into the cities, whether induced by poverty or coerced by bombs and guns. All billed to the imperial Western state sponsors of terrorism. We supported (and support) ruthless and tiny elites in the countries we dominate[d] around the world, and now we are just beginning to realize the ruthless and tiny elite which rules over our own domestic lives. Their social function is that of a parasite: to suck the life blood out of all global society.
Food price increases have helped spur a massive global land grab, with Western (as well as Gulf and Asian powers) grabbing vast tracts of land – and water – around the world, for pennies on the dollar. This grab is most extensive in Africa, where in the past several years, mostly Western investors have grabbed land which amounts to an area roughly the size of Western Europe. The land not only contains extensive resource wealth, most importantly water (the Nile is up for sale!), but it is home to hundreds of millions of people, and globally, there are 2.5 billion poor people engaged in small-scale farming. This is primarily done through communal land ownership, something which Western society – with its ‘divine right’ of private property – does not understand. Thus, in international, state, and corporate law – which we designed – we deem communally owned and used land to be legally owned by the state. Our ‘investors’ – banks, hedge funds, pension funds, corporations and states – strike deals with corrupt states across the world to give us 40-100 year contracts for vast tracts of land, paying little or sometimes no rent. Then the “empty land” – as we call it – is cleared (of it’s “emptiness”, no doubt), evicting peoples who have been there for generations and beyond, who depend upon the land and the food it produces for their very lives. These people are being driven to cities, and ultimately, slums.
This is what we call “productive” use of land. So naturally, we then destroy it, eviscerate its environment, poison and pollute, extract, exploit, plunder and profit. Or we simply hold onto the land, not using it at all, just waiting until it goes up in profit. Even major American universities like Harvard are getting involved in the massive land grabs across Africa and elsewhere. This is the largest land grab in history since the late 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’ where Europeans colonized almost the entire continent. When we do use the land for ‘productive use’, we say it will “help the climate” and “reduce hunger.” How? Because we will produce food and biofuels. And in doing so, we will use massive amounts of chemicals, pesticides, genetically modified organisms, deforestation, biodiversity destruction, highly mechanized and heavy fuel-use farming techniques. The food we produce – which is not much, we have more interest in things like biofuels, lumber, minerals, oil, cash-crops, etc. – is then exported to our countries, and away from the poor ones where hunger and poverty are so prevalent. They lose their land, gain more poverty, with the added bonus of extensive food insecurity, hunger, starvation, slum growth, increased mortality rates, disease, and violence. Poverty is violence.
This is how Western states, banks, corporations and international organizations address the issue of “hunger”: by creating more of it. And in a deeply disturbing irony, we call this moving towards “sustainability.” Little did we know that power interests have a different definition of “sustainability” than most people: they simply combined the words sustained and profitability, and called it “sustainability.” And coincidentally, that word already has a meaning to most people, so we simply misinterpreted the meaning. But there are people who take that concept seriously, those who experience the major costs of an unsustainable society.
We are witnessing a massive global resistance to these processes, largely driven by indigenous peoples – in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and now in North America. In Canada, the ‘Idle No More‘ movement began with four indigenous women in Saskatchewan deciding to meet up and discuss their concerns about Steven Harper’s “budget bill,” which, among other things, had reduced the amount of Canada’s protected rivers, lakes, and streams from roughly 2.5 million (as of Dec. 4, 2012) to somewhere around 62 (as of Dec. 5, 2012). Now a large, expanding, and increasingly international social movement led by indigenous peoples is taking place. Less than two months ago, it began with four women having a discussion.
Canada’s Indigenous peoples are showing Canadians – and others around the world – how to stand up against power. And they’ve had practice. For over 500 years, our societies have been oppressing and often eradicating indigenous populations at ‘home’ and abroad. Indigenous peoples, like other oppressed peoples, are at the front lines of the most oppressive nature of our society: they experience and have experienced exploitation, environmental devastation, domination and decimation. With the world’s Indigenous peoples speaking – not only in Canada, but across Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere – it is time that we in the West begin to listen. It is always important to listen to those who are most oppressed; the histories of our ‘victims’ are rarely written or known, at least not to us. Victims remember. And it matters that we begin to listen.
How can we expect to change – or know what and how to change – our societies if we do not listen and learn from those who have experienced the worst of our society? Indigenous people are now giving us a lesson in democratic struggle. If we continue on our current path, Indigenous communities will be completely wiped out; the powers that rule our society will have completed a 500-year genocide.
So we have to ask ourselves the question: should we now listen to, learn from, and join with these people in common struggle for justice and the idea of a humane society, or… are we still too busy buying things?
Perhaps it is time we all should be ‘Idle No More’.
The above was a short summary of roughly three separate chapters currently being researched and written as part of The People’s Book Project. To help the Project continue, please consider spreading the word, sharing articles, or donating.
The Great Corporate Colony: Welcome to Canada Inc., A Subsidiary of the American Empire & Co.
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is a sample from the first volume of The People’s Book Project, a crowd-funded initiative to produce a series of books studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance. Please consider donating to help the Project come to fruition.
As one of the most resource-rich countries on earth, and the largest single trading partner with the United States, Canada is strategically positioned to influence the changing nature of global power structures. Do we support – and siphon our resources for the benefit of – the American Empire, co-operating in the wholesale plundering of the world, the oppression and impoverishment of peoples, destruction of global ecology, all for the benefit of an increasingly small class of global corporations and banks… Or, do we become independent and free? Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper once said, “You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.” With multiple “free trade” agreements under way, expanded corporate rights, expropriation of vast amounts of natural resources, Canada is becoming one of the world’s foremost corporate colonies, unrecognizable from what Canadians once imagined our nation to be.
The Plundering Potential of Resource Wealth
Canada is the second largest country by landmass in the world, after Russia, and with roughly 10% of the population of the United States, it is also one of the most resource rich countries on the entire planet. Looking at a list of the ten most resource-rich nations on earth (determined not by the multitude, but rather the ‘market value’ of the resources they contain) is rather revealing. At number ten, and in descending order is: Venezuela, Iraq, Australia, Brazil, China, Iran, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Russia. Canada has one of the largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia and Iran (though these are largely located in the difficult-to-extract Alberta tar sands), as well as having some of the largest mineral resource deposits in the world, with the second-largest proven reserves of uranium and the third largest amount of timber. According to Statistics Canada, the nation’s natural wealth tripled in value between 1990 and 2009, then valued at $3 trillion, largely due to the increased price of oil.
In June of 2012, the United Nations released a major report in which it established a new index to account for and define ‘wealth’ beyond mere reports of GDP. Termed the “Inclusive Wealth Index” (IWI), it determines national wealth based upon three types of assets: “manufactured” (machinery, buildings, infrastructure, etc.), “human capital” (the population’s education and skills), and “natural capital” (land, forests, fossil fuels, minerals, etc.). The study, Inclusive Wealth Report 2012, analyzed 20 different countries, and was intended to take into account depleting resources and sustainability for future generations when determining a nation’s real wealth. While GDP growth has taken place in China, the U.S., South Africa and Brazil, these nations have significantly reduced their natural capital. Between 1990 and 2008, the “natural capital” of the United States declined by 20%, 17% for China, 25% for Brazil, and 33% for South Africa. In fact, 19 out of the 20 countries studied showed a decline in natural capital, offset only by an increase in human capital (education and skills).
Human capital is based upon the average years of schooling, wages that the country’s workers can demand, and how many years they are expected to work before they retire or die. With this measurement, human capital amounts to the largest percentage of a nation’s wealth (except for Nigeria, Russia, and Saudi Arabia), accounting for 88% of Britain’s wealth and 75% of America’s. Canada is of course included among the 19 countries with rapidly declining natural capital.
Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver spoke to a gathering of Canaccord Genuity Corporation (a financial services conglomerate) in Toronto in September of 2012, where he explained that Canada’s “tremendous natural wealth” included “huge capacities and reserves of energy, including the third-largest proven oil reserves in the world,” as well as “tremendous hydroelectric capacity, massive tracts of forests and an abundance of minerals and metals.” He added, however: “it’s not enough to have the resources… You have to do something with them.” Oliver listed some of the many resources which Canada has and produces in abundance: oil, natural gas, hydroelectricity, uranium (second largest producer in the world), more than 200 mines turning out more than 60 minerals, “including more potash than anyone else,” as well as aluminum, cobalt, diamonds, nickel, platinum group metals, titanium concentrate, tungsten, chromite, the second-largest exporter of primary forest products, and is the “biggest exporter of wood pulp, newsprint and softwood lumber.” The resource sector, explained Oliver, “is the cornerstone of our economy, our long-term prosperity and our quality of life.”
Oliver explained that the energy, forestry, metals and minerals industries accounted for roughly 15% of Canada’s nominal GDP, the “direct contribution” to the Canadian economy, while the indirect GDP (taking into account “goods and services purchased from other sectors – construction, machinery and equipment, business and professional services”) takes the number up to roughly 20%. The key areas and industries are oil in Alberta, forestry in British Columbia, potash and uranium in Saskatchewan, mining in Ontario and hydro-power in Quebec. Oliver told the assembled crowd in the heart of Toronto’s finance industry that there was “about $650 billion invested in over 600 major resource projects currently underway in Canada or planned in the next 10 years.” He added: “Countries in the Asia-Pacific region are especially hungry for the energy and minerals and metals and forest products they need to fuel their growth and build a better quality of life for their citizens.” There were, he acknowledged, still inherent problems with the global economy which could effect this outlook, but suggested that what the Canadian government can – “and is doing – is establish a competitive business climate so the private sector can capitalize on our enormous potential.” In other words, the Canadian government will establish a highly protective and subsidized market for multinational corporations to more effectively plunder the natural resources. All for altruistic intentions, of course!
Canada’s highly influential big business dominated think tanks have not been far behind in promoting resource plundering by multinational corporations. The Conference Board of Canada published a report in June of 2012 arguing that “Canada’s trade strengths are concentrated in industries that extract natural resources and process raw materials,” including agricultural and food products, minerals and metals, forest products, and electricity exports. In the report, Adding Value to Trade: Moving Beyond Being Hewers of Wood, Michael Burt wrote: “These industries rely heavily on natural resource wealth such as land, water, forests, and mineral products. The abundance of these resources gives Canada a robust comparative advantage in the industries that extract and process them.” Thus, it would be desirable to promote the “development and use of our natural resources, and industries that support the primary sector are competitive with world standards.” The board of directors of the Conference Board of Canada includes executives and/or board members of the Business Development Bank of Canada, EPCOR Utilities, CGI Group, GE Canada, Canada Post Corporation, TransAlta Corporation, ICICI Bank Canada, Cisco Systems Canada, Desjardins Group, IBM Canada, Shell Canada, Xerox Canada, SaskTel, SaskPower, and John Manley, the President and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), the main business interest group in Canada, made up of the top 150 corporate CEOs in the country.
In October of 2012, the Canadian International Council (CIC) – the Canadian counterpart to the Council on Foreign Relations in the U.S. – published a report entitled, Becoming a Resource Superpower, in which the author, Madelaine Drohan (the Canada correspondent for The Economist) argued that, “without strong leadership and collaboration we risk losing an opportunity to become a real resource superpower.” A series of recommendations were laid out, including the possibility of establishing a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) to pool and invest money made from resources, encouraging the provincial and federal governments in Canada to “stop treating” revenue from resources “as income to be spent and start treating them as capital to be saved or invested.” In other words, the money made from resources should not go back to benefit Canadians, but rather be used to exclusively benefit the investor class.
Other recommendations focused on expanding the relationship between government, business, and academia (as if we don’t have enough of this already): “To do this, federal and provincial governments must concentrate their funding for research and development on collaborative projects between groups of companies and academic institutions.” Another recommendation focused on expanding “trade” networks and energy customers, specifically in the Asia-Pacific, noting: “Canada should focus on negotiations involving the largest possible number of countries, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and look beyond China so we do not repeat the error of putting all our eggs in one basket.” The report then recommended the government to establish highly protectionist trade agreements for corporations, writing: “Government can help companies plug into global value chains by removing impediments and securing the right trade and investment deals.” By definition, that is the opposite of “free trade,” which is why it is important that we call it “free trade,” when in actuality, it is highly protectionist, involving state intervention designed to undermine the ‘market’ and give corporations a subsidized advantage, thus, undermining competition. The last major recommendation was for federal, provincial, and territorial governments to “collaborate on a national blueprint for resource development that identifies the gaps to be filled – including in infrastructure, environmental protection, trade diversification, education, immigration, technology, and supporting sectors – and sets out how to address them, with achievable goals and deadlines.” In other words, massive state-capitalist planning and plundering is required.
The board of directors of the Canadian International Council (CIC) includes the president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Chair of the Atlantic Council of Canada, Raymond Chrétien (nephew of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien), while the chief sponsors of the CIC include: Bennett Jones, Power Corporation of Canada (owned by the Desmarais family, Canada’s Rockefellers), the Royal Bank of Canada, AGF, Barrick Gold, BMO Financial Group, Sun Life Financial, Scotiabank, and TD Bank. So naturally, it has everyone’s interests at heart, and by ‘everyone’, I mean, everyone that matters to the investor class (i.e., the investor class).
So, as Canada increases production of oil from Alberta’s tar sands, the government is seeking to expand the major pipelines to the coast in the hopes of acquiring China as a major trading partner, instead of just the United States. Canada sits atop “unknown quantities” of natural gas reserves, what The Economist calls an “unconventional bonanza,” adding: “Just as the 20th century was the age of oil, the 21st could prove to be the century of gas.” However, in August of 2012, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared that Canada’s future economic hopes depend upon the natural resources of the Arctic, which has been the focus of a new global grab for resources since the Arctic ice has begun to break up more rapidly. On a visit to the region, Harper stated, “Obviously, there is a tremendous economic opportunity here. The fact that we are attracting investment not just domestically, but from around the globe speaks very highly to the future.” As revealed by documents released to the press, in late 2011, the Mining Association of Canada was lobbying the Environment Minister Peter Kent “to change regulations and allow non-metal mines, such as diamonds, oilsands and coal, to discharge potentially polluted water under federal guidelines.”
In other words, now that the ice is breaking and resources are being readied for plunder, the major mining conglomerates want the government’s permission to treat the Canadian environment the way they treat the environment in the rest of the world, notably, in poor, conflict-ridden countries like Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. After all, what is plundering without the added bonus of environmental devastation? It’s not just a matter of extracting and exploiting all available resources, from which to gain massive profits, but it’s also important for corporations to destroy the surrounding environment so that little, if anything, can flourish and replenish. That is plundering at its most profitable. In October of 2012, it was reported that Canada was going to claim ownership of a massive size of undersea territory in the Arctic, larger than the size of the province of Québec, and roughly equal to 20% of the country’s surface area.
In 2013, Canada will begin chairing a two-year term of the Arctic Council, a grouping of eight nations working together to manage the development of the Arctic as an economically and strategically important global region. With the opening of new and large opportunities for economic exploitation and resource plundering, the states with territory in the Arctic have become increasingly aggressive in their military posturing in the region, “increasingly designed for combat rather than policing,” according to a study by the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions. The report noted: “Although the pursuit of co-operation is the stated priority, most of the Arctic states have begun to rebuild and modernize their military capabilities in the region.”
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been publicly making aggressive statements about competition in the Arctic, particularly in relation to Russia. In private, however, Harper had been making different claims. As revealed by Wikileaks, Harper expressed the message to the Secretary-General of NATO that there was no real military threat in the Arctic, instead expressing the perspective that, “Canada has a good working relationship with Russia with respect to the Arctic, and a NATO presence could backfire by exacerbating tensions.” Harper added, according to the released cables, “that there is no likelihood of Arctic states going to war, but that some non-Arctic members favoured a NATO role in the Arctic because it would afford them influence in an area where ‘they don’t belong’.” All the public statements and aggressive military stances in the region have, however, helped to sway public opinion into believing that there is a “security or sovereignty threat to the northern border,” and thus justify increased expansion into the region for exploitation. The issue is not one of security, but of securing resources (for corporations, no doubt). One released cable from 2009 relayed this point accurately, noting that Canada’s defense plan to build six Arctic Patrol ships for the navy was “an example of a requirement driven by political rather than military imperatives, since the navy did not request these patrol ships. The Conservatives have nonetheless long found domestic political capital in asserting Canada’s ‘Arctic Sovereignty’.” By the summer of 2012, the aggressive rhetoric had essentially vanished, and Harper’s missions to the Arctic were entirely diplomatic and aimed at exploiting the region’s vast natural resources. The Obama administration has also identified the Arctic as “an area of key strategic interest.”
Canada For Sale: “Free Trade” Fanaticism
Canada has been pursuing a vast array of so-called “free trade” agreements with specific countries around the world, as part of the overall program of plundering resources and giving multinational corporations unprecedented control over society. Since the 1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Canada has pursued agreements with several countries, including Israel, Jordan, Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras, Panama, Peru and is in talks with the European Union and Japan, as well as China and India.
On August 15, 2011, the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement – a highly protectionist corporate-driven agreement (like all “free trade” agreements) – came into effect. The agreement was reached in 2008, receiving “royal assent” in 2010, and is sure to benefit major corporations and help finance a state which is responsible for the greatest human rights violations in the Western Hemisphere. Canada’s top five exports to Colombia include wheat, newsprint and paper, machinery and equipment, dump trucks as well as beans, peas, and lentils. Colombia’s top five exports to Canada include coal, coffee, bananas, fuel oil and cut flowers (note: this list excludes illicit trade products like cocaine, of which Colombia is a major global exporter).
As critics of the deal pointed to Colombia’s record on human rights abuses, Stephen Harper commented, “No good purpose is served in this country or in the United States by anybody who is standing in the way of the development of the prosperity of Colombia,” by which he means to say that human rights are irrelevant so long as multinational corporations are making large profits. And indeed, policies fit that paradigm very well. Harper added: “Colombia is a wonderful country with great possibility and great ambition. And we need to be encouraging that every step of the way. That’s why we have made this a priority to get this deal done. We can’t block the progress of a country like this for protectionist reasons.” In this sense, the word “protectionist” refers to any impediments, regulations, or barriers to the unhindered exploitation and plundering of a country by multinational corporations. When agreements are protectionist in favour of corporations, securing and enforcing their unhindered monopolization of markets and exploitation of resources, this is called “free trade.”
With more than 70 Canadian corporations in Colombia, from oil and mining to finance, the agreement will open up more access for major companies. For those who mention human rights abuses, Harper had this to say: “I think there are protectionist forces in our country and in the United States that don’t care about development and prosperity in this part of the world. And that’s unfortunate.” Chris Spaulding of Talisman Energy, a Canadian corporation doing business in Colombia, commented that, “It’s very business friendly. They want foreign investment. The labor force is very good. The resources are there.”
According to the Globe and Mail, Colombia has “near bullet-proof potential for rapid growth,” due to low wages, abundant resources, and with the return of “order” (a euphemism for state oppression and control), though the country still has a high murder rate, five times the rate of the United States. Colombia not only signed a free trade agreement with Canada, but also with the U.S., and has received top rates from the World Bank for fostering a good “business climate.” Scotiabank, one of Canada’s big five banks, made a $1 billion purchase of a 51% stake in Colombia’s fifth largest bank, Banco Colpatria. Rick Waugh, the CEO of Scotiabank, declared that, “Colombia is very important to us.”
Toronto-based mining company Gran Colombia Gold Corp has been seeking to remove an entire town, a 500-year old community, to make way for an open-pit mine. When the Colombian government was preparing to displace the town, villagers in the community formed a committee to defend themselves. One of the organizers, a local priest, Father José Reinel Restrepo, publicly denounced the plan to move the town for the benefit of a foreign corporation, even giving television interviews in which he denounced “Canadian imperialism.” He explained: “If they are going to drive me out of here, I would tell them they would have to expel me by way of bullets or machetes – but they can’t oblige me to leave.” Four days later, Father Restrepo was shot dead while traveling to visit his family.
Colombia has a long history with powerful business interests allying themselves with paramilitary outfits to “silence opponents and displace rural populations living atop natural resources.” Under the guise of the “war on drugs,” Colombia’s military, with billions in “aid” from the United States, has co-operated with big business interests and criminal paramilitary groups, purportedly to fight rebel groups (notably FARC), but mostly to clear rural communities to allow for corporate plundering of the resources upon which they sit. In recent decades, some four million people have been displaced by such actions, leaving the country with Latin America’s “most inequitable distribution of wealth.” On top of that, Colombia is a major narco-state, with state, paramilitary and rebel groups all participating in the massive cocaine trade. Many historians have described Colombia as “the world’s most enduringly violent country,” with over five decades of constant internal warfare. With over 20 major Canadian companies holding major investments in Colombia, it’s no wonder that the World Bank rated the country as the best investment climate in Latin America.
The brand of “order” that the government of Colombia has enforced in recent years represents a continuation of the policies of several administrations before it. The human rights and humanitarian crisis in Colombia is “staggering in scale,” with millions displaced, killed, tortured, raped, kidnapped or “disappeared,” more than 280,000 people had to flee their homes in 2010 alone. State, paramilitary and rebel groups have all routinely been accused of vast human rights abuses and war crimes. While the new government of President Santos promised to prioritize human rights when he came to power in 2010, the reality, according to Amnesty International, was that “threats against and killings of leaders of displaced communities and of those seeking the return of lands misappropriated during the conflict, mainly by paramilitary groups, have increased during the Santos government.” In criminal investigations of human rights abuses, witnesses, victims, lawyers, and judges have continuously been threatened or even killed. Threats and murders have also increased for human rights activists, trade unionists, and community leaders.
Canadian law demands that the government table a human rights report for Parliament on the impact of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Instead of submitting the report, the Canadian government decided, in May of 2012, that it would not even adhere to Canadian law, and refused to submit any such report, instead stating that it would produce a report for May of 2013. With more than 259,000 people displaced from their homes in Colombia in 2011 (on top of the 280,000 displaced in 2010), human rights abuses and war crimes will continue, with the tacit (and perhaps active) cooperation of Canadian corporations, notably mining companies. The Canadian government has effectively given the green light for such abuses to continue. While Colombia’s Constitutional Court identified 34 Indigenous nations in the country that were in “grave danger of extinction,” Canadian indifference continued. Alex Neve, the Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada declared that, “Canada must not turn its back on the human rights crisis in Colombia for yet another year… The crucial question that should not be postponed is what role is Canadian investment playing with regard to this emergency?” Neve added: “Failure to carry out a full impact assessment violates Canada’s responsibility of due diligence under international law and denies Canadian corporations working in Colombia the information they need to avoid implicating themselves in grave human rights violations.”
The website for the Canadian ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Trade declared that the Canada-Colombia FTA provided “a key boost for Canadian companies in five important sectors: agriculture, information and communication technologies, mining, oil and gas, and services.” Noting that Canada’s interest in the narco-state was “growing strongly,” the ministry website added that Colombia had “undergone important economic and legal reforms, spurring democracy and global direct investment.” The business climate, it declared, was “now stable and predictable, making Colombia a secure business partner and a solid investment destination.” With that in mind, Canada’s Defence Minister Peter MacKay signed an agreement with the Colombian military in November of 2012 to strengthen its “military relationship with Colombia,” which MacKay stated, “represents a natural evolution in our relationship… And we look forward to continuing to build our ties with the Colombian Armed Forces.” No doubt, as they continue to displace hundreds of thousands of innocent people in order to clear the land for foreign corporations, and of course, to help advance the profits of the international illicit drug trade.
Scotiabank decided to expand its operations further in Colombia, with the purchase of a majority stake in one of Colombia’s largest pension fund companies. Scotiabank has taken on a major role in “financing Colombia’s energy and mining sectors,” with the bank’s head of global wealth management stating, “We look to continue the growth and expansion of this business.” Another executive at Scotiabank stated, “We continue to invest in Colombia because we see this as a market with great potential for growth.” Interestingly, the Canadian Embassy in Colombia is located in the new Scotiabank Tower in Bogota.
Canada continues to pursue further “free trade agreements” with other countries as well, notably, Japan and China. In March of 2012, Canada and Japan agreed to begin free trade talks, already steadfast trading partners. On top of “free trade,” the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced that Canada and Japan would also be advancing defence and security “co-operation.” At the announcement, Harper declared that, “This is a truly historic step that will help create jobs and growth for both countries.” Jayson Myers, the president of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters association stated, “Japan is a strategic commercial partner… However, it is also a country with whom we’ve had a persistent trade deficit when it comes to manufacturing. These negotiations provide the appropriate forum to resolve ongoing concerns.”
As revealed by secret documents obtained by the media, the Canadian government had been lobbying the United States to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement for the main reason of gaining more access to Japan, with one document noting that the TPP without Japan “does not excite us.” In November of 2012, it was reported that Japan was likely to follow Canada’s entrance into the TPP, the largest and most secretive trade agreement in history, involving 11 Pacific rim countries, and negotiated in cooperation with over 600 corporations. The TPP is highly controversial within Japan, since it could potentially – and likely would – lead to reduced protections and subsidies for the Japanese agriculture sector, an area long considered untouchable. A spokesperson for the Canadian department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade stated, “We welcome Japan’s interest in joining the TPP. Japan’s participation in the TPP would further strengthen Canada and Japan’s strong trade and investment relationship. We are already working closely with Japan towards a bilateral free trade agreement that will bring new jobs and increased prosperity to Canadians and we would welcome the opportunity to also work together in the TPP.”
(For more information on the TPP, please see my three-part series here: The Trans-Pacific Partnership)
Canada has also begun talks with India and hoped to sign a free trade deal with the country by the end of 2013, with Stephen Harper stating, upon a visit to India, “I think I am very clear that we need to go farther and faster.” Stephen Harper lamented against the fact that India has democratic institutions, and thus, undemocratic policies are harder to implement. He stated: “What we do have to realize when we deal with India, as opposed to some other countries that we’re dealing with in the developing world – this country is a democracy… And that means that governments cannot simply dictate a whole set of policy changes to happen the next day. That means governments must develop consensus behind policy changes. And that, in this country is not easy. We understand that.” Luckily for Harper, he doesn’t have to face any such problems at home, with a majority government, tearing the country to pieces day-by-day. Stephen Harper once boasted many years ago, that if he was given the chance to become Prime Minister, “You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.” Indeed, that turns out to be quite true. Indeed, back in 1997, Harper wrote an article in which he referred to Canada as “a benign dictatorship,” though there seems to be little ‘benign’ about his majority-government rule.
In September of 2012, Stephen Harper signed an investment treaty with China (as a precursor to a potential free trade agreement), called the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA). The details of the agreement were kept secret until the deal was tabled in the Canadian Parliament in late September, but the agreement is not to be debated in Parliament because treaty making “is a royal prerogative,” and can thus become law through the initiative of the Prime Minister’s cabinet alone, so long as the treaty is ‘tabled’ in Parliament. Canada already had roughly 24 FIPAs in operation, with roughly a dozen more in the works. FIPAs are not “free trade agreements,” but are designed to simply “protect and promote” foreign investment in legally-binding agreements. In essence, they are quicker and smaller versions of “free trade” agreements, and designed with a similar purpose: to advance corporate rights and the expense of democratic rights.
China’s ambassador to Canada stated that the two countries should move quickly toward a free-trade agreement within a decade, adding, “It’s time to open each other’s markets.” The comments came as a major Chinese state-owned corporation was seeking to take over a Canadian energy company, which would be the first direct foreign takeover of a major actor in Canada’s energy sector, a major concern for Canadians who fear Canada’s resource wealth will not benefit Canadians. On this issue, the Chinese ambassador noted, “Business is business. It should not be politicized… If we politicize all this, then we can’t do business.” The ambassador told a Canadian journalist, “We are not coming to control your resources.” No, of course not, they’re just coming to take the resources. Within a couple months, Prime Minister Harper approved of the Chinese takeover of the Canadian energy company Nexen, as well as another takeover by a Malaysian company in the Canadian energy sector. However, Harper then stated that there would be restrictions on foreign governments buying some of Canada’s largest energy conglomerates (just not these ones in particular). At a press conference, Harper stated, “When we say that Canada is open for business, we do not mean that Canada is for sale to foreign governments.” Except, of course, for all the exceptions to that rule.
Critics of the Canada-China FIPA warned that it would reduce Canada to little more than a “resource colony,” which would bind Canada to new investment rights with China for 30 years. Not only does it allow China to gain an increased foothold in Canada’s economy, and specifically, in purchasing Canadian resources, but it also acts “to protect Canadian capitalists when they go into China.” What more could someone ask for? The Council of Canadians, a public interest organization, referred to the Canada-China FIPA as a “corporate rights pact” that would have serious repercussions on Canadian environmental, energy, and financial policies. This is because the deal would allow for lawsuits against the Canadian federal and provincial governments for having “barriers” to investments, which could then be overturned.
Canada is also in the final stages of negotiating a trade agreement with the European Union, called the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), designed to reduce tariffs and open up “new markets,” having major impacts upon agriculture, intellectual property rights (copyright and patent laws), with drug prices likely to increase “significantly,” as well as allowing for more “labour mobility,” a euphemism for increased labour exploitation. The agreement, which has been in negotiations for years, would “deal another blow to Canada’s already battered manufacturing sector,” with roughly 28,000 jobs under threat, deemed to be the “best-case scenario” by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The “worst-case” scenario could see up to 152,000 jobs being “vaporized.”
As is typical, the negotiations are “behind closed doors” and barely deal with actual “trade.” CETA is, much like the TPP, termed a “next generation” free trade agreement, negotiated since May of 2009, and would further deregulate and privatize the Canadian economy, and of course, therefore, increase corporate power, and thus at the expense of democratic accountability. The agreement could restrict how local and provincial governments could spend money, even banning “buy local” policies, increase the cost of drugs by $3 billion, increase Canada’s trade deficit with the EU, allow for European corporations to attack environmental and health protections within Canada as “barriers to investment,” potentially even apply pressure to privatize water, transit, and energy, and even prevent farmers from saving their seeds, as a major gift to GMO manufacturers. Where corporate rights are advanced, democratic rights are dismantled.
A leaked document from the European Commission dated November 6, 2012, revealed that the practice of Canadian municipalities “buying locally” would disappear with the Canada-EU CETA, and that “provincial development programs could go with them.” Canadian municipalities were offering better terms for European access to municipal contracts that those which Canadian provinces give each other. The document, prepared for the European Commission’s Trade Policy Committee noted that the agreement is “the most ambitious and comprehensive offer Canada and its provinces have made to any partner, including the U.S.” EU negotiations will, however, continue to press for more access to energy sectors. Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians noted: “The amount of room our provinces, municipalities and local communities have to support local farmers and otherwise create the jobs of tomorrow is threatened again by a Canada-European Union free trade deal that will forever prohibit these kinds of economic strategies.” The province of Ontario could alone lose between 13,000 and 70,000 jobs as a result of the agreement, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Openly acknowledged by European politicians was that Canada would be getting the short end of the stick in the CETA deal, as a Danish member of the European Parliament stated, “At the moment Europe will be able to export more than what Canada will be exporting.” Another European official closely linked to the negotiations stated, “We will gain a bit more.” Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast said, “[t]he potential benefits to Canadians under a free trade agreement with the European Union are immense,” though he forgot to acknowledge that the ‘Canadians’ he was referring to are largely corporations, and the elite class that owns them. Michael Hart, a trade expert at Carleton University noted, “[t]rade agreements do not create jobs. Never have. Never will. But ministers have never accepted that economic insight.” And understandably so, after all, it’s rather challenging to sell a trade deal to the public if one openly declares it is for the singular purpose of advancing corporate rights, domination, and plundering. So instead, politicians must always mutter the magical word of “jobs,” which in political language, translates accurately into “profits,” as Noam Chomsky has suggested in the past. Thus, when politicians say that trade agreements will “create jobs,” which they never do, what they are actually saying is that such agreements will “create profits,” and exclusively for major multinational corporations, which they always do.
Canada’s trade agenda is of course driven by big business, whose interests will be served by such “free trade” agreements. In regards to CETA, the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business (CERT) was established in 1999 to contribute “recommendations on trade and investment to government officials and hosting thematic, high-level meeting focused on developing strategic relationships between company executives and with government officials,” according to the website for CERT. A declaration of support in 2008 for a Canada-EU trade agreement was signed by over 100 executives in Europe and Canada, urging Canadian and EU leaders to “design a new type of forward-looking, wide-ranging and binding bilateral trade and investment agreement.” Such an agreement, the document stated, “will provide European companies with a gateway into the vast North American free trade area, while increasing Canadian opportunities in the European Common Market,” serving as “a strategic and important step towards the eventual creation of a comprehensive transatlantic trade and investment area.” Among the signatories to the statement were top executives at the following companies: Anglo American plc, AstraZeneca, Barrick Gold Corporation, BASF, Bayer, Bertelsmann, BNP-Paribas, Bombardier, British Airways, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, CN, Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, E.ON AG, Gaz de France, GlaxoSmithKline, Lafarge, Manulife Financial, Merck, Monsanto Canada, Munich Re, Pfizer Canada, Power Financial Corporation, Rio Tinto plc, Royal Dutch Shell, Siemens, SNC-Lavalin, Société Générale, SUEZ, Suncor, ThyssenKrupp, TOTAL SA., TSX Group, Ubisoft Entertainment, and Volkswagen, among many others.
In late October 2012, a number of European and Canadian big business lobbying groups, including BusinessEurope, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business (CERT), sent a letter to the Canadian and European trade negotiators, Ed Fast and Karel de Gucht, respectively, urging them to push through on the CETA. The signatories called for Canada and the EU to reach “an ambitious and successful conclusion to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations by the end of 2012.” The letter said it was “imperative” to “maintain a high level of ambition” in key areas which would benefit Canadian and European corporate interests. Among the many areas for which the letter suggested “a high level of ambition” were in recommending the “full and rapid dismantling of tariffs for all industrial goods,” and “[a]ccess to raw materials and energy products,” the removal of barriers and “discriminations” in service sectors, “full access” to the agricultural sector, including “a satisfactory path forward on the bio-tech issues that have caused trade impediments,” by which is meant to advance the interests of GMO manufacturers. Further recommendations included “access to government procurement” which removes all barriers and allows for increased privatization, and of course, “[r]obust protection and enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights in both markets,” which would include “the targeting, seizing and destroying of counterfeit imports and exports,” so as to undermine competition and protect monopoly and oligopoly corporations. Finally, the letter stated that the Canada-EU agreement “must also ensure improved labour mobility,” which would allow for increased labour exploitation, enhancing competition between the labour forces of Europe and Canada, which always results in lost jobs, lower wages, and reduced protections and benefits. These are, of course, all very good things for multinational corporations. Since they are terrible things for the populations, they have to be coded in political and economic language, so instead of saying, “we want easily exploitable and cheap labour,” they suggest, “improved labour mobility,” which is also at times referred to as “labour flexibility” (i.e., making labour “flexible” to the interests of multinational corporations).
The Great Canadian Corporate Colony
Such letters from corporate leaders are necessary in order to remind political leaders whose interests they are in office to serve. The Canadian government ensured that it would serve big business interests through trade policy by appointing, in May of 2012, a new ‘advisory panel’ which would “help guide Canada’s ambitious, pro-trade plan in large, dynamic and fast-growing priority markets.” Speaking at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, International Trade Minister Ed Fast stated: “Our government’s top priority is the economy – creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for Canadian workers, businesses and families… We understand the importance of trade to our economy… That is why we are deepening Canada’s trading relationships in priority markets around the world.”
Ed Fast announced the formation of the new advisory panel at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. The members of the panel include: Murad Al-Katib, president and CEO of Alliance Grain Traders Inc.; Paul Reynolds, president and CEO of Canaccord Financial; Kathleen Sullivan, executive director of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance (CAFTA), representing 80% of Canada’s agri-food sector; Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, former president and CEO of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, former president and CEO of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporations (CBC), and former government minister; John Manley, former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, former Foreign Affairs and Finance Minister, and currently president and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), a corporate interest group made up of Canada’s top 150 CEOs; Catherine Swift, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses; Jayson Myers, president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters; Brian Ferguson, president and CEO of Cenovus Energy Inc, a major Canadian oil company; Serge Godin, founder and executive chairman of the board of CGI Group Inc, one of the largest information technology businesses in the world; and Indira Samarasekera, president of the University of Alberta. Upon the announcement of this panel, Ed Fast stated: “I look forward to receiving advice from these knowledgeable Canadian leaders.”
So we return to the statement once made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.” Sadly, this is quite true as Harper Inc. advance Canada to the status of one of the world’s premier corporate colonies, where plundering for profits, environmental degradation, mass privatization, deregulation, and democratic devastation are the rules of the day. A Canada once thought of as democratic, free, and peaceful, is ever-advancing toward a fully privatized outpost of global corporate tyranny: Canada Inc., a subsidiary of the American Empire & Co.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, with a focus on studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance across a wide spectrum of social, political, economic, and historical spheres. He has been published in AlterNet, CounterPunch, Occupy.com, Truth-Out, RoarMag, and a number of other alternative media groups, and regularly does radio, Internet, and television interviews with both alternative and mainstream news outlets. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project and has a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
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Welcome to the World Revolution in the Global Age of Rage
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
I am currently writing a book on the global economic crisis and the global resistance, rebellious and revolutionary movements that have emerged in reaction to this crisis. Our world is in the midst of the greatest economic, social, and political crisis that humanity has ever collectively entered into. The scope is truly global in its context, and the effects are felt in every locality. The course of the global economic crisis is the direct and deliberate result of class warfare, waged by the political and economic elites against the people of the world. The objective is simple: all for them and none for you. At the moment, the crisis is particularly acute in Europe, as the European elites impose a coordinated strategy of class warfare against the people through “austerity” and “structural adjustment,” political euphemisms used to hide their true intention: poverty and exploitation.
The people of the world, however, are beginning to rise up, riot, resist, rebel and revolt. This brief article is an introduction to the protest movements and rebellions which have taken place around the world in the past few years against the entrenched systems and structures of power. This is but a small preview of the story that will be examined in my upcoming book. Please consider donating to The People’s Book Project in order to finance the completion of this volume.
Those who govern and rule over our world and its people have been aware of the structural and social changes which would result in bringing about social unrest and rebellion. In fact, they have been warning about the potential for such a circumstance of global revolutionary movements for a number of years. The elite are very worried, most especially at the prospect of revolutionary movements spreading beyond borders and the traditional confines of state structures. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s former National Security Adviser, co-founder with banker David Rockefeller of the Trilateral Commission, and an arch-elitist strategic thinker for the American empire, has been warning of what he terms the ‘Global Political Awakening’ as the central challenge for elites in a changing world.
In June of 2010, I published an article entitled, “The Global Political Awakening and the New World Order,” in which I examined this changing reality and in particular, the words of Zbigniew Brzezinski in identifying it. In December of 2008, Brzezinski published an article for the New York Times in which he wrote: “For the first time in history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive. Global activism is generating a surge in the quest for cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world scarred by memories of colonial or imperial domination.” This situation is made more precarious for elites as it takes place in a global transition in which the Atlantic powers – Western Europe and the United States – are experiencing a decline in their 500-year domination of the world. Brzezinski wrote that what is necessary to maintain control in this changing world is for the United States to spearhead “a collective effort for a more inclusive system of global management,” or in other words, more power for them. Brzezinski has suggested that, “the worldwide yearning for human dignity is the central challenge inherent in the phenomenon of global political awakening.” In 2005, Brzezinski wrote:
It is no overstatement to assert that now in the 21st century the population of much of the developing world is politically stirring and in many places seething with unrest. It is a population acutely conscious of social injustice to an unprecedented degree, and often resentful of its perceived lack of political dignity. The nearly universal access to radio, television and increasingly the Internet is creating a community of shared perceptions and envy that can be galvanized and channeled by demagogic political or religious passions. These energies transcend sovereign borders and pose a challenge both to existing states as well as to the existing global hierarchy, on top of which America still perches…
The youth of the Third World are particularly restless and resentful. The demographic revolution they embody is thus a political time-bomb, as well. With the exception of Europe, Japan and America, the rapidly expanding demographic bulge in the 25-year-old-and-under age bracket is creating a huge mass of impatient young people. Their minds have been stirred by sounds and images that emanate from afar and which intensify their disaffection with what is at hand. Their potential revolutionary spearhead is likely to emerge from among the scores of millions of students concentrated in the often intellectually dubious “tertiary level” educational institutions of developing countries… Typically originating from the socially insecure lower middle class and inflamed by a sense of social outrage, these millions of students are revolutionaries-in-waiting, already semi-mobilized in large congregations, connected by the Internet and pre-positioned for a replay on a larger scale of what transpired years earlier in Mexico City or in Tiananmen Square. Their physical energy and emotional frustration is just waiting to be triggered by a cause, or a faith, or a hatred.
Important to note is that Brzezinski has not simply been writing abstractly about this concept, but has been for years traveling to and speaking at various conferences and think tanks of national and international elites, who together form policy for the powerful nations of the world. Speaking to the elite American think tank, the Carnegie Council, Brzezinski warned of “the unprecedented global challenge arising out of the unique phenomenon of a truly massive global political awakening of mankind,” as we now live “in an age in which mankind writ large is becoming politically conscious and politically activated to an unprecedented degree, and it is this condition which is producing a great deal of international turmoil.” Brzezinski noted that much of the ‘awakening’ was being spurred on by America’s role in the world, and the reality of globalization (which America projects across the globe as the single global hegemon), and that this awakening “is beginning to create something altogether new: namely, some new ideological or doctrinal challenge which might fill the void created by the disappearance of communism.” He wrote that he sees “the beginnings, in writings and stirrings, of the making of a doctrine which combines anti-Americanism with anti-globalization, and the two could become a powerful force in a world that is very unequal and turbulent.”
In 2007, the British Ministry of Defence issued a report looking at global trends over the following three decades to better plan for the “future strategic context” of the British military. The report noted that: “The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx… The world’s middle classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest.” In my April 2010 article, “The Global Economic Crisis: Riots, Rebellion, and Revolution,” I quoted the official British Defence Ministry report, which read:
Absolute poverty and comparative disadvantage will fuel perceptions of injustice among those whose expectations are not met, increasing tension and instability, both within and between societies and resulting in expressions of violence such as disorder, criminality, terrorism and insurgency. They may also lead to the resurgence of not only anti-capitalist ideologies, possibly linked to religious, anarchist or nihilist movements, but also to populism and the revival of Marxism.
In December of 2008, the managing director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn warned that the economic crisis could lead to “violent unrest on the streets.” He stated that if the elite were not able to instill an economic recovery by 2010, “then social unrest may happen in many countries – including advanced economies,” meaning the Western and industrialized world. In February of 2009, the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Pascal Lamy, warned that the economic crisis “could trigger political unrest equal to that seen during the 1930s.” In May of 2009, the president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, stated that if the economic crisis did not come to an end, “there is a risk of a serious human and social crisis with very serious political implications.”
In early 2009, the top intelligence official in the United States, Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence (who oversees all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies), stated that the global economic crisis had become the primary threat to America’s “security” (meaning domination). He told the Senate Intelligence Committee: “I’d like to begin with the global economic crisis, because it already looms as the most serious one in decades, if not centuries… Economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they are prolonged for a one-or-two-year period… And instability can loosen the fragile hold that many developing countries have on law and order, which can spill out in dangerous ways into the international community.” He also noted that, “there could be a backlash against U.S. efforts to promote free markets because the crisis was triggered by the United States… We are generally held responsible for it.”
In December of 2008, police in Greece shot and killed a 15-year old student in Exarchia, a libertarian and anarchist stronghold in Athens. The murder resulted in thousands of protesters and riots erupting in the streets, in what the New York Times declared to be “the worst unrest in decades.” Triggered by the death of the young Greek student, the protests were the result of deeper, social and systemic issues, increasing poverty, economic stagnation and political corruption. Solidarity protests took place all over Europe, including Germany, France, and the U.K. But this was only a sample of what was to come over the following years.
In the early months of 2009, as the economic crisis was particularly blunt in the countries of Eastern Europe, with increased unemployment and inflation, the region was headed for a “spring of discontent,” as protests and riots took place in Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Latvia. In January of 2009, more than 10,000 people took to the streets in Latvia in one of the largest demonstrations since the end of Soviet rule. A demonstration of roughly 7,000 Lithuanians turned into a riot, and smaller clashes between police and protesters took place in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Hungary, while police in Iceland tear gassed a demonstration of roughly 2,000 people outside the parliament, leading to the resignation of the prime minister. The head of the IMF said that the economic crisis could cause more turmoil “almost everywhere,” adding: “The situation is really, really serious.” A mass strike took place in France, bringing hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets and pushing anti-capitalist activists and leaders to the front of a growing social movement.
May 1, 2009 – the labour activist day known as ‘May Day’ – saw protests and riots erupting across Europe, including Germany, Greece, Austria, Turkey and France. In Germany, banks were attacked by protesters, leading to many arrests; there were over 150,000 demonstrators in Ankara, Turkey; more than 10,000 people took to the streets in Madrid, Spain; thousands took to the streets in Italy and Russia and social unrest continued to spread through Eastern Europe. Results from a poll were released on early May 2009 reporting that in the United States, Italy, France, Spain, Britain and Germany, a majority of the populations felt that the economic crisis would lead to a rise in “political extremism.”
In April of 2009, the G20 met in London, and was met there with large protests, drawing tens of thousands of people into the streets. In London’s financial district, protesters smashed the windows of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which was the recipient of a massive government bailout during the early phases of the financial crisis. One man, Ian Tomlinson, dropped dead on the streets of London following an assault by a British police officer, who was later questioned under suspicion of manslaughter.
In November of 2011, a month of student protests and sit-ins erupted in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, triggered by budget cuts and tuition fees. The protests began in Austria, where students occupied the University of Vienna for over a month, quickly spreading to other cities and schools in Germany, where roughly 80,000 students took part in nationwide protests, with sit-ins taking place in 20 universities across the country, and the University of Basel in Switzerland was also occupied by students.
The small little island-country of Iceland has undergone what has been referred to as the “Kitchenware Revolution,” where the country had once been rated by the UN as the best country to live in as recently as 2007, and in late 2008, its banks collapsed and the government resigned amid the mass protests that took place. The banks were nationalized, Iceland got a new prime minister, a gay woman who brought into her cabinet a majority of women, fired bank CEOs; the constitution was re-written with significant citizen participation and the government took steps to write off debts and refused to bailout foreign investors. Now, the economy is doing much better, hence why no one is talking about Iceland in the media (woeful is power to the ‘tyranny’ of a good example). Iceland has even hired an ex-cop bounty hunter to track down and arrest the bankers that destroyed the country’s economy. As the debt burdens of a significant portion of the population of Iceland were eased, Iceland was projected in 2012 to have a faster growing economy than those in the euro area and the developed world. As reported by Bloomberg, the main difference between how Iceland has dealt with its massive economic crisis and how the rest of the ‘developed’ world has been dealing with it, is that Iceland “has put the needs of its population ahead of the markets at every turn.” Instead of rewarding bankers for causing the crisis, as we have done in Europe and North America, Icelanders have arrested them, and protected homeowners instead of evicting them.
As Greece came to dominate the news in early 2010, with talk of a bailout, protests began to erupt with more frequency in the small euro-zone country. In early May, a general strike was called in Greece against the austerity measures the government was imposing in order to get a bailout. Banks were set on fire, petrol bombs were thrown at riot police, who were pepper spraying, tear gassing, and beating protesters with batons, and three people died of suffocation in one of the bombed banks.
In May of 2010, British historian Simon Schama wrote an article for the Financial Times entitled, “The world teeters on the brink of a new age of rage,” in which he explained that historians “will tell you that there is often a time-lag between the onset of economic disaster and the accumulation of social fury.” In act one, he wrote, “the shock of a crisis initially triggers fearful disorientation” and a “rush for political saviours.” Act two witnesses “a dangerously alienated public” who “take stock of the brutal interruption of their rising expectations,” which leads to the grievance that someone “must have engineered the common misfortune,” which, I might add, is true (though Schama does not say so). To manage this situation, elites must engage in “damage-control” whereby perpetrators are brought to justice. Schama noted that, “the psychological impact of financial regulation is almost as critical as its institutional prophylactics,” or, in other words: the propaganda effect of so-called “financial regulation” on calming the angry plebs is as important (if not more so) as the financial regulations themselves. Thus, those who lobby against financial regulation, warned Scharma, “risk jeopardizing their own long-term interests.” If governments fail to “reassert the integrity of public stewardship,” then the public will come to perceive that “the perps and the new regime are cut from common cloth.” In the very least, wrote Scharma, elites attempting to implement austerity measures and other unpopular budget programs will need to “deliver a convincing story about the sharing of burdens,” for if they do not, it would “guarantee that a bad situation gets very ugly, very fast.”
As French President Nicolas Sarkozy began implementing austerity measures in France, particularly what is called “pension reform,” unions and supporters staged massive strikes in September of 2010, drawing up to three million people into the streets in over 230 demonstrations across the country. Soldiers armed with machine guns went on patrol at certain metro stations as government officials used the puffed up and conveniently-timed threat of a “terrorist attack” as being “high risk.” More strikes took place in October, with French students joining in the demonstrations, as students at roughly 400 high schools across the country built barricades of wheelie bins to prevent other students from attending classes, with reports of nearly 70% of French people supporting the strike. The reports of participants varied from the government figures of over 800,000 people to the union figures of 2-3 million people going out into the streets. The Wall Street Journal referred to the strikes as “an irrational answer” to Sarkozy’s “perfectly rational initiative” of reforms.
In November of 2010, Irish students in Dublin began protesting against university tuition increases, when peaceful sit-ins were met with violent riot police, and roughly 25,000 students took to the streets. This was the largest student protest in Ireland in a generation.
In Britain, where a new coalition government came to power – uniting the Conservatives (led by David Cameron, the Prime Minister) and the Liberal Democrats (led by Nick Clegg, Deputy PM) – tuition increases were announced, tripling the cost from 3 to 9,000 pounds. On November 10, as roughly 50,000 students took to the streets in London, the Conservative Party headquarters in central London had its windows smashed by students, who then entered the building and occupied it, even congregating up on the rooftop of the building. The police continued to ‘kettle’ protesters in the area, not allowing them to enter or leave a confined space, which of course results in violent reactions. Prime Minister David Cameron called the protest “unacceptable.” The Christian Science Monitor asked if British students were the “harbinger of future violence over austerity measures,” There were subsequent warnings that Britain was headed for a winter of unrest.
Tens of thousands again took to the streets in London in late November, including teenage students walking with university students, again erupting in riots, with the media putting in a great deal of focus on the role of young girls taking part in the protests and riots. The protests had taken place in several cities across the United Kingdom, largely peaceful save the ‘riot’ in London, and with students even occupying various schools, including Oxford. The student protests brought ‘class’ back into the political discourse. In November, several universities were occupied by students, including the School of Oriental and African Studies, UWE Bristol and Manchester Metropolitan. Several of the school occupations went for days or even weeks. Universities were then threatening to evict the students. The school occupations were the representation of a new potential grass-roots social movement building in the UK. Some commentators portrayed it as a “defining political moment for a generation.”
In early December of 2010, as the British Parliament voted in favour of the tripling of tuition, thousands of students protested outside, leading to violent confrontations with police, who stormed into crowds of students on horseback, firing tear gas, beating the youth with batons, as per usual. While the overtly aggressive tactics of police to ‘kettle’ protesters always creates violent reactions, David Cameron was able to thereafter portray the student reactions to police tactics as a “feral mob.” One student was twice pulled out from his wheelchair by police, and another student who was struck on the head with a baton was left with a brain injury. As the protests erupted into riots against the police into the night, one infamous incident included a moment where Prince Charles and his wife Camilla were attacked by rioters as their car drove through the crowd in what was called the “worst royal security breach in a generation,” as the royal couple were confronted directly by the angry plebs who attacked the Rolls-Royce and Camilla was even ‘prodded’ by a stick, as some protesters yelled, “off with their heads!” while others chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets!” As more student protests were set to take place in January of 2011, Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command contacted university officials requesting “intelligence” as students increased their protest activities, as more occupations were expected to take place.
In December of 2010, a Spanish air traffic controller strike took place, grounding flights for 330,000 people and resulting in the government declaring a state of emergency, threatening the strikers with imprisonment if they did not return to work.
Part way through December, an uprising began in the North African country of Tunisia, and by January of 2011, the 23-year long dictatorship of a French and American-supported puppet, Ben Ali, had come to an end. This marked the first major spark of what has come to be known as the Arab Spring. Protests were simultaneously erupting in Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, and elsewhere. In late January of 2011, I wrote an article entitled, “Are we witnessing the start of a global revolution?,” noting that the protests in North Africa were beginning to boil up in Egypt most especially. Egypt entered its modern revolutionary period, resulting in ending the rule of the long-time dictator, Hosni Mubarak, and though the military has been attempting to stem the struggle of the people, the revolutionary struggle continues to this day, and yet the Obama administration continues to give $1.3 billion in military aid to support the violent repression of the democratic uprising. The small Arab Gulf island of Bahrain (which is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet) also experienced a large democratic uprising, which has been consistently and brutally crushed by the local monarchy and Saudi Arabia, with U.S. support, including the selling of arms to the dictatorship.
In early 2011, the British student protests joined forces with a wider anti-austerity social protest against the government. As protests continued over the following months all across the country, banks became a common target, noting the government’s efforts to spend taxpayer money to bailout corrupt banks and cut health, social services, welfare, pensions, and increase tuition. Several bank branches were occupied and others had protests – often very creatively imagined – organized outside closed bank branches. On March 26, roughly 500,000 protesters took to the streets of London against austerity measures. As late as July 2011, a student occupation of a school continued at Leeds.
Throughout 2011, protests in Greece picked up in size and rage. In February, roughly 100,000 people took to the streets in Athens against the government’s austerity measures, leading to clashes with riot police that lasted for three hours, with police using tear gas and flash bombs and some protesters reacting with rocks and petrol bombs. In June of 2011, Greece experienced major clashes between protesters and police, or what are often called “riots.” During a general strike in late June, police went to war against protesters assembled in central Athens. Protests continued throughout the summer and into the fall, and in November, roughly 50,000 Greeks took to the streets in Athens.
In March of 2011, as Portugal plunged forward into its own major crisis and closer to a European Union bailout, roughly 300,000 Portuguese took to the streets of Lisbon and other cities protesting against the government’s austerity measures. Driven by the youth, calling themselves Portugal’s “desperate generation,” in part inspired by the youth uprisings in North Africa, the Financial Times referred to it as “an unexpected protest movement that has tapped into some of Portugal’s deepest social grievances.”
The Portuguese protests in turn inspired the Spanish “Indignados” or 15-M movement (named after the 15th of May, when the protests began), as youth – the indignant ones – or the “lost generation,” occupied Madrid’s famous Puerta del Sol on May 15, 2011, protesting against high unemployment, the political establishment, and the government’s handling of the economic crisis. The authorities responded in the usual way: they attempted to ban the protests and then sent in riot police. Thousands of Spaniards – primarily youth – occupied the central square, setting up tents and building a small community engaging in debate, discussion and activism. In a massive protest in June of 2011, over 250,000 Spaniards took the streets in one of the largest protests in recent Spanish history. Over the summer, as the encampment was torn down, the Indignados refined their tactics, and began to engage in direct action by assembling outside homes and preventing evictions from taking place, having stopped over 200 evictions since May of 2011, creating organic vegetable gardens in empty spaces, supporting immigrant workers in poor communities, and creating “a new social climate.”
The Indignados spurred solidarity and similar protests across Europe, including Greece, Belgium, France, Germany, the U.K., and beyond. In fact, the protests even spread to Israel, where in July of 2011, thousands of young Israelis established tent cities in protest against the rising cost of living and decreasing social spending, establishing itself on Rothschild Boulevard, a wealthy avenue in Tel Aviv named after the exceedingly wealthy banking dynasty. The protest, organized through social media, quickly spread through other cities across Israel. In late July, over 150,000 Israelis took to the streets in 12 cities across the country in the largest demonstration the country had seen in decades, demonstrating against the “rising house prices and rents, low salaries, [and] the high cost of raising children and other social issues.” In early August, another protest drew 320,000 people into the streets, leading some commentators to state that the movement marked “a revolution from a generation we thought was unable to make a revolution.” In early September, roughly 430,000 Israelis took to the streets in the largest demonstration in Israeli history.
In May and June of 2011, a student movement began to erupt in Chile, fighting against the increased privatization of their school system and the debt-load that comes with it. The state – the remnants of the Pinochet dictatorship – responded in the usual fashion: state violence, mass arrests, attempting to make protesting illegal. In clashes between students and riot police that took place in August, students managed to occupy a television station demanding a live broadcast to express their demands, with the city of Santiago being converted into “a state of siege” against the students. The “Chilean Winter” – as it came to be known – expanded into a wider social movement, including labour and environmental and indigenous groups, and continues to this very day.
The Indignados further inspired the emergence of the Occupy Movement, which began with occupy Wall Street in New York City on 17 September of 2011, bringing the dialectic of the “99% versus the 1%” into the popular and political culture. The Occupy movement, which reflected the initial tactics of the Indignados in setting up tents to occupy public spaces, quickly spread across the United States, Canada, Europe, and far beyond. There were Occupy protests that took place as far away as South Africa, in dozens of cities across Canada, in countries and cities all across Latin America, in Israel, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and in hundreds of cities across the United States.
On October 15, 2011, a day of global protests took place, inspired by the Arab Spring, the Indignados, and the Occupy movement, when over 950 cities in 82 countries around the world experienced a global day of action originally planned for by the Spanish Indignados as a European-wide day of protest. In Italy, over 400,000 took to the streets; in Spain there were over 350,000, roughly 50,000 in New York City, with over 100,000 in both Portugal and Chile.
The Occupy movement was subsequently met with violent police repression and evictions from the encampments. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was busy spying on various Occupy groups around the country, and reportedly was involved in coordinating the crack-downs and evictions against dozens of Occupy encampments, as was later confirmed by declassified documents showing White House involvement in the repression. The FBI has also undertaken a “war of entrapment” against Occupy groups, attempting to discredit the movement and frame its participants as potential terrorists. Following the example of tactical change in the Indignados, the Occupy groups began refurbishing foreclosed homes for the homeless, helping families reclaim their homes, disrupting home foreclosure auctions, and even take on local community issues, such as issues of racism through the group, Occupy the Hood.
In late November of 2011, a public sector workers’ strike took place in the U.K., with tens of thousands of people marching in the streets across the country, as roughly two-thirds of schools shut and thousands of hospital operations postponed, while unions estimated that up to two million people went on strike. The host of a popular British television show, Jeremy Clarkson, said in a live interview that the striking workers should be taken out and shot in front of their families.
In January of 2012, protests erupted in Romania against the government’s austerity measures, leading to violent clashes with police, exchanging tear gas and firebombs. As the month continued, the protests grew larger, demanding the ouster of the government. The Economist referred to it as Romania’s “Winter of Discontent.” In early February, the Romanian Prime Minister resigned in the face of the protests.
In February of 2012, a student strike began in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec against the provincial government’s plan to nearly double the cost of tuition, bringing hundreds of thousands of students into the streets, who were in turn met with consistent state repression and violence, in what became known as the ‘Maple Spring.’ Dealing with issues of debt, repression, and media propaganda, the Maple Spring presented an example for student organizing elsewhere in Canada and North America. The government of Quebec opposes organized students but works with organized crime – representing what can be called a ‘Mafiocracy’ – and even passed a law attempting to criminalize student demonstrations. The student movement received support and solidarity from around the world, including the Chilean student movement and even a group of nearly 150 Greek academics who proclaimed their support in the struggle against austerity for the “largest student strike in the history of North America.”
In the spring of 2012, Mexican students mobilized behind the Yo Soy 132 movement – or the “Mexican Spring” – struggling against media propaganda and the political establishment in the lead-up to national elections, and tens of thousands continued to march through the streets decrying the presidential elections as rigged and fraudulent. The Economist noted that Mexican students were beginning to “revolt.”
In May of 2012, both the Indignados and the Occupy Movement undertook a resurgence of their street activism, while the occupy protests in Seattle and Oakland resulting in violent clashes and police repression. The protests drew Occupy and labour groups closer together, and police also repressed a resurgent Occupy protest in London.
In one of the most interesting developments in recent months, we have witnessed the Spanish miners strike in the province of Asturias, having roughly 8,000 miners strike against planned austerity measures, resorting to constructing barricades and directly fighting riot police who arrived in their towns to crush the resistance of the workers. The miners have even been employing unique tactics, such as constructing make-shift missiles which they fire at the advancing forces of police repression. For all the tear gas, rubber bullets and batons being used by police to crush the strike, the miners remain resolved to continue their struggle against the state. Interestingly, it was in the very region of Asturias where miners rebelled against the right-wing Spanish government in 1934 in one of the major sparks of the Spanish Civil War which pitted socialists and anarchists against Franco and the fascists. After weeks of clashes with police in mining towns, the striking workers planned a march to Madrid to raise attention to the growing struggle. The miners arrived in Madrid in early July to cheering crowds, but were soon met with repressive police, resulting in clashes between the people and the servants of the state. As the Spanish government continued with deeper austerity measures, over one million people marched in the streets of over 80 cities across Spain, with violent clashes resulting between protesters and police in Madrid.
This brief look at the resistance, rebellious and revolutionary movements emerging and erupting around the world is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it meant to be. It is merely a brief glimpse at the movements with which I intend to delve into detail in researching and writing about in my upcoming book, and to raise the question once again: Are we witnessing the start of a global revolution?
I would argue that, yes, indeed, we are. How long it takes, how it manifests and evolves, its failures and successes, the setbacks and leaps forward, and all the other details will be for posterity to acknowledge and examine. What is clear at present, however, is that no matter how much the media, governments and other institutions of power attempt to ignore, repress, divide and even destroy revolutionary social movements, they are increasingly evolving and emerging, in often surprising ways and with different triggering events and issues. There is, however, a commonality: where there is austerity in the world, where there is repression, where there is state, financial and corporate power taking all for themselves and leaving nothing for the rest, the rest are now rising up.
Welcome to the World Revolution.
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. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
Please donate to The People’s Book Project to help this book come to completion.
From the Chilean Winter to the Maple Spring: Solidarity and the Student Movements in Chile and Quebec
From the Chilean Winter to the Maple Spring
Solidarity and the Student Movements in Chile and Quebec
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally Published at: The Media Co-op
On the night of May 16, thousands of Montréal students and supporters took to the streets for the 23rd consecutive night of protests, this time spurred on by the Government of Québec’s announcement that it would legislate an end to the 14-week student strike which has gripped Quebec for the past three months. The government’s proposed bill would “impose strict conditions on students wanting to demonstrate against the planned tuition fee hikes,” which could “include stiff fines against anyone attempting to block entrances to the colleges and universities.” Québec Premier Jean Charest announced that the current school session will be postponed by the government, “We are suspending the session. We are not cancelling it … This will allow us to finish the session in August and September.” Students warned that they would challenge the law in court “if the legislation limits their right to demonstrate and to block classes if the majority of members of a school or student association votes to do so.”
Gabriel nadeau-Dubois, the 21-year old spokesperson for the largest student association, CLASSE, representing over half of the 160,000 striking students, stated that, “The bill that the government is proposing to table is an anti-union law, it is authoritarian, repressive and breaks the students’ right to strike… This is a government that prefers to hit on its youth, ridicule its youth rather than listen to them.” As thousands poured into the streets of Montréal to oppose the government’s plan, they were again met with riot police, and as violence broke out after what was a peaceful protest was declared “illegal” by the police, 122 protesters were arrested. Only a few of the 122 arrested protesters are being charged with assaulting officers, while the rest are being charged with taking part in an “illegal protest.” Riot police charged the crowd and broke the protest up into smaller units, which police then cornered and followed, using pepper spray and flash bang grenades, as well as beating students with batons.
Earlier on the same day of May 16, nearly 9,000 km away from Montréal, roughly 100,000 students and supporters took to the streets in Santiago, Chile, in the second major demonstration of the new year, bringing a resurgence to the student movement that began one year ago, in May of 2011, the students were mobilized by the Student Confederation of Chile (CONFECH), a confederation of all the student unions from public universities (as well as some private ones), and the oldest individual union, the Student Federation of the University of Chile (FECH). These usions collectively rallied the students against the most expensive educational system among the OECD nations, a largely privatized system of education brought in by Chile’s former military dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who came to power in 1973 with CIA support. Gabriel Boric, the 26-year old student leader of the FECH and spokesperson for CONFECH declared, “We are more than 100,000 people. We are giving again a clear sign to the government that the student movement, after a year, stands up on its feet and will not rest. We are still in the fight.” Boric added, “We will keep on being rebels, because the student movement is not going to settle for a few excesses having been corrected. We want to fix all of them.” The Chilean government has submitted three different proposals to the students in the past year, all of which did not satisfy the student movement as they were mere concessions which did not address the main issue of an unfair social, political, and economic system, demanding a free, quality public education system for all Chileans. Boric stated, “This government has been unable to respond to the students’ basic requests.”
The protests of May 16, 2012 turned violent with clashes between students and riot police, leading to the arrest of 70 students in Santiago. This was the second major student demonstration of this year, following roughly 40 demonstrations across the country in 2011. The riot police responded to the student protest with tear gas and water cannons. On March 15, Santiago was host to the first major student demonstration of the year in which several thousand students took to the streets, and clashes erupted with riot police, leading to 50 arrests. Incidentally, on March 15 in Montréal, students and others took part in a protest against police brutality which ended in violence and the arrest of over 200 protesters.
The Chilean government has consistently attempted to both repress – through state violence – and undermine – through minor legislative concessions – the student movement which has identified the necessity of change in the social, political, and economic system itself. Despite a year of protests, the former student leader of FECH, 24-year old Camilla Vallejo, who led the student movement until she was replaced by Boric in student elections in November of 2011, commented on the student movement: “In concrete terms, you could say we have accomplished little or nothing… But in broad strokes, the student movement has made a break in Chilean society. There’s a before and after 2011, and we’re talking about issues that were taboo in Chile for the first time.”
On May 14, Québec’s Education Minister Line Beauchamp resigned, stating, “I am resigning because I no longer believe I’m part of the solution.” This followed revelations that Line Beauchamp attended a Liberal Party fundraiser at which she accepted donations from a known Montréal mafioso. Québec has been embroiled for years in a controversy over the corrupt construction industry, which is heavily controlled by the Mafia and gets massively over-valued public contracts from city and provincial governments. Beauchamp has not been the only such casuality in Premier Jean Charest’s cabinet. Back in September of 2011, Jean Charest’s Deputy Premier, Nathalie Normandeau, who was also Québec’s Natural Resources Minister, resigned amid controversy. She too, has been implicated in corruption scandals related to the Mafia.
Roughly a month after the student protests began in Chile, the Education Minister Joaquin Lavin resigned in July of 2011. He was replaced with Felipe Bulnes, who in turn resigned in December of 2011, in the midst of the persistent student movement. Bulnes had attempted to calm student protests by granting increased access to credit and “improved supervision of universities.” Bulnes was then replaced with Harald Beyer. Just as Bulnes resigned, following revelations that he had strong ties to a private university in Santiago (and thus, a personal interest in defending the privatized education system), the Agriculture Minister Jose Antonio Galilea also resigned. In late March of 2012, Chile’s Energy Minister Rodrigo Alvarez resigned following two months of protests in the southern region of Aysen over increased fuel prices.
As Quebec’s Natural Resources Minister (until her resignation in September 2011), Nathalie Normandeau was responsible for introducing ‘Plan Nord’ (Northern Plan), an $80 billion economic development program to exploit the resources of northern Québec through public and private investments. The Plan includes invesments in mining, forestry, transportation, and gas, and is drawing interest from multinational corporations around the world. Plan Nord was announced by Normandeau and Premier Jean Charest in May of 2011, at which Charest stated, “On the political level, this is one of the best moments of my life.” He added, “This is one of the reasons I got involved in politics.” Tha Plan envisions 11 new mining projects in the next few years, with billions being spent by the government on developing infrastructure and roads for transportation. The mining industry applauded Charest, but incited concern from environmental groups and First Nations representatives. In April of 2012, a group of First Nations Innu women walked from the North to Montreal to protest against Plan Nord, arriving in the city for the meeting to promote Plan Nord on April 20-21. On April 20, First Nations women gathered to protest the meeting, and were joined by student protesters outside the Palais des congrès in downtown Montreal. The protesters were met with riot police, sound grenades, tear gas, and batons, and roughly 90 protesters were arrested.
Back in May of 2011, just as the Québec government was announcing its plans for Plan Nord, the Chilean government announced the approval of the HidroAysen project, to be Chile’s largest power generator, drawing protests from hundreds of people. The project “involves five dams and a 1,900 kilometer (1,180 mile) transmission line to feed the central grid that supplies Santiago and surrounding cities as well as copper mines owned by Codelco and Anglo American Plc.” The project provoked increased anger from residents of the region, as well as conservationists and other activists. Opponents of the project filed legal injunctions and an appeals court suspended the HidroAysen project in June of 2011. It was at this time that the student movement in Chile began to emerge rapidly. In October, a local appeals court rejected the seven lawsuits aginst the project and gave the green light to resume work. In December, a legal appeal against the project was taken to Chile’s Supreme Court. In April of 2012, the Supreme Court rejected the seven appeals against the project. This sparked major protests over the court’s decision, met with riot police repression. The increased demand for energy comes from the rapidly growing Chilean mining industry, of which Canadian mining companies are the largest foreign investment source.
Protests erupted in the southern Chilean region of Aysen in February of 2012, where the cost of living is significantly higher than in the north (due to the remoteness of the Patagonian region) and thus, the costs of fuel, food, health care and education were greater than elsewhere. Protesters fought almost nightly battles with riot police, even setting up barricades and throwing rocks at police, who used water cannons and tear gas on the protesters. One protester even lost an eye during the confrontations, reportedly by being shot by the police. Supporters took to the streets in Santiago in solidairty with those struggling in Aysen, also clashing with police. In March, the protesters lifted roadblocks to hold negotiations with the government and the more than thirty social organizations participating in the protests. It was after the negotiations that Energy Minister Alvarez resigned, stating that he was excluded from the talks. In late March, the government announced plans to create better conditions in the Aysen region.
In April of 2012, Chile was experiencing protests against a thermoelectric plant and mining, largely participated in by Chileans of indigenous descent, and students took back to the streets in Santiago in the tens of thousands. Across Quebec, students escalated protests throughout the month of April, and united indigenous, environmental and student activists in protest against Plan Nord. On April 25, tens of thousands of Chilean students took to the streets in Santiago, protesting the government’s education “reform” proposal, which was grossly inadequate. On the very same day, April 25, roughly 5,000 student protesters in Montreal demonstrated against the government’s cancellation of negotiations with the student leaders. Earlier in that same month, Chilean President Pinera and Canadian Prime Minister Harper met in Chile to expand the free trade agreement between the two countries. The student movements were not up for discussion.
In Chile, the student movement and its wider social development with environmental, labour, and other activist groups has been referred to as the “Chilean Winter.” In Quebec, the student movement, with its wider social development with labour, environmental, and other activist organizations, has been referred to as the ‘Maple Spring.” Both movements, while maintaining their own specifics, are ultimately mobilized around a struggle against neoliberalism, against austerity, and against a social, political, and economic system which has ruled the world for the few and at the expense of the many.
For both of these movements to move forward, it is important to not only promote informal acts and statements of solidarity between the two movements, but to begin establishing direct and indirect ties between the movements: establishing connections between the student associations, coordinating days of major protest actions, protesting mining companies that exploit both the North of Quebec and the South of Chile, creating student-run news outlets which share information between each other, undertake student-activist exchanges between the two countries; but first and foremost, it is important to educate the students in Quebec about what is taking place in Chile, and the students in Chile about what is taking place in Quebec. That is the basis for all other forms of cooperation.
So from the Chilean Winter to the Maple Spring
Solidarity, solidarité, solidaridad!
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. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
Recent interview with Raymond Geisler on the Unbought and Unbossed Radio Show on the history of American Imperialism. Starting with the 1832 Marine invasion of Indonesia, to the Spanish-American War of 1898 which led to the invasion of Cuba and the occupation and colonization of the Philippines, up to the present day, this show looks at the evolution of American imperialism transitioning from the 19th into the 20th centuries:
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The following is a research sample from The People’s Book Project, extracted from an unedited chapter on the American Empire in Latin America.
Punishing the Population: The American Occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
A brief glance at the early 20th century American occupation of Haiti and the Dominican Republic tell us a great deal about America’s role in the world today. The Dominican Republic is the Western nation on the island that was named Hispaniola by Christopher Columbus, and was later split between Spanish and French rule: Santo Domingo in the west and Saint Domingue in the east. The Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804 took place in Saint Domingue, where black slaves successfully revolted against the white French slave-owners and established the first black republic in history. The country was ruled by a military dictatorship which annexed Santo Domingo in 1822. In 1844, the residents of Santo Domingo expelled the Haitians, proclaiming independence as the Dominican Republic. Thereafter, the Dominican Republic became a major sugar producer in the world, and in the latter 19th century, American financial and business interests established extensive investments in the Dominican sugar plantations. At this time, Morgan and Rockefeller corporate and financial interests had established dominance in Cuba, following the Spanish-Cuban-American War of 1898, in which the United States achieved its three main goals: expel the Spanish imperialists, crush the Cuban liberation movement, and establish absolute economic dominance of the nation. This was achieved most especially during the 1920s and 1950s, with a transition from a Morgan-dominated Cuba to a Rockefeller-dominated Cuba, leading right up to the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
Theodore Roosevelt first intervened in the Dominican Republic in the early 1900s, following the insistence of an American corporation which wanted its debt repaid by the Dominican government; a corporation which happened to have extensive ties to the U.S. State Department. Roosevelt eventually announced the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which stipulated that the Western Hemisphere ‘belonged’ to the United States, and it was the duty of the United States to prevent any other powers (presumably European) from establishing hegemony over America’s “back yard.” Eventually, America’s intervention in the Dominican handed control of the nation’s finances to National City Bank of New York, which would later be controlled by the Rockefeller Group, as well as other powerful banking houses in New York. This was to be the geopolitical and economic doctrine of the United States in the region: one which ensured American hegemony over the entire Hemisphere, repressing liberation struggles, and ensuring the financial and economic dominance of the leading banking houses in America over the resource-rich world south of the United States.
President Woodrow Wilson, the famous stalwart of democratic idealism and the rights of self-determination, sought to crush any hopes of democracy and self-determination in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Here, the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine was implemented: European, and especially German economic interests had near-entire control of the Haitian economy, while American economic interests had a large share of the vastly profitable sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic. Further, there were social conditions in each country which threatened the hegemony of America, with immensely unstable regimes in Haiti, which had, since the end of its revolution in the early 1800s, written into its constitution that no foreigners can own Haitian land; and in the Dominican Republic, where a weak central government was incapable of placating the Dominican nations who had been pushed aside by the sugar plantations which sought to undermine the Dominican labour movement and their refusal to take pay cuts by importing cheap Afro-Caribbean labour, most especially from Haiti.
Thus, in 1915, the United States invaded and occupied Haiti until 1934, with a brutal Marine occupation resulting in the torture and murder of thousands of Haitians. Woodrow Wilson and his Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan constructed a “new order” for Haiti. William Jennings Bryan had said to close adviser three years previous, when discussing Haiti, “Dear me, think of it! Niggers speaking French.” The Americans wrote a new constitution for Haiti in 1918, while under military rule, which removed the law that barred foreigners from owning Haitian land. The Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time, a young Franklin D. Roosevelt, took credit for writing Haiti’s constitution, which gave preference to American corporations to buy and own Haiti’s land, as well as saying he had been “running several Caribbean republics.” Later, in 1928, four years following the end of the American occupation of the Dominican Republic, Franklin Roosevelt stated, “We accomplished an excellent piece of constructive work, and the world ought to thank us.” Franklin Roosevelt, long hailed as one of the greatest American Presidents in history, once referred to Latin Americans, saying, “You have to treat them like children.”
The American media largely applauded the occupations of Haiti from 1915-1934 and the Dominican Republic, from 1916-1924. Several publications even called for the outright annexation of these countries to “add another star to the flag.” As the New York Times had explained in the early 1900s, commenting on Teddy Roosevelt’s strategy for the region, it was really to protect Latin Americans “against the ultimate consequences of their own misbehavior.” Between 1904 and 1919, the American press referred to Haitians and Dominicans as child-like “coons,” “mongrels,” lazy, ignorant, savage, superstitious, and “a horde of naked niggers,” as a New York daily newspaper referred specifically to the Dominicans. The papers claimed, as one correspondent did, “the Negro as a race, when left alone, is incapable of self-advancement.” So, naturally, the United States had to step in and “advance” them. Just after the Haitian occupation began in 1915, one newspaper declared, “Whatever is to be done in Haiti should be done for the permanent welfare of the inhabitants,” but along those lines, you must first, “ignore a theoretical position of sovereignty which the people of the little republic are wholly unable to maintain.” Under each occupation, United States financial and corporate interests came to dominate the two countries on an unprecedented scale. The Europeans weren’t too happy about it, but they were busy with the First World War.
In each country, the United States left the legacy not only of establishing economic dominance, but of creating strong central states with powerful and ruthless U.S.-trained national police and military forces. When the United States left the Dominican Republic in 1924, they left a meager weak democratic regime, and the commander of the powerful and vicious U.S.-trained army, Rafael Trujillo, “a favorite of the Marine staff,” rigged the elections of 1930 and took power, establishing one of the most ruthless and brutal dictatorships of the twentieth century. Upon winning the rigged elections, Trujillo was promptly congratulated by U.S. President Hoover on his “auspicious” victory, who extended his “wishes” for the “happiness of the people of the Republic.”
The American occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934, while still hailed today by some scholars as the era of Haiti’s “modernization,” was a truly brutal military occupation, resulting in the deaths of between 15-30,000 Haitians. The United States even undertook a plebiscite to “validate” their occupation (just as Napoleon had been a great fan of plebiscites), in which the U.S. came out with 99.2% of the vote. The strongest institution the United States built was of course the Haitian military. In 1957, François Duvalier took power in a rigged election and established for himself a military dictatorship lasting until his son came to power in 1971 – both known euphemistically as “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” – the latter having ruled a military dictatorship until 1986. Prior to the U.S. occupation of Haiti in 1915, there were no American corporations in the country. By 1986, there were over 300.
When Franklin Roosevelt became President in 1933, he implemented his ‘Good Neighbor’ policy for the region, after which he extended immense economic and military aid to the dictatorships of the region, and specifically to Trujillo. As one American businessman declared, “We have a staunch friend in the Dominican Republic.” America’s “staunch friend” then undertook a horrific massacre of Haitians in the Dominican Republic, killing up to 25,000 Haitian men, women, and children in a couple weeks. This was called the “mowing down” campaign, in which Trujillo sought to eradicate the racially inferior Haitians from the Dominican for fear of their stock reducing the purity of the Dominican population. Following the massacre, Trujillo received negative international attention and comparisons were made to the other ruthless dictatorship of the era which was eradicating a specific ethnic population, Nazi Germany. Since the United States sought to maintain Trujillo as a ‘Good Neighbor’ and ‘staunch friend,’ the American government undertook a “massive public relations effort” on behalf of the Trujillo regime, which included subsidizing the writing of biographies of the tyrant extolling his ‘democratic’ and ‘humanitarian’ virtues in “glowing terms.” The campaign was also taking place inside the Dominican Republic, where there was an attempt to have Trujillo be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. But the United States stuck with Trujillo, and in 1940, it paid off: the Rockefeller-dominated National City Bank “was to be designated the sole depository of all revenues and public funds of the Dominican Government.” This was, of course, hailed as a wonderful victory for Dominican independence.
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. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
 Rémy Herrera, “When the Names of the Emperors Were Morgan and Rockefeller… Prerevolutionary Cuba’s Dependency With Regard to U.S. High Finance,” International journal of Political Economy (Vol. 34, No. 4, Winter 2004-05), pages 29-37, 46.
 Cyrus Veeser, “Inventing Dollar Diplomacy: The Gilded-Age Origins of the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 27, No. 3, June 2003), pages 309-314.
 Ibid, pages 315-323.
 Samuel Maritnez, “From Hidden Hand to Heavy Hand: Sugar, the State, and Migrant Labor in Haiti and the Dominican Republic,” Latin American Research Review (Vol. 34, No. 1, 1999), pages 60-66.
 Scott H. Olsen, “Reverend L. Ton Evans and the United States Occupation of Haiti,” Caribbean Studies (Vol. 26, No. 1/2, 1993), pages 34-35.
 Magdaline W. Shannon, “The U.S. Commission for the Study and Review of Conditions in Haiti and Its Relationship to President Hoover’s Latin American Policy,” Caribbean Studies (Vol. 15, No. 4, January 1976), page 56.
 Scott H. Olsen, “Reverend L. Ton Evans and the United States Occupation of Haiti,” Caribbean Studies (Vol. 26, No. 1/2, 1993), pages 40-41.
 Raymond H. Pulley, “The United States and the Trujillo Dictatorship, 1933-1940: The High Price of Caribbean Stability,” Caribbean Studies (Vol. 5, No. 3, October 1965), pages 23-24.
 Max Paul Friedman, “Retiring the Puppets, Bringing Latin America Back In: Recent Scholarship on United States-Latin American Relations,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 27, No. 5, November 2003), page 623.
 John W. Blassingame, “The Press and American Intervention in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, 1904-1920,” Caribbean Studies (Vol. 9, No. 2, July 1969), pages 28-30.
 Ibid, pages 36-37.
 Michiel Baud, “The Origins of Capitalist Agriculture in the Dominican Republic,” Latin American Research Review (Vol. 22, No. 2, 1987), pages 148-149.
 Samuel Maritnez, “From Hidden Hand to Heavy Hand: Sugar, the State, and Migrant Labor in Haiti and the Dominican Republic,” Latin American Research Review (Vol. 34, No. 1, 1999), pages 67-69.
 Raymond H. Pulley, “The United States and the Trujillo Dictatorship, 1933-1940: The High Price of Caribbean Stability,” Caribbean Studies (Vol. 5, No. 3, October 1965), pages 22-23.
 Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood: Haiti and the Politics of Containment (Verso, New York: 2007), pages 14-15.
 Raymond H. Pulley, “The United States and the Trujillo Dictatorship, 1933-1940: The High Price of Caribbean Stability,” Caribbean Studies (Vol. 5, No. 3, October 1965), pages 23-24.
 Samuel Maritnez, “From Hidden Hand to Heavy Hand: Sugar, the State, and Migrant Labor in Haiti and the Dominican Republic,” Latin American Research Review (Vol. 34, No. 1, 1999), page 70.
 Raymond H. Pulley, “The United States and the Trujillo Dictatorship, 1933-1940: The High Price of Caribbean Stability,” Caribbean Studies (Vol. 5, No. 3, October 1965), page 26.
 Ibid, pages 29-30.
Well, since reaching the target goal (and some!) for the People’s Grant for the four chapters on American imperialism, I have been quite productive. It’s not quite moving as quickly as I had hoped, since it requires a great deal of work. However, I am nearly finished the chapter on Latin America, which I expect to be done this week, already over 40 pages single-spaced. I have been collecting enormous sources and research for my other chapters, and am unsure as to whether I will be tackling the Southeast Asia chapter or the Middle East and North Africa one next. These are quite extensive undertakings as they stand, so I am sure to put in the necessary research required to make them all meet an equal standard. Thus, they will require a lot of time and effort. Luckily, I have most of the materials, books, journals, and access to declassified documents required to properly do the research.
On that note, I would like to share a couple little gems of research I happened to stumble across for the chapter on Latin America. I have spent days sifting through documents which are posted on the State Department’s website in the Office of the Historian, in what is called the “Foreign Relations of the United States” series. These consist of thousands of declassified documents from the State Department, National Security Council, Pentagon, CIA, and other government agencies and individuals for several administrations following World War II. I was initially attempting to track down a document that Noam Chomsky cited so I could see the original source. I searched through Google Scholar extensively, and had to conclude that apart from papers written by Chomsky himself, there was no mention of this document in the entire existing academic literature. Thus, I had to search through the database of the original documents themselves, a tedious and tiring process, though yielding incredible results (so it’s worth it!). I feel as if I have comes across an endless treasure-trove of research GOLD. Essentially, it’s like Wikileaks, but covering literally decades and decades of information. What is so incredible is the candid nature of so much of the documents and diplomatic cables. Truly, it tears to pieces the idea that American imperialism is an “interpretation” of America’s role in the world, when the internal documents from the planning bodies and agencies of that government state as much in such direct language. However, a great deal is burrowed in diplomatic-talk, and requires some ‘translating’ for people like myself who prefer things to be stated more directly.
Now, I stumbled across a couple documents which I have not seen cited anywhere else, and felt that they yielded such incredible information, it would just be important to share it with you, my readers and supporters, now!
The two documents in question challenge any pre-conceived notions of the Kennedy brothers as being “peaceful” figures, or non-imperialists. Indeed, many critical scholars and writers have often presented the Kennedy’s as “exceptions to the rule” for American political leadership, myself included (I have been guilty of presenting them as such on a number of occasions!). However, when reading documents quoting the brothers (John F. and Robert Kennedy), one cannot read such statements without adjusting your own views of these individuals (unless of course, you already had a more informed opinion of them). Both documents referred to here deal with the crisis in the Dominican Republic between 1961 and 1965, in which America’s favoured dictator since 1930, Rafael Trujillo, was assassinated, and several transition governments faltered, ultimately resulting in an American invasion and occupation in 1965 by President Johnson.
Following the assassination of Trujillo, internal documents show, American officials were meeting on matters related to ensuring that U.S. interests would not be threatened, and were discussing the prospects of an American invasion to ensure a favourable outcome. Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General at the time, according to the State Department cable, “clearly looking for an excuse to move in on the island,” and even suggested, “apparently seriously, that we might have to blow up the [American] Consulate to provide the rationale.” Feeling that the new government would align with Castro, Robert Kennedy thought, “that it should be destroyed – with an excuse if possible, without one if necessary.” Secretary of Defense McNamara agreed.
President John F. Kennedy was quoted in a cable sent by his assistant to the National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, which reported on a meeting that took place a week after the assassination of Trujillo, in which JFK stressed that the United States “wanted a Democratic regime in the Dominican Republic,” but that, “failing that we would prefer a friendly dictatorship,” a phrase that could only be logical if stated from an imperial perspective. The last thing the United States wanted, said Kennedy, “was a Castro type regime.”
Source: Document 312, “Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Goodwin) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy),” Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. 12, American Republics, 8 June 1961.
There are several other documents that I have come across which are incredibly revealing in exposing the American Empire, through their own eyes and in their own words, but I don’t want to give away all the information I have comes across yet! But these were quite important documents which reveal a great deal not only about popular political leaders, both of whom have been idolized by many of the left/progressive and critical perspectives (not excluding some of my previous work here), but also in terms of exposing very general ideas and strategies used by political leaders in pursuit of empire, domination, and control, even supposedly “liberal” politicians. In these two documents, we see that the United States Attorney General suggested blowing up an American Consulate in the Dominican Republic in order to create an excuse to invade the country and “destroy” elements which threaten American interests. In the other document, we see how President JFK, who was at the time establishing the hemispheric strategy of the “Alliance for Progress” in which it was America’s stated objective to promote and support democracies in region, stating that if a democracy which is friendly to the U.S. is not possible, “we would prefer a friendly dictatorship.” Apparently, whether or not the dictatorship is “friendly” to its domestic population is of no significance. In fact, dictatorships which actually help their populations (particularly the poor), are framed as “Castro-type regimes”, and therefore, “friendly dictatorships” are typically those which ruthlessly repress their populations and crush resistance. It is, after all, the “friendly dictatorships” of the region which were among the most ruthless, brutal, fascistic, and oppressive governments in the past century.
But they were good for business, so… they were “friendly”! Funny how that works, eh? Well, I suppose it would be funny if the consequences weren’t so horrific. Anyhow, some important documents worthy of sharing.
There are sure to be much more of these types of documents in all my chapters on the American Empire, so this is a mere tiny sample of what’s to come thanks to your support!
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.
The American Empire in Latin America: “Democracy” is a Threat to “National Security”
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.
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.
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].
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.
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.
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.”
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.” 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,” 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.” 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.”
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.
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).
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. 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.” 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.”
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.” 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. 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.”
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.” 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.” 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.” 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.” 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.
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.”
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.”
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’.”
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.”
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.”
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. 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.”
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’.”
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.
 NSC 144, United States General Policy With Respect to Latin America, Foreign Relations, 1952-1954, Volume IV, page 1.
 Ibid, page 6.
 Ibid, page 7.
 Ibid, page 8.
 Ibid, page 9.
 Ibid, page 10.
 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.
 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.
 Ibid, pages 195-196.
 Ibid, page 196.
 Kate Doyle and Peter Kornbluh, CIA and Assassinations: The Guatemala 1954 Documents. The National Security Archives: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB4/
 Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (Random House, New York: 2008), pages 112-113.
 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.
 Ibid, page 198.
 Ibid, pages 198-199.
 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.
 Ibid, pages 167-168.
 Ibid, page 170.
 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
 Larry Tye, The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998), page 176.
 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.
 Ibid, page 628.
 Ibid, page 629.
 NSC 144, United States General Policy With Respect to Latin America, Foreign Relations, 1952-1954, Volume IV, page 7.
 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.
 Ibid, pages 630-631.
 Ibid, pages 631-633.
 Ibid, pages 633-634.
 Ibid, pages 635-636.
 Ibid, page 636.
 NSC 144, United States General Policy With Respect to Latin America, Foreign Relations, 1952-1954, Volume IV, page 8.
 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.
 Ibid, pages 639-642.
 Ibid, pages 642-643.
 Ibid, pages 643-646.
 Ibid, pages 646-648.
 Ibid, page 654.
 Ibid, page 655.
 Ibid, pages 658-661.
The Predatory Global Empire in Panama: Punishing the Poor
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
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Establishing a New War Doctrine
The war on Panama presents an interesting case to study. Taking place in 1989, it was the first war and intervention (whether covert or overt) which was not justified on the basis of a ‘Communist threat’. As such, it has been deemed as the first post-Cold War war. However, the justifications for the intervention, which was incredibly violent and destructive, especially upon the poor majority of Panama, were confused and inconsistent. Like all wars, conflicts, and interventions, it was made necessary through imperial logic: a once-client regime and puppet leader became too autonomous from the United States, its leader (and his nefarious connections with the American elite) became a liability and an embarrassment, and the tiny country of Panama threatened American strategic interests in the region, notably with the Panama Canal and the American military bases present to protect it. More importantly, perhaps, Panama was experiencing the development and growth of a populist-nationalist movement, particularly among its poor black and brown population, who had been previously ruled by a tiny white elite of European descent. In the imperial paradigm, the greatest threat to empire is the political, social, and economic mobilization of the people over whom the empire dominates.
Of course, it is a challenge to publicly justify a foreign intervention and war on the premises of a small nation and its people threatening the strategic imperial interests of America; after all, in the eyes and minds of most Americans, America is not an empire, but a bright shining beacon of freedom and bastion of democracy to lead the ‘free world.’ Thus, to sell a war requires the maintenance of more lies to fit in with the prevailing mythology. Yet, in the strategic vacuum created by the ending of the Cold War, and thus the disappearance of ‘Communism’ as the prevailing global boogeyman to serve as an excuse for any and all atrocities committed by America and the West, Panama was subjected to a far less eloquently articulated and designed justification. The threat of Communism was briefly attempted, and then the strategy quickly switched into the realm of the U.S. ‘War on Drugs,’ with many other failed attempts at justification thrown in for fair measure.
While the war was ultimately successful at removing the imperial ‘threat’, the politics surrounding the event were so disjointed that the war fails to stand up to any half-decent examination of the conflict as legitimate, and is, in fact, slightly embarrassing. There is a reason why it is a largely ‘forgotten’ war in terms of the collective memory of the American people having overlooked that ‘incident’ in recent history. People tend to remember only the wars they are reminded about and told to remember. This one, however, is worth remembering, not least because of the great loss of life it incurred on an incredibly poor and innocent people.
The Jimmy Carter administration, in 1978, signed an agreement with Panama allowing the country to regain control of the Panama Canal by 2000. The canal no longer had the same strategic importance it once held for the United States, as it did in the early 20th century. Long considered by American strategists to be “America’s back yard,” Latin America has been subjected to overt and covert U.S. interventions, coups, and wars more frequently than any other region of the world. In 1823, the Monroe Doctrine was written, which “asserted the pre-eminent and unilateral claim of the United States to hegemony in the Western hemisphere.” This document projected “near-absolute strategic control” over Latin America, thus justifying literally dozens of interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean. With the Cold War, the ‘doctrine’ was that of anti-Communism. With the end of the Cold War, “foreign policy managers [were] bereft of a national security doctrine and severely constrained by the greater volatility and suspicion of North American public opinion in foreign policy matters, and congressional and public fear of future Vietnam-style interventions.”
In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt “forcibly separated Panama from Colombia by sending in the U.S. Navy and Marines.” In 1904, he announced an updated version of the Monroe Doctrine with “a U.S. right to intervene unilaterally in the affairs of neighboring republics” in order to “prevent chronic wrongdoing.” Thus, in 1912, U.S. Marines entered Nicaragua’s civil war on the side of wealthy land owners; in 1914 the Navy bombarded and briefly occupied Veracruz, Mexico; in 1915, U.S. Marines occupied Haiti, establishing a military government and remaining there for over a decade; that same year U.S. Marines also occupied the Dominican Republic, also remaining there for over a decade. In 1926, the U.S. invaded Nicaragua again, destroying the agrarian rebel movement threatening domestic and international elite interests. Throughout the 1920s, the U.S. intervened in Panama, Honduras, and Cuba.
The Reagan and Bush administrations (1981-1993) dramatically increased U.S. militarism and interventions around the world, such as in Lebanon, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Honduras, the covert war against the Sandanistas in Nicaragua, the Iran-Contra conspiracy, the invasion of Grenada, invasion of Panama, the Gulf War, and the 1992 intervention in Somalia. As Waltraud Queiser Morales wrote, “the Panamanian case can be seen as an important transition from ‘Monroe militarism’ and Reagan’s ‘containment militarism’ to Bush’s ‘New World Order militarism’.” This was characterized less by anti-Communist rhetoric, which was only partially (at least initially) used in the justification for the Panama invasion, but largely “projected ahead to an era of future global lawlessness in the ‘strategic slums’ of the Third World, where the US faced the chronic danger of ‘prolonged security operations’.”
National Security Doctrines (NSDs) are important for American administrations to establish and articulate, as they deflect dissent and justify state actions with an aura of credibility and most notably by employing the notion that the end justifies the means. The Reagan doctrine for Latin America employed such a technique: “The national security of all the Americas is at stake in Central America. If we cannot defend ourselves there, we cannot expect to prevail elsewhere. Our credibility would collapse, our alliances would crumble, and the safety of our homeland would be put at jeopardy.”
The Reagan doctrine was largely realized through its support of anti-Soviet and virulent anti-Communist “freedom fighters” in the Third World, as well as “friendly anti-Communist authoritarians.” This strategy defined the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, the largest covert operation in history, but had the Reagan administration particularly preoccupied with Central America; most notably, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The new strategic doctrine defined low intensity conflict (LIC) as a principle means for implementing this vision. LIC was defined by the Pentagon in 1985 as, “a limited politico-military struggle to achieve political, social, economic, or psychological objectives,” often using methods of insurgency and terrorism. The war, however, is waged in three key areas: the field, within the administration in Washington, and in the media. During the Reagan years, the “War on Drugs” emerged as a potentially powerful new National Security Doctrine (NSD).
Between 1986 and 1988, U.S. policy-makers employed a conscious rhetorical effort to associate the flourishing global drug trade with leftist guerillas in the Third World. The acceleration of employing the “war on drugs” in defining National Security interests increased as U.S. (largely covert) efforts experienced setbacks in Central America. Thus, Presidential directives were signed which increased efforts on the part of intelligence and military personnel against drug operations. Thus, still employing the method of a Low Intensity Conflict (LIC), “militarized drug operations provided a laboratory to project US power, train local militaries in the new strategic doctrine, transfer military hardware and gather intelligence.” The drug war could thus be used “to generate public support behind a resurgent, interventionist US foreign policy in Latin America.”
Of course, missing from this discourse is the very-well documented facts revolving around how the United States has covertly – directly following World War II – supported the drug trade around the world, largely through efforts of the CIA. This was especially the case in Southeast Asia during the Indochina War, where heroin was the principle prize for these covert efforts; Afghanistan and Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan war (and in the present occupation of Afghanistan), which then came to replace Southeast Asia as the main producer of heroin in the world, and of course, South and Central America (particularly during the Reagan years onward) in terms of the cocaine trade. The role of the CIA and other covert elements has been extensively documented by professors Alfred McCoy and Peter Dale Scott in various books and publications, most notably, The Politics of Heroin (McCoy) and American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan (Scott).
The Destabilization of Panama
General Omar Torrijos, Panama’s military strongman, “was a populist reformist” who had negotiated the Panama Canal Treaties with the United States in the late 1970s. While the Canal held less strategic significance for the United States than in previous times, the 14 military bases present in Panama remained incredibly significant in strategic circles, particularly with the Pentagon’s Southern Command headquarters based in Panama, “which was the site for U.S. military and covert operations in Latin America and the Caribbean.” In 1981, Torrijos died mysteriously when his plane blew up in midair, and he was subsequently replaced by the head of Panama’s military intelligence, General Manuel Noriega. Noriega had long been supported by the United States, going back to when George H.W. Bush was Director of the CIA in the Ford administration, at which time the CIA paid Noriega $200,000 a year.
Following the death of Torrijos, “US relations became cosy with his successor and head of the Panamanian Defence Forces, General Manuel Antonio Noreiga, who had associations with the CIA, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Southern Command (Southcom), housing over 14,000 US troops in Panama at 14 US military bases worth some $5 billion.” Noriega was a longtime participant in the drug trade, particularly with the Colombian drug cartel, which was all well-known to the U.S. Embassy, Southcom, and the CIA. Yet, in 1987, letters from the DEA and the US Justice Department referred to Noriega’s cooperation with those agencies in the drug war as “superb.” It was ‘superb’ in the true sense of intent and methods, whereby the U.S. was an active organizational participant in the drug trade. Noreiga and many others in the Panamanian military “facilitated drug smuggling and laundered millions in drug money with the complicity of the DEA, Southcom and the CIA.” When cash reserves were high in Panama in 1986, “deposits of $1.3 billion in laundered drug monies were easily transferred from Panama’s central bank to the Federal Reserve Bank in Miami.” Further, large sums of drug money were diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras (death squad terrorists) fighting a war against the Sandanistas on behalf of the CIA. The operation of support for the Contras in their brutal war in Nicaragua were exposed in Congressional hearings and investigations known as the ‘Iran-Contra Affair,’ which was made public in the late 1980s. The scandal, by no means exclusive to the case of Nicaragua, involved the CIA and Pentagon covertly funding, training, and arming the Contras with money earned from illegal arms sales to Iran as well as money from the drug trade. The investigations revealed a complex network of relationships and actors, centered in the National Security Council (NSC), and directly involving CIA Director William Casey, Lt. Col. Oliver North, and then Vice President George H.W. Bush.
Yet, despite Noriega’s “cosy” relationship with these agencies and individuals in the United States, “there were limits to [his] willingness to serve Washington.” As political scientist Michael Parenti explained:
He reasserted Panama’s independence over the control of the Canal Zone and the leases for U.S. military bases. He reportedly refused to join an invasion against Nicaragua and maintained friendly relations with both Managua and Havana. Before long, hostile reports about him began appearing in the U.S. media. In 1987, the Justice Department indicted Noriega for drug smuggling. A crippling economic embargo was imposed on Panama, a country of two million people, causing a doubling of unemployment and a drastic cutback in social benefits.
The initial aim, then, of US intervention in Panama, “was to destabilize Noriega and install in his place a more pliant right-wing commander, but US military leaders feared an even greater threat in the nationalistic Panamanian Defence Forces [PDF].” Further, with the exposure of the Iran-Contra Scandal, “Noriega became a potential domestic political embarrassment and threat to higher-ups in the government, including Bush himself.” Subsequently, “a media blitz demonized the Panamanian leader as a drug dealer, thus preparing the U.S. public for the ensuing invasion.” Thus, “in the end, the drug war served as the public excuse for invasion. But it was not the real reason.”
As Waltraud Queiser Morales wrote, just as was done elsewhere (such as Chile, Grenada, and Nicaragua), the United States promoted the destabilization of Panama, as “economic sanctions, pro-democracy and electoral manipulation, and confrontational military exercises worked to intimidate and provoke incidents that could provide pretexts for intervention.” The pro-democracy and electoral strategy employed by the United States (part of America’s “democratization” project), involved the “Bush administration, the CIA, and the National Endowment for Democracy [which] funneled more than $10 million to opposition candidates – Guillermo Endara, Guillermo Ford and Ricardo Arias Calderon – in the 1989 Panamanian national elections.” With Endara having won, amidst claims of vote fraud by the Panamanian Defence Forces (PDF), and with Noriega subsequently annulling the elections and staying in power, riots and protests erupted. Images of US-supported politicians being beaten and attacked by the PDF and Noriega’s supporters erupted in the American media, which ultimately “damaged Noriega’s regime and enhanced the opposition’s image in Panama and the United States.” Noriega, however, annulled the elections on the basis of “foreign interference,” which, as a direct result of millions of US dollars funding opposition candidates, is an accurate claim of “interference.” Imagine the notion of a foreign power throwing tens of millions of dollars at domestic American politicians in a national election. The idea alone is reprehensible, not to mention illegal. But this is how America “promotes democracy” around the world: through buying the politicians.
The Reagan and Bush administrations had hoped to encourage a coup by the Panamanian Defence Forces (PDF). The Reagan administration began to encourage this option in 1988, as Ronald Reagan continuously refused to employ the option of a direct military intervention. However, additional US forces were sent to their bases in Panama as an indication to Noriega of the increasingly threatening posture of the United States. On March 16, 1988, the Panamanian Chief of Police, Colonel Leonidas Macias, attempted to orchestrate a coup against Noriega, which ultimately failed. The Reagan administration was split internally on the potential to use the military option. The State Department supported the option, while the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) had opposed military intervention. Elliot Abrams, the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, in March of 1988, suggested using limited force, “a commando raid to capture Noriega and to bring him to trial in the United States, accompanied by 6,000 American soldiers to defend… against any PDF retaliations,” yet the Pentagon remained opposed to the option.
In anticipation that Reagan would eventually adopt Abrams’ suggestion, the Pentagon launched a public counter-attack to discredit Abrams and his suggestions, which included leaking many of his ‘suggestions’ to the press. The Reagan administration attempted to negotiate a deal with Noriega, offering to drop the drug-related charges against him which were brought forward in US courts in 1988. Vice President Bush, however, firmly opposed negotiations with Noriega, as he was campaigning for the presidency, Bush did not want to appear soft on Noriega, as he had suffered the public image of a ‘wimp.’ Bush’s victory in the Presidential elections in 1988 allowed for the development of a new strategy for Panama, and with a change in administration personnel, the administration could become more unified in their position.
On October 1, 1989, the United States was informed about a future coup attempt by a member of Noriega’s inner circle, Moises Giroldi, and asked for U.S. assistance in blocking roads to protect the family of the coup plotter. The United States Defense Secretary, Dick Cheney, agreed to help, and when the coup took place two days later, on October 3, the U.S. blocked the requested roads. However, Noriega outmaneuvered the coup plotters, getting help from a special military unit, and the U.S. refused to intervene to ensure the success of the coup. Thus, the plotter was killed, and Noriega began to purge the PDF of dissenting elements. The failure of the U.S. to ensure the success of the coup led to many domestic political leaders criticizing Bush and his strategy. However, this was actually part of a larger strategy. The coup was not supported because there were internal complications within the Bush administration as well as a larger overall strategy. Two top military commanders were replaced days before the coup took place. The chief of Southcom was replaced three days prior to the coup, and the next day, Colin Powell (Reagan’s National Security Adviser), became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The men that these two replaced – General Woerner and Admiral Crowe, respectively – had opposed direct military intervention in Panama, and thus preferred a coup option. Thurman and Powell, however, wanted the change of government to take place “on a U.S. timetable,” and Powell stated that he didn’t like the idea of “a half-baked coup with a half-baked coup leader.” Powell advocated, instead, not simply for replacing Noriega, but that the United States would have to employ a strategy of “destroying and replacing his entire regime.”
What was needed, then, was a pretext for a full-scale invasion in order to crush the regime and destroy the PDF. As the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the U.S. Invasion of Panama revealed, “over 100 instances of U.S. military provocations in 1989 were documented by the Panamanian government. These included U.S. troops setting up roadblocks, searching Panamanian citizens, confronting PDF forces, occupying small towns for a number of hours, buzzing Panamanian air space with military aircraft, and surrounding public buildings with troops.” Again, simply imagine if a foreign military in the United States, which had over a dozen major bases around the country, was engaging in such provocative actions within America. This would be construed as a direct military threat and interpreted as a foreign occupation.
In December of 1989, a Panamanian soldier was injured by U.S. troops. Subsequently, on 15 December, the Panamanian National Assembly declared Panama to be in a state of war with the United States. This, however, was “interpreted” in the U.S. media as a declaration of war against the United States by the tiny Central American nation of Panama. Ted Koppel of ABC “reported that Noriega had declared war in the United States.” Yet, as Noriega himself stated, America “through constant psychological and military harassment, has created a state of war in Panama.” In mid-December, the United States achieved its goal of provoking Panamanian Defence Forces to act, as PDF soldiers stopped a U.S. military patrol car, holding the police officer at gunpoint, and on 16 December, “they fired at an American vehicle in a checkpoint and killed” a U.S. Marine. On 17 December, “a U.S. officer shot a PDF policeman.”
On that same day, the Bush administration discussed their options in Panama. Colin Powell “advocated a large scale intervention whose goal would be to destroy the PDF and the entire Noriega regime and not just [aim to achieve] the capture of Noriega.” Powell reasoned, “that it could be difficult to find Noriega and arrest him at the beginning of the operation, but destroying the PDF would ensure Noriega’s capture.” Thus, Powell concluded, “the PDF’s destruction would be required to establish democracy in Panama.” Subsequently, “Bush agreed and approved the plan for large-scale military intervention in Panama.”
On December 20, 1989, George Bush launched a midnight attack on Panama with an invasion of 26,000 US troops. The invasion took place amidst “a complete media blackout,” allowing for great atrocities to take place with no independent voices or visuals emerging from the nation. The “three-day intervention” known cynically as “Operation Just Cause” was heaped with praise in the United States, as Bush’s reputation as a ‘wimp’ was erased and his popularity shot up. As Bush declared war, the publicly pronounced reasons were “to protect American lives and bring the drug-indicted dictator to justice.”
The True ‘Threat’ in Panama: The Poor
In reality, there were far greater reasons for the war, dictated not by humanitarian, legal, or moral claims; instead, the true reasons were ardently imperial in nature. There were of course the strategic considerations: more reliable client states and puppet leaders, more indirect control over the Canal and maintenance of the fourteen military bases as a launching point for counter-revolutionary operations around Central America, and to install a “democratic” regime based upon party politics as opposed to potentially problematic military leaders who may stand up to the United States. However, there was also a far greater threat, which wove through all the other reasons: Panama was in the midst of a nationalist popular movement, consisting largely of the poor black majority who had for centuries been repressed by a tiny white elite of European descent, as has been the case across all Latin America.
Before Noriega, the military dictatorship of General Omar Torrijos established itself during a period where the issues of race and class were becoming more public and vocal. Torrijos, who ruled Panama from 1968 until 1981 (when he died in a mysterious plane explosion), “sought to legitimize his military regime by seeking support from all social groups for his populist-nationalist project.” The Panamanian Black movement, which had begun in earnest some decades before, truly began to flourish during the Torrijos regime, and played a large part in creating the heated nationalistic sentiments and public demands for the Carter-Torrijos Panama Canal Treaties in the 1970s. As George Priestley and Alberto Barrow wrote:
It was within this new political environment of military led populism and nationalism that racial discrimination and racism was weakened in Panama as progressive and Black groups emerged to gain greater visibility, challenged racial stereotypes, and forged transnational bonds.
The movement was helped along in no small part due to Afro-Panamanian organizations based in the United States, which were directly engaged with the Torrijos government to build support for the “nationalist struggle for the recuperation of the Panama Canal and Panamanian sovereignty.” When Torrijos was killed in the plane explosion, the CIA’s man in Panama, Noriega, back-tracked on many of Torrijos’ programs, including “interventionist” state measures in the economy which “had brokered the populist-nationalist alliance and eased social and racial tensions.” Noriega, instead, embraced the Western neoliberal policies of ‘structural adjustment,’ which antagonized the growing popular movement in Panama. As Noriega failed to become a “responsible” leader in the eyes of the United States, he faced two increasing problems: antagonizing the United States and the Panamanian Black movement simultaneously. However, there were still several remnants of the Torrijos reforms, and the populist-nationalist sentiments which had been fostered by the Torrijos military regime remained strong in the military ranks of the PDF itself. With the U.S. invasion and occupation (and the subsequent media blackout), the true intent of the war became clear to those who suffered in it:
A disproportionate number of those who were affected economically by Noriega’s structural adjustment policies, and who lost their lives because of the U.S.’s Low Intensity Conflict and invasion were from El Chorillo, Colon, and San Miguelito, [poor] communities whose residents are predominantly Black and brown.
These communities, along with the PDF itself, had to be targeted in the war. While Noriega’s economic structural adjustment policies had weakened the populist movement for social justice and equality, the movement continued to struggle and the PDF remained an ideological ally in the promotion of nationalism. This is ultimately the real reason why the United States could not simply support another military coup, as it would still take place from within the ranks of an intensely nationalistic and somewhat left-leaning military, just as was the case with Noriega. This explains why the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, claimed that it was not enough to remove Noriega from power, but that the U.S. had to have a strategy of “destroying and replacing his entire regime.” Destroying the regime is just what the U.S. did. As Morales wrote in Third World Quarterly:
The invasion victimized thousands of innocent Panamanians and left densely populated areas devastated. Local and international eye witnesses said civilians and residential areas were deliberately targeted. Perhaps 18,000 Panamanians were displaced and thousands remain[ed] in refugee camps in 1993. Local reports had 7000 Panamanians, primarily progressives and labour activists, arrested. Charges of summary executions and secret mass graves also emerged. The Panamanian National Human Rights Committee claimed that 4000 persons were killed in the invasion; regional human rights agencies and the United Nations Human Rights Commission reported over 2500 deaths. The US military admitted only 250; later the Pentagon released the figure of 516 Panamanians killed, over 75% civilian.
The United States media, for its part, “covered Operation Just Cause like a U.S. Army recruitment film,” explained Michael Parenti. American audiences were shown “helicopters landing, planes dive-bombing, troops trotting along foreign streets, the enemy’s headquarters engulfed in flames, friendly Panamanians welcoming the invaders as liberators.” Of course, Parenti elaborated, there was no mention in the media that “the Panamanians interviewed were almost always well dressed, light skinned, and English speaking, in a country where most were poor, dark skinned, and Spanish speaking. Also left out of the picture were the many incidents of armed resistance by Panamanians.” As for the actual bombings and indeed, the virtual ‘scorched-earth’ policies of burning down El Chorillo along with several other working-class poor black neighbourhoods, the media treated “these aerial attacks on civilian populations as surgical strikes designed to break resistance in ‘Noriega strongholds’.”
Following the invasion, the United States installed their favoured candidates from the previously held elections (whom the US – through the CIA and NED financed with $10 million) as Panama’s new “democratic” leaders: President Guillermo Endara, Vice President Guillermo Ford, and Attorney General Rogelio Cruz. As it turned out, unsurprisingly, “all three of these rich, white oligarchs were closely linked to companies, banks, and people heavily involved in drug operations or money-laundering.” After invading, the U.S. “abolished the Panamanian Defense Forces and crushed the popular movement, creating conditions for the consolidation of a right of center party system and the growth of an economy based on neoliberal policies that have exacerbated socio-economic inequalities and increased racial/ethnic exclusion of Afro-Panamanians.” As Priestly and Barrow wrote:
The U.S. invasion and the so-called transition to democracy had negative effects on popular organizing. During and immediately after the invasion, Black and brown communities were devastated; their organizations negatively affected, and their leaders killed or jailed, or otherwise persecuted. Political parties regained center stage in the electoral process and many Black and popular militants were co-opted into these organizations, reducing the organizational capabilities of some organizations and eliminating others.
Only months after the invasion “did a few brief reports appear regarding mass graves of Panamanians dead buried hastily by U.S. Army bulldozers,” while the American media focused on the sideshow of the pursuit of Noriega, who ultimately turned himself in early January. No footage was shown of the poor neighbourhoods destroyed by U.S. bombing, such as El Chorillo’s “total devastation,” and no mention “of the many lives lost in what amounted to a saturation terror-bombing of a civilian neighborhood.” As Michael Parenti wrote:
With the U.S. military firmly controlling Panama, conditions in that country deteriorated. Unemployment, already high because of the U.S. embargo, climbed to 35 percent as drastic layoffs were imposed on the public sector. Pension rights and other work benefits were lost. Newspapers and radio and television stations were closed by U.S. occupation authorities. Newspaper editors and reporters critical of the invasion were jailed or detained, as were all the leftist political party leaders. Union heads were arrested by the U.S. military, and some 150 local labor leaders were removed from their elected union positions. Public employees not supporting the invasion were purged. Crime rates rose dramatically, along with poverty and destitution. Thousands remained homeless. Corruption was more widespread than ever. More money-laundering and drug-trafficking occurred under the U.S.-sponsored Endara administration than under Noriega.
Noriega was taken to the United States and convicted of drug smuggling in 1992. The United States conveniently ignored the drug-trafficking by Panama’s new “democratic” Endara administration, not to mention “its infringement of civil liberties and democracy.” The U.S. Congress received George Bush with a standing ovation when he declared, “One year ago the people of Panama lived in fear under the thumb of a dictator. Today democracy is restored. Panama is free.” Endara, however, “was extremely unpopular in Panama,” seen as “just another pliant US puppet.” In June of 1990, the Washington Post had declared that the Endara regime, against all evidence, improved human rights and “press freedoms have been restored.”
The struggles of the once-popular resistance and Black movement continued well into the 21st century, and up to the present day. The war on Panama represented the true nature of what was to come in the post-Cold War world, as it was the first war the United States undertook without Cold War rhetoric. Its principle aim was to destroy a popular people’s movement, remove a non-compliant dictator, and establish more control over the country and the region. Of course, among our political leaders and media in the West, this is referred to as “restoring democracy.” Thus, the threat of the Communist boogeyman faded, and the benevolent aim of ‘democracy’ resurfaced, as it initially did following World War I when Woodrow Wilson declared that the world must be made safe for democracy. For all the rhetoric of Western leaders and media, the greatest crime a leader or people can commit is to support themselves, or simply seek to do so; to provide for the poor and needy, to attempt to industrialize and develop their own country as they see fit, and to create an educated, free, healthy and stable population and society. This, above all else, is the ultimate sin in the world of “international politics.”
Logic thus dictates, then, that the greatest potential for true change and hope in this world is solidarity among all people’s movements the world over, and for a resurgence of populist movement, ideally not nationalistic in character, but simultaneously local and global: seeking local autonomy (moving around the nation-state, an easily corrupted and contemptuous institution), and seeking solidarity globally, to align itself with all such movements around the world, achieving strength in numbers, interaction of ideas, articulation of strategies, and advancement of all peoples in all places.
If a popular movement in a tiny little nation like Panama was such a threat to the massive American Empire, the largest, most militarily advanced, and most globally expansive empire in all of human history, this is actually a source of hope for all humanity. If Panama was such a threat that the United States saw fit to invade and occupy the small country, then imagine the threat which would be posed if all people, everywhere in the world, simultaneously sought a populist liberation struggle; not divided by nations and regions, but acting locally – for local autonomy from domestic elites and liberation from the empire – and interacting globally, with other such movements around the world. This is truly the greatest threat ever known to a global empire. This threat has been articulated by one of the empire’s most prominent strategists, Zbigniew Brzezinski, as the “Global Political Awakening.” Thus, it is in the interest of all peoples, everywhere, always and eternally, to seek and support all liberation struggles, to advance the “Awakening” and bring in a new concept of democracy, one which lives up to the rhetoric of our current system: “of, by, and for the people”; a democracy void of predatory elites. This is true freedom, true liberation, and no other philosophy or ideology is so capable of uniting the people of the world under one banner than that of the ‘ultimate liberation’: of, by, and for the people.
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 co-editor of the book, “The Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century.” His website is http://www.andrewgavinmarshall.com
 Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 77.
 Charles Maechling, Jr., “Washington’s Illegal Invasion,” Foreign Policy (No. 79, Summer 1990), pages 113-114.
 Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 78.
 Waltraud Quesler Morales, “The War on Drugs: A New US National Security Doctrine?” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 11, No. 3, July 1989), page 151.
 Ibid, page 152.
 Ibid, pages 154-155.
 Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), page 45.
 Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 82.
 Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), pages 45-46.
 Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 83.
 Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), page 46.
 Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 83.
 Eytan Gilboa, “The Panama Invasion Revisited: Lessons for the Use of Force in the Post Cold War Era,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 110, No. 4, Winter 1995-1996), page 547.
 Ibid, page 548.
 Ibid, page 549.
 Ibid, page 551.
 Ibid, pages 554-555.
 Ibid, page 556.
 The Independent Commission of Inquiry on the U.S. Invasion of Panama, The U.S. invasion of Panama: the truth behind operation ‘ Just Cause’ (South End Press, 1991), page 24.
 Eytan Gilboa, “The Panama Invasion Revisited: Lessons for the Use of Force in the Post Cold War Era,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 110, No. 4, Winter 1995-1996), page 558.
 Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), page 46.
 Eytan Gilboa, “The Panama Invasion Revisited: Lessons for the Use of Force in the Post Cold War Era,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 110, No. 4, Winter 1995-1996), page 558.
 Ibid, pages 558-559.
 Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), pages 83-84.
 George Priestley and Alberto Barrow, “The Black Movement in Panama: A Historical and Political Interpretation, 1994-2004,” Souls (Vol. 10, No. 3, 2008), page 231.
 Ibid, pages 231-232.
 Eytan Gilboa, “The Panama Invasion Revisited: Lessons for the Use of Force in the Post Cold War Era,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 110, No. 4, Winter 1995-1996), page 556.
 Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 84.
 Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), page 46.
 Ibid, page 48.
 George Priestley and Alberto Barrow, “The Black Movement in Panama: A Historical and Political Interpretation, 1994-2004,” Souls (Vol. 10, No. 3, 2008), page 232.
 Ibid, page 234.
 Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), pages 46-47.
 Ibid, page 49.
 Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 84.
 Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), page 49.