OUR GOOD NEIGHBOR POLICY
How well have the precepts put forth by George Kennan been followed?
How thoroughly have we put aside all concern for "vague and
unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living
standards, and democratization"? I've already discussed our
"commitment to democracy," but what about the other
Let's focus on Latin America, and begin by looking at human rights.
A study by Lars Schoultz, the leading academic specialist on human
rights there, shows that "US aid has tended to flow disproportionately
to Latin American governments which torture their citizens."
It has nothing to do with how much a country needs aid, only with
its willingness to serve the interests of wealth and privilege.
Broader studies by economist Edward Herman reveal a close correlation
worldwide between torture and US aid, and also provide the explanation:
both correlate independently with improving the climate for business
operations. In comparison with that guiding moral principle, such
matters as torture and butchery pale into insignificance.
How about raising living standards? That was supposedly addressed
by President Kennedy's Alliance for Progress, but the kind of
development imposed was oriented mostly towards the needs of US
investors. It entrenched and extended the existing system in which
Latin Americans are made to produce crops for export and to cut
back on subsistence crops like corn and beans grown for local
consumption. Under Alliance programs, for example, beef production
increased while beef consumption declined.
This agro-export model of development usually produces an "economic
miracle" where GNP goes up while much of the population starves.
When you pursue such policies, popular opposition inevitably develops,
which you then suppress with terror and torture. (The use of terror
is deeply ingrained in our character. Back in 1818, John Quincy
Adams hailed the "salutary efficacy" of terror in dealing
with "mingled hordes of lawless Indians and negroes."
He wrote that to justify Andrew Jackson's rampages in Florida
which virtually annihilated the native population and left the
Spanish province under US control, much impressing Thomas Jefferson
and others with his wisdom.)
The first step is to use the police. They're critical because
they can detect discontent early and eliminate it before "major
surgery" (as the planning documents call it) is necessary.
If major surgery does become necessary, we rely on the army. When
we can no longer control the army of a Latin American country-particularly
one in the Caribbean-Central American region- it's time to overthrow
Countries that have attempted to reverse the pattern, such as
Guatemala under the democratic capitalist governments of Arevalo
and Arbenz, or the Dominican Republic under the democratic capitalist
regime of Bosch, became the target of US hostility and violence.
The second step is to use the military. The US has always tried
to establish relations with the military in foreign countries,
because that's one of the ways to overthrow a government that
has gotten out of hand. That's how the basis was laid for military
coups in Chile in 1973 and in Indonesia in 1965.
Before the coups, we were very hostile to the Chilean and Indonesian
governments, but we continued to send them arms. Keep good relations
with the right officers and they overthrow the government for
you. The same reasoning motivated the flow of US arms to Iran
via Israel from the early 1980s, according to the high Israeli
officials involved, facts well-known by 1982, long before there
were any hostages.
During the Kennedy administration, the mission of the US-dominated
Latin American military was shifted from "hemispheric defense"
to "internal security" (which basically means war against
your own population). That fateful decision led to "direct
[US] complicity" in "the methods of Heinrich Himmler's
extermination squads," in the retrospective judgment of Charles
Maechling, who was in charge of counterinsurgency planning from
The Kennedy Administration prepared the way for the 1964 military
coup in Brazil, helping to destroy Brazilian democracy, which
was be coming too independent. The US gave enthusiastic support
to the coup, while its military leaders instituted a neo-Nazi-style
national security state with torture, repression, etc. That inspired
a rash of similar developments in Argentina, Chile and all over
the hemisphere, from the mid-sixties to the eighties-an extremely
(I think, legally speaking, there's a very solid case for impeaching
every American president since the Second World War. They've all
been either outright war criminals or involved in serious war
The military typically proceeds to create an economic disaster,
often following the prescriptions of US advisers, and then decides
to hand the problem over to civilians to administer. Overt military
control is no longer necessary as new devices become available-for
example, controls exercised through the International Monetary
Fund (which, like the World Bank, lends Third World nations funds
largely provided by the industrial powers).
In return for its loans, the IMF imposes "liberalization":
an economy open to foreign penetration and control, sharp cutbacks
in services to the general population, etc. These measures place
power even more firmly in the hands of the wealthy classes and
foreign investors ("stability") and reinforce the classic
two tiered societies of the Third World-the super rich (and a
relatively well-off professional class that serves them) and an
enormous mass of impoverished, suffering people.
The indebtedness and economic chaos left by the military pretty
much ensures that the IMF rules will be followed-unless popular
forces attempt to enter the political arena, in which case the
military may have to reinstate "stability."
Brazil is an instructive case. It is so well endowed with natural
resources that it ought to be one of the richest countries in
the world, and it also has high industrial development. But, thanks
in good measure to the 1964 coup and the highly praised "economic
miracle" that followed (not to speak of the torture, murder
and other devices of "population control"), the situation
for many Brazilians is now probably on a par with Ethiopia-vastly
worse than in Eastern Europe, for example.
The Ministry of Education reports that over a third of the education
budget goes to school meals, because most of the students in public
schools either eat at school or not at all.
According to South magazine (a business magazine reporting on
the Third World), Brazil has a higher infant mortality rate than
Sri Lanka. A third of the population lives below the poverty line
and "seven million abandoned children beg, steal and sniff
glue on the streets. For scores of millions, home is a shack in
a slum. . . or increasingly, a patch of ground under a bridge."
That's Brazil, one of the naturally richest countries in the world.
The situation is similar throughout Latin America. Just in Central
America, the number of people murdered by US-backed forces since
the late 1970s comes to something like 200,000, as popular movements
that sought democracy and social reform were decimated. These
achievements qualify the US as an "inspiration for the triumph
of democracy in our time," in the admiring words of the liberal
New Republic. Tom Wolfe tells us the 1980s were "one of the
great golden moments that humanity has ever experienced."
As Stalin used to say, we're "dizzy with success."
from the book What Uncle Sam Really Wants, published in 1993
Tucson, AZ 85751
tel 602-296-4056 or 800-REALSTORY
other Noam Chomsky books published by Odonian Press
Secrets, Lies, and Democracy
The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many
Uncle Sam Really Wants