Noam Chomsky

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 two issues?

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 the government.

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 1961-66.

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 bloody period.

(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 crimes.)

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
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other Noam Chomsky books published by Odonian Press

Secrets, Lies, and Democracy
The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many

What Uncle Sam Really Wants