excerpted from the book
The Conquest Continues
by Noam Chomsky
South End Press, 1993, paper
The Batista dictatorship ... served the
commercial and export interests in Cuba" admirably, thus
enjoying full support
Castro's overthrow of the dictatorship
in January 1959 soon elicited US hostility, and a return to the
traditional path. By late 1959, the CIA and the State Department
concluded that Castro had to be overthrown. One reason, State
Department liberals explained, was that "our business interests
in Cuba have been seriously affected." A second was the rotten
apple effect: "The United States cannot hope to encourage
and support sound economic policies in other Latin American countries
and promote necessary private investments in Latin America if
it is or appears to be simultaneously cooperating with the Castro
program," the State Department concluded in November 1959.
But one condition was added: "in view of Castro's strong
though diminishing support in Cuba, it is of great importance,
however, that the United States government not openly take actions
which would cause the United States to be blamed for his failure
As for Castro's support, public opinion
studies provided to the White House (April 1960) concluded that
most Cubans were optimistic about the future and supported Castro,
while only 7 percent expressed concern about Communism and only
2 percent about failure to hold elections. Soviet presence was
nil. In the United States, Jules Benjamin observes, ,The liberals,
like the conservatives, saw Castro as a threat to the hemisphere,
but without the world communist conspiracy component."
By October 1959, planes based in Florida
were carrying out strafing and bombing attacks against Cuban territory.
In December, CIA subversion was stepped up, including supply of
arms to guerrilla bands and sabotage of sugar mills and other
economic targets. In March 1960, the Eisenhower Administration
formally adopted a plan to overthrow Castro in favor of a regime
"more devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people and
more acceptable to the U.S."-the two conditions being equivalent-emphasizing
again that this must be done "in such a manner as to avoid
any appearance of U.S. intervention."
Sabotage, terror, and aggression were
escalated further by the Kennedy Administration, along with the
kind of economic warfare that no small country can long endure.
Cuban reliance on the US as an export market and for imports had,
of course, been overwhelming, and could hardly be replaced without
great cost. The New Frontiersmen were obsessed with Cuba from
the first moments. During the presidential campaign of 1960, Kennedy
had accused Eisenhower and Nixon of threatening US security by
allowing "the Iron Curtain... 90 miles off the coast of the
United States." "We were hysterical about Castro at
the time of the Bay of Pigs [April 1961] and thereafter,"
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara later testified to the Church
Committee. A few days before the decision to invade Cuba, Arthur
Schlesinger advised the President that "the game would be
up through a good deal of Latin America" if the US were to
tolerate "another Cuba"; or this one, JFK determined.
Much of Kennedy's Latin American policy was inspired by the fear
that the virus would infect others and limit US hegemony in the
At the first cabinet meeting after the
failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the atmosphere was "almost savage,"
Chester Bowles noted privately: "there was an almost frantic
reaction for an action program." The President's public posture
was no less militant: "the complacent, the self-indulgent,
the soft societies are about to be swept away with the debris
of history. Only the strong...can possibly survive," he told
the country. Kennedy broke all diplomatic, commercial, and financial
ties with Cuba, a terrible blow to the Cuban economy, given the
dependency that had been established under US suzerainty. He succeeded
in isolating Cuba diplomatically, but efforts to organize collective
action against it in 1961 were unsuccessful, perhaps because of
a problem noted by a Mexican diplomat: "If we publicly declare
that Cuba is a threat to our security, forty million Mexicans
will die laughing." Fortunately, the educated classes in
the United States were capable of a more sober evaluation of the
threat posed to the survival of the Free World.
Theoretically, medicines and some food
were exempt from the embargo, but food and medical aid were denied
after Cyclone Flora caused death and destruction in October 1963.
Standard procedure, incidentally. Consider Carter's refusal to
allow aid to any West Indian country struck by the August 1980
hurricane unless Grenada was excluded (West Indians refused, and
received no aid). Or the US reaction when Nicaragua was fortuitously
devastated by a hurricane in October 1988. Washington could scarcely
conceal its glee over the welcome prospects of widespread starvation
and vast ecological damage, and naturally refused aid, even to
the demolished Atlantic Coast area with longstanding links to
the US and deep resentment against the Sandinistas; its people
too must starve in the ruins of their shacks, to satisfy our blood-lust.
US allies timidly followed orders, justifying their cowardice
with the usual hypocrisy. To demonstrate that its malice is truly
bipartisan, Washington reacted in much the same way when a tidal
wave wiped out fishing villages leaving hundreds dead and missing
in September 1992. The New York Times headline reads: "U.S.
Sends Nicaragua Aid As Sea's Toll Rises to 116." "Foreign
governments, including the United States, responded with immediate
help today for the survivors," the Times excuse for a reporter
wrote, while Washington announced "that it was making $5
million available immediately as a result of the disaster."
Such nobility. Only in the small print at the end do we discover
that the $5 million is being diverted from scheduled aid that
had been withheld-but not, Congress was assured, from the over
$100 million aid package that the Administration had suspended
because the Nicaraguan government is not yet sufficiently subservient
to its wishes. The humanitarian donation amounts to an impressive
Any weapon, however cruel, may be used
against the perpetrators of the crime of independence. And, crucially,
the awed self-adulation must never falter. "It was a narrow
escape," Mark Twain wrote: "If the sheep had been created
first, man would have been a plagiarism."
The Kennedy Administration also sought
to impose a cultural quarantine to block the free flow of ideas
and information to the Latin American countries, fearing the rotten
apple effect. In March 1963, JFK met with seven Central American
presidents who agreed "To develop and put into immediate
effect common measures to restrict the movement of subversive
nationals to and from Cuba, and the flow of materials, propaganda
and funds from that country." The unwillingness of Latin
American governments to emulate US controls on travel and cultural
interchange always greatly troubled the Kennedy liberals, as did
their legal systems, requiring evidence for crimes by alleged
"subversives," and their excessive liberalism generally."
Immediately after the Bay of Pigs failure,
Kennedy initiated a program of international terrorism to overthrow
the regime, reaching quite remarkable dimensions. These atrocities
are largely dismissed in the West, apart from some notice of the
assassination attempts, one of them implemented on the very day
of the Kennedy assassination. The terrorist operations were formally
called off by Lyndon Johnson. They continued, however, and were
escalated by Nixon. Subsequent actions are attributed to renegades
beyond CIA control, whether accurately or not, we do not know;
one high-level Pentagon official of the Kennedy-Johnson Administrations,
Roswell Gilpatnc, has expressed his doubts. The Carter Administration,
with the support of US courts, condoned hijacking of Cuban ships
in violation of the anti-hijacking convention that Castro was
respecting. The Reaganites rejected Cuban initiatives for diplomatic
settlement and imposed new sanctions on the most outlandish pretexts,
often lying outright, a record reviewed by Wayne Smith, who resigned
as head of the US Interests Section in Havana in protest."
From the Cuban perspective, the Kennedy
terror seemed to be a prelude to invasion. The CIA concluded in
September 1962-before Russian missiles were detected in mid-October-that
"the main purpose of the present [Soviet] military buildup
in Cuba is to strengthen the Communist regime there against what
the Cubans and Soviets conceive to be a danger that the US may
attempt by one means or another to overthrow it." In early
October, the State Department confirmed this judgment, as did
a later State Department study. How realistic these fears were,
we may only speculate.
Of interest, in this connection, is Robert
McNamara's reaction to the late Andrei Gromyko's allegation that
Soviet missiles were sent to Cuba "to strengthen the defensive
capability of Cuba-that is all." In response, McNamara acknowledged
that "If I had been a Cuban or Soviet official, I believe
I would have shared the judgment you expressed that a U.S. invasion
was probable" (a judgment that he says was inaccurate). The
probability of nuclear war after a US invasion was "99 percent,"
McNamara added. Such an invasion was frighteningly close after
JFK dismissed Khrushchev's offer of mutual withdrawal of missiles
from Cuba and Turkey (the latter obsolete, already ordered withdrawn).
Indeed, Cuba itself might have initiated nuclear war when a US
terrorist (Mongoose) team blew up a factory, killing 400 people
according to Castro, at one of the most tense moments of the crisis,
when the Cubans may have had their fingers on the button."
The March 1960 plan to overthrow Castro
in favor of a regime "more devoted to the true interests
of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the U.S." remains
in force in 1992 as the US pursues its venerable task of preventing
Cuban independence, with 170 years of experience behind it. Also
in force is the Eisenhower directive that the crime should be
perpetrated "in such a manner as to avoid any appearance
of U.S. intervention. "Accordingly, the ideological institutions
must suppress the record of aggression, campaigns of terror, economic
strangulation, and the other devices employed by the Lord of the
hemisphere in its dedication to "the true interests of the
That dictate has been followed with loyalty
perhaps beyond the norm. In respected scholarship, US terrorism
against Cuba has been excised from the record in a display of
servility that would impress the most dedicated totalitarian.
In the media, Cuba's plight is regularly attributed to the demon
Castro and-"Cuban socialism" alone. Castro bears full
responsibility for the "poverty, isolation and humbling dependence"
on the USSR, the New York Times editors inform us, concluding
triumphantly that "the Cuban dictator has painted himself
into his own corner," without any help from us. That is true
by virtue of doctrinal necessity, the ultimate authority. The
editors conclude that we should not intervene directly as some
"U.S. cold warriors" propose: "Fidel Castro's reign
deserves to end in home-grown failure, not martyrdom." Taking
their stand at the dovish extreme, the editors advise that we
should continue to stand aside, watching in silence as we have
been doing for 30 years, so the naive reader would learn from
this (quite typical) version of history, crafted to satisfy the
demands of authority.
News reports commonly observe the same
conventions. Cuba is a basket case, Times Caribbean correspondent
Howard French reports, "a Communist oddity in an increasingly
free-market world," "a Communist dead end" struggling
vainly against "economic realities." These "realities,"
we are to understand, are the failures of sterile Communist doctrine,
unaffected by US terror and economic warfare. The former is passed
over in silence. The latter is mentioned, but only as posing a
tactical question: we must decide whether the embargo should be
tightened, or simply maintained on the assumption that the "economic
realities" alone will work "inexorably to bring about
a dramatic transformation." Any opinion outside this spectrum
is another "oddity," not to be sampled by a responsible
journalist operating in the free market of ideas.
Boston Globe Latin America specialist
Pamela Constable adopts the same conventions. Reviewing Miami
Herald correspondent Andres Oppenheimer's Castro's Final Hour,
she opens by explaining that he "is far from a rabid anticommunist,
but his credentials as a seasoned journalistic observer of Latin
America make his [book], a relentless exposure of the cynical,
obsessive workings of Fidel Castro's aging socialist regime, all
the more persuasive." He portrays Cuba "as a classic,
decaying dictatorship, ruled by a man whose ideals have long succumbed
to the hard logic of power," "clinging to a failed system
with determined but fatal defiance." In "hilarious and
tragic detail," Oppenheimer shows how "life for average
Cubans has become a gantlet of woes and absurdities," which
she recounts with much amusement. "Oppenheimer leaves little
room for doubt that like other messianic tyrants, Castro has sown
the seeds of his own destruction." The words "United
States" do not appear; there is no hint of any US contribution
to the "hilarious" trials of the average Cubans, or
to the "failed system" or Castro's mad course of self-destruction.
The "hard logic of power" is simply a fact of nature,
evoking none of the passion aroused by Castro's evil nature. The
norms are universal; Cuba is just a special case. Surveying the
terrible decline of Nicaragua after the US-backed government took
over, Constable writes that "Two problems underlie the disaster
gripping this poor, tropical nation": "lingering hostility"
between the Sandinistas and the right, and corruption. Could the
rampages of a terrorist superpower have had some marginal effect
on the "collapsed socialist economy" and US efforts
to recreate the glories that preceded? The idea cannot be expressed,
probably even thought, at the dissident extreme of the commissar
The same book is reviewed in the New York
limes by Clifford Krauss. Again, Cuba's plight is attributed to
the crimes and lunacies of the demon alone. The US does receive
an oblique mention, in one phrase: Castro (not Cuba) "has
survived a host of calamities: the missile crisis, the trade embargo,
the Mariel exodus, repeated harvest shortfalls and endless rationing."
That concludes the US role. Oppenheimer is praised for describing
Cuba's travail "with insight and wit"-odd, how amusing
it is to watch our victims suffer-but more importantly, for having
unearthed hitherto undreamt-of iniquity. Insatiable in his quest
for power and love of violence, Castro sent "experienced
officers" to train Nicaraguans to resist the terrorist army
the US dispatched from its Honduran bases with orders to attack
"soft targets" such as health clinics and agricultural
cooperatives (with explicit approval of the State Department and
left-liberal opinion, in the latter case). The monster even considered
retaliation "in case the United States under Ronald Reagan
invaded Nicaragua," and he was "far more involved than
we knew" in supplying the army of Panama "in anticipation
of the United States invasion,"
But for those who believe that there are
limits to what the criminal mind might contemplate, there is still
more. "With Cuban soldiers in Angola to support the Marxist
Government, Mr. Castro made himself an obstacle to a negotiated
settlement of that country's civil war in the 1980's." Connoisseurs
who miss Pravda in the good old days will recognize this as the
Tunes spin on Cuba's support for the government recognized by
virtually everyone apart from the US, and its success in repelling
US-backed South African aggression, thus setting the stage for
a negotiated settlement, which Washington at once disrupted by
continuing its support for its terrorist clients to ensure that
the war, which had already cost hundreds of thousands of lives
and destroyed the country, will leave the remains in the hands
of South Africa and Western investors.
Whatever one may think of Cuba, such performances
provide an enlightening "exposure of the cynical, obsessive
workings" of a propaganda system of mechanical predictability,
run by an intellectual class of truly awe-inspiring moral cowardice.
Matters have changed little since the days when the New York Times
editors, 60 years ago, hailed our magnificent record in the Caribbean
region, where we were acting with "the best motives in the
world" as Marines pursued the "elusive bandit Sandino"
with the cheers of Nicaraguans ringing in their ears, contrary
to the whining of the "professional 'liberals' "-though
it was unfortunate, the editors felt, that the clash "comes
just at a time when the Department of State is breathing grace,
mercy and peace for the whole world." In Cuba, we were able
"to save the Cubans from themselves and instruct them in
self-government," granting them "independence qualified
only by the protective Platt amendment"-which "protected"
US corporations and their local allies. "Cuba is very near
at hand," the editors proceed, "to refute" the
charge of "the menace of American imperialism." We were
"summoned" by the Cuban people who have, finally, "mastered
the secret of stability" under our kind tutelage. And while
"our commercial interests have not suffered in the island,"
"we have prospered together with a free Cuban people,"
so "no one speaks of American imperialism in Cuba.
Commentators affect great anguish over
Castro's crimes and abuses. Would that it were believable. Demonstrably,
for most it is utterly cynical pretense. The conclusion is established
conclusively by comparison of the hysterical outrage over Castro's
human rights violations and the evasion or outright suppression
of vastly worse atrocities right next door, at the very same time,
by US clients, acting with US advice and support History has been
kind enough to provide some dramatic test cases to prove the point.
The professed concern for "the true
interests of the Cuban people" and for "democracy"
need not detain us. Concern for the "true interests"
of US business, in contrast, is real enough. The same is true
of the concerns over public opinion in Cuba and Latin America.
Kennedy knew what he was doing when he sought to block travel
and communication. The fears are understandable in the light of
the Cuban public opinion polls cited earlier, or the reaction
to its Agrarian Reform Law of May 1959, acclaimed by one UN organization
as "an example to follow" in all Latin America. Or by
the conclusion of the World Health Organization's representative
in Cuba in 1980 that "there is no question that Cuba has
the best health statistics in Latin America," with the health
organization "of a very much developed Country" despite
its poverty. Or by a UNICEF report on the "State of the World's
Children 1990," reviewed in a Peruvian Church journal, which
lists a series of Latin American countries as among those with
the highest infant mortality rates in the world, though Costa
Rica and Chile have low rates for the region, and "Cuba is
the only country on a par with developed nations." Or by
the interest in Brazil and other Latin American countries in Cuban
biotechnology, unusual if not unique for a small and poor country.
Or by the kind of discussion we can read in the Australian press,
safely remote, reviewing the efforts to achieve the "historic
strategic objective" of restoring Cuba "to Washington's
sphere of influence":
That Cuba has survived at all under these
circumstances is an achievement in itself. That it registered
the highest per capita increase in gross social product (wages
and social benefits) of any economy in Latin America-and almost
double that of the next highest country-over the period 1981-1990
is quite remarkable. Moreover, despite the economic difficulties,
the average Cuban is still better fed, housed, educated and provided
for medically than other Latin Americans, and-again atypically-the
Cuban Government has sought to spread the burden of the new austerity
measures equally among its people.
Worse yet, such perceptions are hardly
unusual in the region itself, a product of direct experience and
relative freedom from the rigid doctrinal requirements that constrain
US orthodoxy and its European camp-followers. They are commonly
articulated by leading figures. To select one poignant example,
Father Ignacio Ellacuria, the rector of the Jesuit university
of El Salvador (UCA), wrote in a Latin American Church journal
in November 1989 that for all its abuses, "the Cuban model
has achieved the best satisfaction of basic needs in all of Latin
America in a relatively short time," while "Latin America's
actual situation points out prophetically the capitalist system's
intrinsic malice and the ideological falsehood of the semblance
of democracy that accompanies, legitimates, and cloaks it."
It was for expressing such thoughts that
he was assassinated by US-trained elite troops as the article
appeared, and buried deep beneath shrouds of silence by those
who feigned great indignation here.
As in numerous other cases, it is not
Castro's crimes that disturb the rulers of the hemisphere, who
cheerfully support the Suhartos and Saddam Husseins and Gramajos,
or look the other way, as long as they "fulfill their main
function." Rather, it is the elements of success that arouse
fear and anger and the call for vengeance, a fact that must be
suppressed by ideologists-not an easy task, given the overwhelming
evidence confirming this elementary principle of the intellectual
In the 1980s, the US extended its economic
warfare, barring industrial products containing any Cuban nickel,
a major Cuban export. Those not affected by political Alzheimer's
might recall the US Treasury Department order of April 1988 barring
import of Nicaraguan coffee processed in a third country if it
is not "sufficiently transformed to lose its Nicaraguan identity"
recalling the language of the Third Reich, a Boston Globe editor
observed. The US prohibited a Swedish medical supply company from
providing equipment to Cuba because one component is manufactured
in the US. Aid to the former Soviet Union was conditioned on its
suspension of aid to Cuba. Gorbachev's announcement that such
aid would be canceled was greeted with banner headlines: "Baker
Hails Move," "Soviets Remove Obstacle to U.S. Economic
Aid," "The Cuban-Soviet Connection: 31-Year irritant
to the U.S." At last, the grievous injury to us may be relieved.
In early 1991, the US resumed Caribbean
military maneuvers, including rehearsal of a Cuba invasion, a
standard technique of intimidation. In mid-1991, the embargo was
tightened further, cutting remittances from Cuban-Americans, among
other measures. In April 1992, gearing up for the election, President
Bush barred ships that go to Cuba from US ports. New laws proposed
by congressional liberals, cynically entitled the Cuban Democracy
Act, would extend the embargo to US subsidiaries abroad, allowing
seizure of cargo of ships that had landed in Cuba if they enter
US territorial waters. The ferocity of the hatred for Cuban independence
is extreme, and scarcely wavers across the narrow mainstream spectrum.
There has never been any effort to conceal
the fact that the disappearance of the Soviet deterrent (like
the removal of the British deterrent a century earlier) and the
decline of East bloc economic relations with Cuba merely facilitates
Washington's efforts to achieve its longstanding aims through
economic warfare or other means. Candor is entirely in order:
only the most devilish anti-American, after all, could question
our right to act as suits our fancy. If, say, we choose to invade
some defenseless country to capture one of our agents who no longer
follows orders, and then try him for crimes committed while on
our payroll, who could question the majesty of our system of justice?
True, the UN did, but our veto took care of that childish tantrum.
Even the Supreme Court has since accorded the US the right to
kidnap alleged criminals abroad to bring them to justice here.
Not for us the qualms of Adolf Hitler, who returned a German émigré
abducted by Himmler's gangsters from Switzerland in 1937 after
the Swiss government protested, appealing to basic principles
of international law.
In a typical commentary on Cuba's happy
plight, the editors of the Washington Post urged that the US seize
the opportunity to crush Castro: For his great antagonist, the
United States, to give relief and legitimacy to this used-up relic
at this late hour would be to break faith with the Cuban People-and
with all the other democrats in the hemisphere." Pursuing
the same logic, the editors, through the 1980s, called upon the
US to coerce Nicaragua until it was restored to the "Central
American mode" of the Guatemalan and Salvadoran terror states,
observing their admirable "regional standards"; and
scoffed at Gorbachev's 'New Thinking" because he had not
yet offered the US a free hand to achieve its objectives by the
means condemned by the World Court (in a judgment that discredited
the Court, the press and liberal commentators concluded). The
Post speaks for the people of Cuba just as the State Department
did in the Eisenhower-Kennedy years; as William McKinley spoke
for 'the vast majority of the population" of the Philippines
who "welcome our sovereignty" and whom he was "protecting...
against the designing minority" while slaughtering them by
the hundreds of thousands; and as his proconsul Leonard Wood spoke
for the decent (i.e., wealthy European) people of Cuba who favored
US domination or annexation and had to be protected from the 'degenerates."
The US has never been short of good will for the suffering people
of the world who have to be protected from the machinations of
evil-doers. As for the Post's love of democracy, charity dictates
silence. Its peers scarcely differ.
The Cuban record demonstrates with great
clarity that the Cold War framework has been scarcely more than
a pretext to conceal the standard refusal to tolerate Third World
independence, whatever its political coloration.
... plans for a military coup were initiated shortly after Joao
Goulart became President in August 1961. The military were wary
of his populist rhetoric and appeal, and angered by his efforts
to raise minimum wages of civilian laborers. Concerns of the US
business community were enhanced when the Chamber of Deputies
passed a bill placing conditions on foreign investment and limiting
remittance of profits on the grounds that they were 'bleeding
the Brazilian economy." Though Goulart, a faithful member
of the Brazilian elite, was anti-Communist, US labor leaders and
Embassy officials were alarmed at his involvement with labor and
peasant organizations and appointment of Brazilian Communists
to staff positions; "an openly Communist course," the
CIA warned. The appropriate Cold War context had been spelled
out by JFK, shortly before assuming office
By early 1962, Brazilian military commanders
had notified Kennedy's Ambassador, Lincoln Gordon, that they were
organizing a coup. At JFK's personal initiative, the US began
to lend clandestine and overt support to right-wing political
candidates. The President's feeling, in agreement with Gordon
and the US business community, was that 'the military probably
represented the key to the future," Ruth Leacock concludes.
Robert Kennedy was dispatched to Brazil in December 1962 to influence
Goulart to "confront the communist problem," as the
US Embassy put it. RFK informed Goulart that the President was
seriously concerned about the infiltration of 'Communists and
anti-American nationalist leftists" into the government,
the military, the unions, and student groups, and about the 'ill
treatment [of] American and other foreign private investors."
If Goulart wanted US aid, Kennedy said, he must see to it that
'personnel in key Brazilian positions" were pro-American,
and impose economic measures that the US recommended.
Relations remained tense, particularly
over the austerity plan that the Kennedy Administration demanded
as a condition for aid, and its admonitions about left-wing influence.
In March 1963, the CIA again reported plans for a military coup;
US corporate executives were, by then, privately urging a total
US aid cutoff to expedite the coup plans. In August, US Defense
Attaché Vernon Walters warned the Pentagon that Goulart
was promoting "ultranationalist officers" in preference
to 'pro-democratic pro-US officers" (the two terms presumably
being synonymous). Relations harshened further under the Johnson
Administration. Senator Albert Gore informed the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, then considering US aid, that he had heard
that "all of the members of the Brazilian Congress who advocated
the kind of reforms which we have made a prerequisite for Alliance
for Progress aid are now in prison." Ambassador Gordon cabled
Washington that the US should increase military aid for Brazil
because the military was essential in the 'strategy for restraining
left wing excesses of Goulart government." Meanwhile the
CIA was 'financing the mass urban demonstrations against the Goulart
government, proving the old themes of God, country, family, and
liberty to be as effective as ever," Philip Agee noted in
Recall that aid to the military is standard
operating procedure for overthrowing a civilian government. The
device was also used effectively in Indonesia and Chile, and tried
in Iran in the early 1980s, the first stage in what later became
(suitably recrafted) the Iran-contra affair.'
On March 31, the generals took over, with
US support and plans for further action if necessary 'to assure
success of takeover." The Generals had carried out a 'democratic
rebellion," Gordon cabled Washington. The revolution was
"a great victory for the free world," which prevented
a 'total loss to the West of all South American Republics"
and should 'create a greatly improved climate for private investments."
'The principal purpose for the Brazilian revolution," he
testified before Congress two years later, "was to preserve
and not destroy Brazil's democracy." This democratic revolution
was 'the single most decisive victory of freedom in the mid-twentieth
century," Gordon held, "one of the major turning points
in world history" in this period. Adolf Berle agreed that
Goulart was a Castro clone who had to be removed. Secretary of
State Dean Rusk justified US recognition for the coup regime on
the grounds that 'the succession there occurred as foreseen by
the Constitution," a statement that was not "entirely
accurate," Thomas Skidmore judiciously observes.
US labor leaders demanded their proper
share of the credit for the violent overthrow of the parliamentary
regime, while the new government proceeded to crush the labor
movement and to subordinate poor and working people to the overriding
needs of business interests, primarily foreign, reducing real
wages by 25 percent within 3 years and redistributing income "toward
upper-income groups who were destined to be the great consumers
of the Brazilian miracle" (Sylvia Ann Hewlett, who sees the
brutal repression and attack on living standards as "an essential
prerequisite for a new cycle of capitalist growth within the Brazilian
domestic economy"). Washington and the investment community
were naturally delighted. As the relics of constitutional rule
faded away and the investment climate improved, the World Bank
offered its first loans in 15 years and US aid rapidly increased
along with torture, murder, starvation, disease, infant mortality-and
The United States was the "regime's most reliable ally,"
Thomas Skidmore observes in the most comprehensive scholarly study
of what came next. US aid "saved the day" for the ruling
Generals; the process also "turned the U.S. into a kind of
unilateral IMF, overseeing every aspect of Brazilian economic
policy." "In almost every Brazilian office involved
in administering unpopular tax, wage, or price decisions, there
was the ubiquitous American adviser," the new US Ambassador
discovered in 1966. Once again, the US was well-positioned to
use Brazil as a "testing area for modern scientific methods
of industrial development" (Haines), and therefore has every
right to take credit for what ensued. Under US guidance, Brazil
pursued orthodox neoliberal policies, "doing everything right"
by monetarist criteria, and "strengthening the market economy"
(Skidmore). The "economic miracle" proceeded in parallel
with the entrenchment of the fascist National Security State,
not accidentally; a regime that could not wield the knout could
hardly have carried out measures with such a deleterious impact
on the population.
The neoliberal reforms did not exactly
succeed in "building Brazilian capitalism," Skidmore
continues (though they did help build foreign corporations). They
provoked a severe industrial recession, driving many businesses
to ruin. To counter these effects and to prevent still further
foreign takeover of the economy, the government turned to the
public sector, strengthening the despised state corporations.
In 1967, economic policy was taken over
by technocrats led by the highly respected conservative economist
Antonio Delfim Neto, an enthusiastic supporter of "the Revolution
of March 31," which he saw as a "huge demonstration
by society" and "the product of a collective consensus"
(among those who qualify as "society"). Declaring its
devotion to the principles of economic liberalism, the government
instituted indefinite wage controls. "Worker protests, up
to now infrequent and small, were handily suppressed," Skidmore
notes, as fascist rule hardened further over the whole society,
with harsh censorship, elimination of judicial independence, removal
of many faculty, and revised curricula to promote patriotism.
The new compulsory course in "Moral and Civic Education"
aimed to "defend the democratic principle by preserving the
religious spirit, the dignity of the human being, and the love
of liberty, with responsibility under God's inspiration"-as
administered by the Generals with the technocrats at their side.
The authors of the 1992 Republican Campaign platform would have
been much impressed, along with 1980s-style "conservatives"
The President announced in 1970 that repression
would be "harsh and implacable," with no rights for
"pseudo-Brazilians." Torture became "a grisly ritual,
a calculated onslaught against body and soul," Skidmore writes,
with such specialties as torture of children and gang rape of
wives before the family. The "orgy of torture" provided
"a stark warning" to anyone with the wrong thoughts.
It was a "powerful instrument," that "made it even
easier for Delfim and his technocrats to avoid public debate over
fundamental economic and social priorities" while they "preached
the virtues of the free market." The resumption of high economic
growth, by these means, made Brazil "again attractive to
foreign private investors," who took over substantial parts
of the economy. By the late 1970s, "The industries dominated
by local capital in Brazil [were] the same industries where small
businesses flourish in the United States"; multinationals
and their local associates dominated the more profitable growth
areas, though with the changes in the global economy, about 60
percent of foreign capital was then non-US (Peter Evans).
Macroeconomic statistics continued to
be satisfying, Skidmore continues, with rapid growth of GM' and
foreign investment. A "dramatic" improvement in terms
of trade in the early '70s also provided a shot in the arm to
the Generals and technocrats. They held firm to the doctrine that
"the real answer to poverty and unequal income distribution
was rapid economic growth, thereby increasing the total economic
pie," eliciting nods of approval in the West. A closer look
shows other characteristic features of neoliberal doctrine. Growth
rates in 1965-1982 under the National Security State averaged
no higher than under the parliamentary governments from 1947-1964,
economist David Felix observes, despite the advantages of authoritarian
control the fascist neoliberals enjoyed; and the domestic savings
rate hardly rose during the 'miracle years" under the 'right-wing
consumerism" instituted by the Generals and technocrats.
The domestic market was dominated by luxury goods for the rich.
None of this will be unfamiliar to others subjected to the same
doctrines, including North Americans during the 'Reagan revolution."
Brazil became 'the most rapidly growing
of major overseas markets of American manufacturers," Evans
observes, with high rates of return for investment, second only
to Germany during the late '60s and early 70s. Meanwhile, the
country became even more of a foreign-owned subsidiary. As for
the population, a World Bank study in 1975-at the peak of the
miracle years-reported that 68 percent had less than the minimum
caloric requirement for normal physical activity and that 58 percent
of children suffered from malnutrition. Ministry of Health expenditures
were lower than in 1965, with the expected concomitant effects."
After a visit to Brazil in 1972, Harvard
political scientist Samuel Huntington urged some relaxation of
the fascist terror, but with moderation: 'relaxation of controls"
might 'have an explosive effect in which the process gets out
of control," he warned. He suggested the model of Turkey
or Mexican one-party rule, playing down the importance of liberal
rights in comparison with the more significant values of "institutionalization"
A few years later, the bubble burst. Brazil
was swept up in the global economic crisis of the '80s.
The "real American success story" was spelled out in
a 1986 study Commissioned by the new civilian government. It presented
a by-now familiar picture of Brazil," Skidmore observes:
'although boasting the eighth largest economy in the Western world,
Brazil fell into the same category as the less developed African
or Asian countries when it came to social welfare indices";
this was the result of "two decades of a free hand for the
technocrats" and the approved neoliberal doctrines, which
"increased the cake" while leaving "one of the
most unequal income distributions in the world" and "appalling
deficiencies" in health and welfare generally. A UN Report
on Human Development (measuring education, health, etc.) ranked
Brazil in 80th place, near Albania, Paraguay, and Thailand. Shortly
after, in October 1990, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) announced that more than 40 percent of the population (almost
53 million people) are hungry. The Brazilian Health Ministry estimates
that hundreds of thousands of children die of hunger every year.
Brazil's educational system ranks above only Guinea-Bissau and
Bangladesh, according to 1990 UNESCO data.
The "success story" is summarized
in a May 1992 Americas Watch report: "Rich in natural resources
and with a large industrial base, the country has the largest
debt in the developing world and an economy that is entering its
second decade of acute crisis. Tragically, Brazil is not able
to provide an adequate standard of living for its 148 million
people, two-thirds of whom were malnourished in 1985, their misery
caused and compounded by lack of access to the land" in a
country with "one of the highest degrees of concentration
of land ownership in the world," and one of the most lopsided
distributions of income as well.
Starvation and disease are rampant, along
with slave labor by contract workers who are brutally treated
or simply murdered if they seek to escape before working off their
debts. In one of the nine cases of rural slavery unearthed by
the Catholic Church Land Ministry Commission in the first few
months of 1992, 4000 slave workers were found extracting charcoal
in an agribusiness project established and subsidized by the military
government as a "reforestation project" (of which nothing
operates but the charcoal pits). In haciendas, slave laborers
work 16 hours a day without pay and are frequently beaten and
tortured, sometimes murdered, with almost complete impunity. Almost
half the farmland is owned by 1 percent of farmers; government
emphasis on export crops, following the precepts of the foreign
masters, favors farmers with capital to invest, marginalizing
the huge majority even further. In the north and northeast, rich
landowners call in gunmen or the military police to burn houses
and crops, shoot livestock, murder unionists, priests, nuns or
lawyers trying to defend peasant rights, and drive the villagers
into shantytowns or to the Amazon, where they are then blamed
for deforestation as they clear land in a desperate attempt to
survive. Brazilian medical researchers describe the population
of the region as a new subspecies: "Pygmies," with 40
percent the brain capacity of humans-the result of severe malnutrition
in a region with much fertile land, owned by large plantations
that produce cash crops for export."
Brazil is a world center of such triumphs
as child slavery, with some 7 million children working as slaves
and prostitutes, exploited, overworked, deprived of health and
education, "or just deprived of their childhood," an
International Labor Organization study estimates. The luckier
children can look forward to work for drug traffickers in exchange
for glue to sniff to "make the hunger go away." The
figure worldwide is estimated at hundreds of millions, "one
of the grimmer ironies of the age," George Moffett comments.
Had the grim result been found in Eastern Europe it would have
been a proof of the bestiality of the Communist enemy; since it
is the normal situation in Western domains, it Is only irony,
the result of "endemic third-world poverty... exacerbated
as financially strapped governments have cut expenditures for
education," all with no cause.
Brazil also wins the prize for torture
and murder of street children by the security forces-"a process
of extermination of young people" according to the head of
the justice Department in Rio de Janeiro (Hello Saboya), targeting
the 7-8 million street children who "beg, steal, or sniff
glue" and "for a few glorious moments forget who or
where they are" (London Guardian correspondent Jan Rocha).
In Rio, a congressional commission identified 15 death squads,
most of them made up of police officers and financed by merchants.
Bodies of children murdered by death squads are found outside
metropolitan areas with their hands tied, showing signs of torture,
riddled with bullet holes. Street girls are forced to work as
prostitutes. The Legal Medical Institute recorded 427 children
murdered in Rio alone in the first ten months of 1991, most by
death squads. A Brazilian parliamentary study released in December
1991 reported that 7000 children had been killed in the past four
Truly a tribute to our magnificence and
the "modem scientific methods of development based solidly
on capitalism" in a territory as much "worth exploitation"
as any in the world.
We should not underestimate the scale
of the achievement. It took real talent to create a nightmare
in a country as favored and richly-endowed as Brazil. In the light
of such triumphs, it is understandable that the ruling class of
the new imperial age should be dedicated with such passion to
helping others share the wonders, and that the ideological managers
should celebrate the accomplishment with such enthusiasm and self-praise.
From World War II, in Venezuela the US followed the standard policy
of taking total control of the military "to expand U.S. political
and military influence in the Western Hemisphere and perhaps help
keep the U.S. arms industry vigorous" (Rabe). As later explained
by Kennedy's Ambassador Allan Stewart, "U.S.-oriented and
anti-Communist armed forces are vital instruments to maintain
our security interests." He illustrated the point with the
case of Cuba, where the "armed forces disintegrated"
while elsewhere they "remained intact and able to defend
themselves and others from communists," as demonstrated by
the wave of National Security States that swept over the hemisphere.
The Kennedy Administration increased its assistance to the Venezuelan
security forces for "internal security and counterinsurgency
operations against the political left," Rabe comments, also
assigning personnel to advise in combat operations, as in Vietnam.
Stewart urged the government to "dramatize" its arrests
of radicals, which would make a good impression in Washington
as well as among Venezuelans (those who matter, that is).
In 1970, Venezuela lost its position as
world's leading oil exporter to Saudi Arabia and Iran. As in the
Middle East, Venezuela nationalized its oil (and iron ore) in
a manner quite satisfactory to Washington and US investors, who
"found a newly rich Venezuela hospitable," Rabe writes,
"one of the most unique markets in the world," in the
words of a Commerce Department official."
The return to office of social democrat
Carlos Andrés Perez in 1988 aroused some concerns, but
they dissipated as he launched an IMF-approved structural readjustment
program, resolutely maintained despite thousands of protests,
many violent, including one in February 1989 in which 300 people
were killed by security forces in the capital dry of Caracas.
Though rarely reported in the US, protests
continued along with strike waves severe enough to lead to fear
that the country was headed towards "anarchy." Among
other cases, three students were killed by police who attacked
peaceful demonstrations in late November 1991; and two weeks later,
police used tear gas to break up a peaceful march of 15,000 people
in Caracas protesting Perez's economic policies. In January 1992,
the main trade union confederation predicted serious difficulties
and conflicts as a result of the neoliberal programs, which had
caused "massive impoverishment" including a 60 percent
drop in workers' buying power in 3 years, while enriching financial
groups and transnational corporations.
By then, another "economic miracle"
was in place: "a treasury brimming with foreign reserves,
inflation at its lowest rate in five years, and an economy growing
at the fastest rate in the Americas, 9.2 percent in 1991,"
Times correspondent James Brooke reported, noting also some familiar
flaws, among them a fall in the real minimum wage in Caracas to
44 percent of the 1987 level, a decline in nutritional levels,
and a "scandalous concentration of wealth," according
to a right-wing Congressman he quotes. Other flaws were to come
to light (in the US) a few weeks later after a coup attempt, among
them, the government's admission that only 57 percent of Venezuelans
could afford more than one meal a day in this country of enormous
wealth. Other flaws in the miracle had been revealed in the report
of an August 1991 Presidential Commission for the Rights of Children,
not previously noticed, which found that "critical poverty,
defined as the inability to meet at least one half of basic nutritional
requirements," had tripled from 11 percent of the population
in 1984 to 33 percent in 1991; and that real per capita income
fell 55 percent from 1988 to 1991, falling at double the rate
On February 4,1992, an attempted military
coup was crushed. "There was little jubilation," A?
reported. "The coup attempt caps a crescendo of anger and
frustration over the economic reforms that have written such a
macroeconomic success story but have failed to benefit the lives
of most Venezuelans and have embittered many" (Financial
Times). It "was met by silent cheers from a large part of
the population," Brooke reported, particularly in poor and
working-class areas. Like the Brazilian technocrats, Perez had
done everything right, "cutting subsidies, privatizing state
companies and opening a closed economy to competition." But
something had unaccountably gone wrong. True, the growth rate
was impressive, "but most economic analysts agree that the
high price of oil in 1991 fueled Venezuela's growth more than
Perez's austerity moves," Stan Yarbro reported, and none
can fail to see that "the new wealth has failed to trickle
down to Venezuela's middle and lower classes, whose standard of
living has fallen dramatically." Infant deaths "have
soared in the past two years as a result of worsening malnutrition
and other health problems in the shantytowns," a priest who
had worked in poor neighborhoods for 16 years said. There is ample
"new wealth," much of it "poured into financial
speculation schemes rather than new investments in industry. In
1991 money made in real estate and financial services almost equaled
the profits from manufactures."
In short, a typical economic miracle,
achieved under unusually favorable conditions for the evaluation
of the neoliberal doctrines preached with such fervor by the priesthood
of what Jeremy Seabrook calls the new "International Monetary
Take Guatemala, another country richly I endowed with resources
that offered fine prospects for a success story for capitalism
after the US regained control in 1954-and another case that should
inspire us with pride in our accomplishments, so impressive in
comparison with the wreckage left by the despicable enemy.
Guatemala now boasts a higher level of
child malnutrition than Haiti, according to UNICEF. The Health
Ministry reports that 40 percent of students suffer from chronic
malnutrition, while 2.5 million children in this country of 9
million suffer abuse that leads them to abandon school and become
involved in crime. A quarter of a million have been orphaned by
political violence. The condition of children is not very surprising
when 87 percent of the population live below the poverty line
(up from 79 percent in 1980), 72 percent cannot afford a minimum
diet (52 percent in 1980), 6 million have no access to health
service, 3.6 million lack drinking water, and concentration of
land ownership continues to rise (2 percent now control 70 percent
of the land). Purchasing power in 1989 was 22 percent of its 1972
level, dropping still further as the neoliberal measures of the
1980s were intensified.
We need not linger on the record of mass
slaughter, genocide in the highlands, disappearance, torture,
mutilation, and other standard accompaniments of Free World victories;
admittedly, a display of imperial benevolence that has been somewhat
excessive in the case of Guatemala. The contours, at least, should
be recalled. The terror began as soon as the US-run military coup
succeeded in overthrowing the reformist capitalist democracy.
Some 8000 peasants were murdered in two months in a terror campaign
that targeted particularly United Fruit Company union organizers
and Indian village leaders. The US Embassy participated with considerable
fervor, providing lists of "Communists" to be eliminated
or imprisoned and tortured while Washington dedicated itself to
making Guatemala "a showcase for democracy." At a comparable
stage, the Khmer Rouge were condemned for genocide. Terror mounted
again in the 1960s, with active US participation. The process
resumed in the late 1970s, soon reaching new levels of barbarism.
Over 440 villages were totally destroyed and well over 100,000
civilians were killed or "disappeared," up to 150,000
according to the Church and others, all with the enthusiastic
support of the Reagan Administration. Huge areas of the highlands
were destroyed in a frenzy of irreversible environmental devastation.
The goal was to prevent a recurrence of popular organization or
any further thought of freedom or social reform. The toll since
the US regained control is estimated at about 200,000 unarmed
civilians killed or "disappeared," and in the highlands,
episodes that qualify as genocide, if the word has meaning. In
an amazing triumph of the human spirit, popular forces and leaders
continue their struggle against US-inspired neo-Nazism.
As for the "showcase of democracy," an election was
scheduled for 1963, but it was prevented by a military coup backed
by the Kennedy Administration to block the participation of Juan
José Arévalo, the founder of Guatemalan democracy,
who had been elected in 1945 after the overthrow of the US-backed
Ubico dictatorship. A 1966 election extended military control
over the country, setting off another wave of terror. The 1985
election was proclaimed by the US Embassy to be the "final
step in the reestablishment of democracy in Guatemala." The
November 1990 elections ended in a draw between two right-wing
neoliberal candidates, who managed to stir up 30 percent of the
electorate (counting valid votes). In the runoff election won
by Jorge Serrano, abstention was even higher.
These achievements aside, the prevailing
social conditions are the result of another successful experiment:
the development model introduced by US advisers after the 1954
coup terminated the ten-year episode of capitalist democracy.
As terror improved the investment climate, export-oriented economic
programs led to rapid growth in production of agricultural commodities
and beef for export, destruction of forests and traditional agriculture,
sharp increase in hunger and general misery, the world championship
for DDT in mothers' milk (185 times World Health Organization
limits), and gratifying balance sheets for US agribusiness and
local affiliates. The new maquiladoras are having a similar impact.
Current economic plans, under the guidance of US advisers, are
intensifying this range of effects.
No less predictably, in his January 1992
report to Congress, President Serrano declared the results of
the properly neoliberal economic program (including the 100 percent
increase for the military in the 1992 budget) to be an "economic
miracle," while Western commentators applauded at j looked
forward to still further triumphs of capitalist democracy.
The most phenomenal success story of all is Chile, with its "prospering
free-market economy generated by Gen. August Pinochet" (Nash).
That is an established truth, repeated everywhere. True, Pinochet
was tough, but the 'economic miracle" carried out by his
Chicago Boys from 1974 to 1989 is there for all to see. To see,
if they do not look too closely.
Pinochet's 'miracle" turned into
the 'Chilean catastrophe" in under a decade, David Felix
writes; virtually the entire banking system was taken Over by
the government in an attempt to salvage the economy, leading some
to describe the transition from Allende to Pinochet as "a
transition from utopian to scientific socialism, since the means
of production are ending up in the hands of the state" (Felix),
or "the Chicago Road to Socialism." The militantly anti-socialist
London Economist lntelligence Unit Wrote that "the believer
in free markets, President Pinochet, had a more comprehensive
grip on the 'controlling heights of the economy' than President
Allende had dared dream of." The government-controlled portion
of the economy in 1983 was comparable to the Allende years after
the state took over failing enterprises, which it sold off at
bargain rates to the private sector when they were resuscitated,
along with efficient and profitable public enterprises that were
generating 25 percent of the government's revenues, Joseph Collins
and John Lear note. Multinational corporations did very nicely
in the process, gaining control over large parts of the Chilean
economy. Citing Chilean economists, James Petras and Steve Vieux
report that "an estimated $600 million in subsidies were
provided to purchasers in the 1986-1987 wave of privatizations,"
including "efficiently run, surplus-producing operations";
the operation is expected to reduce government surplus by $100
to $165 million during 1990-1995.
Until 1980, Chile's GDP per capita did
not approach the 1972 (Allende) level, and investment was still
below the late 1960s while unemployment was far higher. Per capita
health care was more than halved from 1973 to 1985, setting off
explosive growth in poverty-related diseases such as typhoid and
viral hepatitis. Since 1973, consumption dropped 30 percent for
the poorest 20 percent in Santiago and increased 15 percent for
the top 20 percent. Private hospitals proudly display their high-tech
equipment for the rich, while public ones offer mothers an appointment
months away and medicines they cannot afford. College education,
free for everyone under / Allende, is now for the more privileged;
and they will not be exposed to ~ the "subversives"
who have been purged, but offered "sociology, political science,
and economics courses... more like religious instruction in the
revealed truth of free markets and the red peril" (Tina Rosenberg),
as in Brazil under the generals, or other places that come to
mind. Macroeconomic statistics in the Pinochet years are generally
below those for the preceding two decades; the average GNP growth
from 1974-1979 was just over half that of 1961-1971, while per
capita GNP fell 6.4 percent and per capita consumption 23 percent
from 1972-1987. The capital city of Santiago is now "among
the most polluted cities in the world," Nathaniel Nash observes,
thanks to the free market Friedmanite model with its slogan "Produce,
produce, produce," come what may-what we denounce as the
"Stalinist model" when there are points to be scored
thereby. What "came" was "the daunting cost of
cleaning up, ...and the daunting cost of not cleaning up"
in a country with "some of the world's dirtiest factories,"
no regulations, severe pollution of water supplies, and general
environmental ruin with much-feared consequences for the health
of the population.
And thanks to the miracle, along with
a little US help in "making the economy scream" under
the Allende government, the proportion of the population that
fell below the poverty line (minimum income required for basic
food and housing) increased from 20 percent to 44.4 percent from
) 1970 to 1987.
Columbus described the people he found as 'lovable, tractable,
peaceable, gentle, decorous," and their land as rich and
bountiful. Hispaniola was 'perhaps the most densely populated
place in the world," Las Casas wrote, "a beehive of
people," who "of all the infinite universe of humanity,
.are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity."
Driven by "insatiable greed and ambition," the Spanish
fell upon them "like ravening wild beasts, ... killing, terrorizing,
afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples"
with "the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty,
never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree" that
the population is barely 200 persons, he wrote in 1552, "from
my own ç knowledge of the acts I witnessed." 'It was
a general rule among Spaniards 1 to be cruel," he wrote:
'not just cruel, but extraordinarily cruel so that harsh / and
bitter treatment would prevent Indians from daring to think of
themselves as human beings." "As they saw themselves
each day perishing by the cruel and inhuman treatment of the Spaniards,
crushed to the earth by the horses, cut in pieces by swords, eaten
and torn by dogs, many buried dive and suffering all kinds of
exquisite tortures, ...[they] decided to abandon themselves to
their unhappy fate with no further struggles, placing themselves
in the hands of their enemies that they might do with them as
As the propaganda mills ground away, the
picture was revised to provide retrospective justification for
what had been done. By 1776, the story was that Columbus found
'nothing but a country quite covered with wood, uncultivated,
and inhabited only by some tribes of naked and miserable savages"
(Adam Smith). As noted earlier, it was not until the 1960s that
the truth began to break through, eliciting scorn and protest
from outraged loyalists.
The Spanish effort to plunder the island's
riches by enslaving its gentle people were unsuccessful; they
died too quickly, if not killed by the 'wild beasts" or in
mass suicide. African slaves were sent from the early 1500s, later
in a flood as the plantation economy was established. "Saint
Domingue was the wealthiest European colonial possession in the
Americas," Hans Schmidt writes, producing three-quarters
of the world's sugar by 1789, also leading the world in production
of coffee, cotton, indigo, and rum. The slave masters provided
France with enormous wealth from the labor of their 450,000 slaves,
much as in the British West Indian colonies. The white population,
including poor overseers and artisans, numbered 40,000. Some 30,000
mulanoes and free Negroes enjoyed economic privileges but not
social and political equality, the origins of the class difference
that led to harsh repression after independence, with renewed
Between 1849 and 1913, US Navy ships entered Haitian waters 24
times to "protect American lives and property." Haiti's
independence was scarcely given even "token recognition,"
Schmidt observes in his standard history, and there was little
consideration for the rights of its people. They are "an
inferior people," unable "to maintain the degree of
civilization left them by the French or to develop any capacity
of self government entitling them to international respect and
confidence," Assistant Secretary of state William Phillips
wrote, recommending the policy of invasion and US Military government
that President Woodrow Wilson soon adopted. Few words need be
wasted on the civilization left to 90 percent of the population
the French, who, as an ex-slave related, "hung up men with
heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks,
buried them alive, crushed them in mortars..., forced them to
eat slat, ... cast them alive to be devoured by worms, or onto
anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp be devoured by
mosquitos, ... threw them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup"-when
not "flaying them with the lash" to extract the wealth
that helped give France its entry ticket to the rich men's club.
Phillips captured prevailing attitudes
with accuracy, though some, like Secretary of State William Jennings
Bryan, found the Haitian elite rather amusing: "Dear me,
think of it, Niggers speaking French," he remarked. The effective
ruler of Haiti, Marine Colonel L.W.T. Wailer, who arrived fresh
from appalling atrocities in the conquest of the Philippines,
was not amused: "they are real nigger and no mistake... real
nigs beneath the surface," he said, rejecting any negotiations
or other "bowing and scraping to these coons," particularly
the educated Haitians for whom this bloodthirsty lout had a special
hatred. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
while never approaching the racist fanaticism and thuggery of
his distant relative Theodore Roosevelt, shared the feelings of
his colleagues. On a visit to occupied Haiti in 1917, he recorded
in his diary a comment by his travelling companion, who later
became the Occupation's leading civilian official. Fascinated
by the Haitian Minister of Agriculture, he "couldn't help
saying to myself" he told FDR, "that man would have
brought $1,500 at auction in New Orleans in 1860 for stud purposes."
"Roosevelt appears to have relished the story," Schmidt
notes, "and retold it to American Minister Norman Armour
when he visited Haiti as President in 1934." The element
of racism in policy formation should not be discounted, to the
Such thoughts were not unusual at the
time of Wilson's intervention, not only in the United States.
We may recall that shortly after, Winston Churchill authorized
the use of chemical weapons "against recalcitrant Arabs as
experiment," denouncing the "squeamishness" of
those who Objected to "using poisoned gas against uncivilised
tribes," mainly Kurds, a policy that he strongly favored,
expecting that it "would spread a lively terror." For
England itself, he had somewhat different plans. As Home Secretary
in 1910 he had secretly proposed sterilization of 100,000 "mental
degenerates" and the dispatch of tens of thousands of others
to state-run labor camps so as to save the "British race"
from inevitable decline if its "inferior" members are
allowed to breed-ideas that were within the bounds of enlightened
opinion of the day, but have been kept secret in Home Office files
because of their sensitivity, particularly after they were taken
up by Hitler. 4
Given the cultural climate of the day,
the character of Wilson's 1915 invasion comes as no great surprise.
It was even more savage and destructive than his invasion of the
Dominican Republic in the same years. Wilson's troops murdered,
destroyed, reinstituted virtual slavery, and demolished the constitutional
system. After ruling for 20 years, the US left "the inferior
people" in the hands of the National Guard it had established
and the traditional rulers. In the 1950s, the Duvalier dictatorship
took over, running the show in Guatemalan style, always with firm
The brutality and racism of the invaders,
and the dispossession of peasants as US corporations took over
the spoils, elicited resistance. The Marine response was savage,
including the first recorded instance of coordinated air-ground
combat: bombing of rebels (Cacos) who were surrounded by Marines
in the bush. An in-house Marine inquiry, undertaken after atrocities
were publicly revealed, found that 3250 rebels were killed, at
least 400 executed, while the Marines and their locally recruited
gendarmerie suffered 98 casualties (killed and wounded). Leaked
Marine orders call for an end to "indiscriminate killing
of natives" that "has gone on for some time." Haitian
historian Roger Gaillard estimates total deaths at 15,000, counting
victims "of repression and consequences of the war,"
which "resembled a massacre." Major Smedley Butler recalled
that his troops "hunted the Cacos like pigs." His exploits
impressed FDR, who ordered that he be awarded the Congressional
Medal of Honor for an engagement in which 200 Cacos were killed
and no prisoners taken, while one Marine was struck by a rock
and lost two teeth.
The leader of the revolt, Charlemagne
Péralte, was killed by Marines who sneaked into his camp
at night in disguise. In an attempt at psywar that prefigured
some of Colonel Edward Lansdale's later exploits in the Philippines,
the Marines circulated photos of his body in the hope of demoralizing
the guerrillas. The tactic backfired, however; the photo resembled
Christ on the cross, and became a nationalist symbol. Péralte
took his place in the nationalist Pantheon alongside of Toussaint.
The invaders "legalized" the
Occupation with a unilateral declaration they called a "treaty,"
which the client regime was forced to accept; it was then cited
as imposing on the US a solemn commitment to maintain the Occupation.
While supervising the takeover of Haiti and the Dominican Republic,
Wilson built his reputation as a lofty idealist defending self-determination
and the rights of small nations with impressive oratory. There
is no contradiction. Wilsonian doctrine was restricted to people
of the right sort: those "at a low stage of civilization"
need not apply, though the civilized colonial powers should give
them "friendly protection, guidance, and assistance,"
he explained. Wilson's Fourteen Points did not call for self-determination
and national independence, but rather held that in questions of
sovereignty, "the interests of the populations concerned
must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government
whose title is to be determined," the colonial ruler. The
interests of the populations "would be ascertained by the
advanced nations, who best comprehended the needs and welfare
of the less advanced peoples," William Stivers comments,
analyzing the actual import of Wilson's language and thinking.
To mention one case with long-term consequences, a supplicant
who sought Wilson's support for Vietnamese representation in the
French Parliament was chased away from his doors with the appeal
undelivered, later surfacing under the name Ho Chi Minh.
Another achievement of Wilson's occupation
was a new Constitution, imposed on the hapless country after its
National Assembly was dissolved by the Marines for refusing to
ratify it. The US-designed Constitution overturned laws preventing
foreigners from owning land, thus enabling US corporations to
take what they wanted. FDR later took credit for having written
the Constitution, falsely it appears, though he did hope to be
one of its beneficiaries intending to use Haiti "for his
own personal enrichment," Schmidt notes. Ten years later,
in 1927, the State Department conceded that the US had used "rather
highhanded methods to get the Constitution adopted by the people
of Haiti" (with 99.9 percent approval in a Marine-run plebiscite,
under 5 percent of the population participating). But these methods
were unavoidable: "It was obvious that if our occupation
was to be beneficial to Haiti and further her progress it was
necessary that foreign capital should come to Haiti..., [and]
Americans could hardly be expected to put their money into plantations
and big agricultural enterprises in Haiti if they could not themselves
own the land on which their money was to be spent." It was
out of a sincere desire to help the poor Haitians that the US
forced them to allow US investors to take the country over, the
State Department explained, the usual form that benevolence assumes.
Elections were not permitted because it
was recognized that anti-American candidates would win, hindering
the US programs to help the suffering people. These programs were
described as "An Experiment in Pragmatism" by one not
untypical intellectual commentator, who observed that "The
pragmatists insist that intelligent guidance from without may
sometimes accelerate the process of national growth and save much
waste." We have already seen some illustrations of that "intelligent
guidance" in the case of beneficiaries from Bengal to Brazil
and Guatemala. We turn to the Haitian experience in the next chapter.
The Occupation "consistently suppressed
local democratic institutions and denied elementary political
liberties," Schmidt writes. "Instead of building from
existing democratic institutions which, on paper, were quite impressive
and had long incorporated the liberal democratic philosophy and
governmental machinery associated with the French Revolution,
the United States blatantly overrode them and illegally forced
through its own authoritarian, antidemocratic system." "The
establishment of foreign-dominated plantation agriculture necessitated
destruction of the existing minifundia land-tenure system with
its myriad peasant freeholders," who were forced into peonage.
The US supported "a minority of collaborators" from
the local elite who admired European fascism but lacked the mass
appeal of their fascist models. "In effect," Schmidt
observes, "the Occupation embodied all the progressive attitudes
of contemporary Italian fascism, but was crippled by failures
in human relationships" (lack of popular support). The only
local leadership it could mobilize was the traditional mulatto
elite, its racist contempt for the great mass of the population
now heightened by the even harsher attitudes of "ethnic and
racial contempt" of the foreigner with the gun and the dollar,
who brought "concepts of racial discrimination" not
seen since before independence, and the "racist colonial
realities" that went along with them.
The Occupation thus reinforced the internal
class/race oppression that goes back to the days of French colonialism.
One consequence was the rise of the ideology of Noirisme, in response
to the racism of the occupiers and their elite collaborators.
"Papa Doc" Duvalier would later exploit this backlash
when, 20 years after the Marines left, he took the reins with
the pretense of handing power to the black majority-in reality,
to himself, his personal killers (the Tontons Macoutes), and the
traditional e ;e, who continued to prosper under his murderous
In the 1980s, IMF Fundamentalism began to take its customary toll
as the economy deteriorated under the impact of the structural
adjustment programs, which caused agricultural production to decline
along with investment, trade and consumption. Poverty became still
more terrible. By the time "Baby Doc" Duvalier was driven
out in 1986, 60 percent of the population had an annual per capita
income of $60 or less according to the World Bank, child malnutrition
had soared, the rate of infant mortality was shockingly high,
and the country had become an ecological and human disaster, perhaps
beyond hope of recovery. Through the 1970s, thousands of boat
people fled the ravaged island, virtually all forced to return
by US officials with little notice here, the usual treatment of
refugees whose suffering lacks propaganda value. In 1981, the
Reagan Administration initiated a new interdiction policy. Of
the more than 24,000 Haitians intercepted by the US Coast Guard
in the next ten years, 11 were granted asylum as victim of political
persecution, in comparison with 75,000 out of 75,000 Cubans. During
Aristide's brief tenure, the flow of refugees dropped dramatically
as terror abated and there were hopes for a better future.
In June 1985, the Haitian legislature unanimously adopted a new
law ( requiring that every political party must recognize President-for-Life
JeanClaude Duvalier as the supreme arbiter of the nation, outlawing
the Christian Democrats, and granting the government the right
to suspend the rights of any party without reasons. The law was
ratified by a majority of 99.98 Percent. Washington was impressed.
It was "an encouraging step forward," the US Ambassador
informed his guests at a July 4 celebration. The Reagan Administration
certified to Congress that "democratic development"
was progressing, so that military and economic aid could continue
to flow mainly into the pockets of Baby Doc and his entourage.
The Administration also informed Congress that the human rights
situation was improving, as it always is when some regime requires
military aid to suppress the population in a good cause. The Democrat-controlled
House Foreign Affairs Committee had given its approval in advance,
calling on the Administration "to maintain friendly relations
with Duvalier's non-Communist government."
These gratifying developments were short-lived,
however. By December, popular protests were straining the resources
of state terror. What happened next was described by the Wall
Street Journal two months later with engaging frankness:
An administration official said that
the White House concluded late last year, following huge demonstrations
that hadn't been seen on such a scale before, that the regime
was unraveling... U.S. analysts learned that Haiti's ruling inner
circle had lost faith in the 34-year-old president for life. As
a result, U.S. officials, including Secretary of State George
Shultz, began openly calling for a "democratic process"
The cynicism was underscored by the fact
that the very same scenario was then being enacted in the Philippines,
where the army and elite made it clear they would no longer support
another gangster for whom Reagan and Bush had expressed their
admiration, even "love," not long before, so that the
White House "began openly calling for a 'democratic process'"
there as well. Both events have, accordingly, entered the canon
as a demonstration of how, particularly in the 1980s, we have
"served as inspiration for the triumph of democracy in our
time" (New Republic)?
Duvalier was duly removed, flown out in
a US Air Force jet and sent to comfortable exile in France. Armed
Forces chief General Henri Namphy took power. This long-time US
favorite and close Duvalier associate was "Haiti's best chance
for democracy," Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams
announced, revealing once again the dedication to democracy for
which he was famous. Not all were pleased. A rural priest in a
small church, Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, said that "we're
glad Duvalier is gone" but "what we now have is Duvalierism
without Duvalier." Few listened, but events were to prove
him right in short order.
Elections were scheduled for November
1987, but Namphy and his associates, the army and the old elite,
were determined that nothing would go wrong. The Tontons Macoutes
were reorganized, terror continued. A particularly gruesome massacre
took place in July 1987, involving the army and the Macoutes.
The same groups sponsored escalating violence, leading up to an
election day massacre that provided Namphy with a pretext to cancel
the elections. Throughout, US military aid continued on grounds
that it helped the army keep order-which was disrupted by army-Macoute
violence and atrocities. Military aid was finally suspended after
the election day terror, with over 95 percent of the 1987 funds
A fraudulent military-run election followed,
then a coup restoring Namphy to power and a rash of Duvalierism-without-Duvalier
atrocities by the army and Macoutes, including repeated attacks
on union offices and peasant groups. Asked about these events
by US human-rights organizations, Ambassador Brunson McKinley
said, "I don't see any evidence of a policy against human
rights. "True, there is violence, but it is just "part
of the culture." Whose, one might wonder.
A month later, a gang of killers attacked
Aristide's church as he was saying mass, leaving at least 13 dead
and 77 wounded. Aristide fled underground. In yet another coup,
Duvalierist General Prosper Avril arrested Namphy and expelled
him. The Haitian head of Aristide's Salesian order authorized
him to return to his church, but not for long. To the dismay of
the conservative Church hierarchy, Aristide continued to call
for freedom and an end to terror. He was duly ordered by his superiors
in Rome to leave the country. Popular protests blocked his departure,
and he went into hiding. At the last minute, Aristide decided
to take part in the December 1990 elections. In a stunning upset,
he won 67 percent of the vote, defeating the US candidate, former
World Bank official Marc Bazin, who came in second with 14 percent.
The courageous liberation theologist, committed to "the preferential
option for the poor" of the Latin American bishops, took
office in February as the first democratically elected President
in Haiti's history-briefly; he was overthrown by a military coup
on September 30.
"Under Aristide, for the first time
in the republic's tortured history, Haiti seemed to be on the
verge of tearing free from the fabric of despotism and tyranny
which had smothered all previous attempts at democratic expression
and self-determination," the Washington Council on Hemispheric
Affairs observed in a post-coup review. His victory "represented
more than a decade of civic engagement and education on his part,"
spearheaded by local activists of the Church, small grassroots-based
communities, and other popular organizations that formed the basis
of the Lavalas ("flood") movement that swept him into
power, "a textbook example of participatory, 'bottom-up'
and democratic political development." With this popular
base, his government was committed to "the empowerment of
the poor," a "populist model" with international
implications that frightened Washington, whose model of "democracy"
does not entertain popular movements committed to "social
and economic justice, popular political participation and openness
in all governmental affairs" rather than "the international
market or some other current shibboleth." Furthermore, Aristide's
balancing of the budget and "trimming of a bloated bureaucracy"
led to a "stunning success" that made White House planners
"extremely uncomfortable": he secured over half a billion
dollars in aid from the international lending community, very
little of it from the US, indicating "that Haiti was slipping
out of Washington's financial orbit" and "demonstrating
a degree of sovereignty in its political affairs." A rotten
apple was in the making."
Washington was definitely not pleased.
With its ally Duvalier gone, the US had in mind the usual form
of democracy committed to the preferential option for the rich,
particularly US investors. To facilitate this outcome, the bipartisan
National Endowment for Democracy (NED) directed its "democracy
building" grants to the Haitian International Institute for
Research and Development (HIRED) and two conservative unions.
HIRED was associated with Bazin and other political figures with
little popular base beyond the NED, which portrayed them as the
democratic movement. The State Department approached AIFLD, the
AFL-CIO affiliate with a notorious record of anti-labor activities
in the Third World, to join its efforts in Haiti "because
of the presence of radical labor unions and the high risk that
other unions may become radicalized." AIFLD joined in, expanding
the support it had given from 1984 to a union group run in part
by Duvalier's security police. In preparation for the elections,
NED extended its support to several other organizations, among
them a human rights organization headed by Jean-Jacques Honorat,
former Minister of Tourism under Duvalier and later an opponent
of his regime. By way of the right wing Puebla Institute, NED
also provided pre-election funding to Radio Soled, which had been
antiDuvalier but shifted well to the right under the influence
of the conservative Catholic hierarchy.
Following Aristide's victory, US funding
for political activities sharply increased, mainly through USAID.
According to Kenneth Roth, deputy director of Human Rights Watch,
the aid was intended to strengthen conservative groups that could
"act as an institutional check on Aristide," in an effort
to "move the country in a rightward direction." After
Aristide was overthrown and the elite returned to power, Honorat
became de facto Prime Minister under the military regime. The
popular organizations that supported Aristide were violently suppressed,
while those backed by NED and AID were spared. 12 One of the closest
observers of events in Haiti, Amy Wilentz, writes that Aristide's
brief term was "the first time in the post-Duvalier era that
the United States government has been so deeply concerned with
human rights and the rule of law in Haiti" (not that there
was more than rhetoric under the Duvaliers). The State Department
is reported to have "circulated a thick notebook filled with
alleged human rights violations" under Aristide-"something
it had not done under the previous rulers, Duvalierists and military
men," who were deemed proper recipients for aid, including
military aid, "based on unsubstantiated human-rights improvements":
During the four regimes that preceded
Aristide, international human rights advocates and democratic
observers had begged the State Department to consider helping
the democratic opposition in Haiti. But no steps were taken by
the United States to strengthen anything but the executive and
the military until Aristide won the presidency. Then, all of a
sudden, the United States began to think about how it could help
those Haitians eager to limit the powers of the executive or to
replace the government constitutionally.
USAID's huge "Democracy Enhancement"
project was "specifically designed to fund those sectors
of the Haitian political spectrum where opposition to the Aristide
government could be encouraged."
All absolutely normal, simply further
evidence that "democracy" and "human rights"
are regarded purely as power instruments, of no intrinsic value,
even dangerous and objectionable; precisely as any rational person
with some knowledge of history and institutions would expect.
Before deciding to run for office, Aristide
had observed that "Of course, the U.S. has its own agenda
here," adding that it was natural for the rich to make investments
and want to maximize return. "This is normal, capitalist
behavior, and I don't care if the U.S. wants to do it at home...
But it is monstrous to come down here and impose your will on
another people," whom you do not understand and for whom
you care nothing. "I cannot accept that Haiti should be whatever
the United States wants it to be." It's obvious why he had
There are few surprises here, well into
the post-Cold War era with its heralded New World Order.
Immediately after taking power on September
30, 1991, the army "embarked on a systematic and continuing
campaign to stamp out the vibrant civil society that has taken
root in Haiti since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship,"
Americas Watch reported in December. At least 1000 people were
killed in the first two weeks of the coup and hundreds more by
December, "generally reliable Haitian human rights groups"
estimated, though they knew little about what is happening in
the countryside, traditionally the locus of the worst atrocities.
Terror increased in the months that followed, particularly after
the reconstituted Macoutes were unleashed in late December. Tens,
perhaps hundreds of thousands are in hiding. Many regard the terror
as "worse than Papa Doc." "The goal of the repression
is twofold: first, to destroy the political and social gains made
since the downfall of the Duvalier dynasty; and second, to ensure
that no matter what Haiti's political future may hold, all structures
for duplicating those gains will have been laid waste." Accordingly,
unions and popular organizations were specifically targeted for
violent repression, and the "lively and combative radio stations-the
main form of communication with Haiti's dispersed and largely
illiterate population"-were suppressed. The rascal multitude
must remain dispersed and scattered, without unions or other popular
organizations through which they might act to formulate and express
their interests, and without independent means of communication
If it sounds familiar, that's because
it is. In the Haitis of the world, the means can be quite direct.
De facto Prime Minister Jean-Jacques Honorat
justified the  coup. "There is no relationship between
elections and democracy," he said. Haiti is being defamed
by foreign 'racists" in the press and French Embassy. It
is right to return Duvalier thugs to power as rural section chiefs
because "No society can exist without police." Along
with landholders, they "are taking revenge against those
who were persecuting them," notably priests, Christian base
communities, and the nonviolent Papaye Peasant Movement, who are
guilty of "terrorism." "The military was systematically
persecuted" by these elements, who believed "they could
do anything" under Aristide's rule, he informed the visiting
human rights delegation, blaming Aristide for the coup. When a
press conference of the Federation of Haitian Students at the
national university was attacked by armed soldiers, clubbing and
arresting participants, Honorat's wife "offered fifty of
the students their freedom if they taped a statement saying they
had been treated well in detention," Kenneth Roth reports.
"As Haitians began in early November to flee this violence
and persecution in large numbers," the Americas Watch report
continues, "the Bush Administration changed from an outspoken
proponent of human rights and democracy in Haiti to a shameful
apologist." The State Department "issued a fraudulent
opinion asserting that political persecution of Aristide's supporters
had ceased," providing 'rhetorical cover to the army's ongoing
campaign of repression" and laying the basis for the forcible
return of fleeing refugees to the terror of the coup regime. 'Evidently
fearful that continuing honest and outspoken criticism of military
abuses in Haiti would jeopardize the legal defense of its interdiction
efforts, which had come under challenge in U.S. courts, the Administration
stopped public criticism altogether. Since late October, Haiti
has been immune from censure by the State Department on human
The Bush Administration quickly 'distanced
itself from" deposed president Aristide "in light of
concerns over his human rights record," the press reported
with no detectable embarrassment; the White House "refused
to say that his return to power was a necessary precondition for
Washington to feel that democracy has been restored in Haiti"
(Thomas Friedman). The same day, the head of the OAS delegation
stated that "We have come down with an extremely clear mandate
that Aristide must be restored."
It was the notes sounded by Washington,
however, that reverberated in the press. Aristide was regarded
as 'an insular and menacing leader who saw his own raw popularity
as a substitute for the give and take of politics," Times
correspondent Howard French wrote. He governed "with the
aid of fear," leaning "heavily on Lavalas, an unstructured
movement of affluent idealists and long-exiled leftists"
whose model was China's Cultural Revolution-the Times version
of the "textbook example of participatory, 'bottom-up' and
democratic political development" depicted by the Council
on Hemispheric Affairs. Aristide's power hunger led to 'troubles
with civil society," another concept of Times-speak, excluding
the large majority of the population, which continued to support
him with passion and courage. Furthermore, 'Haitian political
leaders and diplomats say, the growing climate of vigilantism
as well as increasingly strident statements by Father Aristide
blaming the wealthier classes for the poverty of the masses encouraged"
the coup; such statements are outrageous and absurd, we are to
understand. "Although he retains much of the popular support
that enabled him to win 67 percent of the popular vote in the
country's December 1990 elections, Father Aristide was overthrown
in part because of concerns among politically active people over
his commitment to the Constitution, and growing fears of political
and class-based violence, which many believe the President endorsed."
As this well-informed correspondent knew,
the "political and class-based violence" was a near
monopoly of the military and the elite, whose "commitment
to the Constitution" was invisible and who turned at once
to terror to demolish the "politically active people"
and their organizations which were much too "structured"
and effective for the tastes of those who qualify as 'civil society"
by Administration- Times standards. What they call "civil
society" intends to retain their traditional power and privilege,
and the army, which, French assures us, "made it clear that
it had no desire to hold on to power," will doubtless be
happy to permit "civil society" to rule as in the past,
on condition that the army can "hang on to effective control
of the country and resume its highly lucrative activities such
as the transshipment of narcotics from South America to North
America" (Financial Times).
Ruminating on the dilemmas of the post-Cold
War era, the editor of Foreign Affairs, William Hyland, observed
that "In Haiti it has not been so easy to differentiate among
the democrats and the dictators"; the distinction between
Aristide, on the one hand, and Duvalier and his latter-day clones,
on the other, is too subtle even for the discriminating eye. It
should not be thought that Hyland is lacking inhuman concerns.
Our worthy commitment to "pragmatism," he warned, should
be tempered by the recognition that the US "owes a moral
debt to the people of Israel"; accordingly, we must not allow
policy to succumb to the "virulent antisemitism" that
lies "beneath the veneer of support for Israel," and
is "beginning to break through in the debate over Israeli
settlements." In Haiti, in contrast, it is hard to detect
anyone who might merit our support.
Commentators who found it possible to
distinguish Aristide from Papa Doc and the ruling generals hoped
that he would find some way to convince the White House of his
good faith. A visit to Washington, Pamela Constable wrote, might
"bolster his image as a reasonable leader committed to democracy
and thus win him a strong public endorsement by the Bush administration"-which,
surely, was holding back only because of its reservations on this
The OAS at once imposed an embargo, which
the US joined, suspending trade on October 29. It was denounced
by the ruling elite, and cheered by those who suffer most from
its effects. In the slums, "news of the O.A.S. embargo was
the only thing many people could find to cheer about as hundreds
of people squeezed into overloaded buses to the countryside to
flee the expected nightly violence by soldiers," Howard French
reported on October 9. Trade should be cut off, "anxious-looking
residents" told reporters: "It doesn't matter how much
misery we get. We'll die if necessary." Months later, the
mood remained the same. "Keep the Embargo" was the popular
refrain among the poor. "Titid [Aristide] gave us dignity
and hope... We are ready to suffer if it means Titid will come
All indications are that Aristide's massive popular support among
the poor majority... remains intact... It is difficult to find
anyone on the street, either in the capital or in the provinces,
who does not support the priest-turned-politician." His associates
bitterly condemned the US move. A priest who is a close adviser
to Aristide denounced Washington as having " totally"
betrayed him from the be-ginning." US policy, he said, is
"the most cynical thing you can ever find on earth... I don't
think the U.S. wants Aristide back," because he "is
not under their control. He is not their puppet."
The assessment is plausible enough. That
the US should have sought to establish "Duvalierism without
Duvalier" could surprise only the willfully blind. For similar
reasons, the Carter Administration sought desperately to institute
"Somocismo without Somoza" after its efforts to salvage
the tyrant collapsed, and its successor turned to more violent
means to achieve the same end, with the general approval of enlightened
opinion, tactical disagreement aside.
Superfluously perhaps, the priest's assessment
is reinforced by a leaked secret document allegedly authored by
a staff member of the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince at the behest
of Prime Minister Honorat and other Haitian officials. Its authenticity
was questioned by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), and
denied by the State Department, but "later research has now
validated [it] as being completely reliable," COHA concluded.
The document lays out a plan to allow a symbolic "restoration"
of Aristide as a PR ploy, with his complete removal later on,
when attention has declined.
By the time the document surfaced in January
1992, most of its applicable recommendations had been implemented,
COHA noted. Others were to follow shortly. The embargo was rendered
still more toothless on February 4. Three weeks later, Aristide
accepted what COHA described as "a near-total defeat for
Haitian democracy," "a tragic sell-out by a desperate
man" who was forced to agree to a "government of national
unity" in which he would have only a symbolic role. Aristide
"was effectively left with no option but to mutilate his
own stature by signing away his powers in exchange for the still
uncertain prospect of his restoration to what will now be a figurehead
presidency," COHA stated. The "national unity"
government brought together two partners: a group headed by René
Theodore, who represented 1.5 percent of the electorate, the Haitian
military and elite, and the US government; and another led by
Aristide, with 67 percent of the electorate but no other assets.
The military in Haiti celebrated the agreement, along with "civil
society." One Haitian Senator commented happily that "it
would be surrealistic to believe or to print that [Aristide] can
return by June 30, or any other specific date for that matter."
"The military thugs down there understand... that they have
got a nod and a wink from the U.S. government," Congressman
John Conyers said.
All that was left was to replace Theodore
by the original US favorite Marc Bazin. That result was achieved
in June 1992, when Bazin was inaugurated as Prime Minister. "The
Vatican and the Haitian bishops' conference... walked into the
National Palace and blessed Haiti's new army-backed government,"
the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) commented, though the Vatican
was alone in extending formal recognition. The Vatican had waited
until Aristide was exiled to fill the position of papal nuncio.
The formal recognition "shows they're really out to get Aristide
and to align themselves with Haiti's traditional powers-the army
and the bourgeoisie," a Western diplomat told NCR. Liberation
and human rights were a grand cause in Eastern Europe; in the
Caribbean and Central America, they must be crushed, in the service
of traditional privilege, and "the preferential option for
the poor" is definitely not welcome. Bazin delivered his
inauguration address in French to a "stifling official gathering
of men in dark suits and perfumed women in white dresses,"
Howard French reported; Aristide had given his in Creole, the
language of the population, receiving the presidential sash from
a peasant woman.
Democracy marches on.
An adviser of the Bazin government, echoing
Aristide, said that "all it would take is one phone call"
from Washington to send the army leadership packing. "Virtually
all observers agree" that little more would be necessary,
Howard French writes. But "Washington's deep-seated ambivalence
about a leftward-tilting nationalist whose style diplomats say
has sometimes been disquietingly erratic" precludes any meaningful
pressure. "Despite much blood on the army's hands, United
States diplomats consider it a vital counterweight to Father Aristide,
whose class-struggle rhetoric... threatened or antagonized traditional
power centers at home and abroad." The "counterweight"
will therefore hold power with the "erratic" nationalist
in exile, and class-struggle rhetoric and terror will continue
with the tacit support of traditional power centers.
The New York Times sought to place the
proper spin on the February 4 decision to advance the anti-Aristide
scenario and benefit US businesses. Under the headline "U.S.
Plans to Sharpen Focus of Its Sanctions Against Haiti," Barbara
Crossette reported from Washington that "The Bush Administration
said today that it would modify its embargo against Haiti's military
Government to punish anti-democratic forces and ease the plight
of workers who lost jobs because of the ban on trade." The
State Department would be "fine tuning" its economic
sanctions, the "latest move" in Administration efforts
to find "more effective ways to hasten the collapse of what
the Administration calls an illegal Government in Haiti."
The naive may find the logic a bit obscure: how the move punishes
the anti-democratic forces who applauded it, while easing the
plight of workers who strenuously opposed it, is left a mystery.
Until we translate from PC to English, that is. Then all is clear.
A more straightforward account appeared
a few days later in a report from Port-au-Prince under the heading:
"Democracy Push in Haiti Blunted: Leaders of Coup Gleeful
After U.S. Loosens Its Embargo and Returns Refugees." Howard
French writes that "the mood in army and political circles
began to turn from anxiety to confidence that the United States,
feeling no particular domestic pressure now from Haiti's problems,
would leave them in peace." The same day, the anniversary
of Aristide's inauguration, New York traffic was tied up by a
large protest march against the US actions, as in Miami. That
is not what is meant by "domestic pressure," however;
mostly black, the protestors merited little notice-though the
actions were reported in the Alaska press, where one could also
read the statement by Haiti's consul general in New York, who
said "There is a tacit collaboration between the Haitian
military and the State Department. The Americans will have the
last word. And the Americans don't want Aristide's return."
Time quoted a "disillusioned Republican congressional staffer"
who said, "The White House is banking on the fact that people
won't care. Politics, not principle, is the overriding consideration.
That much seems beyond dispute. For those
who choose to hear, the italicized words tell the story that is
solidly based on two centuries of history. Without popular support
here, Toussaint's tree of liberty will remain deeply buried, at
best a dream-not in Haiti alone.
Haiti / pigs
In 1978, US experts became concerned that swine fever in the Dominican
Republic might threaten the US pig industry. The US initiated
a $23 million extermination and restocking program aimed at replacing
all of the 1.3 million pigs in Haiti, which were among the peasants'
most important possessions, even considered a "bank account"
in case of need. Though some Haitian pigs had been found to be
infected, few had died, possibly because of their remarkable disease-resistance,
some veterinary experts felt. Peasants were skeptical, speculating
that the affair had been staged so that "Americans could
make money selling their pigs." The program was initiated
in 1982, well after traces of disease had disappeared. Two years
later, there were no pigs in Haiti.
Peasants regarded this as "the very
last thing left in the possible punishments that have afflicted
us." A Haitian economist described the enterprise as "the
worst calamity to ever befall the peasant," even apart from
the $600 million value of the destroyed livestock: "The real
loss to the peasant is incalculable... [The peasant economy] is
reeling from the impact of being without pigs. A whole way of
life has been destroyed in this survival economy." School
registration dropped 40-50 percent and sales of merchandise plummeted,
as the marginal economy collapsed. A USAID-OAS program then sent
pigs from Iowa-for many peasants, confirming their suspicions.
These were, however, to be made available only to peasants who
could show that they had the capital necessary to feed the new
arrivals arid to house them according to specifications. Unlike
the native Haitian pigs, the Iowa replacements often succumbed
to disease, and could survive only on expensive feed, at a cost
that ran up to $250 a year, a huge sum for impoverished peasants.
One predictable result was new fortunes for the Duvalier clique
and their successors who gained .control of the feed market.
GM, Firestone and Standard Oil vs. public
Between 1936 and 1950, National City Lines, a holding company
sponsored and funded by GM, Firestone, and Standard Oil of California,
bought out more than 100 electric surface-traction systems in
45 cities (including New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Salt Lake
City, Tulsa, and Los Angeles) to be dismantled and replaced with
GM buses... In 1949 GM and its partners were convicted in U.S.
district court in Chicago of criminal conspiracy in this matter
and fined $5,000." By the mid-1960s, one out of six business
enterprises was directly dependent on the motor vehicle industry.
[a woman's] "world is her husband,
her children, and her home."
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