The Victors:part I
by Noam Chomsky
Z Magazine, September, 1990
Few regions of the world have been so dominated by a great
power as Central America, which emerged from its usual oblivion
in the 1980s, moving to center stage as the traditional order
faced an unexpected challenge with the growth of popular movements,
inspired in part by the new orientation of the Church toward "a
preferential option for the poor" (Puebla Conference of Bishops,
1979). After decades of brutal repression and the destructive
impact of the U.S. aid programs of the 1960s -- an "economic
miracle" by statistical measures, a disaster for most of
the population -- the ground was prepared for meaningful democracy
and social change. The mood in Washington darkened further with
the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship and the defeat of his
murderous National Guard despite the best efforts of the Carter
administration, until the end, to ensure that it would retain
The reaction was vigorous and swift: violent repression, which
decimated popular organizations. The ranks of the small guerrilla
organizations swelled as state terror mounted. "The guerrilla
groups, the revolutionary groups, almost without exception began
as associations of teachers, associations of labor unions, campesino
unions, or parish organizations...." with practical and reformist
goals, ex-Ambassador Robert White testified before Congress in
1982. The same point has been made by the assassinated Salvadoran
Jesuit intellectual Father Ignacio Martin-Baro, among many others.
A decade later, the United States and its local allies could
claim substantial success. The challenge to the traditional order
was effectively contained. The misery of the vast majority had
deepened while the power of the military and the privileged sectors
was enhanced behind a facade of democratic forms. Some 200,000
people had been killed, most of them slaughtered outright in a
paroxysm of sadistic terror conducted by the forces armed, trained,
and advised by the United States. Countless others were maimed,
tortured, "disappeared," driven from their homes. The
people, the communities, the environment were devastated, possibly
beyond repair. It is truly a grand victory.
Elite reaction in the United States is one of gratification
and relief. "For the first time, all five of the countries
are led by presidents who were elected in contests widely considered
free and fair," Washington Post Central America correspondent
Lee Hockstader reports from Guatemala City, expressing the general
satisfaction over the victory of "conservative politicians"
in elections which, we are to understand, took place on a level
playing field with no use of force and no foreign influence. It
is true, he continues, that "conservative politicians in
Central America traditionally represented the established order,"
defending the wealthy"despite their countries' grossly distorted
income patterns." "But the wave of democracy that has
swept the region in recent years appears to be shifting politicians'
priorities," so the bad old days are gone forever.
The student of American history and culture will recognize
the familiar moves. Once again, we witness the miraculous change
of course that occurs whenever some particularly brutal excesses
of the state have been exposed. Hence all of history, and the
reasons for its persistent character, may be dismissed as irrelevant,
while we march forward, leading our flock to a new and better
The Post news report does not merely assert that the new conservatives
are dedicated populists, unlike those whom the U.S. used to support
in the days of its naivete and inadvertent error, now thankfully
behind us. Serious journalistic standards require evidence for
this central claim, and it is indeed provided. The shift of priorities
to a welcome populism is demonstrated by the outcome of the conference
of the five presidents in Antigua, Guatemala, just completed.
The presidents, all "committed to free-market economics,"
have abandoned worthless goals of social reform, Hockstader explains.
"Neither in the plan nor in the Declaration of Antigua' was
there any mention of land reform or suggestion of new government
social welfare programs to help the poor." Rather, they are
adopting "a trickle-down approach to aid the poor."
"The idea is to help the poor without threatening the basic
power structure," a regional economist observes, contemplating
these imaginative new ideas on how to pursue our vocation of serving
the suffering masses.
The headline reads "Central Americans to use Trickle-down
Strategy in War on Poverty." Quite properly, the headline
captures the basic thrust of the news story and the assumption
that frames it: aiding the poor is the highest priority of this
new breed of populist conservatives, as it always has been for
Washington and the political culture generally. The only question
is how to achieve this noble aim. That this has always been our
fervent commitment is a doctrine so obviously valid that it need
not be supported with any evidence or argument, or even formulated
explicitly. It is merely presupposed, and we go on from there.
What is newsworthy, and so promising, is the populism of the conservatives
we support, and their ingenious and startlingly innovative approach
to our traditional commitment to help the poor and suffering:
a trickle-down strategy of enriching the wealthy -- a "preferential
option for the rich," overcoming the errors of the Puebla
Conference of Bishops.
One participant in the meeting is quoted as saying that "These
past 10 years have been gruesome for poor people, they've taken
a beating." Putting aside the conventions, one might observe
that the political outcomes hailed as a triumph of democracy are
in no small measure a tribute to the efficacy of U.S. terror,
and that the presidents who hold formal power, and their sponsors,
might have had something other than a war on poverty in mind.
There is also a history of trickle-down approaches to relieving
poverty that might be explored. Such an inquiry might lead us
to expect that the next 10 years will be no less gruesome for
the poor. But that path is not pursued, here or elsewhere in the
The Post story captures well the character and dimensions
of the U.S. victory. The satisfaction among the important people
is readily understandable.
While the three-day conference of populist conservatives was
taking place in Antigua, 33 tortured, bullet-riddled bodies were
discovered in Guatemala. They did not disturb the celebration
over the triumph of freedom and democracy, or even make the news.
Nor did the rest of the 125 bodies, half with signs of torture,
found throughout the country that month, according to the Guatemalan
Human Rights Commission. The Commission identified 79 as victims
of "extrajudicial execution" by the security forces.
Another 29 were kidnapped and 49 injured in kidnap attempts. The
report comes to us from Mexico, where the Commission is based
so that human rights workers can survive now that the U.S. has
succeeded in establishing democracy in Guatemala.3
In the Costa Rican journal Mesoamerica, a report on the Antigua
meeting observes that "Now that the Sandinistas have been
successfully booted out of office, the pervading attitude among
regional and U.S. leaders with respect to the Esquipulas peace
mission accomplished'." The core sections of the Central
America accords that call for social justice and respect for human
rights had been long been consigned to the ashcan, as intended
by Oscar Arias and his U.S. sponsors in high places, who, along
with the elite political culture generally, revealed by their
actions their actual attitudes towards the savage atrocities conducted
under the aegis of those with the right priorities.4
The U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean
(CEPAL) reports that the percentage of the Guatemalan population
living in extreme poverty increased rapidly after the establishment
of democracy in 1985, from 45% in that year to 76% in 1988. A
study by the Nutritional Institute of Central America and Panama
(INCAP) estimates that half the population live under conditions
of extreme poverty, and that in rural areas, where the situation
is worse, 13 out of every 100 children under five die of illnesses
related to malnutrition. Other studies estimate that 20,000 Guatemalans
die of hunger every year, that more than 1000 children died of
measles alone in the first four months of 1990, and that "the
majority of Guatemala's four million children receive no protection
at all, not even for the most elemental rights." The Communique
of the January 1990 Conference of Guatemalan Bishops reviews the
steady deterioration of the critical situation of the mass of
the population as "theeconomic crisis has degenerated into
a social crisis" and human rights, even "the right to
dignity," "do not exist."
Throughout the region, the desperate situation of the poor
majority has become still more grave with the progress of democracy,
American-style. Three weeks before the Antigua conference, in
his homily marking the completion of President Alfredo Cristiani's
first year in office, Archbishop Rivera y Damas of San Salvador
deplored the policies of his administration, which have worsened
the already desperate plight of the poor; the conservative populist
so admired in Washington and New York "is working to maintain
the system," the Archbishop said, "favoring a market
economy which is making the poor yet poorer."
In the neighboring countries, the situation is much the same.
A few days after the encouraging Washington Post report on the
Antigua meeting, an editorial in a leading Honduran journal appeared
under the headline "Misery is increasing in Honduras because
of the economic adjustment," referring to the new trickle-down
strategy that the Post found so promising -- actually the traditional
strategy, its lethal features now more firmly entrenched. The
main victims are "the usual neglected groups: children, women,
and the aged," according to the conclusions of an academic
seminar on "Social Policy in the Context of Crisis,"
confirmed by "the Catholic Church, the unions, several political
parties, and noted economists and statisticians of the country."
Two-thirds of the population live below the poverty line, over
half of these below the level of "dire need." Unemployment,
undernourishment, and severe malnutrition are increasing.
The Pan American Health Organization estimates that of 850,000
children born every year in Central America, 100,000 will die
before the age of five and two-thirds of those who survive will
suffer from malnutrition, with attendant physical or mental development
problems. The Inter-American Development Bank reports that per
capita income has fallen to the level of 1971 in Guatemala, 1961
in El Salvador, 1973 in Honduras, 1960 in Nicaragua, 1974 in Costa
Rica, and 1982 in Panama.
Nicaragua was an exception to this trend of increasing misery,
but the U.S. terrorist attack and economic warfare succeeded in
reversing earlier gains. Nevertheless, infant mortality halved
over the decade, from 128 to 62 deaths per thousand births; "Such
a reduction is exceptional on the international level," a
UNICEF official said in 1989, "especially when the country's
war-ravaged economy is taken into account."
Studies by CEPAL, the World Health Organization, and others
"cast dramatic light on the situation," Mexico's leading
They reveal that 15 million Central Americans, almost 60%
of the population, live in poverty, of whom 9.7 million live in
"extreme poverty." Severe malnutrition is rampant among
children. 75% of the peasants in Guatemala, 60% in El Salvador,
40% in Nicaragua, and 35% in Honduras lack health care. To make
matters worse, Washington has applied "stunning quotas on
sugar, beef, cocoa, cheese, textiles, and limestone, as well as
compensation laws and antidumping' policies in cement, flowers,
and operations of cellulose and glass." The EEC and Japan
have followed suit, also imposing harmful protectionist measures.
The environment has shared the fate of those who people it.
Deforestation, soil erosion, pesticide poisoning, and other forms
of environmental destruction, increasing through the 1980s, are
traceable in large measure to the development model imposed upon
the region and U.S. militarization of it in recent years. Intense
exploitation of resources by agribusiness and export-oriented
production have enriched wealthy sectors and their foreign sponsors,
and led to statistical growth, with a devastating impact on the
land and the people. In El Salvador, large areas have become virtual
wastelands as the military has sought to undermine the peasant
base of the guerrillas by extensive bombardment, and by forest
and crop destruction. There have been occasional efforts to stem
the ongoing catastrophe. Like the Arbenz government overthrown
in the CIA-run coup that restored the military regime in Guatemala,
the Sandinistas initiated a series of environmental reforms and
protections. These were desperately needed, both in the countryside
and near Managua, where industrial plants had been permitted to
dump waste freely. The most notorious case was the U.S. Penwalt
corporation, which poured mercury into Lake Managua until 1981.
As in Guatemala 30 years before, these efforts to depart from
what the Washington Post approvingly calls "the Central American
mode" were satisfactorily overcome by U.S. terror and economic
The foreign-imposed development model has emphasized "nontraditional
exports" in recent years. Under the free market conditions
approved for defenseless Third World countries, the search for
survival and gain will naturally lead to products that maximize
profit, whatever the consequences. Coca production has soared
in the Andes and elsewhere for this reason, but there are other
examples as well. After the discovery of clandestine "human
farms" and "fattening houses" for children in Honduras
and Guatemala, Dr. Luis Genaro Morales, president of the Guatemalan
Pediatric Association, said that child trafficking "is becoming
one of the principal nontraditional export products," generating
$20 million of business a year. The International Human Rights
Federation (IHRF), after an inquiry in Guatemala, gave a more
conservative estimate, reporting that about 300 children are kidnapped
every year, taken to secret nurseries, then sold for adoption
at about $10,000 per child.
The IHRF investigators could not confirm reports that organs
of babies were being sold to foreign buyers. This macabre belief
is widely held in the region, however. A few weeks earlier, the
Honduran journal Tiempo reported that the Paraguayan police rescued
7 Brazilian babies from a gang that "intended to sacrifice
them to organ banks in the United States, according to a charge
in the courts." The same journal reported shortly after that
an Appeals Judge in Honduras ordered "a meticulous investigation
into the sale of Honduran children for the purpose of using their
organs for transplant operations." A year earlier, the Secretary
General of the National Council of Social Services, which is in
charge of adoptions, had reported that Honduran children "were
being sold to the body traffic industry" for organ transplant.
"Fattening houses" for children had been found in San
Pedro Sula and elsewhere.
A Resolution on the Trafficking of Central American Children,
approved by the European Parliament two months later (November
1988), alleged that near a "human farm" in San Pedro
Sula, infant corpses were found that "had been stripped of
one or a number of organs." At another "human farm"
in Guatemala, babies ranging from 11 days old to four months old
had been found. The director of the farm, at the time of his arrest,
declared that the children "were sold to American or Israeli
families whose children needed organ transplants at the cost of
$75,000 per child," the Resolution continues, expressing
"its horror in the light of the facts" and calling for
investigation and preventive measures.
As the region sinks into further misery, these reports continue
to appear. In July 1990, a right-wing Honduran daily, under the
headline "Loathsome Sale of Human Flesh," reported that
police in El Salvador had discovered a group, headed by a lawyer,
that was buying children to resell in the United States. An estimated
20,000 children disappear every year in Mexico, the report continues,
destined for this end or for use in criminal activities such as
transport of drugs "inside their bodies." "The
most gory fact, however, is that many little ones are used for
transplant [of organs] to children in the U.S.," which may
account for the fact that the highest rate of kidnapping of children
from infants to 18-year-olds is in the Mexican regions bordering
on the United States.
The one exception to the Central America horror story has
been Costa Rica, set firmly on a course of state-guided development
by the Jose Figueres coup of 1948, with welfare measures combined
with harsh repression of labor, and virtual elimination of the
armed forces. The U.S. has always kept a wary eye on this deviation
from the regional standards, despite the welcome suppression of
labor and the favorable conditions for foreign investors. In the
1980s, U.S. pressures to dismantle the social democratic features
and restore the army elicited bitter complaints from Figueres
and others who shared his commitments. While Costa Rica continues
to stand apart from the region in political and economic development,
the signs of what the Central Americanization' of Costa Rica"
Under the pressure of a huge debt, Costa Rica has been compelled
to follow "the preferential option for the rich": the
IMF model of free market capitalism designed for the Third World,
with austerity for the poor, cutback in social programs, and benefits
for domestic and foreign investors. The results are coming in.
By statistical measures, the economy is relatively strong. But
more than 25% of the population -- 715,000 people -- live in poverty,
100,000 in extreme poverty, according to a study published by
the ultra-right journal La Nacion (one feature of Costa Rican
democracy being a monopoly of the Spanish language media by the
extreme right sectors of the business community). A study by the
Gallup office in Costa Rica published in Prensa Libre gives even
higher figures, concluding that "approximately one million
people cannot afford a minimum diet, nor pay for clothing, education
or health care."
The neoliberal economic policies of the 1980s increased social
discontent and labor tensions, Excelsior reports, evoking an "intense
attack by unionists, popular organizations," and others against
the Arias administration, which has implemented these measures
in conformity with U.S. demands and the priorities of privileged
sectors. Church sources report that "the belt-tightening
measures of the 1980s, which included the elimination of subsidies,
low interest credit, price supports and government assistance
programs, have driven many campesinos and small farmers off their
land," leading to many protests. The Bishop of Limon issued
a pastoral letter deploring the social deterioration and "worsening
of the problems" to which "banana workers, in great
majority immigrants from rural settings where they were property
owners, have been subject." He also deplored the harsh labor
code and government policies that enabled the growers to purge
union leaders and otherwise undermine workers' rights, and the
deforestation and pollution the companies have caused, with government
Environmental degradation is serious here as well, including
rapid deforestation and sedimentation that has severely effected
virtually every major hydroelectric project. Environmental studies
reveal that 42% of Costa Rica's soil shows signs of severe erosion.
"Top soil is Costa Rica's largest export," the Vice-Minister
of Natural Resources commented. Expanding production for export
and logging have destroyed forests, particularly the cattle boom
of the 1960s and 1970s promoted by the government, international
banks and corporations, and the U.S. aid program, which also undermined
food production for domestic needs, as elsewhere in Central America.
Environmentalists blame government and business for "ecological
illiteracy" -- more accurately, pursuit of profit without
regard for externalities, as prescribed in the capitalist model.
Submissiveness to these demands has yet to meet the exacting
standards of the international guardians of business rights. The
IMF suspended assistance to Costa Rica in February 1990, cancelling
credits. U.S. aid is also falling, now that there is no longer
any need to buy Costa Rica's cooperation in the anti-Sandinista
Economic constraints and foreign pressures have narrowed the
political system in the approved manner. In the 1990 elections,
the two candidates had virtually identical (pro-business) programs,
in accord with "Central American mode" approved by U.S.
liberal doctrine, and were highly supportive of U.S. policies
in the region ("right on the mark," the eventual victor,
Rafael Angel Calderon, declared in a debate sponsored by the business
federation). The Central Americanization of Costa Rica is also
revealed by the increasing repression through the 1980s. From
1985, the Costa Rican Human Rights Commission (CODEHU) reported
torture, arbitrary arrest, harassment of campesinos and workers,
and other abuses by the security forces, including a dramatic
rise in illegal detentions and arrests. It links the growing wave
of abuses to the increasing militarization of the police and security
forces, some of whom have been trained in U.S. and Taiwanese military
schools. These charges were supported further when an underground
torture chamber was found in the building of the Costa Rican Special
Police (OIJ), where prisoners were beaten and subjected to electric
shock treatment, including torture of a pregnant woman who aborted
and electric shock administered to a 13-year-old child to elicit
a false confession. CODEHU alleges that 13 people have died in
similar incidents since 1988. "Battered by charges of corruption
and drug trafficking, the Arias administration receives another
blow to its diminishing reputation as a bulwark of democracy"
from these revelations, the Central America Report observed.
Arias's image "is about to be tarnished" further,
according to reports from San Jose that investigators of the Legislative
Drug Commission discovered that he had received a check for $50,000
for his campaign fund from Ocean Hunter Seafood, but had put it
in his personal bank account. This Miami-based company and its
Costa Rican affiliate, Frigarificos de Puntarenas, were identified
by U.S. Congressional investigators as a drug trafficking operation.21
I leave it to the reader to imagine Mark Uhlig's sardonic story
in the New York Times if something similar were hinted about a
minor Sandinista official, however flimsy the evidence.
According to official government figures, the security budget
increased 15% in 1988 and 13% in 1989 (spending on education rose
less than half that much). The press has reported training of
security officers in Fort Benning, Georgia, and U.S. bases in
Panama, and a Taiwanese military academy, as well as by Israeli
secret police, the army of El Salvador, the Guatemalan army special
forces, and others. Fifteen private paramilitary, vigilante, and
security organizations have been identified, with extreme nationalist
and right-wing agendas. A member of the special commission of
the legislature set up to investigate these matters described
the police as an "army in disguise...out of control."
The executive secretary of Costa Rica's Human Rights Commission,
Sylvia Porras, noted that "the psychological profile of the
police has changed as a result of military training," adding
that "we cannot talk any longer of a civilian police force.
What we have now is a hidden army."
Annual U.S. military aid in the 1980s shot up to about 18
times what it had been from 1946 through 1979. U.S. pressures
to rebuild the security forces, reversing the Figueres reforms,
have been widely regarded as a factor in the drift towards the
Central American mode. The role of Oscar Arias has evoked particular
ridicule South of the border. After an Arias article in the New
York Times piously calling on Panama to follow the Costa Rican
model and abolish the army, the well-known Mexican writer Gregorio
Selser published a review of some Costa Rican realities, beginning
with the violent repression of a peaceful demonstration of landless
campesinos in September 1986 by Arias's Civil Guard, with many
serious injuries. The absence of an army in Costa Rica, he alleges,
has become largely a matter of semantics; different words for
the same things. He cites an Arias decree of August 5, 1987 --
just at the moment of the signing of the Esquipulas accords that
brought him a Nobel Peace prize -- establishing a professional
army in all but name, with the full array of ranks and structure;
and a 1989 CODEHU report on the training of hundreds of men in
military academies of the U.S., Taiwan, Honduras, Guatemala and
Little of this has ever reached the United States, except
far from the mainstream. In the context of the Drug War, however,
some notice has been taken. An editorial in the Miami Herald on
"Costa Rica's anguish" cites the comments by Sylvia
Porras quoted above on the effects of U.S. military training,
which has changed the "psychological profile" of the
civilian police, turning them to "a camouflaged army."
The judgment is not "hyperbole," the editorial concludes,
attributing the rapid growth of the army and the recent killing
of civilians by the security forces to the Nicaraguan conflict
and the drug war -- but with no mention of U.S. pressures, following
the norms of the Free Press.
Good Intentions Gone Awry
We may conclude this survey of the triumph of free market
capitalism in Central America with a look at Panama, recently
liberated by Operation Just Cause.
In the months following the liberation, the successful affair
largely disappeared from view,25 the normal pattern. U.S. goals
had been achieved, the triumph had been properly celebrated, and
there was little more to say except to record subsequent progress
towards freedom, democracy, and good fortune -- or, if that strains
credulity, to produce occasional musings on how the best of intentions
go awry when we have such poor human material to work with.
Central American sources continued to give considerable attention
to the impact of the invasion on civilians, but they were ignored
in the occasional reviews of the matter here. New York Times correspondent
Larry Rohter devoted a column to casualty estimates on April 1,
citing figures as high as 673 killed, and adding that higher figures,
which he attributes only to Ramsey Clark, are "widely rejected"
in Panama. He found Panamanian witnesses who described U.S. military
actions as restrained, but none with less happy tales.
Among the many readily accessible sources deemed unworthy
of mention in the Times (and the media generally), we find such
examples as the following.
The Mexican press reported that two Catholic Bishops estimated
deaths at perhaps 3000. Hospitals and nongovernmental human rights
groups estimated deaths at over 2000.
A joint delegation of the Costa Rica-based Central American
Human Rights Commission (CODEHUCA) and the Panamanian Human Rights
Commission (CONADEHUPA) published the report of its January 20-30
inquiry, based on numerous interviews. It concluded that "the
human costs of the invasion are substantially higher than the
official U.S. figures" of 202 civilians killed, reaching
2-3000 according to "conservative estimates." Eyewitnesses
interviewed in the urban slums report that U.S. helicopters aimed
their fire at buildings with only civilian occupants, that a U.S.
tank destroyed a public bus killing 26 passengers, that civilian
residences were burned to the ground with many apartments destroyed
and many killed, that U.S. troops shot at ambulances and killed
wounded, some with bayonets, and denied access to the Red Cross.
The Catholic and Episcopal Churches gave estimates of 3000 dead
as "conservative." Civilians were illegally detained,
particularly union leaders and those considered "in opposition
to the invasion or nationalistic." "All the residences
and offices of the political sectors that oppose the invasion
have been searched and much of them have been destroyed and their
valuables stolen." The U.S. imposed severe censorship. Human
rights violations under Noriega had been "unacceptably high,"
the report continues, though of course "mild compared with
the record of U.S.-supported regimes in Guatemala and El Salvador."
But the U.S invasion "caused an unprecedented level of deaths,
suffering, and human rights abuses in Panama." The title
of the report is: "Panama: More than an invasion, ...a massacre."
Since its topic is not Kuwait, the report passed without notice
Sources at the University of Panama estimated at least 5000
dead; the head of the School of Public Administration at the University
condemned the U.S. army's "iron control [which] will not
allow access to any Panamian institution to find out the correct
number of casualties."
Physicians for Human Rights, with the concurrence of Americas
Watch, reached tentative casualty figures higher than those given
by the Pentagon but well below those of COHUDECA-CONADEHUPA and
others in Panama. Their estimate is about 300 civilians killed.
Americas Watch also gives a "conservative estimate"
of at least 3000 wounded, concluding further that civilian deaths
were four times as great as military deaths in Panama, and over
ten times as high as U.S. casualties (officially given as 23;
the U.S. military estimated civilian deaths at 202). They ask:
"How does `surgical operation' result in almost ten civilians
killed (by official U.S. count) for every American military casualty?"
By September, the count of bodies exhumed from several of the
mass graves had passed 600.
Excavation of mass graves meanwhile continues. By September,
the count of bodies found in these graves alone had reached well
The COHUDECA-CONADEHUPA report emphasizes that a great deal
is uncertain, because of the violent circumstances, the incineration
of bodies, and the lack of records for persons buried in common
graves without having reached morgues or hospitals, according
to eyewitnesses. note: See CODEHUCA letter to Americas Watch,
June 5, 1990, commenting on the Americas Watch report.} Its reports,
and the many others of which a few have been cited here, may or
may not be accurate. A media decision to ignore them, however,
reflects not professional standards but a commitment to power.
On September 30, some of this information finally broke into
the mainstream media in a television report by CBS news ("60
minutes").32 Pictures of mass graves were shown, and a Panamanian
woman who had worked for months to have a few of them opened and
the remains identified, exhausting her own resources in the process,
estimated civilian deaths at perhaps 4000. The CBS investigation
also revealed new information: secret U.S. army reports estimating
1000 civilians killed -- not the 202 that were officially reported
-- and urging that damage claims not be considered because the
number might mount too high. There was also a (rare) report of
thousands of Panamanians protesting against the U.S. invasion
While Larry Rohter's visits to the slums destroyed by U.S.
bombardment located only celebrants, or critics of U.S. "insensitivity"
at worst, others found a rather different picture. Mexico's leading
newspaper reported in April that Rafael Olivardia, refugee spokesman
for the 15,000 refugees of the devastated El Chorrillo neighborhood,
"said that the El bloodbath' during and after saw North American
tanks roll over the dead' during the invasion that left a total
of more than 2000 dead and thousands injured, according to unofficial
figures." "You only live once," Olivardia said,
"and if you must die fighting for an adequate home, then
the U.S. soldiers should complete the task they began" on
The Spanish language press in the United States was less celebratory
and deferential than its colleagues. Vicky Pelaez reports from
Panama that "the entire world continues in ignorance about
how the thousands of victims of the Northamerican invasion of
Panama died and what kinds of weapons were used, because the Attorney-General
of the country refuses to permit investigation of the bodies buried
in the common graves." An accompanying photo shows workmen
exhuming corpses from a grave containing "almost 200 victims
of the invasion." Quoting a woman who found the body of her
murdered father, Pelaez reports that "just like the woman
vox populi' in Panama that the Northamericans used completely
unknown armaments during the 20 December invasion." Olga
Mejia, President of Panamanian Human Rights, informed the journal
that "They converted Panama into a laboratory of horror.
Here, they first experimented with methods of economic strangulation;
then they successfully used a campaign of disinformation at the
international level. But it was in the application of the most
modern war technology that they demonstrated infernal mastery."
The CODEHUCA-CONADEHUPA report also alleges that "the U.S.
Army used highly sophisticated weapons -- some for the first time
in combat -- against unarmed civilian populations," and "in
many cases no distinction was made between civilian and military
One case of "highly sophisticated weapons" did receive
some attention. F-117A stealth fighters were used in combat for
the first time, dropping 2000-lb. bombs with time-delay mechanisms
in a large open field near an airstrip and barracks that housed
an elite PDF battalion. The Air Force had kept this plane under
close wraps, refusing to release cost or performance data about
it. "There were conflicting reports as to the rationale for
employing the sophisticated aircraft, which cost nearly $50 million
apiece, to conduct what appeared to be a simple operation,"
Aviation Week & Space Technology reported. The Panamanian
air force has no fighters and no military aircraft were stationed
permanently at the base that was attacked. Its only known air
defenses "were a pair of aging small caliber antiaircraft
guns." An American aeronautical engineering consultant and
charter operator in Panama said he was "astonished"
to learn of the use of the F-117A, pointing out that the target
attacked did not even have radar: "They could have bombed
it with any other aircraft and not been noticed." The aerospace
journal cites Defense Secretary Dick Cheney's claim that the aircraft
were used "because of its great accuracy," then suggesting
its own answer to the puzzle: "By demonstrating the F-117A's
capability to operate in low-intensity conflicts, as well as its
intended mission to attack heavily defended Soviet targets, the
operation can be used by the Air Force to justify the huge investment
made in stealth technology" to "an increasingly skeptical
A similar conclusion was reached, more broadly, by Col. (Ret.)
David Hackworth, a former combat commander who is one of the nation's
most decorated soldiers. He described the Panama operation as
technically efficient, though in his judgment "100 Special
Forces guys" would have sufficed to capture Noriega, and
"this big operation was a Pentagon attempt to impress Congress
just when they're starting to cut back on the military."
Other evidence lends credibility to these suggestions, including
the White House National Security Strategy report presented to
Congress in March 1990.35
If these were indeed among the motives for the exercise, they
may have suffered a slight setback when it turned out that one
of the stealth fighter-bombers had missed its undefended target
by more than 300 yards, despite its "great accuracy."
Defense Secretary Cheney ordered an inquiry.
The nature of the U.S. victory became clearer, along predictable
lines, in the following months. Its character is described by
Andres Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald in June, under the heading
"Panama Flirts with Economic Recovery" -- that is, recovery
from the depths to which it was plunged by illegal U.S. economic
warfare, then invasion and occupation. But there is a qualification:
"Six months after the U.S. invasion, Panama is showing signs
of growing prosperity -- at least for the largely white-skinned
business class that has regained its influence after more than
two decades of military rule," the small minority of important
people. The luxury shops are again full of goods, and "Panama's
nightlife is also perking up" as "foreign tourists,
mostly U.S. businessmen, can be seen most evenings sipping martinis
in the lobbies of the biggest hotels," which are sometimes
"booked solid -- a contrast to the moribund atmosphere there
before the invasion." Newspapers are filled with ads from
department stores, banks, and insurance firms. "The upper
class and the middle classes are doing great," a Western
European diplomat observes: "They had the money in U.S. bank
accounts and are bringing it back to the country. But the poor
are in bad shape, because the government is bankrupt and can't
help them." "The Catholic Church has begun to denounce
what it sees as a lack of government concern for the poor,"
Oppenheimer continues. An editorial in a Church weekly "lashed
out at authorities for devoting their energies to helping the
private sector while breaking their original promises not to fire
low-income public workers."
Chalk up another victory for capitalism and democracy.
On August 2, the Catholic bishops of Panama issued a pastoral
letter condemning U.S. "interference in the country's internal
affairs" and denouncing the December invasion as "a
veritable tragedy in the annals of the country's history."
The statement also condemned Washington's failure to provide aid
to the people who continue to suffer from the invasion, and criticized
the government for ignoring their plight. Their protest appears
in the Guatemala City Central America Report under the heading
"Church Raises Its Voice" -- though not loudly enough
to be heard in Washington and New York. The same report quotes
the Mexican daily Excelsior on U.S. military maneuvers in the
mountains of Panama, and the high visibility of U.S. troops throughout
the capital and other areas of the country.
In April, President Endara had appointed a commission (the
Panamanian Commission for National Reconstruction) to deal with
the problem of reconstructing the economy that had been devastated
by the U.S. economic sanctions, then the invasion and its aftermath.
Its report, issued in August, proposed a three-point plan: a truce,
political amnesty, and the end of "occupation of the State
and its territory" by U.S. troops. Special emphasis was placed
on the consequences of the U.S. invasion, and the demand for the
end to the military occupation and reestablishment of Panamanian
In the British journal Race and Class, Joy James reviews some
relevant history. The White (European) sector, which owns most
of the land and resources, is estimated at about 8% of the population.
The "two decades of military rule" to which the Miami
Herald refers had some other characteristics as well. The Torrijo
dictatorship had a populist character, which largely ended after
his death in 1981 in an airplane accident (with various charges
about the cause), and the subsequent Noriega takeover. During
this period, Blacks, Mestizo, and Indigenous Panamanians gained
their first share of power, and economic and land reforms were
undertaken. In these two decades, infant mortality declined from
40% to less than 20% and life expectancy increased by nine years.
New hospitals, health centers, houses, schools and universities
were built, and more doctors, nurses and teachers were trained.
Indigenous communities were granted autonomy and protection for
their traditional lands, to an extent unmatched in the hemisphere.
For the first time, Panama moved to an independent foreign policy,
still alive in the 1980s to an extent, as Panama participated
in the Contadora peace efforts (one of the main reasons why Noriega
was transmuted from good guy to devil). The Canal Treaty was signed
in 1977, theoretically awarding control over the Canal to Panama
by the year 2000, though the prospects are doubtful. The Reagan
administration took the position that "when the Carter-Torrijos
treaties are being renegotiated" -- an eventuality taken
for granted -- "the prolongation of the US military presence
in the Panama Canal area till well after the year 2000 should
be brought up for discussion" (State Department).
The post-invasion moves to place Panamanian military forces
under U.S. control may be motivated by more than just the normal
commitment to this doctrine. It will probably be argued that Panama
is not in a position to defend the Canal as the Treaty requires,
so that U.S. bases must be retained.
The U.S. sanctions largely dismantled the reforms of the Torrijo
period. Poverty rose rapidly, and the unions virtually collapsed.
The invasion and the U.S. post-invasion rule are likely to administer
the coup de grace to these populist efforts.
In August, government economists warned that more than 300,000
Panamanians are unemployed or underemployed, some 40% of the population.
One leading economist and former high government planning official
reported that 44% of the population lives in poverty, 24% in "extreme
poverty," and that 93,800 infants and pre-school children
live "in misery," while 35% of infants are malnourished.
To check rising unemployment, he estimates, 190,000 jobs new jobs
will be needed this year alone.
The problems faced by the usual victims are described out
of the mainstream by labor journalist Daphne Wysham. She reports
that the U.S. invasion virtually completed the destruction of
the Panamanian trade unions. The general secretary of the Inter-American
Regional Organization of Workers (ORIT), Luis Anderson, condemned
the invading troops for arresting three top Panamanian labor leaders.
"Many union offices have been raided and sacked. The journalists
union has been banned." These steps by the occupying forces
are part of a more general attack on independent politics. In
an interview before the invasion, one Panamian labor leader later
detained by U.S. troops reported that he and other union leaders
were informed by the State Department that they were on a list
of people who would be eliminated if they didn't "get their
feet in support of the opposition" to Noriega. Union activists
interviewed by Joy James report similar pre-invasion threats by
the AFL-CIO, which, they say, is now working to create a new "parallel
organization" that will be better-behaved, following its
traditional union-busting policies..
Teresa Guttierez, a spokesperson for former U.S. Attorney-General
Ramsey Clark, who heads a Panamanian inquiry commission, reports
that new labor laws disallow the right to hold union meetings,
the right to protest, and the right to strike, and that trade
unionists are rounded up on a regular basis and held without charges.
The same picture emerges from the occasional reports in the
mainstream media. Pamela Constable reports that "bankers
and business owners" find that things are looking up, though
"a mood of anger and desperation permeates the underclass"
in "the blighted shantytowns." Vice-president Guillermo
Ford says that "The stores have reopened 100 percent, and
the private sector is very enthusiastic. I think we're on the
road to a very solid future." Under his "proposed recovery
program," public enterprises would be sold off, "the
labor code would be revised to allow easier dismissal of workers
and tax-free export factories would be set up to lure foreign
Business leaders "are bullish on Ford's ideas,"
Constable continues. In contrast, "Labor unions are understandably
wary of these proposals," but "their power has become
almost negligible" with "massive dismissals of public
workers who supported Noriega and the unprecedented jobless rate."
The U.S. emergency aid package approved by Congress is intended
largely "to make back payments on Panama's foreign debt and
shore up its creditworthiness with foreign lending institutions";
in translation: it is a taxpayer subsidy to international banks,
foreign investors, and the important people in Panama. The thousands
of refugees from El Chorillo, now living in what some of them
call "a concentration camp," will not be returning to
the devastated slum. The original owners, who had long wanted
"to transform this prime piece of real estate into a posher
district," may now be able to do so. Noriega had stood in
the way of these plans, allowing the poor to occupy housing there
rent-free. But by bombing the neighborhood into rubble and then
levelling the charred ruins with bulldozers, U.S. forces overcame
"that ticklish legal and human obstacle" to these intentions,
With unemployment skyrocketing, nearly half the population
cannot meet essential food needs. Crime has quadrupled. Aid is
designated for businesses and foreign banks (debt repayment).
It could be called the "Central Americanization" of
Panama, correspondent Brook Larmer aptly observes in the Christian
The U.S. occupying forces continue to leave little to chance.
The Mexican journal Excelsior reports that the U.S. forces have
established direct control over ministries and public institutions.
According to an organization chart leaked to the journal by political
and diplomatic sources, U.S. controls extend to all provinces,
the Indian community, the Town Halls of the ten major cities,
and the regional police offices. "Washington's objective
is to have a strategic network in this country to permanently
control all the actions and decisions of the government."
With the establishment of this "parallel government"
closely controlling all decision-making, "things have returned
to the way they were before 1968 in Panama." The journal
scheduled an interview with President Endara to discuss the matter,
but it was cancelled without explanation.
The report provides extensive details, including names of
U.S. officials and the tasks assigned them in the organization
chart. All of this could easily be checked by U.S. reporters,
if home offices were interested. They are not. "The information
that we reveal here," Excelsior reports, "is supposed
to be known only to very restricted groups" -- not including
the U.S. public.
The regime put in power is to be a well-behaved puppet, with
no populist heresies or thoughts of independence. That is the
firm policy goal. It might well have been the policy goal of Saddam
Hussein in Kuwait, had international sanctions not been applied
in outrage over his nefarious aggression. The efficient way, after
all, is to rule through locals who can be trusted, with ample
force on the ready, just in case.
The occupying forces are not only dedicated to restoring the
rule of the traditional European oligarchy and its foreign associates,
but also to ensuring that the project is not troubled by such
irritants as freedom of expression. Excelsior reports that "United
States intelligence services exercise control not only over local
information media but also over international news agencies,"
according to the president of the Journalist Union of Panama.
He adds that the goal is to make the world believe that there
is freedom and democracy, whereas in reality broadcast stations
have been taken over and placed "in custody" and dozens
of journalists have been fired. An opposition activist alleges
that the first Panamanian publishing company, ERSA, with three
daily papers, was occupied by U.S. tanks and security forces "in
order to turn it over to a businessman who had lost it in a lawsuit,"
a member of an oligarchical family that "favors the interventionist
line of the United States."
According to Ramsey Clark's Independent Commission of Inquiry,
the offices of the daily La Republica "were ransacked and
looted by U.S. troops the day after the newspaper reported on
the large number of deaths caused by the U.S. invasion."
Its editor was arrested and held for six weeks by U.S. troops,
then sent to a Panamanian prison without charges. The publisher
of one of the few opposition voices was arrested in March on charges
of alleged misconduct when he was a government minister, and the
government closed a radio station for broadcasting editorials
critical of the U.S. invasion and the government it established.
Miguel Antonio Bernal, a leading Panamanian intellectual and
anti-Noriega activist, writes that "freedom of press is again
under siege in Panama." Vice-president Ricardo Arias Calderon
has proposed a new law to restrict press criticism of the government,
saying that "We will not tolerate criticism." He has
also urged stockholders of Panama's largest newspaper, La Prensa,
to fire its editor and founder Roberto Eisenman because of the
journal's criticism of the government, and has called on members
of his Christian Democratic Party to work for Eisenman's ouster.
Describing such acts, the increasing terror, and the reconstruction
of the military with Noriega associates who were implicated in
drug running and corruption, Bernal asks why the U.S. is "turning
the same blind eye" as in the past to these developments.
Bernal's question is surely rhetorical. Latin Americans know
the answer very well, though the question could hardly be addressed
in the fanatically ideological intellectual culture to the North.
Not only the military, but the bankers and businessmen restored
to power in the December invasion as well had close links to the
drug trade. Justice Department and Senate inquiries had identified
Panamanian banks as major conduits for drug money in the early
1980s, when Noriega was still a great friend, and high officials
of the new government, including President Endara, were closely
involved with banks charged with money laundering as directors
or in other ways. In September, the U.S. Embassy "implicated
President Endara in a money laundering scheme" (Central America
Report, Guatemala). DEA officials accused 7 Panamanian banks of
laundering drug money and protecting the accounts of drug-traffickers,
including the Interbanco, directed by Endara until he took over
the presidency in January 1990, which was charged with protecting
millions of dollars belonging to Colombian druglord Gonzalo Rodriguez
Gacha (since killed). U.S. Ambassador Hinton charged further that
the "Colombian mafia" continues to use Panama for drug
shipment to Europe and the United States. At the heart of the
controversy is a U.S. demand for access to information about bank
depositors in Panama, which the financial community there claims
would undermine the international banking sector by eliminating
confidentiality (and might be used for the U.S. for its own purposes
under a drug cover). The alleged U.S. concerns about drug trafficking
might be a bit more credible if we were to witness raids by Delta
Force on the executive headquarters of the U.S. corporations that
supply the drug cartel with the chemicals they need for cocaine
production -- or if the U.S. government were not applying strong
pressures on Asian countries to remove barriers on advertising
and marketing of lethal addictive drugs produced in the United
States (tobacco, a far worse killer than cocaine).
Those not restricted to the quality press here will also learn
that President Endara's government received "one of its worst
diplomatic setbacks" on March 30, when it was formally ousted
from the Group of Eight (now Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico,
Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela), what are considered the major Latin
American democracies. Panama had been suspended from the group
in 1988 in reaction to Noriega's repression, and with the further
deterioration of the political climate under foreign occupation,
Panama was ousted permanently at the March meeting of foreign
ministers. The Group of Eight, now Seven, issued a resolution
stating that "the process of democratic legitimation in Panama
requires popular consideration without foreign interference, that
guarantees the full right of the people to freely choose their
governments." The resolution also indicated that the operations
of the U.S. military are affecting Panama's sovereignty and independence
as well as the legality of the Endara government. This decision
extends the pattern of strong Latin American opposition to the
earlier U.S. measures against Panama and the invasion, from the
outset, when the Organization of American States condemned U.S.
moves by a vote of 17-1 (U.S. opposed) in July 1987. As the media
here barely noted, President Endara's inaugural address four weeks
after the invasion was boycotted by virtually all Latin American
The Washington-media position is that the Endara government
is legitimate, having won the 1989 elections that were stolen
by Noriega. Latin American opinion commonly takes a different
In 1989, Endara was running against Noriega, with extensive
U.S. backing, open and covert. Furthermore, the elections were
conducted under conditions caused by the illegal U.S. economic
warfare that was demolishing the economy. The United States was
therefore holding a whip over the electorate. For that reason
alone the elections were far from free and uncoerced, by any sensible
standards. Today, the political scene is quite different -- or
would be, if the U.S. were to tolerate political activity and
free expression. On these grounds, there would be every reason
to organize a new election, contrary to the wishes of Endara and
his U.S. sponsors. Polls in Panama show that over half the population
would vote for a new party or new alliance if elections were to
be permitted.51 The official position is offered by Michael Massing
in the New York Review of Books. Reporting from Panama, he writes
that Endara's willingness to "go along" with the U.S.
request that he assume the presidency "has caused the leaders
of some Latin American countries, such as Peru, to question his
legitimacy." "The Panamanians themselves, however, have
few such qualms," because his "clear victory" in
the 1989 election "provided Endara with all the credentials
he needs." Citation of Peru for dragging its feet is a deft
move, since President Garcia was an official enemy of the U.S.
who had been recalcitrant about Nicaragua, had restricted debt
payment, and in general failed to observe proper standards; best
to overlook the rest of the Group of Eight, however, among "some
Latin American countries." As for the views of "the
Panamanians themselves," no further indication is given as
to how this information was obtained.
Massing reports on the police raids in poor neighborhoods,
the protests of homeless and hungry people demanding jobs and
housing, the reconstruction of Noriega's PDF, the restoration
of the oligarchy with a "successful corporate lawyer"
at the head of a government "largely made up of businessmen,"
who receive U.S. corporate visitors sponsored by OPIC (which ensures
U.S. investments abroad) "as if they were visiting heads
of state." The business climate is again "attractive"
in this "land ruled by merchants, marketers, and moneylenders."
"The government is drafting plans to revive Panama's banking
industry, relax its labor laws, expand the free trade zone, and
attract foreign investors," and to privatize state enterprises
and "radically cut public spending."
Drawn from the "tiny white elite" of under 10% of
the population, the government has been accused of "wanting
to turn the clock back to 1968, when a small rich group ruled
the country" -- namely, exactly the group now restored to
power. But "the charge is unfair," Massing comments
-- much like the charge that the conservative populists swept
into office in the democratic wave of free elections in Central
America might have something on their minds other than helping
the poor when they opt for a trickle-down strategy. The proof
that the charge is unfair, Massing explains, is that when employees
from Air Panama fearful of losing their jobs held a vigil outside
his office, President Endara "sent them coffee and made a
point of talking with them." What is more, while fasting
in the Cathedral in an effort to expedite U.S. aid (or to lose
weight, some unkind locals quipped), "he invited striking
sanitation workers in for a chat and eventually negotiated a settlement."
Furthermore, Vice-President Arias Calderon has said that he wants
the government to correct disparities created by the market. True,
no projects that might illustrate these plans "are in the
works" and the Endara government "opposes the idea"
of using U.S. aid for such purposes, "determined to leave
virtually everything to the private sector." But that proves
nothing, in the face of the powerful evidence showing that "the
charge is unfair," just reviewed in its entirety.
Massing is not pleased with the outcome, particularly, the
restoration of Noriega's PDF, "despite all the good intentions"
of the United States (taken as given, in accordance with the norms
of the intellectual culture), and its efforts "to atone for
its past misbehavior." The problem does not lie in the U.S.
military aid programs, which have trained security forces that
"have been guilty of horrible excesses" in El Salvador,
Guatemala, Honduras, and Noriega's Panama (and other cases unmentioned).
Rather, the problem lies in what the U.S. "had to work with."
It's those folks who are bad, not us, please.
The consistent effects of our military training, the policies
of which it is a part, the documentary record explaining the reasons
-- all may be put aside, irrelevant, along with all of history.
We are always willing to admit that there were aberrations in
the past. But at every moment of time, we have changed course
and put the errors of the past behind us.
We are Good, our intentions are Good. Period.
A World Bank study in 1982 estimated that "40 percent
of households in Latin America live in poverty, meaning that they
cannot purchase the minimum basket of goods required for the satisfaction
of their basic needs, and...20 percent of all households live
in destitution, meaning that they lack the means of buying even
the food that would provide them with a minimally adequate diet."
The situation became far worse through the victorious 1980s, largely
because of the huge export of capital to the West. From 1982 to
1987 this amounted to about $250 billion, 25 times the total value
of the Alliance for Progress and 15 times the Marshall Plan. The
Bank for International Settlements in Switzerland estimates that
between 1978 and 1987, some $170 billion in flight capital left
Latin America, not including money hidden by falsified trade transactions.
The New York Times cites another estimate that anonymous capital
flows, including drug money and flight capital, total $600 billion
to $800 billion.
This huge hemorrhage is part of a complicated system whereby
Western banks and Latin American elites enrich themselves at the
expense of the general population of Latin America, which is saddled
with the "debt crisis" that results from these manipulations,
and of taxpayers in the Western countries who are ultimately called
upon to foot part of the bill. These are among the triumphs of
free market capitalism that we now celebrate -- apart from a few
perpetual complainers who are "as welcome as gnats at a nudist
party," a New York Times reviewer comments, referring to
Speaking in Washington in preparation for the 1989 General
Assembly of the OAS, which he headed, Brazilian President Soares
described the 1980s as a "lost decade" for Latin America,
with falling personal income and general economic stagnation or
decline. In 1988 average income had fallen to the level of 1978.
There was a further decline in 1989, and the export of capital
continued in a flood, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America
and the Caribbean reported.
According to World Bank figures, average per capita income
in Argentina fell from $1,990 in 1980 to $1,630 in 1988. Mexico's
GNP declined for seven straight years. Real wages in Venezuela
has fallen by a third since 1981, to the 1964 level. Argentina
allotted 20 percent of its budget to education in 1972, 6 percent
in 1986. David Felix, a leading specialist on Latin American economics,
writes that per capita output and real investment per worker declined
sharply in the 1980s, the latter falling to below 1970 levels
in most of the heavily indebted countries, where urban real wages
are in many cases 20 percent to 40 percent below 1980 levels,
even below 1970 levels. The brain drain quickened and physical
and human capital per head shrank because of the decline of public
and private investment and collapse of infrastructure. Much of
the sharp deterioration of the 1980s, Felix and others conclude,
can be traced to the free-market restructuring imposed by the
Mexicans continue to flee to the United States for survival,
and macabre stories abound, some hard to believe but important
for what they indicate about the prevailing mood. Reporting the
annual meeting of the Border Commission on Human Rights in Mexico,
Mexico's leading daily (Excelsior) alleges that actions of the
U.S. Border Patrol cause the drowning of persons seeking to cross
the river to the United States. A representative of the regional
Human Rights Committee told the session that 1,000 people had
disappeared without a trace after leaving their homes to enter
the U.S. illegally. She "also added that the disappearance
or theft of women for the extraction of organs for use in transplants
in the U.S. is common." Others reported torture, high rates
of cancer from chemicals used in the maquiladora industries (mainly
subsidiaries of transnationals supplying U.S. factories), secret
prisons, kidnapping, and other horror stories. The journal also
reports a study by environmental groups, presented to President
Salinas, claiming that 100,000 children die every year as a result
of pollution in the Mexico City area, along with millions suffering
from pollution-induced disease, which has reduced life expectancy
by an estimated 10 years. The "main culprit" is the
emissions of lead and sulfur from operations of the national petrochemical
company Pemex, which is free from the controls imposed elsewhere
-- one of the advantages of Third World production that is not
lost on investors.
The Mexican Secretariat of Urban Development and the Environment
described the situation as "truly catastrophic," Excelsior
reports further, estimating that less than 10 percent of Mexican
territory is able to support "minimally productive agriculture"
because of environmental degradation, while water resources are
hazardously low. Many areas are turning into "a real museum
of horrors" from pollution because of the blind pursuit of
profits on the part of national and international private capital.
The Secretariat estimates further that more than 90 percent of
industry in the Valley of Mexico, where there are more than 30,000
plants, violate global standards, and in the chemical industry,
more than half the labor force suffers irreversible damage to
the respiratory system.
Maude Barlow, chairperson of a Canadian study group, reports
the results of their inquiry into maquiladoras "built by
Fortune 500 to take advantage of a desperate people," for
profits hard to match elsewhere. They found factories full of
teenage girls, some 14-years-old, "working at eye-damaging,
numbingly repetitive work" for wages "well below what
is required for even a minimum standard of living." Corporations
commonly send the most dangerous jobs here because standards on
chemicals are "lax or non-existent." "In one plant,"
she writes, "we all experienced headaches and nausea from
spending an hour on the assembly line" and "we saw young
girls working beside open vats of toxic waste, with no protective
face covering." Unions are barred, and there is an ample
reserve army of desperate people ready to take the place of any
who "are not happy, or fall behind in quotas, or become ill
or pregnant." The delegation "took pictures of a lagoon
of black, bubbling toxic waste dumped by plants in an industrial
park," following it to "where it met untreated raw sewage
and turned into a small river running past squatters' camps (where
children covered in sores drank Pepsi Cola from baby bottles)
to empty into the Tijuana River."
It is more fashionable to bemoan the environmental and human
catastrophes of Eastern Europe, the results of an evil system
now happily overcome in a victory for our humane values.
Colombia is another success story of capitalist democracy,
flawed only by the drug cartels -- and for some of those gnats
who still fail to appreciate the wonders of our system, by such
marginal problems as the murder of "subversives" --
such as 1,000 members of the leading opposition party and 3 of
its presidential candidates -- by death squads in league with
the security forces.
There is also a background, though one would be hard put to
find a discussion of it in recent commentary on U.S. efforts to
aid the Colombian military in the "war against drugs."
The topic is addressed in a discussion of human rights in Colombia
by Alfredo Vasquez Carrizosa, president of the Colombian Permanent
Committee for Human Rights. "Behind the facade of a constitutional
regime," he observes, "we have a militarized society
under the state of siege provided" by the 1886 Constitution.
The Constitution grants a wide range of rights, but they have
no relation to reality. "In this context poverty and insufficient
land reform have made Colombia one of the most tragic countries
of Latin America." Land reform, which "has practically
been a myth," was legislated in 1961, but "has yet to
be implemented, as it is opposed by landowners, who have had the
power to stop it" -- again, no defect of `'democracy,"
by Western standards. The result of the prevailing misery has
been violence, including la Violencia of the 1940s and 1950s,
which took hundreds of thousands of lives. "This violence
has been caused not by any mass indoctrination, but by the dual
structure of a prosperous minority and an impoverished, excluded
majority, with great differences in political participation,"
the familiar story.
The story has another familiar thread. "But in addition
to internal factors," Vasquez Carrizosa continues, "violence
has been exacerbated by external factors. In the 1960s the United
States, during the Kennedy administration, took great pains to
transform our regular armies into counterinsurgency brigades,
accepting the new strategy of the death squads." These Kennedy
initiatives "ushered in what is known in Latin America as
the National Security Doctrine, ...not defense against an external
enemy, but a way to make the military establishment the masters
of the game... [with] the right to combat the internal enemy,
as set forth in the Brazilian doctrine, the Argentine doctrine,
the Uruguayan doctrine, and the Colombian doctrine: it is the
right to fight and to exterminate social workers, trade unionists,
men and women who are not supportive of the establishment, and
who are assumed to be communist extremists. And this could mean
anyone, including human rights activists such as myself."
A study by Evan Vallianatos of the U.S. government Office
of Technology Assessment amplifies the dimensions of the victory
of capitalist democracy here. "Colombia's twentieth century
history is above all stained in the blood of the peasant poor,"
he writes, reviewing the gruesome record of atrocities and massacre
to keep the mass of the population in its place. The U.S. Aid
program, the Ford Foundation, and others have sought to deal with
the plight of the rural population "by refining the largely
discredited trickle-down technology and knowledge transfer process,"
investing in the elite and trusting in "competition, private
property, and the mechanism of the free market" -- a system
in which "the big fish eats the small one," as one poor
farmer observes. These policies have made the dreadful conditions
still worse, creating "the most gross inequalities that the
beast in man has made possible." It is not only the rural
poor who have suffered beyond endurance. To illustrate the kind
of development fostered by the multinational corporations and
the technocrats, Vallianatos offers the example of the small industrial
city of Yumbo, "rapidly becoming unfit for human habitation"
because of uncontrolled pollution, decay, and "corrosive
slums" in which "the town's spent humanity has all but
Another victory for our side.
Brazil is another country with rich resources and potential,
long subject to European influence, then U.S. intervention, primarily
since the Kennedy years. We cannot, however, simply speak of "Brazil."
There are two very different Brazils. In a major scholarly study
of the Brazilian economy, Peter Evans writes that "the fundamental
conflict in Brazil is between the 1, or perhaps 5, percent of
the population that comprises the elite and the 80 percent that
has been left out of the `Brazilian model' of development."
The Brazilian journal Veja reports on these two Brazils, the first
modern and westernized, the second sunk in the deepest misery.
Seventy percent of the population consumes fewer calories than
Iranians, Mexicans, or Paraguayans. Over half the population have
family incomes below the minimum wage. For 40 percent of the population,
the median annual salary is $287, while inflation skyrockets and
necessities are beyond reach. A World Bank report on the Brazilian
educational system compares it unfavorably to Ethiopia and Pakistan,
with a dropout rate of 80 percent in primary school, growing illiteracy,
and falling budgets. The Ministry of Education reports that the
government spends over a third of the education budget on school
meals, because most of the students will either eat at school
or not at all.
The journal South, which describes itself as "The Business
Magazine of the Developing World," reports on Brazil under
the heading "The Underside of Paradise." A country with
enormous wealth, no security concerns, a relatively homogeneous
population, and a favorable climate, Brazil nevertheless has problems:
"The problem is that this cornucopia is inhabited by a population
enduring social conditions among the worst in the world. Two-thirds
do not get enough to eat. Brazil has a higher infant mortality
rate than Sri Lanka, a higher illiteracy rate than Paraguay, and
worse social indicators than many far poorer African countries.
Fewer children finish first-grade school than in Ethiopia, fewer
are vaccinated than in Tanzania and Botswana. Thirty-two percent
of the population lives below the poverty line. Seven million
abandoned children beg, steal and sniff glue on the streets. For
scores of millions, home is a shack in a slum, a room in the inner
city, or increasingly, a patch of ground under a bridge."
The share of the poorer classes in the national income is
"steadily falling, giving Brazil probably the highest concentration
of income in the world." It has no progressive income tax
or capital gains tax, but it does have galloping inflation and
a huge foreign debt, while participating in a "Marshall Plan
in reverse," in the words of former President Jose Samey,
referring to debt payments.
For three-quarters of the population of this cornucopia, the
conditions of Eastern Europe are dreams beyond reach, another
triumph of the Free World.
A UN "Report on Human Development" ranks Brazil,
with the world's eighth-largest economy, in 80th place in general
welfare (as measured by education, health, and hygiene), near
Albania, Paraguay, and Thailand. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) announced on October 18 that more than 40 percent of the
population (almost 53 million people) are hungry. The Brazilian
Health Ministry estimates that 840,000 children aged 1-4 and 420,000
newborns will die of hunger this year.
Here too it is widely alleged that babies are sacrificed for
organ banks, a belief that can hardly be true but that reveals
much about the conditions under which it can take root. The Honduran
press reported that Brazilian babies had been rescued from a gang
that "intended to sacrifice them to organ banks in the United
States, according to a charge in the courts." Brazil's Justice
Ministry ordered federal police to investigate allegations that
adopted children are being used for organ transplants in Europe,
a practice "known to exist in Mexico and Thailand,"
the London Guardian reports, adding that "handicapped children
are said to be preferred for transplant operations" and reviewing
the process by which children in Brazil are kidnapped, "disappeared,"
or given up by impoverished mothers, then adopted or used for
It would only be fair to add that the authorities are concerned
with the mounting problem of homeless and starving children and
are trying to reduce their numbers. Amnesty International reports
that death squads, often run by the police, are killing street
children at a rate of about one a day, while "many more children,
forced onto the streets to support their families, are being beaten
and tortured by the police" (Reuters, citing AI). "Poor
children in Brazil are treated with contempt by the authorities,
risking their lives simply by being on the streets," AI alleges.
Most of the torture takes place under police custody or in state
institutions. There are few complaints by victims or witnesses
because of fear of the police, and the few cases that are investigated
judicially result in light sentences.
Recall that these are the conditions that hold on the 25th
anniversary of "the single most decisive victory of freedom
in the mid-twentieth century" (Kennedy Ambassador Lincoln
Gordon), that is, the overthrow of parliamentary democracy by
Brazilian generals backed by the United States, which then praised
the "economic miracle" produced by the neo-Nazi national
security state they established. In the months before the generals'
coup, Washington assured its traditional military allies of its
support and provided them with aid, because the military was essential
to "the strategy for restraining left-wing excesses"
of the elected Goulart government, Gordon cabled the State Department.
The U.S. actively supported the coup, preparing to intervene directly
if its help was needed for what Gordon described as the "democratic
rebellion" of the generals. This "de facto ouster"
of the elected president was "a great victory for the free
world," Gordon reported with joy, adding that it should "create
a greatly improved climate for private investment." U.S.
labor leaders also demanded their proper share of the credit for
the overthrow of the parliamentary regime, as the new government
placed in power by the generals proceeded to smash the labor movement
and subordinate poor and working people to the overriding needs
of business interests, primarily foreign. Secretary of State Dean
Rusk justified U.S. recognition for the obviously illegal regime
on the grounds that "the succession there occurred as foreseen
by the [Brazilian] Constitution," which had just been blatantly
violated. The U.S. proceeded to provide ample aid as torture and
repression mounted, the relics of constitutional Government faded
away, and the climate for investors improved under the rule of
what Washington hailed as the "democratic forces."
These events in Latin America's most powerful state initiated
a domino effect throughout the continent, leading to an unprecedented
plague of repression under the National Security doctrines crafted
by the military and political leaders of the hemisphere and their
The circumstances of the poor in Brazil continue to regress
as austerity measures are imposed on the standard International
Monetary Fund formula in an effort to deal somehow with this catastrophe
of capitalism. The austerity measures initiated by President Collor
de Mello were initially described as "populist," harmful
mostly to the wealthy. Predictably, reality took a different course.
Ken Silverstein reports that half a year after the measures were
inaugurated, "the rich are reassured." The IMF measures
primarily harmed the poor, while wealthy individuals and large
companies were able to find ways to enrich themselves by exploiting
measures that in theory were devised to impose the main burden
on them. A study by the J. Walter Thompson agency concluded that
"Collor's policies are not a threat to the wealthy.... The
rich are now leading absolutely normal lives" (agency vice-president
Celia Chiavolle). Businessmen, bankers, and the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce express their pleasure in the course of policy, while
"the working class has been pushed to the wall," Silverstein
adds, with hundreds of thousands fired and purchasing power reduced
to a historic low, well below minimal needs for about half the
The situation is similar in Argentina, where the Christian
Democratic Party called on its members to resign from the cabinet
in March "in order not to validate, by their presence in
the government, the anti-popular [economic] measures of the regime."
In a further protest over these measures, the Party expelled the
current Minister of the Economy. Experts say that the socioeconomic
situation has become "unbearable."
The terrible fate of Argentina is addressed in a report in
the Washington Post by Eugene Robinson. One of the ten richest
countries in the world at the turn of the century, with rich resources
and great advantages, Argentina is becoming a Third World country,
Robinson observes. About one-third of its 31 million inhabitants
live below the poverty line. Some 18,000 children die each year
before their first birthday, most from malnutrition and preventable
disease The capital, once considered "the most elegant and
European city this side of the Atlantic," is "ringed
by a widening belt of shantytowns, called villas miserias, or
`miseryvilles,' where the homes are cobbled- together huts and
the sewers are open ditches." Here too the IMF-style reforms
"have made life even more precarious for the poor"
Robinson's article is paired with another entitled "A
Glimpse Into the Lower Depths," devoted to a mining town
in the Soviet Union Subtitled "A mining town on the steppes
reveals `the whole sick system'," the article stresses the
comparison to capitalist success. The article on Argentina, however,
says nothing about any "sick system." The only hint
of a reason for the catastrophe in Argentina, or the general "economic
malaise" in Latin America, is in a statement by a planning
minister that "we destroyed ourselves" by "economic
mismanagement." Again the usual pattern: their crimes reveal
their evil nature, ours are the result of personal failings and
the poor human material with which we are forced to work in the
David Felix concludes that Argentina's decline results from
"political factors such as prolonged class warfare and a
lack of national commitment on the part of Argentina's elite,"
which took advantage of the free-market policies of the murderous
military dictatorship that were much admired here. These led to
massive redistribution of income towards the wealthy and a sharp
fall of per capita income, along with a huge increase in debt
as a result of capital flight, tax evasion, and consumption by
the rich beneficiaries of the "sick system" -- Reaganomics,
In oil-rich Venezuela, over 40 percent live in extreme poverty
according to official figures, and the food situation is considered
"hyper-critical," the Chamber of Food Industries reported
in 1989. Malnutrition is so common that it is often not noted
in medical histories, according to hospital officials, who warn
that "the future is horrible." Prostitution has also
increased, reaching the level of about 170,000 women or more,
according to the Ministry of Health. The Ministry also reports
an innovation, beyond the classic prostitution of women of low
in-come. Many "executive secretaries and housewives and college
students accompany tourists and executives during a weekend, earning
at times up to [about $150] per contact." Child prostitution
is also increasing and is now "extremely widespread,"
along with child abuse.
Brutal exploitation of women is a standard feature of the
"economic miracles" in the realms of capitalist democracy.
The huge flow of women from impoverished rural areas in Thailand
to service the prostitution industry -- one of the success stories
of the economic takeoff sparked by the Indochina wars -- is one
of the many scandals that escape notice in the admiration for
the Free World triumph. The savage conditions of work for young
women largely from the rural areas are notorious; >young<
women, because few others are capable of enduring the conditions
of labor, or survive to continue with it.
Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship is another famous success
story. Under the heading "Tyrant's `Success' Leaves 7 of
12 Million Chileans Poor," Antonio Garza Morales reports
in Excelsior that "the social cost which has been paid by
the Chilean people is the highest in Latin America," with
the number of poor rising from 1 million after Allende to 7 million
today, while the population remained stable at 12 million. Christian
Democratic Party leader Senator Anselmo Sule, returned from exile,
says that economic growth that benefits 10 percent of the population
has been achieved (Pinochet's official institutions agree), but
development has not. Unless the economic disaster for the majority
is remedied, "we are finished," he adds. According to
David Felix, "Chile, hit especially hard in the 1982-84 period,
is now growing faster than during the preceding decade of the
Chicago Boys," enthralled by the free market ideology that
is, indeed, highly beneficial for some: the wealthy, crucially
including foreign investors. Chile's recovery, Felix argues, can
be traced to "a combination of severe wage repression by
the Pinochet regime, an astutely managed bailout of the bankrupt
private sector by the economic team that replaced the discredited
Chicago Boys, and access to unusually generous lending by the
international financial institutions," much impressed by
the favorable climate for business operations.
Environmental degradation is also a severe problem in Chile.
The Chilean journal Apsi devoted a recent issue to the environmental
crisis accelerated by the "radical neoliberalism" of
the period following the U.S.-backed coup that overthrew the parliamentary
democracy. Recent studies show that about half the country is
becoming a desert, a problem that "seems much farther away
than the daily poisoning of those who live in Santiago,"
the capital city, which competes with Sao Paolo (Brazil) and Mexico
City for the pollution prize for the hemisphere (for the world,
the journal alleges). "The liquid that emerges from the millions
of faucets in the homes and alleys of Santiago have levels of
copper, iron, magnesium and lead which exceed by many times the
maximum tolerable norms." The land that "supplies the
fruits and vegetables of the Metropolitan Region are irrigated
with waters that exceed by 1,000 times the maximum quantity of
coliforms acceptable," which is why Santiago "has levels
of hepatitis, typhoid, and parasites which are not seen in any
other part of the continent" (one of every three children
has parasites in the capital). Economists and environmentalists
attribute the problem to the "development model," crucially,
its "transnational style," "in which the most important
decisions tend to be adopted outside the ambit of the countries
themselves," consistent with the assigned "function"
of the Third World: to serve the needs of the industrial West.
The fashion at home, as noted, is to attribute the problems
of Eastern Europe to the "sick system" (quite accurately),
while ignoring the catastrophes of capitalism or, on the rare
occasions when some problem is noticed, attributing it to any
cause other than the system that consistently brings it about.
Latin American economists who have attributed the problems of
the region to the "development model" are generally
ignored, but some of them have been useful for ideological warfare
and therefore have attained respectability in the U.S. political
culture. One example is Francisco Mayorga, a Yale Ph.D. in economics,
who became one of the most respected commentators on the economic
affairs of Nicaragua in the 1980s because he could be quoted on
the economic debacle caused by the Sandinistas. He remained a
U.S. favorite as he became the economic Czar after the victory
for the U.S. candidate in the February 1990 election, though he
disappeared from view when he was removed after the failure of
his highly-touted recovery policies (which failed, in large part,
because of U.S. foot-dragging, the UNO government being nowhere
near harsh and brutal enough for Washington's tastes).
But Mayorga was never quoted on what he actually wrote about
the Nicaraguan economy, which is not without interest. His 1986
Yale doctoral dissertation is a study of the consequences for
Nicaragua of the development model of the U.S.-backed Somoza regime,
and of the likely consequences of alternative policy choices for
the 1980s. He concludes that "by 1978 the economy was on
the verge of collapse" because of the "exhaustion of
the agroindustrial model" and the "monetarist paradigm"
that the U.S. favored. This model had led to huge debt and insolvency,
and "the drastic downturn of the terms of trade that was
around the corner was clearly going to deal a crucial blow to
the agroindustrial model developed in the previous three decades,"
leading "inexorably" to an "economic slump in the
1980s." The immense costs of the U.S.-backed Somoza repression
of 1978-9 and the contra war made the "inexorable" even
more destructive. Mayorga estimates capital flight from 1977 to
1979 at $500 million, and calculates the "direct economic
burden" of war from 1978 to 1984 at more than $3.3 billion.
That figure, he points out, is one and a half times the "record
GDP level of the country in 1977," a year of "exceptional
affluence" because of the destruction of the Brazilian coffee
crop, hence regularly used by U.S. propagandists (including some
who masquerade as scholars) as a base line to prove Sandinista
failures. The course of the economy from 1980, Mayorga concludes,
was the result of the collapse of the agroindustrial export model,
the severe downturn in the terms of trade, and the unbearable
burden of the 1978-9 war and then the contra war (his study ends
before the U.S. embargo exacerbated the crisis further). Sandinista
policies, he concludes, were ineffective in dealing with the "inexorable"
collapse: they "had a favorable impact on output and a negative
effect on rural wages and farming profits," favoring industrial
profits and redistributing income "from the rural to the
urban sector." Had there been "no war and no change
in economic regime," his studies show, "the Nicaraguan
economy would have entered a sharp slump."
These conclusions being useless or worse, Mayorga's actual
work on the Nicaraguan economy passes into the same oblivion as
all other inquiries into the catastrophes of capitalism. The example
is noteworthy because of Mayorga's prominence, at the very same
time, insofar as he could serve a propaganda function for the
Brazil and Chile are not the only countries to have basked
in praise for their achievements after U.S. intervention set them
on the right course. Another is the Dominican Republic. After
the latest U.S. invasion under Lyndon Johnson in 1965, and a dose
of death squads and torture, democratic forms were established,
and U.S. commentators have expressed much pride in the peaceful
transfer of power -- or better, governmental authority, power
lying elsewhere. The economy is stagnant and near bankrupt, public
services function only intermittently, poverty is endemic, malnutrition
is increasing, and the standard of living of the poor continues
its downward slide. In the capital city, electricity supply is
down to four hours a day; water is available for only an hour
a day in many areas. Unemployment is rising, the foreign debt
has reached $4 billion, the 1989 trade deficit was $1 billion,
up from $700 million the year before. Estimates of the number
who have fled illegally to the U.S. range up to a million. Without
the remittances of Dominicans working in Puerto Rico and on the
U.S. mainland -- illegally for the most part -- "the country
could not survive," the London Economics reports.
U.S. investors, assisted by Woodrow Wilson's invasion and
its aftermath, later Johnson's, had long controlled most of the
economy. Now foreign investment in 17 free trade zones is attracted
by 15-year tax holidays and average wages of 65 cents an hour.
Some "remain upbeat about the Dominican Republic's situation,"
the Business Magazine of the Developing World (South) reports,
citing U.S. ambassador Paul Taylor, who described the new free
trade zones as an economic miracle in a talk to the chamber of
commerce. There are some objective grounds for Taylor's cheerful
view of the prospects, South observes: "Optimists point to
the political and labour harmony in the Dominican Republic, the
substantial pool of cheap workers and the transport, banking and
communications services as continuing strong incentives to investors.
Indeed, as a Dominican factory manager notes: `Anyone who gets
involved in unions here knows that they'll lose their job and
won't work in the free trade zone any more.' "
As in Brazil and elsewhere, the American Institute for Free
Labor Development (AIFLD), the AFL-CIO foreign affairs arm supported
by the government and major corporations, "has been instrumental
in discouraging hostile [sic] union activity in order to help
U.S. companies maximise their profits," South reports. With
friends like these, Dominican workers have little to fear.
A more recent beneficiary of U.S. invasion, Panama, also has
its share of optimists, as discussed in the first part of this
series, notably the tiny white minority now restored to power
and the U.S. businesspeople who have revived Panama City's night-life.
As elsewhere in Latin America, the plight of the unimportant people
is deplored by sections of the Church who persist in their old-fashioned
"preferential option for the poor," not understanding
the merits of the promising new "trickle down" techniques
of raising them from their misery.
Elsewhere in the Caribbean basin, we find much the same picture,
including Grenada, also liberated by U.S. benevolence, then restored
to its proper status (see my article in Z, March 1990). The U.S.
pursued a different path to ensure virtuous behavior in the case
of Jamaica. Upstarts led by the social democrat Michael Manley
and his People's National Party (PNP) sought to explore the forbidden
path of independent development and social reform in the 1970s,
eliciting the usual hostility from the United States and sufficient
pressures to achieve an electoral victory for U.S. favorite Edward
Seaga, who pledged to put an end to such nonsense. Seaga's pursuit
of proper free market principles was lauded by the Reagan administration,
which announced grandly that it would use this opportunity to
create a showcase for democracy and capitalism in the Caribbean.
Massive aid flowed. USAID spent more on Jamaica than on any other
Caribbean program. The World Bank also joined in to oversee and
expedite this estimable project. Seaga followed all the rules,
introducing austerity measures, establishing Free Trade Zones
where non-union labor, mostly women, work in sweatshops for miserable
wages in foreign-run plants subsidized by the Jamaican government,
and generally keeping to the IMF prescriptions.
There was some economic growth, "mainly as a result of
laundered `ganja' dollars from the marijuana trade, increased
tourism earnings, lower fuel import costs, and higher prices for
bauxite and alumina," the North American Congress on Latin
America (NACLA) reports. The rest was the usual catastrophe of
capitalism, including one of the highest per capita foreign debts
in the world, collapse of infrastructure, and general impoverishment.
According to USAID, by March 1988, along with its "crippling
debt burden," Jamaica was a country where economic output
was "far below the production level of 1972," "distribution
of wealth and income is highly unequal," "shortages
of key medical and technical personnel plague the health system,"
"physical decay and social violence deter investment,"
and there are "severe deficits in infrastructure and housing."
The assessment was made six months before hurricane Gilbert dealt
a further blow.
At this point, Michael Manley, now properly tamed, was granted
the right to return to power to administer the ruins, all hope
for constructive change having been lost. Manley "is making
all the right noises" to reassure the Bank and foreign investors,
Roger Robinson, World Bank senior economist for Jamaica, said
in a June 1988 pre-election interview. He explained further that
"Five years ago, people were still thinking about `meeting
local needs,' but not any more. Now the lawyers and others with
access to resources are interested in external export investment.
Once you have that ingrained in a population, you can't go back
easily, even if the PNP and Michael Manley come in again. Now
there's an understanding among individuals who save, invest, and
develop their careers that capital will start leaving again if
the PNP, or even [Seaga's] JLP, intervenes too much."
Returned to office, Manley recognized the handwriting on the
wall, outdoing Seaga as an enthusiast for free market capitalism.
"The old gospel that government should be operated in the
interests of the poor is being modified, even if not expressly
rejected, by the dawning realization that the only way to help
the poor is to operate the government in the interest of the productive!"
the journal of the Private Sector of Jamaica exulted -- here the
term "productive" does not refer to the people who produce,
but to those who manage, control investment, and reap profits.
The public sector is "on the verge of collapse," the
Private Sector report continues, with schools, health care and
other services rapidly declining. But with the "nonsensical
rhetoric of the recent past" abandoned, and privatization
of everything in sight on the way, there is hope -- for "the
productive," in the special intended sense.
Manley has won new respect from the important people now that
he has learned to play the role of "violin president,"
in Latin American terminology: "put up by the left but played
by the right." The conditions of capital flight and foreign
pressures -- state, private, and international economic institutions
-- have regularly sufficed to bar any other course.
Turning to Asia, a serious inquiry into the victory of freedom,
capitalism, and democracy will naturally begin with the Philippines,
which has benefited from U.S. solicitude for close to a century.
The desperate state of Filipinos is reviewed in the Far Eastern
Economic Review, firmly dedicated to economic liberalism and the
priorities of the business community, under the heading "Power
to the plutocrats." Its reports conclude that "Much
of the country's problems now...seem to be rooted in the fact
that the country has had in its entire history no form of social
revolution." The consequences of this failure include "the
jinxed land reform programme," a failure that "profoundly
affects the prognosis for the incidence of poverty" among
the 67 percent of poor Filipino families living in rural areas,
condemning them to permanent misery, huge foreign debt, "massive
capital flight," an increase in severe malnutrition among
pre-school children since the Aquino Government took power, widespread
underemployment, and survival for many on incomes far below Government-defined
poverty thresholds, "the growth of a virtual society of beggars
and criminals," and the rest of the familiar story. Government
and academic experts expect things to get considerably worse.
For the "rapidly expanding disadvantaged," the only
way out is to seek work abroad: "legal and illegal workers
from the Philippines now comprise the greatest annual labour exodus
in Asia." With social programs abandoned, the only hope is
if "the big-business elite, in a situation of little government
interference, foregoes the Philippine elite traditional proclivity
towards conspicuous consumption, and instead use profits both
for their employees' welfare and to accumulate capital for industrial
Their failure to do so can perhaps be explained by the fact
that the United States has had so little time to exercise its
tutelage; only 90 years, after all. That its ministrations might
have something to do with what we find is a possibility not to
be addressed. In the real world, these desperate conditions can
be traced in no small measure to the U.S. invasion at the turn
of the century with its vast slaughter and destruction, the long
colonial occupation, and the subsequent policies including the
postwar counterinsurgency campaign and support for the Marcos
dictatorship as long as it was viable. But the Philippines did
gain the (intermittent) gift of democracy. In the same business
journal, a columnist for the Manila Daily Globe, Conrado de Quiros,
reflects on this matter under the heading "The wisdom of
democracy." He compares the disaster of the Philippines to
the economic success story of Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew, whose
harsh tyranny is another of those famous triumphs of democracy
and capitalism. De Quiros quotes the Singapore Minister of Trade
and Industry, Lee's son, who condemns the U.S. model imposed on
the Philippines for many flaws, the "worst crime" being
that it granted the Filipinos a free press; in his own words,
"An American-style free-wheeling press purveyed junk in the
marketplace of ideas, which led to confusion and bewilderment,
not to enlightenment and truth." With a better appreciation
of the merits of fascism, his Singapore government is too wise
to fall into this error.
The Americans did introduce a form of democracy, de Quiros
continues. However, it "was not designed to make Filipinos
free but to make them comfortable with their new chains."
It may have given the Filipinos more newspapers, but "it
has given them less money with which to buy them. It has made
the rich richer," with "one of the world's worst cases
of inequity in the distribution of wealth," according to
the World Bank. Democracy "was an instrument of colonisation,"
and was not intended to have substantive content: "For most
Filipinos, American-style democracy meant little more than elections
every few years. Beyond this, the colonial authorities made sure
that only the candidates who represented colonial interests first
and last won. This practice did not die with colonialism. The
ensuing political order, which persisted long after independence,
was one where a handful of families effectively and ruthlessly
ruled a society riven by inequality. It was democratic in form,
borrowing as many American practices as it could, but autocratic
That these were indeed the policy goals is a rational conclusion
in the light of historical practice and the documentary record.
We may then describe the Philippines as another success story
of democracy and capitalism, and number its people too among the
victors in the Cold War.
Under Philippine democracy, most of the population is not
represented. The politicians are lawyers or wealthy businessmen
or landowners. As the political structure bequeathed to the Philippines
by the American occupation was reconstituted after the overthrow
of the U.S.-backed dictator by "people power," Gary
Hawes writes in the scholarly journal Pacific Affairs, "it
is only those with money and muscle who can be elected."
Candidates are mainly "former elected officials, relatives
of powerful political families and/or members of the economic
elite," unrepresentative of the rural majority or even "the
citizens who had demonstrated to bring down Marcos and who had
risked their lives to protect their ballots for Corazon Aquino."
There was a party (PnB) based on the popular organizations that
arose against the dictatorship, with broad support from the peasantry,
the labor force, and large reformist sections of the middle class,
but it was to have no political role. In the elections, PnB was
outspent by the traditional conservative parties by a ratio of
up to 20 to 1. Its supporters were subjected to intimidation and
threats of loss of jobs, housing, and city licenses. The military
presence also served to inhibit PnB campaigning. Interviews with
poor farmers and workers revealed a preference for PnB candidates,
but a recognition that since the military and the rural elite
opposed them, "the next best choice was to take the money
or the rewards and vote for the candidates endorsed by the Aquino
The playing field having been properly levelled, our celebrated
"yearning for democracy" is satisfied.
Under the reconstituted elite democracy, Hawes continues,
"the voices of the rural dwellers" -- almost two-thirds
of the population -- "have seldom been heard," and the
same is true of the urban poor. The cure for agitation in the
countryside is militarization and the rise of vigilantes, leading
to a record of human rights violations "as bad as, if not
worse than, during the time of Marcos," a 1988 human rights
mission reported, with torture, summary executions, and forced
evacuations. There is economic growth, but its fruits "have
seldom trickled down to the most needy." Peasants continue
to starve while paying 70 percent of their crop to the landlord.
Agrarian reform is barely a joke. Support for the National Democratic
Front (NDF) and its guerrillas is mounting after years of rural
De Quiros suggests that there has been "substantive democracy
in the Philippines -- despite colonialism and elite politics."
"This is so because democracy took a life of its own, expressing
itself in peasant revolts and popular demand for reforms."
It is just this substantive democracy that the United States and
its allies are dedicated to repress and contain. Hence the absence
of any social revolution of the kind that he and several other
commentators in this most respectable business journal see as
sorely lacking in the Philippines -- though if it can join the
club of "capitalist democracies" of the Singapore variety,
the tune will likely change.
Meanwhile, Survival International reports that tribal peoples
are being attacked by the private army of a logging company, which,
in a six month campaign of terror, has killed and tortured villagers,
burned down houses, destroyed rice stores, and driven thousands
from their homes. The same tribal people are among the many victims
of bombing of villages and other practices of the government counterinsurgency
campaigns. Appeals to the Aquino government have been ignored.
An appeal to the U.S. government, or Western circles generally,
cannot be seriously proposed. The same is true in Thailand, where
the government announced a plan to expel six million people from
forests where it wants to establish softwood plantations.
Miracles of capitalism are also to be found elsewhere in Asia.
Charles Gray, responsible for Asian affairs in the pro-business
AFL-CIO foreign affairs branch (AIFLD), observes in the Far Eastern
Economic Review that transnational corporations "generally
insist the host government suppress the right of workers to organise
and join unions, even when that right is guaranteed in the country's
own constitution and laws." The organization that coordinates
trade in the Free World (GATT) does not have a single rule that
"covers the subsidies that transnational corporations get
though pressures on Third World governments to permit 19th century-type
exploitation of labour." In Malaysia, "U.S. and other
foreign corporations forced the Labour Ministry in 1988 to continue
the government's long-standing prohibition of unions in the electronics
industry by threatening to shift their jobs and investments to
another country." In Bangladesh, contractors for the transnationals
"discriminate against women and girls by paying them starvation
wages as low as 9 U.S. cents an hour." In China's Guangdong
province, when the government found that "the factory of
a leading toy manufacturer was engaged in labour law violations
-- such as 14-hour workdays and 7-day workweeks -- it approached
the managers to ask them to respect the law. The managers refused,
and said that if they were unable to operate the way they wanted
they would close their Chinese factories and move to Thailand,"
where there are no such unreasonable demands.
Low prices for imported toys have doubtless brought much Christmas
cheer in the industrial West.
The scene in Africa is worse still. To mention only one small
element of a growing catastrophe, a study of the U.N. Economic
Commission for Africa estimates that "South Africa's military
aggression and destabilization of its neighbors cost the region
$10 billion in 1988 and over $60 billion and 1.5 million lives
in the first nine years of this decade." Such figures are
considered too insignificant to merit notice in the Newspaper
of Record, which avoided the matter. Congress imposed sanctions
on South Africa in 1986 over Reagan's veto, but their impact has
been limited. The American Committee on Africa reports that only
25 percent of U.S.-South African trade has been affected, and
that iron, steel, and (until late 1989) half-finished uranium
continued to be imported. After the sanctions were put in place,
U.S. exports to South Africa increased from $1.28 billion in 1987
to $1.71 billion in 1989, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
While the South African government and the minority White
groups it represents face mounting problems, they may see some
rays of hope as well. New diplomatic ties between South Africa
and Hungary, now that it has achieved independence, may prove
to be "the wedge that breaks trade sanctions and the international
isolation of the South African government," the Christian
Science Monitor reports in a lead story, citing an economist at
the Hungarian Academy of Sciences who foresees expanding trade
between South Africa and Eastern Europe.
The economic catastrophe of much of Africa is commonly attributed
to "socialism," a term used freely to apply to anything
we are not supposed to like. But there is an exception, "an
island of freewheeling capitalism in a sea of one-party socialist
states," Africa correspondent Howard Witt of the conservative
Chicago Tribune writes. He is referring to Liberia, which, like
the Philippines, can attribute its happy state to the fact that
it was "America's only toehold on the African continent"
-- for a century and a half, in this case. Liberia took on special
significance during the Cold War years, Witt continues, particularly
after President Samuel Doe, a "brutish, nearly illiterate
army sergeant...seized power in 1980 after disemboweling the previous
president in his bed" (more recently suffering a similar
fate himself), and proceeded to elevate his fellow tribesmen --
4 percent of the population -- into a new ruling elite, and to
persecute and savagely oppress the rest of the population. The
Reagan administration, much impressed, determined to turn Liberia,
like Jamaica, into a showcase of capitalism anddemocracy. In the
first six years of Doe's regime, the U.S. poured military and
economic aid into "the backward country," "even
as evidence mounted that Doe and his ministers were stealing much
of the money, and after he "brazenly stole" the 1985
election with Washington's approval, in a replay of the Noriega
story a year earlier. A "respected expatriate Liberian dissident
and former government minister," Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, says:
"At the time, an American official told me bluntly, `Our
strategic interests are more important than democracy'."
The results of the aid are evident, Witt writes: "The
soldiers of President Samuel Doe's army wear the uniforms of American
GIs as they go about their business murdering Liberian civilians
on the streets of the capital, Monrovia," named after President
Monroe, and "the bodies of many of the civilian victims are
dumped in the morgue at the American-built John F. Kennedy Hospital,"
where "combat-hardened doctors" say "they have
never witnessed such brutality." Monrovia is a death trap,
Witt writes. Those who are not struck down by starvation, cholera,
or typhoid try to escape the army or the rebel forces under Charles
Taylor, a former Doe aide -- or later, those under the command
of a breakaway unit led by Prince Johnson.
The results of the U.S. aid became even clearer when reporters
entered Monrovia with the African peacekeeping force after Doe
was tortured and murdered by Johnson's guerrillas. They found
"a bloody legacy" of the "10 years in power"
of the U.S. favorite, UPI reporter Mark Huband writes: piles of
bleached bones and skulls, many smashed; "half-clothed, decomposed
heaps of flesh...littered with millions of maggots"; "contorted
bodies...huddled beneath church pews" and "piled up
in a dark corner beside the altar"; bodies "rotting
into their mattresses"; "a large meeting hall for women
and children [where] clothes clung to the skeletons of female
and underaged victims."
Not everyone, of course, has suffered in this "island
of freewheeling capitalism." For a century and a half, the
oligarchy of freed American slaves and their descendants "oppressed
and exploited the indigenous population," while "the
U.S. looked the other way." And lately, the Reagan favorites
did quite well for themselves until their turn came to be dispatched.
Others merely benefited, escaping any such unpleasant fate: "U.S.
corporations like Firestone and B.F. Goodrich made healthy profits
from the expansive Liberian operations," Witt observes, proving
that freewheeling capitalism has its virtues. The U.S. built a
huge Voice of America transmitter in Liberia, perhaps to broadcast
the happy message of what can be achieved under capitalist democracy.
We can chalk up another victory for the Free World.
Current U.S. policy, Johnson-Sirleaf says, is "a lack
of policy." "It's kind of, `Oh, those Africans are at
it again. Let them fight, and may the best man win'." To
judge by the commentary on all of this, there is nothing here
to teach us anything about ourselves, our legendary benevolence,
or the marvels of freewheeling capitalism.
Behind the "lack of policy," there is, however,
the usual policy toward the Third World, which we can trace back
as usual to the early postwar period when the global order was
being shaped in the interests of the rich and powerful in the
West. Like other parts of the Third World, Africa had its "function."
It was to be "exploited" for the reconstruction of Europe,
George Kennan explained in a major State Department study on the
international order. He added that the opportunity to exploit
Africa should provide a psychological lift for the European powers,
affording them "that tangible objective for which everyone
has been rather unsuccessfully groping...." History might
have suggested a different project: that Africa should "exploit"
Europe to enable it to reconstruct from centuries of devastation
at the hands of European conquerors, perhaps also improving its
psychological state through this process. Needless to say, nothing
of the sort was remotely thinkable, and the actual proposals have
received little notice, apparently being regarded as uncontroversial.
In discussion of African policy particularly, the element
of racism cannot be discounted. Dean Acheson warned the former
Prime Minister of the racist government of Rhodesia in 1971 to
beware of the "American public," who "decide that
the only correct decision of any issue must be one which favors
the colored point of view." He urged that Rhodesia not "get
led down the garden path by any of our constitutional cliches
-- equal protection of the laws, etc. -- which have caused us
so much trouble...." This venerated figure of American liberalism
was particularly disturbed by the Supreme Court's use of "vague
constitutional provisions" which "hastened racial equality
and has invaded the political field by the one-man-one-vote doctrine,"
which made "Negroes...impatient for still more rapid progress
and led to the newly popular techniques of demonstration and violence"
(September 1968). The "pall of racism...hovering over"
African affairs under the Nixon administration, "and over
the most basic public issues foreign and domestic," has been
discussed by State Department official Roger Morris, including
Nixon's request to Kissinger to assure that his first presidential
message to Congress on foreign policy have "something in
it for the jigs" (eliciting "the usual respectful `Yes'"
from this abject flunkey); Kissinger's disbelief that the Ibos,
"more gifted and accomplished" than other Nigerians,
could also be "more Negroid"; and Alexander Haig's "quietly
pretend[ing] to beat drums on the table as African affairs were
brought up at NSC staff meetings.
The "Unrelenting Nightmare"
The World Health Organization estimates that 11 million children
die every year in the world of the Cold War victors ("the
developing world") because of the unwillingness of the rich
to help them. The catastrophe could be brought to a quick end,
the WHO study concludes, because the diseases from which the children
suffer and die are easily treated. Four million die from diarrhea;
about two-thirds of them could be saved from the lethal dehydration
it causes by sugar and salt tablets that cost a few pennies. Three
million die each year from infectious diseases that could be overcome
by vaccination, at a cost of about $10 a head. Reporting in the
London Observer on this "virtually unnoticed" study,
Annabel Ferriman quotes WHO director-general Hiroshi Nakajima,
who observes that this "silent genocide" is "a
preventable tragedy because the developed world has the resources
and technology to end common diseases worldwide," but lacks
"the will to help the developing countries."
The basic story was summarized succinctly by President Yoweri
Museveni of Uganda, chairman of the Organization of African Unity.
Speaking at the UN conference of the world's 41 least-developed
countries, he called the 1980s "an unrelenting nightmare"
for the poorest countries. There was a plea to the industrial
powers to more than double their aid to a munificent 2/10 of 1
percent of their GNP, but no agreement was reached, the New York
Times reports "principally because of opposition from the
As capitalism and freedom won their Grand Victory, the World
Bank reported that the share of the world's wealth controlled
by poor and medium-income countries declined from 23 percent to
18 percent (1980 to 1988). The Bank's 1990 report adds that in
1989, resources transferred from the "developing countries"
to the industrialized world reached a new record. Debt service
payments are estimated to have exceeded new flows of funds by
$42.9 billion, an increase of $5 billion from 1988, and new funds
from the wealthy fell to the lowest level in the decade.
These are some of the joys of capitalism that are somehow
missing in the flood of self-praise and the encomia to the wonders
of our system -- of which all of this is a noteworthy component
-- as we celebrate its triumph. The media and journals are inundated
with laments (with an admixture of barely concealed glee) over
the sad state of the Soviet Union and its domains, where even
a salary of $100 a month enjoyed by the luckier workers is "scandalously
high by the niggardly standards of Communism." One will have
to search far, however, for a look at the scene nearer to home,
or for derisive commentary on "the niggardlystandards of
capitalism" and the suffering endured by the huge mass of
humanity who have been cast aside by the dominant powers, long
the richest and most favored societies of the world, and not without
a share of responsibility for the circumstances of most of the
others, all too easy to ignore.
The missing view also unveils a possible future that may await
much of Eastern Europe, which has endured many horrors, but is
still regarded with envy in large parts of the Third World domains
of the West that had comparable levels of development in the past,
and are no less well endowed with resources and the material conditions
for satisfying human needs. "Why have the leaders, the media,
the citizens of the Great Western Democracies cared long and ardently
for the people of Central Europe, but cared nothing for the people
of Central America?" the experienced correspondent Martha
Gellhorn asks: "Most of them are bone poor, and most of them
do not have white skin. Their lives and their deaths have not
touched the conscience of the world. I can testify that it was
far better and safer to be a peasant in communist Poland than
it is to be a peasant in capitalist El Salvador."
Her question is, unfortunately, all too easy to answer. It
has been demonstrated beyond any lingering doubt that what sears
the sensitive soul is the crimes of the enemy, not our own, for
reasons that are all too obvious and much too uncomfortable to
face. The comparison that Gellhorn draws is scarcely to be found
in Western commentary, let alone the reasons for it.
As in Latin America, some sectors of Eastern European society
should come to share the economic and cultural standards of privileged
classes in the rich industrial world that they see across their
borders, much of the former Communist Party bureaucracy probably
among them. Many others might look to the second Brazil, and its
counterparts elsewhere, for a glimpse of a different future, which
may come to pass if matters proceed on their present course.