Drugs, Lies, and Video Wars,
Worthy Causes

excerpted from the book

Against Empire

The Brutal Realities of U.S. Global Domination

by Michael Parenti

City Lights Books, 1995, paper

Drugs, Lies, and Video Wars

"Protecting American lives" has been used repeatedly as an excuse to invade and occupy other countries. In 1958, to justify the landing of 10,000 U.S. Marines in Lebanon (sent there to save the procapitalist, comprador government from a nationalist uprising), president Eisenhower claimed that U.S. citizens had to be evacuated to a safer place. In fact, they had been forewarned to avoid travel in Lebanon and most American civilians had departed that country well before the marines arrived.

In 1962, in the Dominican Republic, after thirty years of the U.S.-supported dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, a free and fair election brought Juan Bosch to the presidency. Bosch called for land reform, low-rent housing, nationalization of some businesses, public works projects, a reduction in the import of luxury items, and civil liberties for all political groups. Washington held a jaundiced view of Bosch, seeing him as the purveyor of "creeping socialism." After only seven months in office, he was overthrown by the U.S.-backed Dominican military.

Three years after the coup, constitutionalist elements in the Dominican armed forces, abetted by armed civilians, rose up in an effort to restore Bosch to the presidency. During the ensuing struggle, the constitutionalist forces offered to cooperate fully in the evacuation of any U.S. nationals who wished to leave. In fact, no Americans were harmed nor did the White House seem concerned that any were at risk. But when it became apparent that the military junta would be ousted, President Lyndon Johnson sent in U.S. forces "to protect American lives." One might wonder why 23,000 troops were needed to rescue a relatively small number of Americans, none of whom were calling for help, some of whom were actually assisting the constitutionalists?

In fact, the invading force was engaged in a rescue operation not of US. nationals but of the right-wing junta, supplying it with arms and funds, and directly participating in the bloody suppression of the constitutionalists. U.S. troops remained on the island for almost five months, long after any Americans might have needed to be evacuated. It was the fifth time in this century that the United States had invaded the Dominican Republic to prevent popular social change and shore up the existing class autocracy.

In 1983, the familiar refrain of "American lives in danger" was played again when President Reagan invaded the tiny nation of Grenada (population 102,000), in an unprovoked assault, in violation of international law, killing scores of the island's defenders. The White House claimed the invasion was a rescue operation on behalf of American students at the St. George Medical School, who supposedly were endangered by the strife that had emerged between ruling factions on the island. In fact, as the school's chancellor testified, no students were threatened and few wanted to leave. After being warned of the impending invasion, many students changed their minds. Their desire to evacuate in order to be out of the way of a U.S. military action was now treated as justification for the action itself.

Grenada's real sin was that its revolutionary New Jewel movement had instituted a series of egalitarian reforms, including free grade school and secondary education, public health clinics (mostly with the assistance of Cuban doctors), and free distribution of foodstuffs to the needy along with materials for home improvements. The government also leased unused land to establish farm cooperatives, and sought to turn agriculture away from cash-crop exports and toward self-sufficient food production. After the invasion, these programs were abolished and unemployment and economic want increased sharply. The island had been prevented from pursuing an alternative course of self-development.

The Gulf War massacre of 1991 is a prime example of how lies and war go hand in hand. In late 1989, after receiving assurances from U.S. officials that Washington would remain neutral, Iraq invaded Kuwait. In response, the Bush administration, assisted by other U.N. member nations, launched a month of intensive aerial assaults on the Iraqi occupation force in Kuwait and on civilian populations in Iraq, including the city of Baghdad.

After discussions with the Soviet Union, Iraq agreed to withdraw from Kuwait over a three-week period. But President Bush would give them only a week. The Iraqi evacuation was turned into a U.S. aerial slaughter of the retreating troops. Over 100,000 Iraqis, including many civilians, were killed in the one-sided conflict. There were a few hundred U.S. casualties.

The Gulf War was followed by a vindictive United Nation) embargo that several years later still denied Iraq the technological I resources to rebuild its food production, medical services, and sanitation facilities. As late as 1993, CNN reported that nearly 300,000 Iraqi children were suffering from malnutrition. Deaths exceeded the normal rate by 125,000 a year, mostly affecting "the poor, their infants, children, chronically ill, and elderly" (Los Angeles Times, February 22, 1994). Iraqi citizens, who previously had enjoyed a decent living standard, were reduced to destitution. So was realized one of the perennial goals of imperialism: to reduce to impotence and poverty all potential adversaries and upstarts.

Among the various crusades fabricated by our leaders is the "war on drugs." On Pacifica Radio (October 31, 1990), a spokesperson from America Watch described how the United States was giving funds to military and paramilitary groups in Colombia ostensibly to stop the narcotics traffic. Instead, these forces were devoting their efforts to torturing and killing members of the legal Left, those working for social reform and a peaceful electoral challenge. The America Watch representative concluded that "unfortunately" U.S. policy "is in error." In its haste to fight the war on drugs, Washington was "giving money to the wrong people."

Actually, the administration was giving money to the right people, who were putting it to exactly the use Washington desired. Again it was assumed that U.S. leaders were misguided when in fact they were misguiding us. Colombia was the leading human rights violator in the hemisphere and, under the Clinton administration, the leading recipient of U.S. military aid.

In Peru, too, under the guise of fighting drug trafficking, U.S. forces became deeply involved in a political counterinsurgency that has taken thousands of lives. U.S. funds have been used to train and equip Peruvian troops, who have been put to merciless use in areas suspected of cooperating with insurgent guerrillas.

The White House would have us believe that the purpose of the 1989 invasion of Panama was to apprehend President Manuel Noriega, because he had dealt in drugs and was therefore in violation of US. laws. Here the United States operated under the remarkable principle that its domestic laws had jurisdiction over what the heads of foreign nations did in their own countries. Were that rule to work both ways, a U.S. president could be seized and transported to a fundamentalist Islamic country to be punished for failing to observe its laws.

U.S. forces did more than go after Noriega. They bombed and forcibly evacuated working-class neighborhoods in Panama City that were pro-Noriega strongholds. They arrested thousands of officials, political activists, and journalists, and purged the labor unions and universities of anyone of leftist orientation. They installed a government headed by rich compradors, such as President Guillermo Endara, who were closely connected to companies, banks, and individuals deeply involved in drug operations and the laundering of drug money.

The amount of narcotics that came through Panama represented but a small fraction of the total flow into the United States. The real problem with Panama was that it was a populist-nationalist government. The Panamanian Defense Force was a left-oriented military. General Omar Torrijos, Noriega's predecessor who was killed in a mysterious plane explosion that some blame on the CIA, initiated a number of egalitarian social programs. The Torrijos government also negotiated a Canal treaty that was not to the liking of U.S. rightwingers. And Panama maintained friendly relations with Cuba and Sandinista Nicaragua. Noriega had preserved most of Torrijos's reforms.

After the U.S. invasion, unemployment in Panama soared; the public sector was cut drastically; and pension rights and other work benefits were abolished. Today Panama is once more a client-state nation, in the iron embrace of the U.S. empire.

Besides financing wars and lining pockets, narcotics are useful as an instrument of social control. As drugs became more plentiful in the United States, consumption increased dramatically. Demand may create supply, but supply also creates demand. The first condition for consumption is availability, getting the product before the public in plentiful amounts. Forty years ago, inner-city communities were just as impoverished as they are now, but they were not consuming drugs at the present level because narcotics were not pouring into them in such abundance and at such accessible prices as today.

U.S. policy is less concerned with fighting a war against drugs than in using drugs and drug traffickers in the empire's eternal war for social control at home and abroad. Like the ex-Nazis who proved useful in the war against communism, the drug traffickers (some of whom are linked to fascist organizations) are on the side of the CIA. "For the CIA to target international drug networks," write Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall in Cocaine Politics (1991), "it would have to dismantle prime sources of intelligence, political leverage, and indirect financing for its Third World operations." This would be nothing less than "a total change of institutional direction."


Worthy Causes

Contrary to popular belief, the United States is no different from most other countries in that it does not have a particularly impressive humanitarian record. True, many nations, including our own, have sent relief abroad in response to particular crises. But these actions do not represent essential foreign policy commitments. They occur sporadically, are limited in scope, and obscure the many occasions when governments choose to do absolutely nothing for other countries in desperate straits.

Most U.S. aid missions serve as pretexts for hidden political goals, namely, to bolster conservative regimes, build infrastructures that assist big investors, lend an aura of legitimacy to counterinsurgency programs, and undermine local agrarian self-sufficiency while promoting US. agribusiness.

There have been memorable occasions when U.S. officials showed themselves to be anything but humanitarian. Consider the Holocaust. The Roosevelt administration did virtually nothing to accommodate tens of thousands of Jews who sought to escape extermination at the hands of the Nazis. Washington refused to ease its restrictive immigration quotas and would not even fill the limited number of slots allotted to Jews. U.S. officials even went so far as to persuade Latin American governments to close their doors to European immigration.

Consider South Africa. For decades Washington did nothing to discourage that white racist-dominated country from inflicting misery and death upon its African population. U.S. leaders preferred to maintain trade and investment relations with the apartheid regime. It lifted not a single humanitarian finger to stop the West Pakistani massacre of East Pakistan (later renamed Bangladesh). It was more concerned with preventing India and the Soviet Union from extending their influence in the region. In the 1980s, the U.S. national security state quietly assisted the Khmer Rouge in their campaigns of mayhem and murder, using them as a destabilizing force against the socialist government in Cambodia.

Be it the indigenous rain forest peoples of South America and Southeast Asia, or the Kurds, Biafrans, or Palestinians, be it overseas Chinese in Indonesia, East Timorese, Angolans, Mozambicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, or dozens of other peoples, the United States has done little to help rescue them from their terrible plights, and in most instances has done much to assist their oppressors.

US. empire builders will use every means at hand, from assassinations to elections, as the circumstances might dictate. They will promote elections abroad, supervise them, buy them, rig them, or undermine them. The CIA has funded procapitalist candidates in electoral contests in Europe, Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. In 1955, the CIA spent $1 million in Indonesia to back a conservative Muslim party, but the party did poorly, while the communists did well. So the CIA set about to negate the election results by backing an armed coup a few years later that failed and another in 1965 that succeeded, costing an estimated 500,000 to one million lives, in what was the worst bloodletting since the Holocaust.

In 1958, the Eisenhower administration poured money into the National Assembly elections in Laos to secure the victory of conservative candidates and thwart the Pathet Lao, an anticapitalist, anti-imperialist party. But the conservatives did poorly and the Pathet Lao did well. Once again, the CIA set about to negate the election results by turning from ballots to bullets. Using a combination of money and coercion, the agency rounded up Meo (a.k.a. Hmong) tribesmen into a private army, for the purpose of making war against the Pathet Lao. s noted in the previous chapter)the CIA assisted the Meo in getting their opium crop onto the world market, a service that tied the tribes closer to the agency.

When the Meo army proved insufficient against the Pathet Lao, U.S. policymakers began an unpublicized aerial war against Laos in 1969 that continued for years. It included B-52 carpet bombing that destroyed village after village and obliterated every standing structure in the Plain of Jars. The surviving rural population lived in trenches, holes, or caves and farmed only at night. Rice fields were turned into craters, making farming impossible. Tens of thousands of people were slaughtered; many starved. Whole regions of Laos were virtually depopulated.

Vietnam was subjected to an equally vicious war of attrition. In Indochina, the US. dropped several times more tons of bombs than were used in all of World War II by all sides John Quigley reported in his book, The Ruses for War: "In the south alone, the bombs dropped by B-52s left an estimated 23 million craters, turning the land into swamp, and denuding nearly half of the south's forests. Thousands of our explosive mines remained in the farmland, so that Vietnamese farmers continued to be killed and maimed by them." In mid-June, 1994, the Vietnamese government announced that three million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians had been killed in the war, four million injured, two million made invalids.

In Nicaragua, it was bullets first then ballots. After battering the Nicaraguan people for the better part of a decade in a Contra war, the U.S. national security state promised them aid and an end to the fighting if they voted the procapitalist anti-Sandinista UNO coalition into power, which they did in 1990. Washington poured millions of dollars into that election, seeing it as a way to undermine the Sandinista revolution.

In Mexico in 1988, the popular left candidate Cuauhtemoc Cárdenas, with a decisive lead in the opinion polls, had the election stolen from him. The government confiscated all the ballots and refused to release the voting results for days. Opposition counters were barred from the tallying. When the results were finally announced, to no one's surprise the government candidate, Carlos Salinas, emerged the anointed victor. Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans marched on the National Palace in Mexico City to protest the usurpation of power. U.S. leaders looked upon the fabricated results with quiet satisfaction, making no call for new elections.

Elections in El Salvador in 1984 and 1989 occurred in an atmosphere of terror and political assassination, without benefit of a secret ballot, an honest count, or participation by Left parties. They were, wrote Mike Zielinski (CovertAction Quarterly, Summer 1994), "cooked up for international consumption as a fig leaf for a US, backed military dictatorship." In January 1992, the FMLN liberation guerrilla force signed a peace accord with the government and two years later elections were held with the Left participating for the first time. The U.S.-backed, ultra-rightist ARENA government party won in a campaign marked by manipulation, fraud, intimidation, and violence.

With fifty times more money than the FMLN, ARENA waged a media campaign that played on the fears of a population traumatized by twelve years of war, suggesting that the FMLN would abolish religion and murder the elderly. At least thirty-two FMLN members, mostly candidates and prominent campaign workers, were assassinated during the campaign. Some 300,000 people were denied voter registration cards. Another estimated 320,000 were denied access to the polls even when they showed up with cards, their names having been mysteriously omitted from the voting lists. Meanwhile thousands of deceased, whose names were still on the rolls-including ARENA's late leader Roberto D'Aubuisson and the late president José Napoleon Duarte-miraculously managed to vote.

Election-day bus service was concentrated in zones where ARENA supporters predominated, while voters in FMLN areas were often without means of getting to the polls. Many strong FMLN areas were subjected to military harassment and intimidation during the voting period. ARENA officials controlled the electoral tribunals and invariably handed down rulings that favored their party, turning away some 74,000 voter applicants who could not meet the exacting documentation required. Reminiscent of Mexico, computer vote tallies were delayed for days and failed to match those arrived at by hand. Technicians from opposition parties were expelled from the central computer room on election night.

Even with all the abuses, the FMLN won 25 percent of the seats. One wonders how the Left would have done in an honest contest. Despite all the fraud and intimidation, El Salvador was declared a "democracy" by U.S. political leaders and media. Similar showcase elections have been held in the Dominican Republic after the US. invasion, the Philippines under Marcos, Grenada after the U.S. invasion, and a variety of other countries.

In some rare instances, intimidation and fraud prove insufficient and a reformer actually wins the election. Such was the case in 1990 in Haiti, where a populist priest, Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, labeled a leftist because he sided with the poor against the rich, won an overwhelming 70 percent vote to become Haiti's first freely elected president. During his brief tenure, Aristide fought against corruption in government and for more efficiency in public services. He tried to double the minimum wage from $2 to $4 a day, not an hour. He attempted to establish a social security program and land reform projects, all opposed by the banks and the U.S. embassy. Cooperative farms started by peasants in the countryside proved successful until the military repressed them and killed their organizers.

Nine months of democratic efforts were too much for Haiti's military leader, U.S.-trained General Raoul Cedras and his army, which seized power and went on to kill several thousand Aristide supporters and beat and torture many others. The military coup won the support of rich Haitians, foreign investors, and the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Under pressure from the Vatican, Father Aristide's Salesian Order expelled him for "incitation to violence, exaltation of class struggle" and because he "destabilized the faithful" (San Francisco Bay Guardian, September 21, 1994).

In its ensuing campaign of terror, the military was assisted by Haiti's National Intelligence Service (SIN), described by investigative journalist Dennis Bernstein as "created, trained, supervised, and funded" by the CIA. "Since its inception, SIN has worked as the eyes and ears of the CIA, while forming the inner circle of Haiti's billion-dollar-plus drug trafficking network."

For over three years Washington did next to nothing to restore Aristide to power. The CIA issued a report claiming he was mentally unbalanced. President Clinton eventually imposed economic sanctions on Haiti and in September 1994 invaded and occupied that country with the professed intent of reviving democracy and restoring Aristide to office.

On the first day of the occupation, however, it was announced that American troops were there to cooperate with the Haitian military. General Cedras would remain in office for another month and neither he nor his cohorts would be required to leave the country. Full amnesty was granted to the entire military for a range of horrific crimes. The U.S. also announced that the junta's assets in U.S. banks amounting to millions of dollars looted from the Haitian people would be unfrozen and given to the generals.

Aristide would be allowed to finish the last months of his term but for a substantial price. He was strong-armed into accepting a World Bank agreement that included a shift of some presidential powers to the conservative Haitian parliament, a massive privatization of the public sector and a cut in public employment by one-half, a reduction of regulations and taxes on U.S. corporations investing in Haiti, increased subsidies for exports and private corporations, and a lowering of import duties. World Bank representatives admitted that these measures would hurt the Haitian poor but benefit the "enlightened business investors."

At the same time, Aristide supporters were forbidden to demonstrate. U.S. military intelligence, working closely with Haitian intelligence, prepared to round up popular forces and impose massive detentions if necessary. Former national security adviser James Schlesinger (ABC-TV, September 16, 1994) noted that US. forces would have to prevent "the Aristide people from making reprisals." Many of them are poor, he said, and may want to loot the houses of

the rich. "We will find it hard, and Aristide will find it hard, to control his people. The risk is we will have looting, rioting, and a large number of deaths with which we will be associated." It was clear that the U.S. was in Haiti to protect the rich from the poor and the military from the people ...

Imperialism is a system in which financial elites forcibly expropriate the land, labor, resources, and markets of overseas populations. The end effect is the enrichment of the few and the impoverishment of the many. Imperialism involves coercive and frequently violent methods of preventing competing economic orders from arising. Resistant governments are punished and compliant ones, or client states, are "rewarded" with military aid.

Why has the United States never supported social revolutionary forces against right-wing governments? Why does it harp on the absence of Western democratic forms in certain anticapitalist countries while ignoring brutal and widespread human rights violations in procapitalist countries? Why has it aided dozens of procapitalist military autocracies around the world and assisted their campaigns to repress popular organizations within their own countries? Why has the United States overthrown more than a dozen democratically elected, reformist governments and an almost equal number of left-populist regimes that were making modest moves on behalf of the poor and against the prerogatives of corporate investors(Why did it do these things before there ever was a Soviet Union? And why does it continue to do these things when there no longer is a Soviet Union?) Why has it supported and collaborated with narcotic traffickers from Asia to Central America, while voicing indignation about imagined drug dealings in Cuba? Why has it shown hostility toward every anticapitalist party or government, including those that play by the democratic rules and have persistently sought friendly diplomatic and economic relations with the United States.

In his 1953 State of the Union message President Eisenhower observed, "A serious and explicit purpose of our foreign policy [is] the encouragement of a hospitable climate for investment in foreign nations."

The propaganda task of U.S. leaders and opinionmakers was to couple capitalism with democracy, sometimes even treating them as one and the same thing. Of course, they would ignore the many undemocratic capitalist regimes from Guatemala to Indonesia to Zaire. But "capitalism" still sounded, well, too capitalistic. The preferred terms were "free market," "market economy," and "market reforms," concepts that appeared to include more of us than just the Fortune 500.

Once elected, Clinton himself began to link democracy and free markets. In a speech before the United Nations (September 27, 1993), he said: "Our overriding purpose is to expand and strengthen the world's community of market-based democracies."

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