Foreign Policy News Stories
Distorted Reports of the El Salvador Crisis
SYNOPSIS: The U.S. media coverage of the outbreak of civil
war in El Salvador was dangerously misleading. Either through
willful misinformation or ignorance, the major media supported
a misguided U.S. foreign policy that threatened to embroil Americans
in another Vietnam War.
A popularly promoted media myth was that the current government
of the tiny Central American country is a "moderate"
junta, struggling to maintain order in the face of left and right-wing
extremist minorities. However, Murat Williams, a former U.S. ambassador
to El Salvador, and other observers, report that the "left"
is more accurately a heterogeneous mix of peasants, students,
teachers, priests, nuns, and middle-class businessmen, comprising
about 80 percent of the population. What remains is less "center"
than "right," comprised chiefly of the military and
the oligarchy. The few "moderates" of the civilian-military
junta and the Cabinet of 1979 had resigned by January 1980, despairing
of any real governmental reforms.
Further, the U.S. press has generally perpetuated the belief
that the bulk of El Salvador's estimated 10,000 assassinations
in 1980 were the work of "Marxist-inspired guerrillas"
or reactionary right-wing forces. But records of the Legal Aid
Office of the Catholic Archdiocese of San Salvador show that government
military units themselves were responsible for 80 percent of the
country's political assassinations.
Another media myth is that Cuban- or Russian-inspired guerrillas
were the cause of El Salvador's social upheaval rather than the
country's real enemy-a century of economic and social injustice.
There was also much media-generated paranoia regarding Cuban
or Russian arms shipments to the "leftist guerrillas,"
obscuring the reality of an alarming U.S. military buildup in
El Salvador. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, U.S.
security assistance to El Salvador between 1950 and 1979 totaled
$16.72 million; in 1980 alone, more than $5.7 million in U.S.
military aid was sent to El Salvador and U.S. military advisers
were stationed there.
UPDATE: The Salvadoran civil war continued to 1992 when the
United Nations-sponsored peace accords ended the 12-year conflict
with the rebels forming a formal political party-the Farabundo
Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). It was also in 1992 that
forensic experts unearthed skeletons of children and babies in
El Mozote, El Salvador, confirming that hundreds of civilians
were killed in the largest massacre in the civil war.
It wasn't until mid-March 1993 that mainstream media in the
United States finally reported what the alternative press had
been publishing for more than a decade. The government of El Salvador,
with the support and funding of the Reagan and Bush Administrations,
was responsible for the horrible atrocities during the 12-year
conflict. The atrocities, which took the lives of an estimated
75,000 people-Salvadoran civilians, including many women and children-were
supported with more than $6 billion in economic and military aid,
including $1 billion in covert aid, furnished by the Reagan and
Something is Rotten in the Global Supermarket
SYNOPSIS: While modern technology has increased worldwide
food production and raised per capita income, millions of landless
peasants in Third World countries face starvation and malnutrition.
Prime agricultural lands in Third World countries have increasingly
been converted to the production of cash export crops by vast
transnational agribusiness firms. While this succeeded in increasing
exports and ameliorated balance of payments problems for underdeveloped
countries, the benefits did not accrue to everyone.
Multinational corporations increased their profits, taking
advantage of cheap labor resources abroad. Foreign governments
and the few landed gentry also benefited from the arrangements.
But peasant farmers were driven from their subsistence lands when
the multinationals arrived. New technology production did not
offer enough employment opportunities to compensate for the massive
displacements. Those who managed to find seasonal work in agribusiness
were not paid enough to cover their subsistence food needs.
Vast migrations of hungry peasants fled to the cities where
employment opportunities were not much better. The specter of
urban poverty, filth, and slums proliferated throughout the Third
UPDATE: Despite the dire 1980 warnings about the problems
in worldwide food production, funding for agricultural research
targeted to Third World countries declined drastically during
the 1980s and continues to decline, according to the International
Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a Washington-based institute
that monitors trends affecting the world's food supply. The IFPRI
reported that while scientific advances in agriculture have boosted
worldwide food production in recent decades, a record explosion
in the world's population will outstrip food production in coming
years if research on new farming technologies and food policies
is neglected (Chicago Tribune, 4/4/94).
One hopeful sign is the formation of the Tufts International
Famine Centre at University College, Cork, Ireland, according
to Dr. J. Larry Brown, of Tufts University in Boston. He said
for the first time, widespread famine and disaster related deaths
could be prevented. The Centre would seek to establish better
early warning systems, research, and analysis, as well as training,
technical support and early mobilization of international agencies
and the media when necessary (The Irish Times, 11/20/95).
The Circle of Poison
SYNOPSIS: The export of banned pesticides from the industrial
countries to the Third World is a scandal of global proportions
still little covered by the major news media. To compound the
problem, investigative reporters David Weir and Mark Shapiro have
discovered that from 50-70 percent of the chemicals are not used
to grow food for the hungry but are actually used on luxury crops
like coffee and bananas destined for the U.S. and Europe-creating
a "circle of poison." Dangerous pesticides create the
circle of poison by endangering the workers in American chemical
plants, injuring Third World workers in the fields where they
are used, and, finally returned to us in the food we import.
The U.S. is one of the world's top importers of food and at
least ten per cent of our imported food is officially estimated
to be contaminated. Moreover, the Food and Drug Administration's
(FDA) most commonly used test fails to measure 70 percent of the
almost 900 food tolerances for cancer causing chemicals.
At least 25 percent of the U.S. pesticide exports are products
that are banned, heavily restricted, or have never been registered
for use in the U.S. Many have not been independently evaluated;
others, like DDT, are familiar poisons, widely known to cause
cancer, birth defects, and genetic mutations. Yet the Federal
Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act explicitly states that
banned or unregistered pesticides are legal for export.
UPDATE: According to Total Health (February 1995) Americans
are consuming more fruits and vegetables, which is good for us,
but in the process are ingesting more insecticidal toxic substances.
Equally disturbing, according to Business and Society Review (January
1995), the U.S. depends on Latin American produce for about 20
percent of its annual produce sales. In turn, Latin America depends
on U.S.-banned pesticides. Roughly ten percent of the annual $22
billion in global pesticide sales is of such pesticides. Latin
American farmers often use these pesticides on export crops such
as bananas, cocoa, coffee, corn, rice, sugar cane, soybeans, and
As a result, tests by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
show that residues of U.S.-banned pesticides still contaminate
some five percent of imported produce. While this shows a substantial
improvement since 1980, it also confirms that the circle of poison
is still spinning. Meanwhile, the National Cancer Institute has
launched a major, three-year agricultural health study to examine
cancer risks among workers who have direct exposure to pesticides.
The study, launched in 1996, will involve about 75,000 adult subjects
(Environmental Health Perspective, April 1996).
Unforeseen in earlier studies was the impact of NAFTA on the
"circle of poison" as noted in a 1997 study by a number
of watchdog groups including the Economic Policy Institute and
the Institute for Policy Studies. The report, titled "The
Failed Experiment: NAFTA at Three Years," revealed that NAFTA
had weakened food safety inspections. While imports of fresh and
frozen fruits from Mexico grew by more than one-third since NAFTA
was enacted, some shipments of strawberries, lettuce and carrots
have illegally high levels of pesticide residue of 18.4 percent,
15.6 percent, and 12.3 percent, respectively (San Francisco Examiner,
The Oil Companies Monopoly on the Sun
SYNOPSIS: In the early seventies, it was said that we wouldn't
have solar power until the oil companies got a monopoly on the
sun. Now it appears that this is happening.
Within the last five years, a powerful elite of multinational
oil companies, aerospace firms, utilities, and other large corporations
has been quietly buying into the solar industry. The group's aim
appears to be to squeeze out smaller competitors and control development
so that alternative energy will never threaten its massive investments
in fossil fuels and, nuclear power.
Most of these are the same corporations that for years have
been viewed by alternative energy activists as solar's worst enemies.
In countless advertisements, political campaigns and conferences,
they have branded solar technology as impractical and expensive,
a source of power that at best will someday provide one percent
of our national energy needs.
Now, however, solar technology appears interesting to companies
like Shell Oil, Atlantic-Richfield, Northrop, Amoco, Exxon, and
Mobil-all corporate giants that have taken control of solar power
firms in the last several years.
Further, the federal government is even helping them in their
efforts toward monopolization. More than 90 percent of the federal
solar energy budget for research and development has ended up
in the coffers of the largest corporations in the United States.
UPDATE: Following the energy crisis in the early 1970s, entrepreneurs
rushed to develop solar power projects to free America of its
oil dependency. Many of them went broke or were bought out by
large corporations, including the big oil companies. By 1994,
Time magazine was ready to announce a "sunny forecast"
for solar energy and Shell International Petroleum in London predicted
renewable power, particularly solar, would dominate world energy
production by 2050.
By 1996, the first large, commercially competitive solar power
projects were underway. In India, the Rajasthan State Electricity
Board signed a 25-year power purchase agreement with Amoco/Enron
Solar for power. In China, Amoco/Enron signed an agreement with
the State Science and Technology Commission which could lead to
a solar cell manufacturing center and 150MW generating facility.
Bob Kelly, co-chairman of Amoco/Enron Solar, a joint venture between
Amoco, the U.S. oil company, and Enron, North America's largest
natural gas company, announced, "We think there is a great
big market out there and we are going for it" (Financial
Times, 7/3/96). It took some time, but the big oil companies finally
got their monopoly on the sun. A stirring account of the battle
for the sun is contained in Who Owns the Sun? People, Politics
and the Struggle for a Solar Economy by Daniel M. Berman and John
T. O'Connor, published by Chelsea Green, 1997.