The current imperial slaughter in the Middle East, justified by the "Global War on Terror", that has resulted in at least 600,000 deaths in Iraq, is nothing new — the U.S. Empire has a long and sordid history of genocidal mass murder.
The history of the US imperialism and Empire is the subject of a series of ten monthly seminars from Dr John Marciano, "Empire as a Way of Life". Attached is a recording of the third of these seminars and the text upon which it was based. The first 7 of these seminars have taken place and the intention is to have the whole series published on this site; the last 3 will take place between now and June.
This seminar, recorded on 20th Feburary 2006 by the L.A. Sound Posse, runs for 45 minutes and includes the discussion following. It has been made available under a Creative Commons license. If this recording is broadcast please let the L.A. Sound Posse know. This recording was originally made available on the A-Infos Radio Project site.
The following text has been reproduced here with the kind permission of Dr John Marciano and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. He introduced this series of seminars in the following way:
A fundamental purpose of our meetings is to understand the systemic nature of the U.S. Empire and the economic and military imperialism that is its lifeblood. The historian William Appleman Williams argues that empire became "a way of life" in the U.S., a "combination of patterns of thought and action that, as it becomes habitual and institutionalized, defines the thrust and character of a culture and society." This "way of life" has convinced many U.S. "Americans" they have a right or "manifest destiny" to impose their political and economic policies upon others.
Dr John Marciano is Professor Emeritus, State University of New York at Cortland, where he taught courses on social and historical foundations of education and class, gender and race.
Previous parts of this series:
Greg Grandin, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, The United States, and the rise of The New Imperialism: Introduction-Chapter 3
Tonight I will stress Grandin’s discussion of US imperialism in Latin America after World War II – with a few comments about FDR’s “Good Neighbor” policy and Woodrow Wilson, the “godfather” of 20th century US imperialism.
Preparing this lecture was emotionally difficult for a number of reasons: my anguish and rage over the genocidal levels of Nazi-like terror in Central America, and the friends who were victims of US imperialism in Chile. The US-supported coup on September 11, 1973 – a 9/11 that few here in the US remember – led to the murder, torture and disappearances of thousands of Chileans, and the forced exile of hundreds of thousands more. One of those exiled was Orlando Letelier, an Allende minister who came to the US and became active in the opposition to the Pinochet regime – so much so that Pinochet ordered his assassination.
Letelier was killed in a car bombing on Embassy Row in Washington – planned by CIA agent Michael Townley and executed by anti-Castro Cuban exiles on September 21, 1976. With him that morning were Michael Moffitt – a dear friend and student at the college where I taught, and Ronni Karpen Moffitt, his wife. I attended their wedding that previous May, and returned in September for Ronni’s funeral. Michael was injured but survived.
And now to Grandin, who writes that prior to WW II, the US “had sent gunboats into Latin American ports over six thousand times,” invaded a number of countries, “fought protracted guerrilla wars” in others, “annexed Puerto Rico, and taken [part] of Columbia to create both [Panama] and the Panama Canal.” But “decades of mounting Latin American anti-imperialist resistance, including armed resistance” forced a brief improvement under FDR who “promised that … the US would be a good neighbor.”
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz criticizes Grandin’s view of this “soft imperialism” under FDR (Monthly Review, January 2007). “The Good Neighbor” policy was an extension of imperialism by other means, and the poor continued to suffer “while the rulers got richer.” She regrets that Grandin apparently believes “that soft imperialism is acceptable,” echoing William Appleman Williams’s argument about “empire as a way of life” that is “so deeply ingrained that its absence entirely is unimaginable.” Grandin’s analysis of this period, in her view, does not confront “imperialism as an extension of and inherent to capitalism…. the present global crisis does not exist because the system is not working; it exists because that’s the way the system works.”
Although Grandin rightly “dates US imperialism in Latin America to the founding of the US,” Dunbar-Ortiz faults him for not discussing “the conquest and colonization of the indigenous communities and nations on the North American continent.” He should have “provided some context” for this early history by sharing Williams’s list of US military “interventions and occupations” in Empire as a Way of Life. These include “the first of several Barbary wars followed with the war against Tripoli, 1801-05” that is etched into the Marine anthem, “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.” The US also “invaded Spanish Mexico” in 1806; “seized Spanish western Florida (1810); attacked Spanish east Florida (1812); … and took Pensacola, Florida (1814).”
These US attacks reveal that the Empire existed prior to the Spanish-American War that many historians mark as the beginning the “The Age of Imperialism” and “the protection of American interests.” Dunbar-Ortiz reminds us that “those ‘interests’ were commercial and economic, that is, capitalistic. Exporting capitalism is how the system works, and that’s called imperialism; it’s not a dysfunction.”
Despite her critical comments, she lauds Grandin’s analysis of how Latin America informs us about “post 9-11 US foreign policy. [He] does this extremely well…. Indeed, [his] conclusion … is a tour de force, showing that the present policy would be impossible were it not for US practices in Latin America, particularly the Reagan administration’s practice and lessons learned in Central America.”
This “soft imperialist” period under FDR was short-lived, and as the Cold War began “security forces trained, funded, equipped, and incited by [the US]” unleashed “a reign of bloody terror … from which the region has yet to recover.” This truth is backed by indisputable historical evidence that has been buried under decades of lies from government officials and apologies from mass media pundits.
After WW II, Grandin claims the US undermined its own “Good Neighbor” policies by opposing those who struggled for democracy and reform governments that threatened US hegemony. It was the ruling elites here that were threatened, since the public was not asked for its views and mostly fell into line behind the emerging Cold War anti-communist view. The US ruling class opposed reform and the labor militancy in the region. This class “demanded protection” from the US government, therefore, and deepened its links with “Latin America’s landed class, Catholic Church, and military [which] took advantage of the US’s new Cold War policy to launch a continental counterrevolution” against democratic struggles and reform governments.
This imperialist effort was aided by the formation of the CIA in 1947; its first major act in Latin America was the overthrow in 1954 of Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz who was simply “trying to implement a New Deal-style economic program to modernize and humanize [that country’s] brutal plantation economy.” But even this modest reform was too much for the rich there and their corporate and political sponsors here. This coup, however, was followed by a defeat for US hegemony in 1959 with the Cuban Revolution. The events in these two countries, according to Grandin, “[polarized] politics throughout the hemisphere and inflamed a generation of activists” who would later challenge US imperialism in Chile, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
John F. Kennedy dramatically increased US imperialism in Latin America, something that liberal admirers of the late president refuse to acknowledge. He “campaigned in the 1960 presidential election as a committed militarist” and promised “to establish a new foundation on which to ensure the continuance of American power in such changing times.” He attempted to maintain US hegemony throughout the hemisphere in the face of powerful movements for radical change. The key was to appear to support the ideals of these movements while at the same time deepening US militarism against them.
Despite his image as an “idealist,” it was during Kennedy’s era that national security states in Latin America “strengthened and in some cases created by the US … began to transform themselves into command centers of the region’s death-squad system [which] executed hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans and tortured tens of thousands more.” This is an absolutely critical point: the real – as opposed to the fantasy – Kennedy helped lay the groundwork for later genocidal levels of violence throughout the region.
Historian Richard Walton has analyzed Kennedy’s foreign policies in Latin America in Cold War and Counterrevolution. Walton argues that the context for Kennedy’s aggression in Latin America and his terrorist acts against Cuba are to be found in Cold War efforts to increase US military superiority over the Soviet Union. Immediately after his inauguration in 1961, Kennedy moved to increase US military strength across the board, including a dramatic jump in the nuclear missile program. This was barely two weeks after Eisenhower warned us about the dangers of the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address.
JFK asked for huge increases in military spending despite “intelligence studies that revealed” there was no “missile gap” with the Soviet Union. Walton asserts Kennedy shared the view of other US presidents such as Teddy Roosevelt, i.e., “… the US has the unique right to intervene by force of arms in the domestic affairs of other nations.” This arrogant view became a cardinal tenet of US policy after WW II under both Democrats and Republicans. The US reserved this right for itself but was quick to condemn any nation acting in a similar manner, e.g., condemning Soviet actions in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Kennedy was obsessed with Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution, approving Operation Mongoose that included assassination attempts against Fidel and terrorist attacks against that nation. To undermine Cuban influence in Latin America, Kennedy combined violence with the rhetoric of democratic concern, e.g., the Alliance for Progress. The rhetoric, however, was aimed here at home against US citizens, since he never intended to attack deep-seated social and economic injustices abroad. His imperialist, class-based policies were continued by Johnson and Nixon, and culminated in the genocidal US-supported death squad regimes under President Reagan.
Kennedy was so obsessed with Castro he advocated actions that were even criticized by then Vice President Nixon, who stated: “… Senator Kennedy’s policies and recommendations for the handling of the Castro regime are probably the most dangerously irresponsible recommendations that he’s made…. We have … treaties with Latin America … in which we’ve agreed not to intervene in the internal affairs of any other American country…. The Charter of the United Nations … also [provides] that there shall be no intervention in the internal affairs of another…. if we were to follow [his] recommendation … we would lose all of our friends in Latin America [and] probably be condemned in the UN.” Nixon’s response to Kennedy’s assertions was totally disingenuous, of course, given that Eisenhower already approved a CIA plan to overthrow Castro’s government at that time.
Kennedy supported the invasion of Cuba in April 1961, proving, in Walton’s view, that “he was prepared to violate the territorial integrity of a sovereign state [and] violate … international law,” as well as an American pledge “not to intervene in the domestic affairs of hemisphere states.” In a public statement shortly after the invasion, Kennedy lied about US involvement. “Any unilateral American intervention, in the absence of an external attack upon ourselves or an ally, would have been contrary to our traditions and to our international obligations.” He made this statement before major US newspaper editors: not one confronted him on this egregious distortion of the truth, in keeping with the mass media’s lapdog tradition of supporting US aggression.
Walton writes that this was an “extraordinary statement. No only was the invasion planned by the US, but the US recruited, paid and trained” an exile force that had “American military equipment [and were] trained by American military men…. The warplanes were American, flown by Americans.… American ships carried the invaders, and American naval units accompanied them. Americans were killed in the operation. To claim that America did not intervene was to lie and be caught in a lie.”
But these lies and the blatant violation of both international and US law did not arouse public protest, as polls revealed almost 80% supported Kennedy’s action – proving once again that brainwashed citizens can be led to give their allegiance to political demagogues and outrageous imperialist policies.
Walton challenges the so-called “crowning” achievement of Kennedy’s administration: JFK’s handling of the Cuban missile crisis in the fall of 1962. Although it has been called Kennedy’s “greatest triumph,” Walton profoundly disagrees: “… [Kennedy’s] decision to go to the brink of nuclear war was irresponsible and reckless to a supreme degree…. [He] … consciously risked nuclear catastrophe….” I totally agree with Walton’s harsh indictment of Kennedy: JFK’s terrorist policies against Cuba culminating with the Bay of Pigs invasion were “the major cause of the Cuban missile crisis. It convinced Castro and Khrushchev that Cuba was in serious danger from the US.” And evidence supports the wisdom of that perception.
When one looks objectively at JFK’s record of infamy in Latin America: the numerous assassination attempts on Castro’s life and hundreds of terrorist acts against Cubans (which went far beyond Kennedy’s era and have killed more people in that nation in the last 47 years than the number of US citizens killed in 9/11), the Bay of Pigs invasion, the missile crisis, US efforts to destabilize the government in the British Guiana (now Guyana), the refusal to support the elected Dominican leader Juan Bosch when he was overthrown by a military coup in September 1963, and national security state violence throughout Latin America, they reveal a violent leader who was a supporter of entrenched class rule in Latin America.
In their analysis of contemporary US imperialism, writers and activists John Bellamy Foster and Robert Mcchesney (Pox Americana) also place the recent history of US aggression in Latin America in the context of the Kennedy era. In a June, 1963 speech, Kennedy declared that the US sought peace in the world, “not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.” He dismissed as “wholly baseless and incredible” – as Marxist propaganda – the charge that the US was engaged in imperialism in Latin America and elsewhere. The facts prove otherwise. Including his administration and continuing to the present, covert and outright US imperialist actions in Latin America attacked Cuba, British Guiana, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Grenada, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Haiti and Venezuela.
Foster and McChesney contend that we must look to underlying capitalist profit motives as the foundation for imperialism in Latin America. Its aim “has always been to open up investment opportunities to US corporations and allow [them] to gain preferential access to crucial natural resources.” The empire must, therefore, oppose “all attempts to change the status quo in the periphery of the system – if not in the center as well. For these reasons militarism and imperialism are inseparable for US capitalism, as they are for capitalism as a whole.”
Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon continued Kennedy’s policies; and Nixon was president when the US helped to overthrow the democratically elected Allende government in Chile in 1973. US terrorism in Latin America, however, reached new and genocidal levels under Ronald Reagan. But this shift did not begin abruptly with Reagan, however, and Grandin critiques Jimmy Carter’s administration as the transition stage to the horrendous Reagan policies: “… a number of [Carter’s] actual policies facilitated the rearming of the Cold War that his successor would execute in full. It was Carter, not Reagan, who began to increase the military budget at the expense of domestic social services. It was Carter who first proposed the creation of a Rapid Deployment Force” that was “designed, according to his NSC adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, to strike … against brewing trouble. It was Carter who initiated support for the mujahedeen in Afghanistan six months prior to Moscow’s 1979 invasion…. It was also Carter who began America’s more active military engagement in the Persian Gulf.”
The full flowering of imperialist aggression in the hemisphere, however, came in Central America with Reagan and his advisers’ advocacy for US-supported death squad regimes and the Contras. Although these US-supported forces were mad-dog killers, Reagan lauded them all, even going so far as to call the Contras the “moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers.” He “[patronized] brutal executioners and torturers” to the point where “mass slaughter became a crucial instrument of US foreign policy.”
Grandin forces us to see the nature and levels of violence that formed the new imperialism in Central America. The terror in Guatemala was staggering as perhaps 100,000 Mayan peasants were slaughtered by an army that had been trained by the US and Israel: “… troops murdered children by beating them on rocks or throwing them in rivers as their parents watched…. They gutted living victims, amputated genitalia, arms, and legs, committed mass rapes, and buried victims alive.” These were the “freedom fighters” lauded by Reagan and his supporters; in truth they were brothers to the Nazi SS that slaughtered Jews and others along the Eastern front in WW II.
El Salvador was more of the same, and the terror there unfolded when the US-supported regime “responded” to the cries for reform by increasing “death-squad executions [that] united and radicalized the opposition.” Officials in the Carter administration were informed about these death-squad massacres, but there was little outrage from our “patron saint” of human rights or his advisers.
Kennedy’s policies had helped lay the foundation for what ultimately became the death-squad regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala. Even though “there was not even a whiff of rural insurrection” in El Salvador in the early 1960s, this did not stop
“agents from the State Department, Green Berets, CIA and USAID [that] organized … groups that would become the backbone of that country’s death-squad system” – led by soldiers who were often trained by the US at Fort Benning, Georgia. A Pentagon report stated that it was “precisely the young, aggressive, US-trained officers … who are the most intoxicated by the extreme right’s vision and … who commit many of the worst atrocities.”
In Guatemala, Grandin tells us, the bloodshed was even worse. After the CIA overthrew Arbenz in 1954, Washington promised that it would turn the country into a “showcase for democracy” but instead “created a laboratory of repression.” In the early 1980s the military devastated indigenous areas, turning them into “a slaughterhouse.” When US aid was partly cut to these death squad regimes and the Contras in Nicaragua, Argentina and Israel stepped in with training and weapons. It may seem shocking that Israel joined anti-Semitic Argentine generals in funding and organizing this genocide – something that should be remembered the next time Israeli officials and their supporters in the US lecture us about terrorism. Despite full knowledge of the genocidal nature of what was happening in Guatemala, however, Reagan continued “to laud” a regime whose troops “were engaged in large-scale killing of Indian men, women and children.”
The same butchery was pursued in Nicaragua against the Sandinistas that had taken power in a genuine people’s revolution in 1979, overthrowing the criminal Somoza family that had been supported by the US since the “Good Neighbor” days under FDR. Oliver North and William Casey, head of the CIA, led the US terrorist efforts. They organized and “presided over” an “elaborate transnational support network designed to bypass congressional and public scrutiny. [The network] included nations such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, “conservative religious’ leaders and organizations, “private security firms and arms merchants, … mercenaries, … ex-agents” of SAVAK, the Shah of Iran’s secret police” and international drug dealers. Grandin tells us there was “ample evidence … that the CIA employed … dealers as middlemen, using their planes to ship arms to the Contras in exchange for easy access to American markets.” All these people and groups were evidently part of the “moral” leaders and “freedom fighters” Reagan talked about.
Official US reports, however, proved that the Contras committed “atrocities” that included “hundreds of civilian murders, mutilations, tortures, and rapes” [actually there were thousands] of which “CIA superiors were well aware.” The Agency stated that the Contras killed “civilians and Sandinista officials … as well as heads of cooperatives, nurses, doctors, and judges…. By the end of the war, 30,000 civilians had been killed, the overwhelming majority at the hands of” this US-sponsored and supported terrorist group. Despite our moral revulsion over this terror, we must understand it was absolutely necessary to maintain US imperial hegemony; otherwise, US-backed Contras and death-squad regimes in Guatemala and El Salvador would have been overthrown along with their US patrons who ruled those nations for generations.
Others have seconded Grandin’s arguments. In 1982, for example, writer and Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez discussed the human cost of US-sponsored terror in Latin America in his acceptance speech. Since the early 1970s, he said, the continent had “not had a moment’s rest.” There were “five wars and seventeen military coups; there emerged a diabolic dictator who is carrying out in God’s name the first Latin American genocide of our time…. [This was General Rios Montt in Guatamala, Reagan’s favorite]…. Those missing because of repression number nearly 120,000….”
Because people “tried to change this state of affairs, nearly 200,000 women and men have died throughout the continent, and over 100,000 have lost their lives in … Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala…. 1 million … have fled Chile, … 10% of its population…. Uruguay, a tiny nation of 2.5 million inhabitants [that] considers itself this continent’s most civilized country, has lost to exile one out of every five citizens.” These horrific crimes against humanity that were punishable by death at Nuremberg were all carried out with US financial, ideological and military assistance.
In his history of US imperial relations with Latin America, scholar Juan Gonzalez (A Harvest of Empire) reminds us that the violent repression in the 1960s-1980s had deep historical roots going back to the earliest assaults by whites throughout Spanish colonies. And the policies carried out by Kennedy, Reagan, et al. were linked to the racist militarism of that “godfather” of imperialism, Woodrow Wilson. When he became president in 1912, US corporations owned hundreds of plants in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America, and “millions of peasants [had been] forced from their lands.” Even though they did not freely choose it, Puerto Ricans “[became] US citizens in 1917 when Congress passed an act making them so, over the unanimous protests of their house of delegates there.” This was the year the US entered WW I, an abject history lesson that revealed the utter bankruptcy of Wilson’s proclaimed ideals about “self-determination” that were never meant to apply to people of color throughout the world.
One of Wilson’s “idealistic” efforts on behalf of self-determination occurred in 1916 when the US invaded the Dominican Republic, “dissolved its legislature, imposed martial law and press censorship, and jailed hundreds of opponents. The occupation would last eight years [and] prompted widespread protests against the US throughout Latin America, created deep bitterness in the Dominican population, and radically altered every sphere of Dominican society.” Lyndon Johnson followed Wilson’s example in May 1965 when he sent marines there to block the election of progressive candidate Juan Bosch – the very same month Johnson was escalating the war in Vietnam.
Noam Chomsky, our leading intellectual dissident, has argued that all this terror in Latin America must be understood as part of a larger effort by the US to retain its global domination after WW II. In Hegemony or Survival, he points out that grasping US efforts during the Cold War “means understanding that foreign policy flows from an institutional framework of domestic power, which remains fairly stable. Economic decision-making in the US is highly centralized … [and] it is only natural that state policy should seek to construct a world system open to US economic penetration and political control tolerating no rivals or threats.” US imperialism in pursuit of this grand strategy, therefore, has always been aimed at Third World nationalist and radical movements in places like Latin America – not the former Soviet Union.
He develops this argument in his book World Orders Old and New, asserting that US imperialism has sought to maintain the worldwide class division between North and South, which is far more important than the East-West, Cold War conflict: “… the conventional picture of the Cold War … does not withstand scrutiny, and never has.” A much “more realistic understanding of the Cold War [can be obtained] by adopting a longer-range perspective, viewing it as a particular phase in the five-hundred-year European conquest of the world – the history of aggression, subversion, terror, and domination now termed the ‘North-South confrontation.’”
The evidence for this North-South imperialist thesis, Chomsky points out, is “spelled out with particular lucidity in US planning documents, and illustrated in practice with much consistency.” In these documents, “independent nationalism” and especially “radical nationalism” cannot be tolerated. Latin America, for example, is “to provide services for the rich, offering cheap labor, resources, markets, opportunities for investment and (lately) export of pollution, along with other amenities (havens for drug money laundering and other unregulated financial operations, tourism, and so on).” If “ultra-nationalism” arises and “appears successful in terms that might be meaningful for poor people elsewhere” then it must be opposed by the US as “a … heinous crime; the culprit, is then termed a ‘virus’ that might spread ‘infection’ elsewhere, a ‘rotten apple’ that might ‘spoil the barrel,’ like Arbenz’s Guatemala, Allende’s Chile, Sandinista Nicaragua, and a host of others.”
Chomsky points out that the fundamental issues “are occasionally expressed with some clarity, as when Henry Kissinger warned that the ‘contagious example’ of Allende’s Chile might ‘infect’ not only Latin America” but also other areas of the world. Regarding Nicaragua, Reagan’s Secretary of State George Schultz “[voiced] the real fear” about the Sandinistas’ impact on anti-imperialist struggles throughout Latin America. If they “succeed in consolidating their power,” then “all the countries in Latin America … will see radical forces emboldened to exploit these problems.” In order to crush this possibility in Central America, Grandin shows us how US-supported death squad regimes in Guatemala and El Salvador and Contra terrorists in Nicaragua resorted to genocidal levels of violence.
Chomsky has called Nicaragua “a particularly revealing case” that shows how “torturing [the country] is a ritual going back to 1854, when the US Navy destroyed a coastal town to avenge an alleged insult to US officials and the millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt…. It has therefore long been our established right … without a second thought through the final savagery of our client Somoza, who slaughtered tens of thousands with our aid and approval (disguised with much conceit) when the desperate population finally arose. The refusal of the new government [i.e., the Sandinistas] to genuflect in the proper manner aroused sheer frenzy” especially among US leaders and mass media apologists.
Scholars James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer support Grandin’s overall thesis by addressing the economic basis of US imperialism in Latin America (Empire with Imperialism: The Globalizing Dynamics of Neo-liberal Capitalism). They argue that US imperialist aggression “takes many forms but pursues similar goals: conquest of markets, penetration of competitors and protection of home markets.” This aggression has been masked in recent decades, however, under the guise of “globalization” – a process that actually “grew out of the barrel of a gun – a gun wielded, pointed and fired by the imperial state.”
This assertion must be true, because it was articulated by arguably the most influential US journalist and apologist for globalization, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. He offered up this relationship between the capitalist market, globalization and imperialism: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish with McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps” (Friedman, The Olive Tree and the Lexus, p. 373).
Petras and Veltmeyer assert that “whatever form” imperialism takes, “it entails the projection of state power in its various forms (economic, political and military) … to advance … class or ‘national’ interests and subordinate other countries to these interests.” Policies to support the terrorist US imperial state, therefore, are taken both “both directly” (through the State Department and the Pentagon) and “indirectly (via control over financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund)….” This imperialist process, however, “is not a policy, a conspiracy or a product of any single administration, but a structural reality with political determinants and an economic basis.”
The authors caution us, however, not to see imperialism as a one-way process. “While European and US empire-builders have exploited … Latin America for most of the past half millennium, it is also true that Latin American popular movements and national and socialist regimes have managed to significantly modify or transform their relations with the imperial states at different conjunctures. Imperialism is based on class and state relations that by nature imply a process of conflict, confrontation, conquest, revolution, counterrevolution and transformation.”
This “empire-building” was aided by “military coups in Brazil (1964), Bolivia (1971), Chile (1973) and Argentina (1976), and civilian military coups in Uruguay (1972) and Peru (1993) [that] created the political framework and international agreements with international financial institutions that halted and reversed the national industrializing project of the [region], opening up Latin America to eventual conquest by US and European interests.” This imperialist process in the 1990s alone led to “$585 billion in interest payments and profits [being] remitted to the centre of the empire, the vast bulk of it to US home offices.” It is this foundation of violent accumulation in Latin America that must be understood clearly and completely if we are develop a reasonable and objective understanding of “the new imperialism.”
The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano (Open Veins of Latin America) has defined this brutal accumulation process in Latin America with his usual eloquent and powerful language: “Our defeat was always implicit in the victory of others; our wealth has always generated our poverty by nourishing the prosperity of others – the empire and their native overseers. In the colonial and neocolonial alchemy, gold changes into scrap metal and food into poison.” He goes on to write that “the strength of the imperialist system as a whole rests on the necessary inequality of its parts”; therefore, it would be foolish to expect the imperialists to provide a solution to the oppression they have produced. As a 19th century Guatemalan foreign minister once stated: “It would be strange if the remedy should come from the US, the same place which brings us the disease.”
Samir Amin, Director of the Third World Forum in Senegal, has also added his harsh judgment about the “new” and “old” US imperialism in Latin America. In Empire of Chaos, he writes: “The intervention of the North in the affairs of the South is – in all its aspects … negative. Never have the armies of the North brought peace, prosperity, or democracy to the peoples of … Latin America. In the future … as in the past … they can only bring … further servitude, the exploitation of their labor, the expropriation of their riches, and the denial of their rights.”
The essence of Galeano’s and Amin’s views and US imperialism was also captured 178 years ago by the Venezuelan general and liberator Simon Bolivar – who fought for the independence from Spain of a number of Latin American nations: “… The United States,” he said, “seemed predestined by Providence to rain down misery on the Americas in the name of liberty….”