Our Commitment to Democracy
by Noam Chomsky
from the book
What Uncle Sam Really Wants, 1993
In one high-level document after another, US planners stated
their view that the primary threat to the new US-led world order
was Third World nationalism-sometimes called ultranationalism:
"nationalistic regimes" that are responsive to "popular
demand for immediate improvement in the low living standards of
the masses" and production for domestic needs.
The planners' basic goals, repeated over and over again, were
to prevent such "ultranationalist" regimes from ever
taking power-or if, by some fluke, they did take power, to remove
them and to install governments that favor private investment
of domestic and foreign capital, production for export and the
right to bring profits out of the country. (These goals are never
challenged in the secret documents. If you're a US policy planner,
they're sort of like the air you breathe.)
Opposition to democracy and social reform is never popular in
the victim country. You can't get many of the people living there
excited about it, except a small group connected with US businesses
who are going to profit from it.
The United States expects to rely on force, and makes alliances
with the military-"the least anti-American of any political
group in Latin America," as the Kennedy planners put it-so
they can be relied on to crush any indigenous popular groups that
get out of hand.
The US has been willing to tolerate social reform-as in Costa
Rica, for example-only when the rights of labor are suppressed
and the climate for foreign investment is preserved. Because the
Costa Rican government has always respected these two crucial
imperatives, it's been allowed to play around with its reforms.
Another problem that's pointed to over and over again in these
secret documents is the excessive liberalism of Third World countries.
(That was particularly a problem in Latin America, where the governments
weren't sufficiently committed to thought control and restrictions
on travel, and where the legal systems were so deficient that
they required evidence for the prosecution of crimes.)
This is a constant lament right through the Kennedy period (after
that, the documentary record hasn't yet been declassified). The
Kennedy liberals were adamant about the need to overcome democratic
excesses that permitted "subversion"-bywhich, of course,
they meant people thinking the wrong ideas.
The United States was not, however, lacking in compassion for
the poor. For example, in the mid-
1950s, our ambassador to Costa Rica recommended that the United
Fruit Company, which basically ran Costa Rica, introduce "a
few relatively simple and superficial human interest frills for
the workers that may have a large psychological effect."
Secretary of State John Foster Dulles agreed, telling President
Eisenhower that to keep Latin Americans in line, "you have
to pat them a little bit and make them think that you are fond
Given all that, US policies in the Third World are easy to understand.
We've consistently opposed democracy if its results can't be controlled.
The problem with real democracies is that they're likely to fall
prey to the heresy that governments should respond to the needs
of their own population, instead of those of US investors.
A study of the inter-American system published by the Royal Institute
of International Affairs in London concluded that, while the US
pays lip service to democracy, the real commitment is to "private,
capitalist enterprise." When the rights of investors are
threatened, democracy has to go; if these rights are safeguarded,
killers and torturers will do just fine.
Parliamentary governments were barred or overthrown, with US support
and sometimes direct intervention, in Iran in 1953, in Guatemala
in 1954 (and in 1963, when Kennedy backed a military coup to prevent
the threat of return to democracy), in the Dominican Republic
in 1963 and 1965, in Brazil in 1964, in Chile in 1973 and often
elsewhere. Our policies have been very much the same in El Salvador
and in many other places across the globe.
The methods are not very pretty. What the US-run contra forces
did in Nicaragua, or what our terrorist proxies do in El Salvador
or Guatemala, isn't only ordinary killing. A major element is
brutal, sadistic torture-beating infants against rocks, hanging
women by their feet with their breasts cut off and the skin of
their face peeled back so that they'll bleed to death, chopping
people's heads off and putting them on stakes. The point is to
crush independent nationalism and popular forces that might bring
about meaningful democracy.
from the book What Uncle Sam Really Wants, published in 1993
Tucson, AZ 85751
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other Noam Chomsky books published by Odonian Press
Secrets, Lies, and Democracy
The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many
Uncle Sam Really Wants