Drugs, Lies, and Video Wars,
excerpted from the book
The Brutal Realities of U.S. Global
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Michael Parenti page