The Agenda of the Doves:1988
The Mortal Sin of Self-Defense
The Decline of the Democratic
excerpted from the book
by Noam Chomsky
Hill and Wang, 1992, paper
Few, regions of the world have been so dominated by a great power
as Central America, which emerged from its usual oblivion in the
1980s, moving to center stage as the traditional order faced an
unexpected challenge with the growth of popular movements, inspired
in part by the Church's new orientation towards "a preferential
option for the poor." After decades of brutal repression
and the destructive impact of the US aid programs of the 1960s,
the ground was prepared for meaningful social change. The mood
in Washington darkened further with the overthrow of the Somoza
The reaction was vigorous and swift: violent
repression, which decimated popular organizations. The ranks of
the small guerrilla organizations swelled as state terror mounted.
"The guerrilla groups, the revolutionary groups, almost without
exception began as associations of teachers, associations of labor
unions, campesino unions, or parish organizations . . ."
with practical and reformist goals, ex-Ambassador Robert White
testified before Congress in 1982. The same point was made by
the assassinated Salvadoran Jesuit intellectual Father Ignacio
Martin-Baro, among many others.
A decade later, the United States and
its local allies could claim substantial success. The challenge
to the traditional order was effectively contained. The misery
of the vast majority had deepened, while the power of the military
and the privileged sectors was enhanced behind a facade of democratic
forms. Some 200,000 people had been killed. Countless others were
maimed, tortured, "disappeared," driven from their homes.
The people, the communities, the environment were devastated,
possibly beyond repair. It was truly a grand victory.
Elite reaction is one of gratification
and relief. "For the first time, all five of the countries
are led by presidents who were elected in contests widely considered
free and fair," Washington Post Central America correspondent
Lee Hockstader reports from Guatemala City, expressing the general
satisfaction over the victory of "conservative politicians"
in elections which, we are to understand, took place on a level
playing field with no use of force and no foreign influence. It
is true, he continues, that "conservative politicians in
Central America traditionally represented the established order,"
defending the wealthy "despite their countries' grossly distorted
income patterns.... But the wave of democracy that has swept the
region in recent years appears to be shifting politicians' priorities,"
so the bad old days are gone for ever.
The student of American history and culture
will recognize the familiar moves. Once again, we witness the
miraculous change of course that occurs whenever some particularly
brutal state excesses have been exposed. Hence all of history,
and the reasons for its persistent character, may be dismissed
as irrelevant, while we march forward, leading our flock to a
new and better world.
The Post news report does not merely assert
that the new conservatives are dedicated populists, unlike those
whom the US used to support in the days of its naiveté
and inadvertent error, now thankfully behind us. It goes on to
provide evidence for this central claim. The shift of priorities
to a welcome populism is demonstrated by the outcome of the conference
of the five presidents in Antigua, Guatemala, just completed.
The presidents, all "committed to free-market economics,"
have abandoned worthless goals of social reform, Hockstader explains.
"Neither in the plan nor in the lengthier and more general
'Declaration of Antigua' was there any mention of land reform
or suggestion of new government social welfare programs to help
the poor." Rather, they are adopting "a trickle-down
approach to aid the poor." "The idea is to help the
poor without threatening the basic power structure," a regional
economist observes, contemplating these imaginative new ideas
on how to pursue our vocation of serving the suffering masses.
The headline reads: "Central Americans
to use Trickle-down Strategy in War on Poverty," capturing
the basic thrust of the news story and the assumptions that frame
it: aiding the poor is the highest priority of this new breed
of populist conservatives, as it always has been for Washington
and the political culture generally. What is newsworthy, and so
promising, is the populism of the conservatives we support, and
their ingenious and startlingly innovative approach to our traditional
commitment to help the poor and suffering, a trickle-down strategy
of enriching the wealthy-a "preferential option for the rich,"
overcoming the errors of the Latin American bishops.
One participant in the meeting is quoted
as saying: "These past ten years have been gruesome for poor
people, they've taken a beating." Putting aside the conventions,
one might observe that the political outcomes hailed as a triumph
of democracy are in no small measure a tribute to the salutary
efficacy of US terror, and that the presidents who hold formal
power, and their sponsors, might have had something other than
a war on poverty in mind. There is also a history of trickle-down
approaches to relieving poverty that might be explored. Such an
inquiry might lead us to expect that the next ten years will be
no less gruesome for the poor. But that path is not pursued, here
or elsewhere in the mainstream.
While the three-day conference of populist
conservatives was taking place in Antigua, thirty-three tortured,
bullet-riddled bodies were discovered in Guatemala. They did not
disturb the celebration over the triumph of freedom and democracy,
or even make the news. Nor did the rest of the 125 bodies half
with signs of torture, found throughout the country that month,
according to the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission. The Commission
identified seventy-nine as victims of "extrajudicial execution"
by the security forces. Another twenty-nine were kidnapped and
forty-nine injured in kidnap attempts. The report comes to us
from Mexico, where the Commission is based, so that human rights
workers can survive now that the US has succeeded in establishing
democracy in their homeland.
The UN Economic Commission for Latin America
and the Caribbean (CEPAL) reports that the percentage of the Guatemalan
population living in extreme poverty increased rapidly after the
establishment of democracy in 1985: from 45 percent in that year
to 76 percent in 1988. A study by the Nutritional Institute of
Central America and Panama (INCAP) estimates that half the population
live under conditions of extreme poverty and that in rural areas,
where the situation is worse, thirteen out of every hundred children
under five die of illnesses related to malnutrition. Other studies
estimate that 20,000 Guatemalans die of hunger every year, that
more than 1000 children died of measles alone in the first four
months of 1990, and that "the majority of Guatemala's four
million children receive no protection at all, not even for the
most elemental rights." The Communique of the January 1990
Conference of Guatemalan Bishops reviews the steady deterioration
of the critical situation of the mass of the population as "the
economic crisis has degenerated into a social crisis" and
human rights, even "the right to dignity, . . . do not exist."
Throughout the region, the desperate situation
of the poor majority has become still more grave with the grand
triumph of our values. Three weeks before the Antigua conference,
in his homily marking the completion of President Alfredo Cristiani's
first year in office, Archbishop Rivera y Damas of San Salvador
deplored the policies of his administration, which have worsened
the already desperate plight of the poor; the new conservative
populist so admired in Washington and New York "is working
to maintain the system," the Archbishop said, "favoring
a market economy which is making the poor yet poorer."
In the neighboring countries, the situation
is much the same. A few days after the encouraging Washington
Post report on the Antigua meeting an editorial in a leading Honduran
journal appeared under the headline "Misery is increasing
in Honduras because of the economic adjustment," referring
to the new trickle-down strategy that the Post found so promising
- actually the traditional strategy, its lethal features now more
firmly entrenched. The main victims are "the usual neglected
groups: children, women, and the aged," according to the
conclusions of an academic seminar on "Social Policy in the
Context of Crisis," confirmed by "the Catholic Church,
the unions, several political parties, and noted economists and
statisticians of the country." Two-thirds of the population
live below the poverty line, over half of these below the level
of "dire need." Unemployment, undernourishment, and
severe malnutrition are increasing.
The Pan American Health Organization estimates
that of 850,000 children born every year in Central America, 100,000
will die before the age of five and two-thirds of those who survive
will suffer from malnutrition, with attendant physical or mental
development problems. The Inter-American Development Bank reports
that per capita income has fallen to the level of 1971 in Guatemala,
1961 in El Salvador, 1973 in Honduras, 1960 in Nicaragua, 1974
in Costa Rica, and 1982 in Panama.
Nicaragua was an exception to this trend
of increasing misery, but the US terrorist attack and economic
warfare succeeded in reversing earlier gains. Nevertheless, infant
mortality halved over the decade, from 128 to 62 deaths per thousand
births: "Such a reduction is exceptional on the international
level," a UNICEF official said, "especially when the
country's war-ravaged economy is taken into account."
Studies by CEPAL, the World Health Organization,
and others "cast dramatic light on the situation," Mexico's
leading daily reports. They reveal that fifteen million Central
Americans, almost 60 per cent of the population, live in poverty,
of whom 9.7 million live in "extreme poverty." Severe
malnutrition is rampant among children. Seventy-five percent of
the peasants in Guatemala, 60 percent in El Salvador, 40 percent
in Nicaragua, and 35 percent in Honduras lack health care. To
make matters worse, Washington has applied "stunning quotas
on sugar, beef, cocoa, cheese, textiles, and limestone, as well
as compensation laws and 'antidumping' policies in cement, flowers,
and operations of cellulose and glass. " The European Community
and Japan have followed suit, also imposing harmful protectionist
The environment shares the fate of those
who people it. Deforestation, soil erosion, pesticide poisoning,
and other forms of environmental destruction, increasing through
the victorious 1980s, are traceable in large measure to the development
model imposed upon the region and US militarization of it in recent
years. Intense exploitation of resources by agribusiness and export-oriented
production have enriched wealthy sectors and their foreign sponsors,
and led to statistical growth, with a devastating impact on the
land and the people. In El Salvador, large areas have become virtual
wastelands as the military has sought to undermine the guerrillas'
peasant base by extensive bombardment, and by forest and crop
destruction. There have been occasional efforts to stem the ongoing
catastrophe. Like the Arbenz government overthrown in the ClA-run
coup that restored the military regime in Guatemala, the Sandinistas
initiated environmental reforms and protections. These were desperately
needed, both in the countryside and near Managua, where industrial
plants had been permitted to dump waste freely. The most notorious
case was the US Penwalt Corporation, which poured mercury into
Lake Managua until 1981.
The foreign-imposed development model
has emphasized "nontraditional exports" in recent years.
Under the free-market conditions approved for defenseless Third
World countries, the search for survival and gain will naturally
lead to products that maximize profit, whatever the consequences.
Coca production has soared in the Andes and elsewhere for this
reason but there are other examples as well. After the discovery
of clandestine "human farms" and "fattening houses"
for children in Honduras and Guatemala, Dr Luis Genaro Morales,
president of the Guatemalan Pediatric Association, said that child
trafficking "is becoming one of the principal nontraditional
export products," generating $20 million of business a year.
The International Human Rights Federation, after an inquiry in
Guatemala, gave a more conservative estimate, reporting that about
three hundred children are kidnapped every year, taken to secret
nurseries, then sold for adoption at about $10,000 per child.
The IHRF investigators could not confirm
reports that babies' organs were being sold to foreign buyers.
This macabre belief is widely held in the region, however; indicative
of the general mood, though hardly credible. The Honduran journal
El Tiempo reported that the Paraguayan police rescued seven Brazilian
babies from a gang that "intended to sacrifice them to organ
banks in the United States, according to a charge in the courts."
Brazil's Justice Ministry ordered federal police to investigate
allegations that adopted children are being used for organ transplants
in Europe, a practice "known to exist in Mexico and Thailand,"
the London Guardian reports, adding that "handicapped children
are said to be preferred for transplant operations" and reviewing
the process by which children are allegedly kidnapped, "disappeared,"
or given up by impoverished mothers, then adopted or used for
transplants. Tiempo reported shortly after that an Appeals Judge
in Honduras ordered "a meticulous investigation into the
sale of Honduran children for the purpose of using their organs
for transplant operations." A year earlier, the Secretary-General
of the National Council of Social Services, which is in charge
of adoptions, had reported that Honduran children "were being
sold to the body traffic industry" for organ transplant.
A Resolution of the European Parliament
on the Trafficking of Central American Children alleged that near
a "human farm" in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, infant corpses
were found that "had been stripped of one or a number of
organs." At another "human farm" in Guatemala,
babies ranging from eleven days old to four months old had been
found. The director of the farm, at the time of his arrest, declared
that the children "were sold to American or Israeli families
whose children needed organ transplants at the cost of $75,000
per child," the Resolution continues, expressing "its
horror in the light of the facts" and calling for investigation
and preventive measures.
As the region sinks into further misery,
these reports continue to appear. In July 1990, a right-wing Honduran
daily, under the headline "Loathsome Sale of Human Flesh,"
reported that police in El Salvador had discovered a group, headed
by a lawyer, that was buying children to resell in the United
States. An estimated 20,000 children disappear every year in Mexico,
the report continues, destined for this end or for use in criminal
activities such as transport of drugs "inside their bodies."
"The most gory fact, however, is that many little ones are
used for transplant of organs to children in the U.S.," which,
it is suggested, may account for the fact that the highest rate
of kidnapping of children from infants to eighteen-year-olds is
in the Mexican regions bordering on the United States.
Brazil is another country with rich resources and potential, long
subject to European influence, then US intervention primarily
since the Kennedy years. We cannot, however, simply speak of "Brazil."
There are two very different Brazils. In a scholarly study of
the Brazilian economy, Peter Evans writes that "the fundamental
conflict in Brazil is between the 1, or perhaps 5, percent of
the population that comprises the elite and the 80 percent that
has been left out of the 'Brazilian model' of development."
The Brazilian journal Veja reports on these two Brazils-the first
modem and Westernized, the second sunk in the deepest misery.
Seventy percent of the population consume fewer calories than
Iranians, Mexicans, or Paraguayans. Over half the population have
family incomes below the minimum wage. For 40 percent of the population
the median annual salary is $287, while inflation skyrockets and
even minimal necessities are beyond reach. A World Bank report
on the Brazilian educational system compares it unfavorably to
those of Ethiopia and Pakistan, with a dropout rate of 80 percent
in primary school, growing illiteracy, and falling budgets. The
Ministry of Education reports that the government spends over
a third of the education budget on school meals, because most
of the students will either eat at school or not at all.
The journal South, which describes itself
as "The Business Magazine of 7 the Developing World,"
reports on Brazil under the heading "The Underside of Paradise."
A country with enormous wealth, no security concerns, a relatively
homogeneous population, and a favorable climate, Brazil nevertheless
The problem is that this cornucopia is
inhabited by a population enduring social conditions among the
worst in the world. Two-thirds do not get enough to eat. Brazil
has a higher infant mortality rate than Sri Lanka, a higher illiteracy
rate than Paraguay, and worse social indicators than many far
poorer African countries. Fewer children finish first-grade school
than in Ethiopia, fewer are vaccinated than in Tanzania and Botswana.
Thirty-two percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Seven million abandoned children beg, steal and sniff glue on
the streets. For scores of millions, home is a shack in a slum,
a room in the inner city, or increasingly, a patch of ground under
The share of the poorer classes in the
national income is "steadily falling giving Brazil probably
the highest concentration of income in the world." It has
no progressive income tax or capital gains tax, but it does have
galloping inflation and a huge foreign debt, while participating
in a "Marshall Plan in reverse," in the words of former
President Jose Sarney, referring to debt payments.
It would only be fair to add that the
authorities are concerned with the mounting problem of homeless
and starving children, and are trying to reduce their numbers.
Amnesty International reports that death squads, often run by
the police, are killing street children at a rate of about one
a day, while "many more children, forced onto the streets
to support their families, are being beaten and tortured by the
police" (Reuters, citing AI). "Poor children in Brazil
are treated with contempt by the authorities, risking their lives
simply by being on the streets," AI alleged. Most of the
torture takes place under police custody or in state institutions.
There are few complaints by victims or witnesses because of fear
of the police, and the few cases that are investigated judicially
result in light sentences.
For three-quarters of the population of
this cornucopia, the conditions of Eastern Europe are dreams beyond
reach, another triumph of the Free World. A UN "Report on
Human Development" ranks Brazil, with the world's eighth
largest economy, in eightieth place in general welfare (as measured
by education, health, hygiene)-near Albania, Paraguay and Thailand.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced on October
18 that more than 40 percent of the population (almost fifty-three
million people) are hungry. The Brazilian Health Ministry estimates
that hundreds of thousands of children die of hunger every year.
Recall that these are the conditions that
hold on the twenty-fifth anniversary of "the single most
decisive victory of freedom in the mid-twentieth century"
(Lincoln Gordon, US Ambassador to Brazil at the time)-that is,
the overthrow of parliamentary democracy by Brazilian generals
backed by the United States, which then praised the "economic
miracle" produced by the neo-Nazi National Security State
they established. In the months before the generals' coup, Washington
assured its traditional military allies of its support and provided
them with aid, because the military was essential to "the
strategy for restraining left-wing excesses" of the elected
Goulart government, Ambassador Gordon cabled the State Department.
The US actively supported the coup, preparing to intervene directly
if its help was needed for what Gordon described as the "democratic
rebellion" of the generals. This "de facto ouster"
of the elected president was "a great victory for the free
world," Gordon reported, adding that it should "create
a greatly improved climate for private investment." US labor
leaders demanded their proper share of the credit for the overthrow
of the parliamentary regime, while the new government proceeded
to crush the labor movement and subordinate poor and working people
to the overriding needs of business interests, primarily foreign.
Secretary of State Dean Rusk justified US recognition for the
regime on the grounds that "the succession there occurred
as foreseen by the Constitution," which had just been blatantly
violated. The US proceeded to provide ample aid as torture and
repression mounted, the relics of constitutional government faded
away, and the climate for investors improved under the rule of
what Washington hailed as the "democratic forces."
The circumstances of the poor in Brazil
continue to regress as austerity measures are imposed on the standard
IMF formula in an effort to deal somehow with this catastrophe
of capitalism. The same is true in Argentina, where the Christian
Democratic Party called on its members to resign from the Cabinet
in March 1990 "in order not to validate, by their presence
in the government, the anti-popular [economic] measures of the
regime." In a further protest over these measures, the Party
expelled the current Minister of the Economy. Experts say that
the socioeconomic situation has become "unbearable,"
and that a third of the population lives in extreme poverty. ~
The fate of Argentina is addressed in
a report in the Washington Post by Eugene Robinson. One of the
ten richest countries in the world at the turn of the century,
with abundant resources and great advantages, Argentina is becoming
a Third World country, Robinson observes. About one-third of its
thirty-one million inhabitants live below the poverty line. Eighteen
thousand children die each year before their first birthday, most
from malnutrition and preventable disease. The capital, once considered
"the most elegant and European city this side of the Atlantic,"
is "ringed by a widening belt of shantytowns, called villas
miserias, or 'miseryvilles,' where the homes are cobbled-together
huts and the sewers are open ditches." Here too the IMF-style
reforms "have made life even more precarious the poor."
David Felix concludes that Argentina's decline results from "political
factors such as prolonged class warfare and a lack of national
commitment on the part of Argentina's elite," which took
advantage of the free-market policies of the murderous military
dictatorship. These led to massive redistribution of income towards
the wealthy and a sharp fall in per capita income along with a
huge increase in debt as a result of capital flight, tax evasion
and consumption by the rich beneficiaries of the system; Reaganomics,
In oil-rich Venezuela, over 40 percent
live in extreme poverty according to official figures, and the
food situation is considered "hyper-critical," the Chamber
of Food Industries reported in 1989. Malnutrition is so common
that it is often not noted in medical histories, according to
hospital officials, who warn that "the future is horrible."
Prostitution has also increased, reaching the level of about 170,000
women or more, according to the Ministry of Health. The Ministry
also reports an innovation, beyond the classic prostitution of
women of low income. Many "executive secretaries and housewives
and college students accompany tourists and executives during
a weekend, earning at times up to [about S150] per contact."
Child prostitution is also increasing and is now "extremely
widespread," along with child abuse.
Brutal exploitation of women is a standard feature of the "economic
miracles" in the realms of capitalist democracy. The huge
flow of women from impoverished rural areas in Thailand to service
the prostitution industry-one of the success stories of the economic
takeoff sparked by the Indochina wars-is one of the many features
of the Free World triumph that escape notice. The savage working
conditions for young women largely from the rural areas are notorious;
young women, because few others are capable of enduring these
conditions of labor, or survive to continue with it.
Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship
is another famous success story. Antonio Garza Morales reports
in Excelsior that "the social cost which has been paid by
the Chilean people is the highest in Latin America," with
the number of poor rising from one million after Allende to seven
million today, while the population has remained stable at twelve
million. Christian Democratic Party leader Senator Anselmo Sule,
returned from exile, says that economic growth that benefits 10
percent of the population has been achieved (Pinochet's official
institutions agree), but development has not. Unless the economic
disaster for the majority is remedied, "we are finished,"
he adds. According to David Felix, "Chile, hit especially
hard in the 1982-84 period, is now growing faster than during
the preceding decade of the Chicago Boys," enthralled by
the free-market ideology that is, indeed, highly beneficial for
some: the wealthy, crucially including foreign investors. Chile's
recovery, Felix argues, can be traced to "a combination of
severe wage repression by the Pinochet regime, an astutely managed
bailout of the bankrupt private sector by the economic team that
replaced the discredited Chicago Boys, and access to unusually
generous lending by the international financial institutions,"
much impressed by the favorable climate for business operations.
Environmental degradation is also a severe
problem in Chile. The Chilean journal Apsi devoted a recent issue
to the environmental crisis accelerated by the "radical neoliberalism"
of the period following the US-backed coup that overthrew the
parliamentary democracy. Recent studies show that about half the
country is becoming a desert, a problem that "seems much
farther away than the daily poisoning of those who live in Santiago,"
the capital city, which competes with Sao Paolo (Brazil) and Mexico
City for the pollution prize for the hemisphere (for the world,
the journal alleges). "The liquid that emerges from the millions
of faucets in the homes and alleys of Santiago have levels of
copper, iron, magnesium and lead which exceed by many times the
maximum tolerable norms." The lands that "supply the
fruits and vegetables of the Metropolitan Region are irrigated
with waters that exceed by 1000 times the maximum quantity of
coliforms acceptable," which is why Santiago "has levels
of hepatitis, typhoid, and parasites which are not seen in any
other part of the continent" (one of every three children
in the capital has parasites). Economists and environmentalists
attribute the problem to the "development model," crucially,
its "transnational style, "in which the most important
decisions tend to be adopted outside the ambit of the countries
themselves," consistent with the assigned "function"
of the Third World: to serve the needs of the industrial West.
On a visit to Europe a few days before he was assassinated by
elite government forces in San Salvador in November 1989, Father
Ignacio Ellacuria, rector of the University of Central America,
addressed the West on the underlying issues. You "have organized
your lives around inhuman values," These values "
are inhuman because they cannot be universalized.
The system rests on a few using the majority of the resources,
while the majority can't even cover their basic necessities. It
is crucial to define a system of values and a norm of living that
takes into account every human being."
In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the common interests were
to overcome the "crisis of democracy" that arose at
home with the awakening of the ignorant masses, to reverse the
declining fortunes of US business in the face of international
competition and lowered profitability, and to overcome the threat
of Third World "ultranationalism" that responds to domestic
concerns and popular pressures rather than the transcendent needs
of the rich industrial societies. The common interests therefore
required an attack on labor and the welfare system, expansion
of the public subsidy to high-technology industry through the
standard Pentagon funnel and other measures to enrich the wealthy,
a more aggressive foreign policy, and domestic propaganda to whip
the ignorant masses into line in fear for their lives. Such policy
proposals were advanced by the Carter Administration, then implemented
under Reagan; military spending, for example, was in general accord
with Carter Administration projections apart from the shape of
the curve, a brief propaganda success at the outset having been
exploited to accelerate spending, which then leveled off. Throughout
the period, the public continued its long-term drift towards support
for New Deal-style welfare state measures, while in articulate
opinion the "L word" ("liberal") followed
the "S word" ("socialist") into disgrace and
oblivion, and government policy, with general bipartisan support,
implemented the agenda of the powerful.
The common interests were outlined by
the experts as state management shifted from Carter to the Reaganites,
committed to the use of state power as an instrument of privilege.
In the domain of international policy, a perceptive analysis by
Robert Tucker in Foreign Affairs gave a foretaste of what was
to come on the eve of the inauguration. The costs of the Vietnam
War had compelled a temporary abandonment of the postwar policy
of containment in favor of détente, he observed, but now
a more activist foreign policy was required for a "resurgent
Tucker distinguished between "needs"
and "wants." Domination of the oil-producing regions
of the Middle East is a "need"; therefore we should
be prepared to use force to bar threats arising "from developments
indigenous to the Gulf' that might endanger our "right of
access" or our "economic well-being and the integrity
of [the nation's] basic institutions." Turning from "the
realm of necessity," Tucker identified a second major area
where forceful intervention was in order: Central America, where
we have only "wants," not "needs." Our right
to satisfy our "wants" in this region is conferred by
history: "We have regularly played a determining role in
making and unmaking governments, and we have defined what we have
considered to be the acceptable behavior of governments."
Thus "reasons of pride and historical tradition" confer
upon us the authority to ensure that "radical movements or
radical regimes must be defeated" while "right-wing
governments will have to be given steady outside support, even,
if necessary, by sending in American forces." Such intervention
should be relatively costless for us, so the liberal counterargument
is voided, he argued.
Tucker feared that "the prevailing
public mood" might permit only the halfway measures of "moderate
containment" and impede the proper pursuit of our "wants."
He therefore recommended the conventional appeal to "security
interests" to manufacture consent to these imperatives; as
events were to show, the refractory public was less malleable
than he had anticipated. Meanwhile Jeane Kirkpatrick derided the
idea that "forceful intervention in the affairs of another
nation is impractical and immoral," while the editors of
the New Republic deplored Carter's "failure to defend the
capitalist democratic idea" and his "moralistic excesses,"
urging military intervention if necessary to rescue the ruling
killers in El Salvador, and preference for a Somoza over the Sandinistas
if these are the only realistic alternatives. The bloody onslaught
on Central America ensued.
A fundamental goal of US policy towards Latin America (and elsewhere),
long-standing and well documented, is to take control of the police
and military so as to assure that the population will not act
upon unacceptable ideas. One goal, then, will be eventually to
restore something like the Somozist National Guard, following
the prescriptions of the Carter doves.
A secondary goal is to destroy any independent
press. Sometimes this requires murderous violence, as in El Salvador
and Guatemala. The broad elite approval of the practice is evident
from the reaction when it is carried out: typically, silence,
coupled with praise for the advances towards democracy. Sometimes
market forces suffice, as in Costa Rica, where the Spanish language
press is a monopoly of the ultra-right.
More generally, there are two legitimate
forces in Latin America: first and foremost, the United States;
secondarily, the local oligarchy, military, and business groups
that associate themselves with the interests of US economic and
political elites. If these forces hold power without challenge,
all is well. The playing field is level, and if formal elections
are held, it will be called "democracy. " If there is
any challenge from the general population, a firm response is
necessary. The establishment, left and right, will tolerate some
range of opinion over appropriate levels of savagery, repression,
and general misery.
In Nicaragua, it will not be so simple
to attain the traditional objectives. Any resistance to them will
be condemned as "Sandinista totalitarianism." One can
write the editorials in advance.
Perhaps the political coalition constructed
by Washington will be unable to meet the demands imposed upon
it by the master. If so, new managers will be needed. One option
is a turn to the right, a virtual reflex. Vice President Virgilio
Godoy may qualify as an adequate hardline autocrat, and ex-Contras
should be available to use the terrorist skills imparted to them
by their trainers from the US and its mercenary states. Or others
may be found to do the job, as circumstances allow. Another option
is to follow a different and also well-traveled road. There is
one mass-based political organization in Nicaragua. It may disintegrate
under repression, or social and economic deterioriation, or simply
the inevitable pressures under monopoly of resources by the right-wing
and its imperial associate. Or it may regain the vitality it has
at least partially lost. If it remains, and if it can be brought
to heel, perhaps its leadership can be assigned the task of social
management under US command. The point was made obliquely by the
Wall Street Journal, in its triumphal editorial on the elections.
"In time," the editors wrote, "Daniel Ortega may
discover the moderating influences of democratic elections, as
did Jamaica's Michael Manley, himself formerly a committed Marxist."
Translating from Newspeak, the US may
have to fall back on the Jamaican model, first working to undermine
and destroy a popular movement, then lavishly supporting the preferred
capitalist alternative that proved to be a miserable failure,
then turning to the populist Manley to manage the resulting disaster-but
The point is widely understood, though
generally left tacit in polite commentary. As if by instinct,
when the election returns were announced Ortega was instantaneously
transformed from a villain into a statesman, with real promise.
He can be kept in the wings, to be called upon if needed to follow
our directions, if only he can learn his manners.
The policy is routine. Once the rabble
have been tamed, once the dream of a better future is abandoned
and "the masses" understand that their only hope is
to shine shoes for Whitey, then it makes good sense to allow a
"democratic process" that may even bring former enemies
to power. They can then administer the ruins-for us. A side benefit
is that populist forces are thereby discredited. Thus the US was
quite willing to permit Manley to take over after the dismal failure
of the Reaganite free-market experiment, and would have observed
with equanimity (indeed, much pride in our tolerance of diversity)
if Juan Bosch had won the 1990 elections in the Dominican Republic.
There is no longer any need to send the Marines to bar him from
office as in 1965, when the population arose, defeating the army
and restoring the populist constitutional regime that had been
overthrown by a US-backed coup. After years of death squads, starvation,
mass flight of desperate boat people, and takeover of the rest
of the economy by US corporations, we need not be troubled by
democratic forms. On the same reasoning, it is sometimes a good
idea to encourage Black mayors- if possible, civil rights leaders-to
preside over the decline of what is left of the inner cities of
the domestic Third World. Once demoralization is thorough and
complete, they can run the wreckage and control the population.
Perhaps Ortega and the Sandinistas, having come to their senses
after a dose of reality administered by the guardian of order,
will be prepared to take on this task if the chosen US proxies
Years ago, a Jesuit priest working in
Nicaragua, who had been active in Chile prior to the Pinochet
coup, commented: "In Chile, the Americans made a mistake,"
killing the revolution there "too abruptly" and thus
failing to "kill the dream." "In Nicaragua they're
trying to kill the dream," he suggested. That is surely a
more rational policy, because if the dream is not killed, trouble
might erupt again. But once the hope of a more free and just society
is lost, and the proper habits are "ingrained" (as in
Manley's Jamaica, according to the World Bank official whose satisfied
evaluation was quoted earlier), then things should settle down
to the traditional endurance of suffering and privation, without
disturbing noises from the servants' quarters.
If all works well, Maynes's establishment
left will once again be able to celebrate what he calls the US
campaign "to spread the cause of democracy." It is true,
he observes, that sometimes things don't quite work out. Thus
"specialists may point out that the cause of democracy suffered
some long-run setbacks in such places as Guatemala and Iran because
of earlier CIA 'successes' in overthrowing governments there."
But ordinary folk should not be troubled by the human consequences
of these setbacks. More successful is the case of Grenada, where
the cause of democracy triumphed at not too great a cost to us,
Maynes observes, "and the island has not been heard from
since." There has been no need to report the recent meaningless
elections, the social dissolution and decay, the state of siege
instituted by the official democrats, the decline of living conditions,
and other standard concomitants of "the defense of freedom."
Perhaps, with luck, Nicaragua will prove to be a success of which
we can be equally proud. Panama is already well along the familiar
With proper management, then, we should
be able to leave the Sandinistas, at least in anything like their
earlier incarnation, down somewhere in "the ash heap of history"
where they belong, and "return Central America to the obscurity
it so richly deserves" in accord with the prescriptions of
the establishment left (Alan Tonelson, Maynes's predecessor at
Outside of the official left-right spectrum,
the nonpeople have other values and commitments, and a quite different
understanding of responsibility to something other than themselves
and of the cause of democracy and freedom. They should also understand
that solidarity work is now becoming even more critically important
than before. Every effort will be made to de-educate the general
population so that they sink to the intellectual and moral level
of the cultural and social managers. Those who do not succumb
have a historic mission, and should not forget that.