Our Democracy - Not Yours

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Short research paper on U.S. involvment in latin America.

Submitted: July 10, 2009

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Submitted: July 10, 2009



Our Democracy – Not Yours
Prominent Guatemalan journalist Julio Godoy once wrote that “One is tempted to believe that some people in the White House worship Aztec gods- with the offering of Central American blood.” It’s true; since the Spanish-American War, the United States’ policies towards Latin American countries have been less than friendly. Since 1898 the United States has directly sent troops to Latin American countries over 45 times and as recently as 2004 to Haiti. Since the early 20th century, we’ve backed brutal dictators, yet have claimed our main goal was to promote democracy. From the start of the 20th century till now, the treatment of Latin America by the U.S. has been extremely brutal, and highly hypocritical. The numerous claims that the main goal of U.S. actions in Latin American nations was or is, to promote democracy, is simply not the case.
Since the start of the 20th century the U.S. government has felt as though they had a right to control Latin American countries. In 1927 Undersecretary of State Robert Olds wrote a letter to his associates: “We do control the destinies of Central America. Until now Central America has always understood that governments which we recognize and support stay in power, while those we do not recognize and support fall.” (Zinn, Fw) The U.S. policy, which professor Noam Chomsky of MIT has called the, “What we say goes” policy, is an obvious betrayal of the claims by American officials that ‘It’s our duty to protect democracy in Latin America’ Between 1926-1933, the U.S. sent over 3,000 Marines to Nicaragua under the false pretenses of protecting American civilians and monitoring free elections. How free could those elections have been if top U.S. officials believed they controlled “the destinies of Central America” and other nations within Central America? Many other instances, like above, have taken place in Latin America, all under the guise of promoting democracy.
The trend of denying the democratic process, by the U.S., continued decade by decade of the 20th century. Almost every presidential administration has spoke of its desire to promote democracy. Presidents like Woodrow Wilson refused to even recognize nations he didn’t consider democratic. Yet, even Wilson “supported the vicious Gomez dictatorship, and put Venezuelan oil under U.S. control” (Chomsky and Barsamian, 56) In essence, even at a point in U.S. history when the president of the time made it his priority to promote democracy elsewhere, the United States still happened to support oppressive, and non-democratic regimes. In his book, A Peoples History Of The United States, Howard Zinn writes about every U.S. presidential administrations’ support for the vicious Somoza hereditary dictatorships, until the last one was overthrown: “In Nicaragua, The United States had helped maintain the Somoza dictatorship for decades. Misreading the basic weakness of that regime, and the popularity of the revolution against it.” (572)
Through-out the 1980’s, also in Nicaragua, the Reagan administration used the CIA to illegally support the “Contras”, which was a counter-revolutionary organization consisting of the leaders and former members of Somoza’s National Guard, aimed at destroying the infant leftist Sandista movement. ‘Former colonel with the Contras, Edgar Chamorro, testified before the World Court saying’:
We were told that the only way to defeat the Sandinistas was to use the tactics the agency [the CIA] attributed to Communist insurgencies elsewhere: kill, kidnap, rob, and torture. . . . Many civilians were killed in cold blood. Many others were tortured, mutilated, raped, robbed orotherwise abused. . . . When I agreed to join. . . . I had hoped that it would be an organization ofNicaraguans. . . . [It] turned out to be an instrument of the U.S. Government. . . .(Zinn 585)
In a nut-shell, Colonel Chamorro admitted that the Contras was not an organization of the Nicaraguan people, for the Nicaraguan people, by the Nicaraguan people, but an extension of the U.S. government, controlled by a few select men. How is that supporting democracy in either country?
The support of non-democratic brutal regimes was not exclusive to Central America, but also occurred in South American countries as well. In 1970, during the peak of the Cold War, the Chilean people elected socialist candidate Salvador Allende as president. President Richard Nixon, taking Henry Kissinger’s advice, decided that Allende was a threat. Nixon even said in declassified CIA documents, “Privately we must get the message to Allende that we oppose him. . . . If we let potential leaders in South America act like Chile. . . . we will be in trouble.” (Kornbluh, Peter and Yvette White)
Soon after Nixon followed the advice Kissinger, a military coup took place in Chile, and General Augusto Pinochet took power, which was predicted in an declassified CIA document from the previous October: “It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. ... It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG (US Government) and American hand be well hidden.” (Kornbluh, Peter and Yvette White) Pinochet ordered air-strikes on the presidential palace, killing the democratically elected leader. Immediately after the death of Allende, Pinochet declared himself the ruler of Chile. Pinochet started a reign of terror by censoring the media, burning books, removing non-state supported material from universities, outlawing left-wing political parties and trade unions. Yet all along the U.S. knew about these oppressive actions; In-fact, they supported them. In a declassified Department of State document, the U.S. made it own that it wished to remain friendly with the Pinochet government, by saying, “The USG (United States Government) wishes make clear its desire to cooperate with the military junta and assist in any appropriate way.” (Kornbluh, Peter and Yvette White) And then again in another DOS document the U.S. made clear their relationship wishes with the Pinochet regime: “. . . . We want GOC (Government of Chile) to know of our strongest desire to cooperate closely and establish a firm basis for cordial and most constructive relationship.” (Kornbluh, Peter and Yvette White) Since when does supporting democracy entail the “cordial” relations with violent, illegal, and non-democratic regimes?
The suppression of democracy in Latin America continues to this day. Carlos Gervasoni, a political science professor at Catholic University in Buenos Aires remarked, "Venezuela was the Bush administration's one opportunity to support democracy, and it didn't," (Caesar) According to a recent Gallup poll, which tallied the “Perceptions of Socialism vs. Capitalism among Latin American Populations” and the Gallup concluded that “in every country but one, residents are more likely to describe themselves as socialist than they are to say the same about their country. The sole exception is Venezuela -- not because Venezuelans don't describe themselves as socialist, but because they are just as likely to view their country that way.” (Crabtree and Rios) Despite the people of these countries openly declaring themselves as socialist, the Bush administration was still hostile towards the socialist governments and the officials that presided over them. Does that not contradict the idea of democracy; that the United States is only friendly to the governments that are exactly like its own, or who support its interests.
Clearly, the U.S. government does not have the best relations with the Venezuelan government, controlled by controversial socialist president Hugo Chavez. In-fact, the U.S. sponsored a military coup against Chavez in 2002, which briefly ousted him as head of state. The Washington based International Republican Institute or IRI, a nonprofit organization built around neoconservative politics, received approximately 20 million dollars from federal funding in 2002, and praised the coup in several reports. The U.S. government denies any involvement claiming it was the Venezuelan people rising up against a dictator. Yet the U.S. recognized the government of the leader of the Coup, Pedro Carmona. How does this action promote democracy? In 2004 and 2005 Chavez had approval ratings around 70% (Wagner). Is anyone supposed to believe that just two short years early, the Venezuelan people were anti-Chavez administration enough, to support a revolt against the leader they democratically elected?
In the 1990’s the United States ignored democratic principles by supporting an illegal Haitian government. In Haiti in 1991, Jean Bertrand-Aristide was elected as president, and just as soon as he had been elected president, he had been removed via military coup. The first Bush administration soon declared a embargo, which they routinely violated. In 1993 when the Clinton administration took office with the embargo still in effect, a major increase in trade for oil between the U.S. and the military junta occurred. The CIA testified to congress saying that the junta “probably will be out of fuel and power very shortly" (qtd. in US-Haiti) and "Our intelligence efforts are focused on detecting attempts to circumvent the embargo and monitoring its impact," (qtd. in US-Haiti) The United States effectively undermined democracy by trading and supporting the Junta. In 1994, thanks to Canadian and French intervention, Aristide returned to Haiti and served out the remainder of his term.
At the start of the 21 century, the second Bush administration was effectively anti-democratic in its treatment of Haiti. Aristide eventually decided to run for president again but changed his party from the right-wing Struggling Peoples Organization (which supported the World Bank and IMF plans of privatization of Haiti’s socialized electricity, and telephone programs) to the more left leaning Fanmi Lavalas. Aristide was elected as president again in 2000. Soon after the election the IRI became very involved in Haiti and began sending it’s federally allocated funds to several Haitian splinter factions. One of the factions being Group-184, a group primarily composed of major business, church, and professional leaders, and has been one of the most outspoken critics of Aristides presidency, calling him “ineffective”. One year later another uprising occurred. Aristide asked for U.S. intervention to quell the violence. The Bush administration refused until early 2004 when Marines were ordered to the country to protect the U.S. embassy. Soon after Marines arrived, Aristide was expelled as president. Aristide claims he was forced to sign documents relinquishing power by U.S. Aristide also claims that the United States was willing to let the violence erupt, if he refused to sign. The United Nations claims Aristide stepped down willingly, yet that’s simply not the case (Security Council Resolution 1529). He was forced, by the United States, with the decision of watching his people suffer, or being stripped of his titled, and he chose the latter (BBC). But how do these actions support democracy? We drowned rebel groups in money, so that they could overthrow the democratically elected Aristide, solely because we didn’t agree with his plans on socializing several programs.
It’s obvious that since the beginning of the 20th century, and evermore obvious now, that the U.S. policies of promoting democracy in Latin America have been utterly artificial. The U.S. has always been under the impression that we’ve owned the America’s. The U.S. has acted out of its own interest, and not for the democracy of other nations. For every battle fought in the name of democracy by the U.S. is actually fought for more control. Thomas Jefferson’s quote still holds true today: "We believe no more in Bonaparte's fighting merely for the liberties of the seas than in Great Britain's fighting for the liberties of mankind. The object is the same, to draw to themselves the power, the wealth and the resources of other nations."
Works Cited
Zinn, Howard. A Peoples History of the United States . 4. New York: HarperPerenial, 2005. Print.
Chomsky, Noam, and David Barsamian. What We Say Goes. '1st'. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007. Print.
Nieto, Clara, Chris Brandt, and Howard Zinn. Masters of War: Latin America and U.S. Aggression.'1st ed'. New York : Seven Stories Press, 2003. Print.
Aguirre, Carlos. "United States and Latin America." United States and Latin America. Department of History - University of Oregon. 27 May 2009 .
Caesar , Mike. "After Haiti, Venezuela is wary of US interference." The Christian Science Monitor 08/03/2004 Web.27 May 2009. .
Chomsky, Noam. "US-Haiti." Chomsky-Info. 09/03/2004. 27 May 2009 .
Becker, Marc. "History of U.S. Interventions in Latin America." 2004. Truman University. 27 May 2009 .
Crabtree, Steve and Jesus Rios. "Latin Americas Leftists." Gallup 21/01/2009 Web.27/May/2009. .
Wagner, Sarah. "Venezuela’s Chavez Approval Rating at 70.5%." Political Affairs: Marxist Thought Online 05-05-2005 Web.27 May 2009. .
"Security Council Resolution 1529 ." Underdemocracy. 29/02/2004. The United Nations . 27 May 2009 .
BBC, "Aristide: US forced me to leave." British Broadcasting Company Web.27 May 2009. .
Low, Nicholas. "History of US Intervention in Haiti." Media Critiques. 04/03/2004. University of Houston. 27 May 2009 .
Kornbluh, Peter and Yvette White. "PINOCHET: A Declassified Documentary Obit." George Washington University 12/12/2006

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