One word can explain the root of the problem of poverty in Latin America, and that is imperialism. Imperialism is the forceful expropriation of one country's land, labor, markets, and resources by another. Since the formation of the United States, elements within the power elite in this country have looked to Latin America to further its imperial ambitions. They for two centuries sought to gain and possess the land, labor, markets, and resources of its southern neighbors.
This is the root cause of Latin American poverty in general and Brazilian poverty, in particular. It is understandable that U.S. citizens believe that it is caused by such things as the socialism, the Catholic Church, laziness, or cultural and racial inferiority, considering that those in the United States who control the tools of mass communication go to considerable lengths to suppress these facts, and present those views.
Newly formed Latin American countries whose population was already weaken by centuries of imperialism by the Dutch, Spanish, British, Portuguese, and French empires, once winning independence were betrayed by the U.S., and faced consistent acts and attempts by the U.S. to gain control of the land, labor, markets, and resources of their countries, at the expanse of the people. Latin America is not underdeveloped, it is overexploited!
The Beginnings of Empire
The U.S. elites first move to spread its empire into Latin America was to start a war with Mexico in 1846. U.S. troops were ordered to cross into Mexican territory repeatedly, and of course they were eventually shot at. The U.S. press began to stir up the public by reporting how U.S. troops had been killed by Mexican troops. The nation went to war. Mexico was invaded. Tens of thousands of Mexican civilians were killed, as well as thousands of Mexican and U.S. soldiers. General Grant in his memoirs called it "one of the most unjust (Mexican war) ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation." This war gained the territories of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, Kansas, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, and California, about 1/3 of then present Mexico.
In 1852-53, in Argentina, Marines are landed in Buenos Aires to protect U.S. business interests during a revolution.
In 1855, Tennessee adventurer William Walker and his mercenaries take over Nicaragua, institute forced labor, and legalize slavery. The N.Y. Daily News wrote: "Los yankis... have burst their way like a fertilizing torrent through the barriers of barbarism." He's ousted two years later by a Central American coalition largely inspired by Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose trade Walker was infringing.
In 1856 the first of five U.S. interventions in Panama occur to protect the Atlantic-Pacific railroad from Panamanian nationalists.
The U.S. civil war puts a temporary halt to U.S. expansion into Latin America. Then in 1890 U.S. troops invaded Argentina to protect business interests and in 1891 Marines clash with nationalist rebels in Chile.
The Secretary of State Richard Olney in 1895 stated:
"Today the United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confides its interposition. Why? It is because of the pure friendship or good will felt for it. It is simply by reason of its high character as a civilized state, nor because reason, justice, and equity are the invariable characteristics of the dealings of the United States. It is because in addition to all other grounds, its infinite resources combined with its isolated position render it master of the situation, and practically invulnerable against any or all other powers."
Between April and August 1898 the U.S. went to war with Spain. It had begun around the sinking of the `Maine'. In 1976, a U.S. Navy commission concluded that the explosion was probably an accident; others believe it was deliberate sabotage. The press blamed the Spanish and the nation went to war.
A Washington Post editorial on the eve of the Spanish-American war:
"A new conscious seems to have come upon usthe consciousness of strengthand with it a new appetite, the yearning to show our strength. Ambition, interest, land hunger, pride, the mere joy of fighting, whatever it may be, we are animated by a new sensation. We are face to face with a strange destiny. The taste of Empire is in the mouth of the people even as the taste of blood is in the jungle. "
Over 1,000,000 were later killed by U. S. forces in the Philippines. The U.S. won the war and gained as new colonies Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Now the U.S. had no one to impede its ambition for complete conquest of Latin America.
The U.S. decided to allow Cuba independence. In 1901 the Piatt Amendment came about, introduced at the Cuban Constitutional Convention by Senator Orville Platt. It prohibited Cuba from entering into any treaty or compact with any foreign power other than the U.S.. It also prohibited foreign naval or military bases, and "Article III" prepared the ground of future United States military interventions and in effect consigned Cuba to the status of a protectorate. General Leonard Wood wrote in 1901 to the President at the time, Theodore Roosevelt: "There is of course, little or no independence left Cuba under the Platt Amendment."
In the beginning of the 20th Century, the U.S wanted an easier path from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It looked to Central America to do this. Panama became the choice. Panama had been a part of Colombia, and had attempted independence from Colombia many times, but the U.S. had helped Colombia put it down.
Theodore Roosevelt had tried to buy the rights to the Canal Zone, but was turned down by Colombia [Roosevelt derisively referred to Latin Americans as "dagoes" and believed they were incapable of governing themselves]. Roosevelt would not take the rejection, and devised a plan. He planned to overthrow the Colombian government in Panama with a revolutionary force. Donovan describes the revolution thus:
"The revolutionary forces at Panama City consisted of 441 policemen and firemen and 500 Colombian troops who have been bribed to change sides, possibly with private money from the United States. On the evening of November 3, 1903, they raised the Panamanian flag and declared the independence of the Republic of Panama. The Colombian troops at Colon were induced to return to Cartagena by the payment of $8,000 and two cases of champagne for the colonel. The revolution was not entirely bloodless. One Colombian gunboat that had not been bought off hurled six shells into Panama city, killing a donkey in a slaughterhouse and a Chinaman in his bed." (Donovan 142)
The new Panamanian government of course sold the Canal to the U.S. cheaply. Panama was set up as a protectorate, in a similar style as Cuba. U.S. troops were sent to Panama over 10 times to protect the Canal and U.S. business interests. The Panamanian Defense Force (PDF) was later set up as Panama's military. Its primary function became to protect the Canal and U.S. business interests.
In 1905, President Roosevelt promulgated the so-called "Roosevelt Corollary" to the Monroe Doctrine, authorizing U.S. military intervention in the affairs of the nations of the Caribbean Basin to suppress revolutions, which might threaten the stability of the region or the ability of the country in question to meet its international financial obligations.
Also in 1905, U.S. Marines helped Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz crush a strike in Sonora. Then in 1910 the U.S. supported Diaz was overthrown by a revolution army led by Emiliano Zapata. The U.S. sent troops. Zapata was assassinated in an ambush at a meeting with the U.S. ambassador, and the revolution was squelched. U.S. oil interests were protected. The Mexican dictatorship was restored, and would be a succession of dictatorships that would be supported by the U.S., that would make Mexico safe for U.S. business investors.
In 1907 the later to be President Woodrow Wilson said at a lecture at Columbia University:
"Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of the state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process. Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturers insist on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nation which are closed against him must be battered down. Colonies must be obtained or planted in order that no useful corner of the world be overlooked or left unused."
In 1909 Liberal President José Santos Zelaya of Nicaragua proposes that American mining and banana companies pay taxes; he has also appropriated church lands and legalized divorce, done business with European firms, and executed two Americans for participating in a rebellion. He was forced to resign through U.S. pressure. The new president, Adolfo Diaz, is the former treasurer of an American mining company.
Again in the early 1900's the Marines invaded Nicaragua. A quote from Dan Brown's book Drug War by Major General Smedley D. Butler in 1935 states why (pg.223):
"I spent 33 years and 4 months in active service as a member of our country's most agile military force-the Marine Corps....I spent most of my time being a high-muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism...
Thus I helped make Mexico...safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in....I helped purify Nicaragua for the International banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras "right" for American fruit companies in 1903."
They left behind the National Guard who was under the direction of Anastasio Somoza Sr, opened the floodgates for US corporate investments. He even allowed corporations to dump their waste into Nicaragua's greatest lake. The Guardsmen who were consistently maintained by the U. S., also did many other wonderful things for the Nicaraguan people. Such as martial law, rape, torture, murder of the opposition, and massacres of peasants, as well as lesser evils of robbery, extortion, contraband, and running brothels.
In 1927 a group of revolutionaries lead by Antonio Sandinista picked up arms and rebelled against the Somoza regime, claiming it to be illegitimate. U.S. business interest was in jeopardy, the U.S. in response sent in the Marines again for the twelfth time in 75 years. Sandinista was assassinated and the rebellion was suppressed. This secured Somoza's and the National Guard's reign, and of course US corporations investment.
Also the U.S. supported the Venezuelan dictator and murdering despot General Gomez, who offered his country up freely to foreign exploitation. Michael Krenn quoting the USA chargé d'affaires in 1929:
"Until the Venezuelan people could be trusted to make the right decisions concerning their political and economic directionand that time was deemed to be in the very distant futureit was best for all concerned that they be kept safe from democracy."
Post War Doctrine
U.S. intrusion into Latin America had lessened for a while in the early 30's to the late 40's, as the U.S. elite focused its attention on other areas of the world. Especially during World War II. After the war, this changed dramatically.
George Keenan, head of the U.S. State Department Policy Planning Staff, in 1948 revealed the U.S. foreign policy doctrine at the time:
"We have 50 percent of the world's wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population. In this situation, our real job in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which permit us to maintain this position of disparity.
We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.... We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better."
World opinion at the time, including U.S. public opinion was against empires holding other nations as colonies. So the U.S. mastered what is called neocolonialism or neo-imperialism. Neocolonialism is where one country rules and controls another country indirectly. It is the process of dominating the politico-economic life of a nation without benefit of direct possession.
In order to fulfill these ambitions into Latin America, the U.S. in the coming years would install into power, and support a succession of military dictatorships in Latin America, that would brutally repress their people. This would occur many times as the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) would work within Latin America countries to overthrow the government of those countries (which many were democratically elected), and install puppet regimes that would oppress and terrorize the population, while making the country safe for U.S. corporations investment. Professor at M.I.T, Noam Chomsky, in his book Year 501 says: "The U.S. effectively switched the mission of the Latin American military from hemispheric defense to internal security. Internal security means a war against its own population."
The political writer Edward Herman explains why the U.S. so favored military dictatorships:
"As human rights conditions deteriorate, factors affecting the "climate of investment," like the tax laws and labor repression, improve from the viewpoint of the multinational corporation. This suggests an important line of causationmilitary dictatorships tend to improve the investment climate.... The multinational corporate community and the U.S. government are very sensitive to this factor. Military dictators enter into a tacit joint venture arrangement with Free World leaders: They will keep the masses quiet, maintain an open door to multinational investment, and provide bases and otherwise serve as loyal clients. In exchange, they will be aided and protected against their own people, and allowed to loot public property."
Coups and dictatorships
Examples are such: In the early 50's Jacobo Arbenz was elected the president of Guatemala. Arbenz's land reforms led to a rise in exports and a favorable balance of payments by 1954. They not only increased productivity, but also provided campesinos with their own food, even cash from sales, while involving them in the political system for the first time in 400 years. Arbenz attempted to expropriate unused land held by the United Fruit Company and to hand them over to landless peasants, offering compensation based on the company's fraudulent tax records. US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother CIA director Allen Dulles were major share holders in the United Fruit Company.
Because of this, in 1954 the CIA overthrew the government of Arbenz through a violent coupe. A State Department official stated in declassified files why:
"[Guatemala] has become an increasing threat to the stability of Honduras and El Salvador. Its agrarian reform is a powerful propaganda weapon; its broad social program of aiding the workers and peasants in a victorious struggle against the upper classes and large foreign enterprises has a strong appeal to the populations of Central American neighbors where similar conditions prevail."
A retired Marine and former CIA operative Phillip Roettinger was quoted in Times magazine (6/12/95) as saying: "Communism in Guatemala was not the threat we were fighting. The threat was land reform. We were not fighting communism at all we were fighting the people."
This CIA led coup brought in the military dictatorship that made life for many in Guatemala, to be a living hell. In four decades of violence 200,000 non-combatants were killed. This dictatorship protected and expanded U.S. corporate interest, while terrorizing and impoverishing its population.
The same story in Brazil in 1964. Another democratically elected government overthrown by a U.S. supported coup, another military dictatorship installed. The previous president João Goulart had traded with communist nations, maintained diplomatic relations with Cuba, supported the labor movement, and limited the profits multinational companies could take out of the country.
After the coup, labor and trade unions are banned, criticism of the President becomes unlawful. Thousands of suspected communists (including children) are arrested and tortured. Land is stolen from indigenous people and their culture destroyed. Over 70,000 would die between 1964 and 1985.
Drug dealers, many of them government officials, are given protection because they maintain national security interests.
Lincoln Gordon, Ambassador to Brazil under John Kennedy, described in a cable to Washington the overthrow of Brazil's parliamentary democracy. The 1964 military takeover [in Brazil], he wrote, was `totally democratic and the single most decisive victory for freedom in the mid-twentieth century, which prevented a total loss to the West of all South American Republics" and should "create a greatly improved climate for private investments."
Gordon later said on March 9, 1977 in Veja magazine (no. 44, São Paulo) "What the hell, that was more or less a habit in those days. The CIA used to dole out political funds. He said that the U.S. had four huge aircrafts and four supply ships "in case the anti-Goulart forces should ask for our help. That wouldn't just be moral. We would back them logistically, with supplies, munitions, and oil." Wall Street called it the "Brazilian Miracle" as private investment increased.
In 1975, 18 Brazilian Catholic bishops released this statement:
"The Brazilian miracle has resulted in privileges for the wealthy. It has come as curse upon those who have not asked for it. The rich become always richer and the poor always poorer in the process of economic concentration. Far from being the inevitable result of natural deficiencies, this tragedy is the consequence of international capitalism. Development came to be defined not in the terms of the interests of Brazilian society but in terms of the profits made by foreign corporations and their associates in our country. The absence of freedom, the violence of repression, the injustices, the impoverishment of the peopleall in favor of foreign capital."
The same story in Chile in 1973. Where the democratically elected Salvador Allende was overthrown by a CIA led coup, that installed Augusto Pinochet into power. There is this CIA document, dated 10 September 1973, about Chile:
"The coup attempt will begin September 11. All three branches of the armed forces and the carabineros are involved in this action. A declaration will be read on Radio Agricultura at 7 A.M. on 11 September."
120,000 would be tortured, killed, or disappeared. U.S. business investment increased as the people starved.
In Nicaragua the U.S. supported, and multi-national corporations friendly to Somoza (son of Somoza senior) regime who killed 50,000 people and starved half its population. His regime was overthrown by the Sandinistas.
In El Salvador the U.S. financed, trained, and supported Salvadoran forces who killed and tortured 75,000 people. U. S. corporations would only have to pay 33 cents an hour to a terrorized, repressed, and poverty stricken labor force.
I haven't told half or even a tenth of all the incidents. It should be noted that while U.S. multi-national corporations are the ones that have benefited the most from all this, the former imperial powers of Western Europe and Japan have had their hand in this too. Multinationals from the U. S., Western Europe, and Japan have been the main culprits in the exploitation of the land, labor, markets, and resources of Latin America It should also be noted that since WWII the U.S. has maintained political and military dominance over Western Europe and Japan. So that responsibility for all this is ultimately centered in Washington and in Wall Street.
As a U. S. citizen I oppose U. S. neo-imperialism. I support Lula. I say what is bad for Wall Street and the U. S. elites is good for both the people of Brazil and the U.S.. I agree with Lula when he said that "blindly opening Brazils markets to the U.S. would be a virtual annexation of Brazil by the U.S.". As U.S. statesman Henry Kissinger said in a lecture at Trinity College in London (10/12/99) "globalization is really another name for the dominant role of the United States."
As Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano wrote in his book We Say No (pg.278)
"For us capitalism is not a dream to be pursued, but a nightmare come true. Our challenge lies not in privatizing the state but in deprivatizing it. Our states have been brought up at bargain prices by the owners of the land, the banks, and everything else. And for us, the market is nothing more than a pirate shipthe greatest its freedom, the worse its behavior. The local market and the world market. The world market robs us with both hands. The commercial hand keeps buying from us ever cheaper and selling to us every dearer. The financial hand, which lends us our own money, keeps paying us less and charging us more.
We live in a region of European prices and African wages, where capitalism acts like a kind man who says `I'm so fond of poor people that I never think there are enough of them."
If Lula is able to strengthen labor rights in Brazil, then he will also secure labor jobs in the U.S.. U.S. multinational corps. will not be able to move to Brazil to exploit cheap Brazilian labor, which would cause those in the U.S. to lose those jobs. Imperialism has always been at the expense of the mass population. Including the citizens of the Empires. As Bertolt Brecht once said:
"There were conquerors and conquered.
Among the conquered the people starved.
Among the conquerors the common people starved too."
Viva Lula and the people of Brazil! To Wall Street, ha, ha, ha!
Jeromy Ray is an author and social and political activists living in Atlanta, GA. He can be contacted at Justice2175@aol.com