U. S. Imperialism, Hands Off Latin America

November 9, 2004

Below we print part of a speech given by Michael Thorburn, a representative of the Workers Party, U.S.A., at a Chicago-area meeting organized by the Peace Agenda Forum on October 21, 2004. For the purposes of publication, the speech has been edited by the author.

Very simply, the aim of my speech is to encourage everyone here to work to make sure that the slogan: "U.S., Hands Off Latin America!"

Is a central part of the peace movement and the political agenda of the American people.

This issue is fundamental because, as the saying goes, "no nation which oppresses another can be free." Thus, our Party - the Workers Party - holds that it is the elementary responsibility of every person who genuinely stands for democracy and the rights of humanity to resolutely oppose the national oppression and military intervention imposed on other countries by our "own government."

And everyone knows that for more than 100 years, the U.S. government and the U.S. monopoly capitalist class has considered Latin America their "backyard" and imposed colonialism and neocolonialism on the peoples.

Today, U.S. imperialism is intensifying its stranglehold over Latin America as part of its so-called "war on terrorism." Historically, Latin America is the foundation of the U.S. empire. And as U.S. imperialism fights to extend this empire - to create a unipolar world with itself as the "sole superpower" - it is determined to fortify its strategic base.

- Thus, we see that in February of this year, thousands of U.S. marines invaded Haiti, kidnapped the elected President and began restoring open U.S. colonial rule.

- We see the U.S. branding the Colombian people as "terrorists" and stepping up its direct military intervention in a counter-insurgency war which aims at suppressing Colombia's struggle for independence, democracy and social and economic progress. We see U.S. imperialism using "Plan Colombia" to stretch its military presence and activities throughout the Andes region, militarizing Ecuador and Peru, threatening Venezuela and Bolivia, etc.

- We see the U.S. government tightening its blockade - its war - against Cuba and publicly publishing a blueprint for military intervention and the reimposition of U.S. colonialism in Cuba.

- We see the U.S. government - through the CIA, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the highest officials of the government - carrying out a destabilization campaign against the elected, constitutional government of Venezuela.

- We see U.S. capitalism intensifying its economic penetration of the continent, dictating austerity budgets and privatization programs to various governments, pressuring countries to accept such treaties as the Central American Free Trade Agreement, the Andes Free Trade Agreement, the Free Trade Area of the Americas and various bilateral treaties which aim at virtual U.S. annexation of Latin America.

History of U.S. Intervention

Before going more deeply into some of these sharpening immediate struggles, I want to review some of the background of U.S. intervention in Latin America. This history helps us see where present-day problems come from, helps us see that the super-exploitation and war against the peoples of Latin America is built into the very foundations of present-day U.S. capitalist-imperialism and that for more than 100 years this colonialism has been the bipartisan program of both the Democratic and Republican parties.

From the very founding of the U.S. republic, U.S. capitalism expressed an appetite for Latin America. For example, by proclaiming the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, the U.S. government declared that the entire Western Hemisphere was its sphere of influence and warned European powers to stay out.

But in its early days, U.S. capitalism, despite its appetite, did not have the power to project itself too far. This changed around the turn of the 20th century as the era of monopoly capitalism and imperialism began.

U.S. capitalism emerged as a major imperialist power by waging the so-called "Spanish-American War," which really was a war waged by the U. S. government against the peoples of Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines who were already fighting for their independence from Spain. Through this war, the U.S. imposed direct colonial rule on Puerto Rico and Cuba (as well as the Philippines), marking the beginning of the wholesale export of U.S. capital and U.S. marines to Latin America - the beginning of U.S. economic and, to a large extent, territorial domination of the continent.

This colonial project was codified by President Theodore Roosevelt in his famous "Roosevelt corollary" to the Monroe Doctrine which asserted U.S. imperialism's intention to intervene in the internal affairs of Latin American countries to control their economic and political systems.

Roosevelt's doctrine reads, in part:

"Any country whose people conduct themselves well, can count upon our hearty friendship. If a nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the U.S. Chronic wrong-going or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, ... require intervention by some civilized nations, and in the western hemisphere the adherence of the U.S. to the Monroe Doctrine may force the U.S... to the exercise of an international [police] power."

These early years of "gunboat diplomacy" are well described by a U.S. General - Smedley Butler, who writes in his memoirs: "I spent 33 years and four months in active service as a member of our country's most agile military force - the marine corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from a second lieutenant to major-general. And during that period I spent most of my time being a highclass 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 and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank to collect revenues in . . . I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916.

I helped make Honduras "right" For American fruit companies in 1903." (quoted from Eduardo Galeano, "Open Veins of Latin America," 1971).

In fact, over the years, U.S. government has waged hundreds of wars and military interventions against the peoples of Latin America and these wars have been waged by every administration, Democratic and Republican.

A partial list of some of the major U.S. wars since the 1950's includes:

- in 1954 CIA-trained U.S. troops invaded Guatemala to carry out a coup against the Arbenz government and reverse the country's agrarian reform which went against the economic interests of United Fruit;

- in 1959 the U.S. began widescale covert intervention against Cuba after the revolutionary government undertook land reform and the nationalization of certain U.S.-owned enterprises. Over the years, U. S. intervention has resulted in the murder of hundreds of Cuban activists, workers, peasants, and students by U.S. covert operatives.

In 1961 the U.S. launched the "Bay of Pigs" invasion, and later Kennedy threatened Cuba with nuclear war, etc.;

- in 1965, some 50,000 U.S. troops invaded the Dominican Republic;

- in 1973 the CIA-organized a coup in Chile which overthrow the elected government and resulted in the murder, imprisonment and exiling of tens of thousands of Chileans;

- in the late 1970's and throughout the 1980's, U.S. advisers on the ground directed the counter-insurgency war in El Salvador which resulted in 80,000 killed and 1.5 million Salvadorans exiled.

- in the 1980's, the CIA directed the "contra war" against Nicaragua which claimed the lives of 30,000 people;

- the 1983 invasion of Grenada by 30,000 troops in 1983;

- in 1985 invasion of Panama.

In sum, for more than 100 years, U.S. imperialism has imposed a series of fascist, military regimes on the peoples in Latin America and has been in a permanent state of war against the continent.

Just as today the U.S. government, in its war against Iraq, can rely only on doublespeak to advertise its aggression as "defense of democracy," to label its destruction and devastation of Iraq as "preventing chaos," etc., so too all the war and fascism imposed on Latin America by U.S. imperialism has been carried out in the name of "freedom" and "democracy."

At the time of the Monroe Doctrine, Henry Clay, Secretary of State, justified U.S. imperial ambitions by calling for "a human freedom league encompassing all nations from Hudson Bay to Cape Horn."

The U.S. wars against the Puerto Rican and Cuban people were waged in the name of "bringing freedom and civilization" to the people.

The invasions of Guatemala and Grenada were carried out in the name of "restoring democracy." The contras mercenaries and the paramilitary death squads in El Salvador, Colombia and elsewhere are called "freedom fighters" by the leaders of the U.S. government.

The 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic like the ongoing occupation of Haiti are justified as a means to "prevent chaos and anarchy."

The U.S. blockade of Cuba and its plan for armed intervention are given such names as the "Cuban Democracy Act" and "Assistance for a Free Cuba." The U.S. government works to destabilize the elected government in Venezuela by branding President Chavez as a "dictator."

The truth is that the path to democracy for peoples in Latin America is and can only be the path of struggle against U.S. imperialism - against its subversion, aggression, and support for internal reactionary regimes.

For the American people, a very touchstone of our commitment to genuine democracy is resolute, uncompromising struggle against any and all interference by the U.S. capitalist-imperialist government in Latin America. The touchstone of genuine American democracy, a vital part of opposition to the colonialism, racism and war program of "our own" government is to struggle to get U.S. imperialism out of Latin America, lock, stock and barrel!

Economic Basis

Of course, behind all this military intervention are the economic interests of the U.S. monopoly capitalist class.

Everyone knows that in Latin America whole countries have been turned into plantations - banana plantations, coffee plantations, sugar plantations, rubber plantations, etc. - owned by U.S. agri-businesses.

The fertile soil of Latin America has not been used to feed its people but turned into profits for the U.S. capitalists. Thus for example El Salvador has lost its self-sufficiency in food as its land has been used to grow and export coffee for the U.S. capitalists. And along with pillaging the land, U.S. imperialism - in alliance with the local oligarchy and fascist regimes - expropriated, by force of arms, the land of the peasants, abolished their communal and other indigenous ownership systems, and deprived millions of people of their livelihood. This same story, repeated in different forms all across the continent, is one of the root causes of today's war in the Colombian countryside, where for 100 years peasants have been fighting to keep their land and livelihood from armed expropriation by landlords in alliance with U.S. imperialism.

So too the mineral wealth of the soil, the patrimony of the peoples, has literally been drained and carted out of Latin America. Just as the conquistadors looted the gold of the indigenous peoples, the U. S. capitalists have grabbed billions of dollars in wealth by taking the copper of Chile, the tin of Bolivia, the oil of Venezuela and Mexico, the bauxite of Haiti, etc., etc.

While grabbing the raw materials and mineral wealth, the U.S. multinational corporations have set up branch plants across Latin America in order to exploit the working class. Under the thumb of U. S.-imposed governments, Latin American workers are super-exploited and often prevented from exercising such elementary rights as the right to unionize. Today, for example, after U.S. imperialism drained Haiti of its huge bauxite reserves, robbing the national patrimony of the people, 150 U.S. companies have set up shop in the country, paying workers as little as $1.60/day.

During the last several years, under the signboard of "neo-liberal economics," U.S. imperialism has been intensifying its economic penetration and superexploitation of Latin America. Through military, economic and political pressure, through bilateral and multilateral such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, etc., through the IMF and other international financial institutions, imperialism is directly dictating the budget of Latin American countries, forcing the privatization of state-owned industries, grabbing control of virtually the entire economic infrastructure. The goal if the virtual annexation of the continent by U.S. capital.

By 2001, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean owned $787 billion to U.S. and international bankers and were paying more than $150 billion/year in debt service (see U.S Commerce Department's "Survey of Current Business," September 2002).

This huge debt in turn is used by imperialism as a lever to further open up the economies of Latin America to imperialist penetration and take-over.

For example, from 1982 to early the 1990's Mexico was forced to privatize 886 state enterprises out of a total of 1,155 with U.S. monopolies gaining control over telecommunications, airlines, banking, mining, steel and other sectors. Similarly in Chile, the Pinochet regime (installed through a CIA coup) privatized 160 state corporations, 16 banks and thousands of mines and agricultural enterprises from 1975 through 1989.

Today, U.S. imperialism is demanding that literally all the wealth and labor of Latin America be put at its disposal. Various U. S.-dictated treaties are turning even the water resources over to U.S. multinational corporations and forbidding Latin American governments from protecting even such sectors as health care, education, or the national forests from foreign ownership. U.S. imperialism aims at nothing less than the virtual annexation of the continent.

As U.S. imperialism spreads its net across Latin America, the apologists for capitalism, portray this process as the road to "economic opportunity, freedom and development."

But, this is just economic doublespeak. The only "freedom" aimed at is the "freedom" of the U.S. monopolies to rob the wealth and exploit the peoples.

Why is it that Latin America remains economically underdeveloped and so many of the people live in poverty and hardship? The continent has fabulously rich soil and vast mineral wealth. And only the racist filth of imperialism could claim that the people don't work and create new values.

The real problem is precisely that the values created by the labor of the people leaves their countries and goes to Wall Street and Washington, D.C. to fill the pockets of the U.S. capitalists. The labor of the people does not go to insure their well-being or the economic independence and development of the Latin American countries, it is, instead, poured into the foundations of U.S. imperialism's empire.

So just as the path to genuine democracy in Latin America can only be the path of struggle against U.S. intervention, so too, the path of economic development and social progress can only be the path of struggle against the exploiting, colonial relations imposed on Latin America by U.S. capitalist-imperialism. This is the path of cancelling the debt, the path of putting the handcuffs on the multinational corporations, the path of nationalizing the economic infrastructure and putting the economic resources of Latin America in the hands of the peoples themselves.

Looking into the economic basis of U.S. intervention again teaches the people in the U.S. that our struggle against U.S. militarism and colonialism in Latin America must strike against the very foundations of the capitalist-imperialist system. In political terms it means that the struggle against U.S. intervention must be directed against the parties of monopoly capital and imperialism - against the Republicans and Democrats. (to be continued).

(This entire speech will soon be published in pamphlet form. For more information contact The Worker at P.O. Box 25716, Chicago, IL. 60625; (312) 409-1127).