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10 Ways The US Screwed Over Latin America
Global politics is kind of like watching a particularly depressing playground fight: a succession of big kids giving metaphorical wedgies to the weedy nerdlingers of the international stage. And while Britain, Russia, and China have certainly done their fair share of bullying over the decades, perhaps none have ever quite matched the gusto with which the US enthusiastically beats on Latin America. Want to know how douchebags like Chavez managed to stay so popular just by frequently shouting “America sucks”? Here’s how.
10 The Other 9/11
Imagine waking up one morning to news that American fighter jets are bombing the White House. The president is missing, presumed dead. The airports are closed, the phone lines cut, and a Washington stadium slowly filling up with ordinary Americans who will be beaten, tortured, and sent to death camps in the Nevada desert over the coming days. Now imagine you discovered this brutal operation was being secretly funded by foreign intelligence agencies. How would you feel knowing that, say, China had launched a covert war against America? Well, congratulations: That’s exactly how ordinary Chileans felt on the morning of September 11, 1973.
In 1970, socialist Salvador Allende had been democratically elected president of Chile by a narrow margin. Because even heads of state are often stupid enough not to know the difference between socialism and communism, the Nixon administration decided to remove him at all costs. Using $10 million of public money, they financed the CIA to help install Augusto Pinochet as president, ushering in 17 years of brutal repression, state-sanctioned torture, and government-run death camps grinding people to dust in the empty wastes of the Atacama Desert. Over 3,000 Chileans lost their lives, some 35,000 were tortured, and the country was set on a long and bloody course, the effects of which can still be felt today.
9 Blocking Aid To Nicaragua
In October 1988, a hurricane swept through Nicaragua, leaving at least 50 dead and 300,000 homeless. The aftermath was a textbook example of a humanitarian crisis: hundreds of thousands without shelter, the frighteningly real prospect of mass starvation, and the potential for a deadly disease outbreak. Under normal circumstances, this would have triggered a glut in donations to help the dying Nicaraguans. So do you want to guess exactly how much money President Ronald Reagan pledged?
Not a single penny. At the time, the communist Sandistas were in power and Reagan was too busy trying to crush them through illegal arms deals to do anything to help ordinary, non-communist citizens facing starvation. This alone would be heartless enough, but the US also pressured its allies not to send money either. They even illegally detained US veterans trying to reach Nicaragua with humanitarian aid. The result: Reconstruction threw the country into poverty, caused vast suffering, and possibly helped to reignite the bloody Contra War, making ordinary citizens’ lives hell.
8 The War On Colombia’s Farmers
Here’s a factoid that may surprise you: It’s not easy being a poor Colombian farmer. Besides living in a country torn apart by civil war and terrorism, you’re constantly crushed by corporations like Walmart selling the same stuff as you at a fraction of the price—unless, that is, you grow coca.
Coca is an active ingredient in many things, such as teas, flour, and ointments. It’s also what gives us cocaine, the drug that single-handedly fueled the 1980s. Since our Western governments take the eradication of crappy party drugs very seriously, that means coca has to go, too. But wait—since most coca is grown by these dirt-poor farmers on tiny patches of land, how do our governments avoid collateral damage? The short answer is: They don’t.
When Witness for Peace visited Colombia in 2012, they found plenty of evidence that anti-coca pesticide spraying was indiscriminate at best and lethal at worst. Their widely-published report included details of harmful pesticides dropped over entire villages, killing all other crops and livestock, poisoning wells, and leaving residents with severe chemical burns. Essentially, anti-coca spraying wipes out entire communities, forcing people already on the breadline into severe poverty—even those who weren’t growing the plant themselves. It’s a dumb policy that contributes to anti-gringo feeling down south, and one that looks unlikely to stop anytime soon.
7 Funding Human Rights Abuses In Honduras
In 2009, Honduras went from being a Latin American backwater country troubled by cartels to one of the most unstable states on Earth. Following a violent coup, the country descended into a chaos marred by extreme human rights violations. The homicide rate leaped. Journalists and activists were murdered. LGBT people were targeted while lawmakers looked on. Police units began operating unofficial kill squads, executing suspected gang members in the dead of night.
How did the Obama administration respond? By pumping in millions in aid and openly supporting the emerging Honduran dictatorship. When the Organization of American States wanted to impose sanctions in an attempt to restore democracy, the Obama administration stepped in and said “no.” When reports of the kill squads started coming in, the White House brushed them aside and kept offering assistance—leading to ridiculous situations like US DEA agents being implicated in the murder of a 14-year-old boy. The list goes on, but one thing’s for sure: If Washington keeps playing favorites in Honduras, chaos will follow.
6 Repeatedly Crushing Haitian Democracy
Haiti has got to be one of the most unfortunate countries on Earth. Cripplingly poor, it’s suffered under multiple coups, two dictators, and a level of violence that makes Detroit look like Gilligan’s Island. Want to guess who’s responsible for a whole lot of this mess?
Yep, it’s the CIA, up to their old shenanigans again. When crazed voodoo magician Papa Doc seized power in 1957—ushering in a reign of terror and bloodshed—Washington quickly allied with his regime as a bulwark against communism, despite Doc’s Haiti easily being as repressive as any Eastern Bloc state. Eventually, the White House got tired of his human rights abuses and turned on him—but when his son, Baby Doc, took over in 1971, they started funneling money right back in, most of which went straight into Baby Doc’s pocket. That’s before we even get onto the Haitian Intelligence Unit the CIA created in the ’80s, which went on to become a state-sponsored, cocaine-smuggling terrorist squad.
We’re not done yet. Fast-forward to 2004, when a messy web of GOP stalwarts and elements of the Bush White House kicked off a coup that ousted the elected President Aristide and replaced him with a band of violent guerrillas. In short, it seems like poor old Haiti just can’t catch a break.
5 Sponsoring Terrorist Attacks In Cuba
Remember the Lockerbie bombing? It was one of the worst terrorist acts of the 1980s: a Libyan (or possibly Iranian) attack on a civilian airliner that killed everyone on board. In the aftermath, the US reacted with justifiable fury—despite its own operatives being responsible for a near-identical bombing only a decade earlier.
After Castro overthrew the Batista dictatorship in Cuba, the CIA began an orchestrated campaign of terror against Cuban civilians in the hopes of securing regime change. Usually, this involved training disaffected Cubans and then supervising the carnage from a safe distance. One of those they trained was Luis Posada Carriles, a man who stayed on the payroll until 1976, when he snuck a bomb on-board a Cuban airliner. The resulting explosion added 73 people to a tally of bodies Carriles had left in various Cuban hotels and government buildings, all with the CIA’s blessing. In the aftermath of the airplane bombing, this one-man terror machine was imprisoned in Venezuela and kicked off the CIA payroll—until he eventually escaped and was re-hired in the 1980s. Currently, he’s being sheltered on US soil in the exact same way Gadaffi sheltered the Lockerbie Bomber in the 1990s. This time, weirdly enough, the White House doesn’t seem to mind.
4 Supporting Argentina’s Dirty War
The Dirty War is one of the bleakest, most ignored incidents to have ever happened on the continent. Waged by the Argentinian junta of Jorge Videla—a man so cartoonishly evil he has literally been convicted of stealing babies—it was a covert operation designed to wipe out the “cancer” of left-wing ideology by wiping out left-wingers. Over 10 years, 30,000 people were detained and tortured before being, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, “flown out way over the wastes of the South Atlantic and flung from airplanes into the freezing water below.” It was, by any stretch of the imagination, a brutal campaign—and Henry Kissinger gave it America’s blessing.
In 1976, the junta was taking a beating on the international stage for its lackadaisical approach to human rights. America’s official line was that these murders were a “bad thing,” so when Argentine foreign minister Cesar Guzzetti was forced to meet with Kissinger, he expected a thorough chewing out. Instead, Kissinger offered his approval of Guzzetti’s tactics, along with recommendations for staying on the right side of Congress. Since Argentina was then dependent on American aid, this amounted to a blank check for Videla’s thugs to do whatever they liked. Had Kissinger threatened to withdraw aid instead of offering his support, 30,000 people might still be alive right now.
3 Funding El Salvador’s Death Squads
In 1979, El Salvador embarked on a long and bitter civil war between a right-wing government and communist guerrillas. Perhaps secretly hoping that this would be the Latin American campaign that went right, Reagan’s White House threw their backing behind the right-wing government, sending over $4 billion in “aid.” Know what the Salvadoran government did with that money? Yep: It financed death squads.
These death squads didn’t just target communists, not by a long shot. In 1981, for example, an entire village was massacred, with around 1,000 people—including children—tortured, raped, and arbitrarily murdered. Another squad was responsible for nearly 1,200 human rights violations, including torture, the massacre of civilians, and the mysterious disappearance of children.
How did Washington react? That’s right: They claimed the abuses were no such thing, praised the human rights record of the Salvadoran government, and continued to pump money into the murder squads until the war ended in 1992. But hey, at least the commies didn’t get in, right?
2 Sending Guatemala To Hell
You know the saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”? Well, it could practically have been coined in response to 20th century US policy in Guatemala. For nearly 40 years, Mexico’s tiny neighbor suffered coups, military juntas, a bloody civil war, and genocides, aided and abetted at every step by a US that was simply trying to do the right thing.
The debacle kicked off in 1954, when the CIA rushed to oust communist-leaning dictator Jacobo Arbenz. Convinced he would send the region spiraling into chaos, the Intelligence Agency replaced him with Carlos Castillo Armas—a man who quickly proved to be madder and more brutal than Arbenz could ever have been. Within a couple of years, repression, state terror, and torture were at an unbelievable new high, and things were only just beginning. For the next two decades, Washington aid and training flowed to a series of ever-crazier dictators, culminating in the Guatemalan civil war. Then Ríos Montt came to power in 1982, and things got even worse.
Eager to get back their leverage in Guatemala, the Reagan administration decided to win over Montt with military backing, even as his army began a spree of genocide. Over the next few years, the CIA aided Montt in a war that killed 200,000 people—a policy that forced Bill Clinton to personally apologize to Guatemala in 1999. All in all, hundreds of thousands lost their lives, millions were tortured, and America made to look idiotic, all because the CIA once wanted to save Guatemalans from a relatively nonthreatening communist dictator.
1 Facilitating A Continent-Wide Terror Network
When a cache of files on Operation Condor came to light in a remote Paraguayan police station, it was dubbed the “archive of terror.” Spread over 700,000 separate documents, there was evidence that the intelligence services of Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Brazil had collaborated in the torture, murder, and bombing of opponents as far away as Washington, DC and Rome. For over a decade, the dictators and military juntas of Latin America had operated a sophisticated terror network designed to crush any and all opposition with ruthless efficiency—a brutal system they kept secret from the world with the collusion of the CIA.
According to the files, the CIA probably knew about Operation Condor by the mid-1970s, but declined to either warn the world or get involved. You could argue that it was none of their business, but their intelligence also contained reports of Nazi war criminals sheltered in South America and the murder of Israeli agents tracking them. In other words, it was big news the Agency willfully ignored, and and in which they possibly actively participated.
Either way, it condemned thousands of innocents to death, and helped seven rogue states create one of the most complex terror networks ever devised.