What are we doing in Venezuela?

Posted on March 20th, 2015 in American Hegemony by Robert Miller
President Moduro of Venezuela

President Moduro of Venezuela

If you are like me, I assume that whenever you have a big public turnout against a leftist regime, taking place in a South American country, the CIA is deeply involved. So I assume that explains what is happening in Venezuela right now, with large crowds protesting the Moduro government.  But declaring Venezuela to be a security threat to the United States? Who does Obama think he is kidding? Are we facing the imminent threat of an invasion from the Venezuelan army? Has the country hired a bunch of mercenaries to plant bombs in Times Square? This is too clownish to be real. What is going on in Venezuela? We cry out for clarity! You will note the complete absence of any significant U.S. reporting on the situation down there, coupled with the failure of the White House press corps to ask about the situation in Venezuela. So are we faced with a complete blackout of knowledge about  Venezuela? Why in the world did Obama place sanctions against Venezuela? When I am confronted with situations such as these—-a news blackout about a leftist government in South America, I usually turn to someone with knowledge about the area. In this case you will find Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center For Economic Policy Research up to the task of setting us straight on the situation down there: he is writing in U.S. News and World Report.  I urge you to read Weisbrot’s article within the confines of your own home, safely out of harms way in case a Venezuelan drone is flying overhead! Over and out.


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The Dulles Brothers: Just Getting Started

Posted on February 4th, 2015 in American Hegemony by Robert Miller
Arbenz was elected President of Guatemala in 1951 but was deposed by the Dulles Brothers in 1954

Arbenz was elected President of Guatemala in 1951 but was deposed by the Dulles Brothers in 1954

United Fruit of Boston was the big honcho in Guatemala, so much so that the government of Guatemala seemed more like a subsidiary of United Fruit. The company controlled the single port of Guatemala, had control of the electricity, controlled the railroads and, over the years, had woven itself into the very fabric of Guatemalan life. Guatemalans referred to United Fruit as “the octopus.” When Arbenz came to power as a democratically elected (1951) President, agricultural workers made an average of $87 a year. A large segment of the indigenous population of Guatemala are descendents  of the Mayan civilization. Guatemala was literally a banana republic because their major export product was bananas, largely controlled by United Fruit (now  Chiquita bananas). The Dulles brothers were drawn to Guatemala because United Fruit was one of Sullivan and Cromwell’s biggest clients and both Dulles brothers had United Fruit stock in their portfolios. Allen Dulles’ home was stunningly decorated with bright fabrics, rugs and figurines from Guatemala.

After deposing Mossadegh in Iran, the Dulles brothers had developed something of a template for deposing leaders in which the Department of State under Foster Dulles would begin the process by issuing warnings of trouble in the region, often specifying a threat of a Communist takeover; this would be coupled with Allen Dulles’ recruiting efforts using the financial resources of the CIA, to drum up support from the opposition, especially the opposition press, hire thugs and even murderers if necessary, recruit dissident military leaders and, if required, force a confrontation that deposes the leader through his arrest or personal demise. Mossadegh was able to avoid assassination, because of his popularity, but he lived the rest of his life under house arrest: other leaders toppled by the Dulles brothers in the future would not be as fortunate.

United Fruit had long-term contractual relationship with Guatemala. One such agreement was signed in 1936 with General Jorge Ubico, then dictator of Guatemala; it gave the company a ninety-nine year lease over tracts of land comprising one-seventh of Guatemala’s arable land and control of its only port. These contracts were established through Foster Dulles, working for Sullivan and Cromwell; he had perfected the art of squeezing  concessions out of weak countries.

But United Fruit’s long rule in Guatemala began to fade in 1944, when reformist officers deposed General Ubico and called for an election which brought a democratic regime into power; it adopted a labor code that set minimum wages and cut the work week to forty-eight hours, clearly treading on United Fruit’s grip on Guatemala.  When United Fruit complained to the Truman administration, Truman was initially sympathetic and gave the green light for initiating a coup. But Secretary of State Dean Acheson was strongly opposed. He believed “no development in Latin America merited risking the international standing of the United States” and he killed the project. That posture would not last long: the Dulles brothers of course had the opposite opinion. They believed that the projection of American power should be the organizing principal around which governments should topple if they don’t conform to the new American way—global capitalism at all cost. As it turned out the Dulles brothers had a loathing for democratic countries. It was far better to have a dictator in charge, preferably someone you put in power yourself, in order to have a much easier time dealing with them. The Dulles brothers believed that democracies could be ugly because for one thing, dealing with them ran the risk of having them go off half-cocked and nationalize an industry or two.

As United Fruit executives were thinking about alternative options to undo the new constraints that had been imposed on them—the equivalent of a bomb exploded in their laps: Jacobo Arbenz became President of Guatemala. Arbenz was the son of a Swiss immigrant. He entered the military academy, became an officer and helped organize the 1944 revolution that brought democracy to Guatemala. For six years he served as the defense minister and then won the second free election in Guatemalan history and became President of Guatemala.  On March 15, 1951, at just thirty-seven years old, he stood before a cheering crowd and in his inaugural address committed himself  to “three fundamental objectives: to convert our country from a dependent nation with semi-colonial economy into a modern capitalist state: and to convert Guatemala from a backward country with a predominantly feudal economy into a modern capitalist state; and to make this transformation in a way that will raise the standard of living of the great mass of our people….Foreign capital will always be welcome as long as it adjusts to the local conditions, remains always subordinate to Guatemala laws, cooperates with the economic development of the country, and strictly abstains from intervening in the nation’s social and political life.” With this Presidential announcement, Arbenz  might just as well have painted a bulls-eye on his chest. Though he didn’t realize it at the time, he had, in those few remarks, provoked the wrath of those Americans committed to defending and implementing transnational capitalism. And of course, the American establishment would accuse Arbenz of being a Communist: that made it easier to sell at home because the American public was well on their way to swallowing the Kool-Aid that the Dulles brothers and others had prepared and were promoting it’s consumption. McCarthyism had taken root and anti-Communist fever had spread throughout the country with the growth of anti-Communist loyalty pledges that were established in Federal, state and even local governments. There was a small Communist party in Guatemala, numbering about 4000 members that formed the Guatemalan Labor Party, which at the time held four of the 51 seats in Congress; they had no relationship to the Soviet Union and Arbenz would argue that a democracy allows all of its parties to participate in the process.  But this was not true in the United States, where loyalty oaths were given to Federal, state and even some local governments: in that sense, a non-democratic government (U.S.) was about to overthrow the democratic government in Guatemala.

A diversion of sorts to illustrate how much the Dulles brothers reveled in the Cold War: Joseph Stalin died on March 5, 1953, just a few months into the Eisenhower presidency. Winston Churchill, who had become horrified at the American atom bomb culture that was accelerating the arms race, encouraged Eisenhower to interact with the Russians who were sending peace feelers through their new leadership. From Stephen Kinzer’s book “The Brothers” (hardcover, p 151).

  • “At the end of 1953, Foster accompanied Eisenhower to Bermuda for a summit with Prime Minister Joseph Laniel of France and a strikingly feeble Winston Churchill. The atmosphere was tense. Stalin had been dead for eight months and the interim Soviet leader Georgi Malenkov was sending out peace feelers. Churchill and Laniel proposed another summit to which Malenkov would be invited. Foster was adamantly opposed and blocked the idea. “This fellow preaches like a Methodist minister,” Churchill complained privately. “His bloody text is always the same: that nothing but evil can come out of a meeting with Malenkov. Dulles is a terrible handicap. Ten years ago I could have dealt with him. Even as it is I have not been defeated by the bastard. I have been humiliated by my own decay””

Clearly, Dulles brothers were enjoying their work of promoting American hegemony behind the secrecy of closed doors; the thought of peacefully resolving anything with the Soviets would rob the Dulles brothers of the main excuse for their conduct: it would eliminate the fervent anti-Communist mission they were on which was selling so well back home. Their efforts had been so successful in creating an anti-Communist hysteria in the United States (with help from McCarthyism and J. Edgar Hoover), that they wanted to ride that out and get as much mileage out of it as they could. Thus, given the opportunity to perhaps end the Cold War and come to a rational arms agreement with an important ally of just a few years earlier, Foster chose to continue the Cold War. After all, it was good for business and the two of them were having fun. The book by Kinzer is one of the most important, recent books on the Cold War: it illustrates how important it was for the Dulles brothers to keep the Cold War moving along. The Cold War was a pure American invention and the Dulles brothers wanted to make good use of things that were “made in America.”

Although Foster’s plan, one he talked about frequently, was to “rollback” the borders of Communism rather than continue with the Truman doctrine of “containment,”—it was empty rhetoric. Once the Russians had their own atomic bombs “border stalemate” settled in and there was no better demonstration of this than the failed Hungarian revolt of 1956 brought about by the de-Stalinization efforts of Nikita Khrushchev, in which the freedom fighters appealed to the West for help, for which they received the silent treatment. But Foster continued to talk as though the United States would support “rollback movements” in the future. He told the National Security Council that disarmament negotiations were an “operation in public relations.” Eisenhower encouraged Foster to come up with “some real appeal, both to our own people and the people of the world.” But they both agreed that this appeal should take the form of old proposals in “different packages” wrapped with “different colored ribbons.” They decided that the Soviet peace feelers were an attempt at Russian propaganda. The only brake to Foster’s planning was Eisenhower’s insistence to have a balanced budget. Otherwise Foster would have gladly re-instituted the draft and send thousands of additional American soldiers to be stationed in Europe to ward off any Russian attempts to make war.

For Foster, the European theater was the center of his world. Yet he had only one ally in his obsession with anti-Communism in Europe and that was Konrad Adenauer of West Germany—he was the only European leader who shared Foster’s rabid anti-Communist militancy. Foster visited Adenauer a total of thirteen times during his six years in office. Other European leaders tended to treat Foster with as much indifference as possible. Many European leaders must have considered his fantasies dangerous and provocative, but they were afraid to go against U.S. policies in case a real war did break out.

Back to Arbenz Tensions in Guatemala continued to escalate during 1953 and 1954. The Arbenz government appropriated nearly four hundred thousand acres of land owned by United Fruit and offered to pay in compensation what United Fruit had declared to be the value of the land for tax purposes. The State Department—not United Fruit— intervened to scornfully demand more than ten times that much. But Arbenz insisted that United Fruit had damaged Guatemala’s future and he concluded that “The Government of Guatemala declares that it rejects the claim of the Government of the United States.” Unfortunately no other American company had as much political clout as United Fruit. Henry Cabot Lodge, the American ambassador to the United Nations had defended the company so vigorously when he was a Senator, that he became known as “the senator from United Fruit.” And there were many other “incestuous” connections between officials of the White House and United Fruit. Eisenhower’s private secretary was married to United Fruit’s publicity director who produced a film “Why the Kremlin Hates Bananas“; here one can see the emerging, low-level discourse the American public would accept as the government bombarded the public to promote the idea that Russian bombers equipped with atomic bombs could attack the U.S. at any moment—(NSC-68 hype); these titles are silly but silly ideas got promoted in that era into the public dialog from which they never left. The Cold War helped to permanently trivialize our public discourse, primarily because there are so many secrets that we dare not talk about them. That fact coupled with the two party system of politics in the United States doomed future public dialog into never-ending trivialization. The dialog that one sees from the Tea Party today is a direct descendant of the unthinking Cold War mentality with which we straight-jacketed ourselves by suppressing the Left and allowing absurd, scary threats of Russian bombers reigning down atomic bombs onto our new houses!

On June 16, 1954 Foster, Allen and Eisenhower’s national security advisers met in the White House, where Eisenhower remarked “Are you sure this is going to succeed.” Allen said “yes.” As if Eisenhower had donned his military outfit he said “I want all of you to be damn good and sure you succeed. I’m prepared to take any steps that are necessary to see that it succeeds. When you commit the flag, you commit to win.”

Two days later, Castillo Armas led a band of 150 “rebels” from Honduras into Guatemala. They advanced six miles and stopped, waiting for the Dulles brothers to start their show. All Hell broke loose when the Dulles brothers unleashed their plan; radio broadcasts crackled on the airwaves pretending to be from insurgent commanders, reporting battlefield victories and defections from the government’s army. CIA pilots coming from bases in Honduras and Nicaragua bombed high profile targets including the main military base in Guatemala City. Arbenz requested the United Nations to send fact finders, but Ambassador Lodge maneuvered to prevent that from happening. On June 27, 1954 Arbenz appeared on Radio to announce that he had made a “sad and cruel judgment,” and would surrender to “the obscured forces which today oppress the backward and colonial world.” Arbenz then walked to the Mexican embassy where he was granted asylum. Castillo Armas, was promoted to the leadership of Guatemala. He promptly dissolved Congress, suspended the constitution and repealed the land reform laws that Arbenz had put in place. Democracy was extinguished in Guatemala after only ten years—the only period of democracy that the citizens of Guatemala had known.

Foster Dulles said that the country had been saved from “Communist imperialism” and went on to say that “a new and glorious chapter to the already great tradition of the American States.” Arbenz predicted “twenty years of fascist bloody tyranny,” but he was proven incorrect; the bloody fascist tyranny lasted forty years and cost 200,000 lives. The years following the coup would see U.S. backed dictatorships fighting against indigenous groups, in a tragic war that should never have happened.

Three years later Castillo Armas was assassinated, but U.S. backed dictatorships continued to rule Guatemala whose post-democracy history is available on Wikipedia.

Arbenz went into exile in Mexico where he died of alcoholism in 1971. A tragic ending for a person with good leadership skills.

One final point is worth mentioning: former U.S. backed dictator of Efrain Rios Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide. Montt (who was once characterized by Ronald Reagan as a man of great personal integrity), in one of his high integrity acts, shortly after coming to power in 1982, burned to death 1700 Ixil Mayan people in a building he ordered set on fire. To read more about this incident go to Democracy Now.


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