American Empire, CAFTA, Capitalism, CARSI (Central America Regional Security Initiative), Climate Change, Climate Refugees, Coffee Rust Fungus, Collapse of Industrial Civilization, Corporate State, Corporatocracy, Financial Elite, Globalization, Hemileia vastatrix, Inverted Totalitarianism, Maquiladoras, Militarization of Society, Military Industrial Complex, NAFTA, Narcotrafficking, Neoliberal Capitalism, School of the Americas, The Drug War, The Immigration Crisis, US Intervention in Latin America, William Blum, Zapatista
The Blood-Soaked Foreign Policy of the U.S.
Citizens of the First World live in ignorance of their country’s violent imperialistic history. As Joe Bageant said, “Americans are cultivated like mushrooms from birth to death, kept in the dark and fed horseshit.” Nonetheless, the average pleb in America should realize by now that they too will be treated no different from those in the Third World exploited by empire. As illustrated by a recent study, U.S. citizens are mere cardboard cutouts in a façade of democracy with essentially no voice in their government’s actions. The wealthy elite call the shots, determining crucial government policy and the law of the land. When all the propaganda and myths are swept aside, America is revealed to be nothing more than a heartless oligarchy; you and I are simply marketing statistics and consumers, pawns and cogs within capitalist industrial civilization.
Empires weave their own self-serving and grandiose history while the vanquished are left to struggle for survival in the wreckage. A case in point is America’s current immigration crisis and its superficial analysis by the mainstream media which serves only to stoke racial fears amongst the ignorant masses while ignoring uncomfortable and disturbing root causes. The harsh reality is that America has a long history of carrying out covert and overt operations as well as instituting economic policies designed to exploit South and Central America, not to mention much of the rest of the world. One recent example was the 2009 coup of populist left-wing Honduran president Manuel Zelaya by elite military forces trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. Consider the following timeline of American intervention in Latin America since the 1950’s:
‘Free Trade’ for Corporations and Misery for Local Populations
Now consider the trade deals of NAFTA, CAFTA, and other “free trade” globalization schemes which have flooded our southern neighbors with cheap, subsidized produce from U.S. Big AG, decimating small farms and pushing millions off their land and into extreme destitution:
As part of neoliberal restructuring, Mexico would have to re-orientate its economy to the export rather than the domestic market. Mexico was already heavily dependent on trade with the US, but post-1982, Mexico’s dependency has become almost akin to that of a colony. US agricultural products – most notably corn – subsidised by American taxpayers now flooded the Mexican market, undercutting small domestic producers. For Mexican farmers the consequences have been ruinous and have devastated domestic production, a process which continues under the recent government of the National Action Party (PAN)…
…From the implementation of NAFTA in 1994 to 2000, 2 million farmers abandoned their lands. Fewer Mexicans now have access to health care and education than prior to 1980 as public spending has been cut as a result of ‘reforms’. By 2005 50 percent of the population had fallen below the poverty line, pushing some 3.3 million children under the age of 14 into work. Following the government’s agreement to exchange investment rights and trade barriers for loans and financial aid, Mexicans saw huge changes in their circumstances, such that by 1988 the cost of living had risen by 90 percent, while per capita income had fallen by some 50 percent. With the abandonment of social programmes, which alleviated at least some of the worst hardships, many communities in Mexico, with little or almost no help from the state, have had to fend for themselves…
…Much farming has since been replaced by agribusiness and large-scale meat farms, mostly foreign-owned. In recent years, widespread unemployment and the inability of farmers to gain an income from the land have meant that rural towns are being emptied of their inhabitants, leading to a tremendous population drain to the cities and the United States…Impoverished Mexican workers – employed primarily because they are cheaper to exploit than their US and Canadian counterparts – work to produce commodities which have no tangible benefit for their own society…
…The improved leverage of US power over Mexico’s economy is not solely an issue of having a workforce so ‘flexible’ that much of it is forced into sweatshop labour. The maquiladora belt functions effectively as an economic colony, with the local Mexican police, paid for by the Mexican taxpayer, providing the ‘security’ necessary for factories to operate unhindered by nuisance unions and human rights activists.
One of Mexico’s chief exports, then, is labour. Just as profits and goods leave the country, significant amounts of labour time are not reflected in the Mexican economy. Corporations benefit enormously from this win-win situation resulting in the continuing breakdown of society, a state of affairs reminiscent of a colonial economy, albeit without foreign control of what in any case is a pliant government. As a result, Mexican workers in the maquiladoras, notes Delgado-Wise, are little more than ‘manpower for foreign capital’.
While many of the poor seek work in factories owned by foreign companies or quit the countryside for work in the expanding metropolises, others cross into the US. If significant swathes of the arable land of northern Mexico are emptying, this is a trend connected intimately with free trade… – link
Militarizing the ‘Drug War’ and Arming Fascist Governments
So after destroying the means of survival for so many in Latin America, the poor and destitute turn to whatever means necessary in order to stay alive — crime, gangs, and the drug trade. The U.S. has reacted to this lawlessness by militarizing the “war on drugs”, providing even more weaponry and support to fascist governments who can then brutally squash any grassroots social movements which challenge the neoliberal capitalist order. It’s a vicious feedback loop in which the U.S. is forced to combat the very social disintegration of Latin America that U.S. economic policy has created. Thus, a fourth factor in America’s immigration crisis is the neocon militarization of the drug war and support of fascist governments aligned with U.S. corporate interests:
Narcotrafficking, like neoliberal capitalism, it seems, thrives in areas of severe poverty and unemployment where the civilian population is economically and politically disempowered and where state authorities are not powerful or willing enough to prevent the violent conflicts that narcotrafficking has produced. Additionally, for those who now have few opportunities in the traditional and legal sectors of the economy, narcotrafficking proves to be the only lucrative alternative…
…Civil society found itself vulnerable, impoverished and unable to rebuild the damaged and broken social services and infrastructure demolished by structural adjustment and neoliberal policy. Furthermore, the power and influence of the state have weakened in the last two and a half decades to the extent that in some areas drug traffickers operate quite freely and are immune to prosecution…
…With the authorities weakened, the line between the state and the narcotics industry is becoming increasingly blurred. A United Nations report estimated that between 50 and 60 percent of Mexican municipal government offices have been ‘captured or feudalised’ and coopted by narcotrafficking organisations. Mexican intelligence estimates that 62 percent of the Mexican police are presently under the control of the narco trade. According to rank and effectiveness, members of the police forces can receive anywhere between 5 to 70 thousand pesos monthly from cartels, a dramatic net increase on their state salaries. Of the 2.9 million arms given to the Mexican police forces, 57 percent are used in illicit activities.
Human Rights Watch reports that the military, in its purported struggle against the narcos, commits serious abuses against the civilian population, exposing its role rather as an institution of internal colonisation than one protecting society from violence. The same Mexican soldiers – potentially a force which could combat trafficking – are now deserting on a mass scale. Poor working conditions and pay led 217,000 Mexican soldiers to desert between 1993 and 2009. Among them, many leave the army to join the cartels and take their arms with them. One of the most powerful factions, the mercenary army, Los Zetas, was formed by deserters from an elite anti-drug squad of the Mexican army, taking with them their arms and training. Their sophisticated and professional tactics were developed, ironically, from training in the US by the DEA, the FBI and the US military in the war on drugs…
…Historian Miguel Tinker Salas has noted that in the case of Plan Colombia, military spending was intended to crush the strength of rural insurgents and guerrillas to offset the possibility of a popular rebellion, particularly as Colombia had among the worst levels of inequality in Latin America. In Mexico, maintaining a status quo which sees unprecedented levels of inequality and widespread poverty – exacerbated since the 1980s – is likely to involve the increasing use of force in order to quash the threat to the established order posed by social movements and popular revolt, all the more real as Mexico inches closer to collapse. Increasing attacks on organisers and activists of the anti-capitalist Zapatista initiative, La otra campaña, in Chiapas and the prolonged assault on inhabitants of Oaxaca in 2006 remind us that the state will always use military might to repress challenges to its authority and to the socio-economic order. US training of the Mexican military should be viewed in this light, bearing in mind that imperialism has two arms in Latin America – one military, the other economic.
Increasing poverty levels hardly seem to be a top priority for the leaders of the NAFTA signatories. For it is a state of affairs which benefits elites who have no interest in seeing ordinary Mexicans rise from poverty. Vast gaps between rich and poor may seem inexplicably cruel to outside observers, but within is a logic of which NAFTA was a clear expression. Rendering the population more desperate, reducing services and public spending, aggravating society’s vulnerability, rewards the powerful with greater political and economic dominance… – link
Climate Change and the Coffee Rust Fungus
A fourth factor not discussed much is how climate change is wreaking havoc on the major South American crop of coffee which many rely upon for their livelihood and is the second most traded commodity in the world after oil. Coffee rust, known as “roya” in Spanish, first appeared in the region in the 1970s when climate change began to cause higher temperatures and excess rainfall favorable to the moisture-loving fungus. It has since mutated and spread throughout the region. Resistant coffee hybrids that scientists have created can’t keep up with the fast mutating rust fungus which seems to be growing stronger as climate change accelerates. For the past two years, the rust fungus called Hemileia vastatrix has destroyed 30% or more of the coffee harvest in Central America where coffee production employes one-third or more of the population in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua :
All the coffee-producing countries of Central America have seen drops in production of 30% or more in each of the past two years. Some, such as Guatemala, report rising cases of chronic malnutrition in coffee workers’ children. Last week Oxfam cited coffee among other crops in a report that warned climate change was putting back the global fight against hunger “by decades”.
Nicaragua’s problem is particularly acute. Along with neighbouring Honduras, and Burma, it is already one of the three countries most affected by climate change, according to the 2013 Global Climate Risk Index. Nearly a third of its working population, about 750,000 people, depend on coffee directly or indirectly for a living. Coffee provides 20% of GDP. The Nicaraguan government is deeply worried: it has predicted that, because of falling rainfall and rising temperatures, by 2050 80% of its current coffee growing areas will no longer be usable.
This will mean disaster…
Warmer temperatures are also threatening a genetically diverse type of coffee called Arabica which is considered essential to the industry and comprises 70% of global coffee production. According to a recent study, by 2080 global warming will make two-thirds of today’s farms too hot to grow Arabica.
The three countries making up the largest percentage of child migrants that have been flooding the U.S. in recent times are Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. These three countries also happen to be closely allied with the U.S. and its neo-liberal economic model. Nicaragua is an exception to its neighbors. Despite suffering similar losses to its coffee crop from rust fingus, Nicaraguan farmers did not fare as badly because they were supported by the programs of their socialist government, an anathema to America’s ruling oligarchs and neoliberal politicians:
In sharp contrast, Nicaragua, an equally poor country that receives far less U.S. aid because of our government’s hostility toward the Sandinistas, sends far fewer children across the U.S. border. Why? Since coming back into power in 2006, the Sandinistas have enacted strong programs designed to allow the poor to become self-sufficient.
The Immigration Issue: Red Meat for the American Masses
The only way to actually fix the immigration crisis is to address the root causes I have identified above. The response to date from the U.S. government has been to request billions in detention center and deportation funds, launch a PR campaign in the media of Central American countries to dissuade illegal immigration, and increase spending in law enforcement aid through CARSI (Central America Regional Security Initiative). Meanwhile, right-wing politicians fan the flames of racism and xenophobia with calls for militarizing the border to stop the hoards of swarthy barbarians at America’s doorstep. In reality, the current deteriorating social conditions in Central and South America are a direct result of the American corporatocracy and its rapacious economic system as well as anthropogenic climate disruption. The child migrants flooding across America’s border are, to a great degree, victims of U.S. foreign policy and climate change.