E-Letter To The Washington Post and Jackson Diehl Re: Latin America, Looking Backward

Your attitude, expressed in your column, "Latin America Looking Backward" represents just about all that has been wrong in relations between the United States and its next-door neighbors in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Your brand of revisionist history, when it comes to Latin America and the US, which also happens to be the dominant view of the Washington D.C. press corps, carefully omits important pieces of information that would help explain why the countries in the lower half of this hemisphere are just about through with the "Gringos".

For starters, your column neglects the absolute carnage that the CIA, and the U.S. State and Defense Departments have wrecked in Latin America. Last century, in an effort to gain access to the natural resources of the region, a public-private partnership of the worst kind developed whereby multinational corporate greed and US foreign policy objectives were united in an effort to thwart the spread of Nazism, Communism and the influence of European corporations, particularly oil companies.

It is interesting that you mention your concern about the turn of events in Peru and the emergence of Alan Garcia and his "populist" campaign. It would have been even more interesting, if you had decided to mention or at least indicate, that you were aware of what the United States has done in Peru, which has helped to contribute to the political climate there today.

For decades the Peruvian Amazon has been an apple in the eye of U.S. oil companies and numerous government agencies, and the US public and private sector went to great lengths to destabilize Peru and various groups within the country in order to obtain access to rare and valuable minerals. You should take a good look at the 1950s reign of then-Peruvian President General Manuel Odria, in order to get a textbook lesson in how the US has used Latin America as a proxy in its "wars" against Germany, the Soviet Union and even Korea, in the case of General Odria.

Partly, in order to fuel US war efforts and partly as a means to pay back loans to New York bankers, General Manuel Odria, a pawn of the CIA, practically gave the strategic-rich Andes mountains to the U.S. In return, the U.S. was kind enough to arrange further loans to finance badly needed highways and irrigation projects in Peru. However, as soon as the Korean War ended, so did much of Peru's usefulness to the United States.

In order to make up for some of the revenue shortfall that resulted from the US government's decreased purchases of strategic minerals, Odria opened up even more of the Andes and state-owned Peruvian companies to US financial interests. Standard Oil, in particular, benefited from the new arrangements. The result of Odrian's deal making was the deforestation of the Peruvian Amazon, the exploitation of the Andes Indians and the emergence of nationalist political opposition groups in Peru who zeroed in on the Peruvian leader's relationships with the American government and Standard Oil.

In fact, the US has moved throughout all of Latin America in a manner that selfishly suits its interests. And it has been a team effort. In an effort to obtain one of the most underdeveloped petroleum fields in the Western Hemisphere, in the 1950s, the State-War-Navy-Coordinating Committee (SWNCC), soon to become the National Security Council, worked to draw Latin American governments into secret oil pacts with U.S. oil companies. In turn, these U.S. oil companies set aside a portion of their oil deposits for U.S. military use, as part of a strategic oil reserve. The entire effort was aimed at securing petroleum reserves along the eastern edge of the Andes Mountains in South America. It included the fringe of the Amazon jungle and western Savanna of Venezuela and includes parts of Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

In the process indigenous populations were removed, died or were outright killed; pollution increased in the region; and anti-U.S. sentiment increased.

You seem to be only concerned with the recent rise of anti-American politicians in the region. But you should be more concerned with the reality that for over 30 years the people of Latin America have become more and more anti-U.S. in their outlook. You should consider the anti U.S. and anti-Rockefeller protests that gripped Nicaragua and Venezuela - two countries that you are concerned about - in the 60s and 70s.

Latin America paid an enormous price in its willingness to follow the dictates of the US government, during the Cold War. And it is not only some wayward political leaders who are upset over the relationship.

These problems in U.S. - Latin America relations were compounded in the late1970s and 80s by the financial crises that ripped through Latin America at that time and which increased resentment for the US throughout the region, as many in the region could clearly see that the US was using them in their battle against communism in this hemisphere and throughout the world. In addition to that the Latin America financial crisis of the 1970s and 80s was resolved in a manner that benefited international bankers more than it did the Mexican people. That history, of financial instability and bailouts for a privileged few continued in the last decade Mexican peso devaluation engineered to save the at-risk billions of US banks, and it continues today in Argentina, for example, where IMF policies have brought the country to the brink of economic ruin.

All along the way - from the 50s through the 90s - the United States sold the region on the idea that it too, would be wealthy by following the American brand of capitalism and democracy. But as you do point out in your piece the results never lived up to the promise. You wrote:

"But as the State Department's outgoing chief for Latin America, Peter Romero, acknowledged in a speech last week, free-market economics has so far failed to help the Latin American poor. The rate of poverty is the same as it was in 1979, and more than 150 million people still live on less than $2 a day. That lag, and the weakness of the new democratic systems, offers fertile ground for the likes of Chavez, Ortega and Garcia, who have aimed their populist appeals at the poor."

Exactly. You arrive at the proper conclusion but your view of that conclusion and some of the reasoning that you recruit to support it, is what we question.

If Daniel Ortega were indeed able to return to power in Nicaragua, it would represent a fitting symbol of how the dissatisfaction in Latin America, toward the US and the ideals that it champions, has reached its highest level in history. But is your suggestion, that this emerging leftist trend in Latin America be undermined, an appropriate response to the rise of such leaders like Garcia and Ortega? We think not. And actually think that such a response will only produce an even greater anti-American backlash in that part of the world.

Your suggestion that the US support the opposition group in Nicaragua, in an effort to stop Ortega is counterproductive, as it will only remind the country of the damage that was caused to it, when it was caught in the cross hairs of the Cold War. And we think that any US fingerprints that are visible on a competing political faction in Nicaragua will only help to ensure that Ortega wins.

Your persistent references to the Cold war era and the years of "Bush I" show that you are operating in a foreign policy time warp that will prove to be even less effective today than it was 10,20,30, and 40 years ago.

You are at war with an image of Daniel Ortega, with communist trappings, that was created in the 1980s, while the real Daniel Ortega is working with Nation Of Islam Leader Minister Louis Farrakhan on peace initiatives aimed at ending civil wars in Africa. You probably were unaware of the fact that Daniel Ortega actually spoke at the Million Family March last October, right in Washington D.C. How does that fit into the convenient compartmentalization that you have assigned for Ortega?

You are at war with an image of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, who you believe was effectively ignored by President Clinton and can easily be punished by President Bush with the discontinuation of US oil purchases. Well, you can continue to believe that if you want to, but we think that the recent trip to Venezuela by Chinese president Jiang Zemin should cause you to lose some of your hubris and think long and hard about how callously you may wish to treat the country that supplies the US with more of its oil than any other, if you are wise and forward-looking. If you want to see more of this we urge you to watch the foreign press reports of Chavez's ongoing trip to Russia, Iran, China, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia. You may be surprised to learn that Latin American leaders have a life independent of their relationship with the U.S.

And of course, you are at war with an image of Fidel Castro as the high priest of communism in the Western Hemisphere and now, the entire world. But again, you are in a time warp and are probably not paying attention to the Cuban leader's current trip to the Middle East and Asia where the "communist" leader is making ties with developing countries around the world, many of whom have also grown tired of the much bally-hood US success formula of "free-markets and democracy". You may be interested in knowing that the Cuban leader upon leaving Iran, one of his tour stops, said, "I had friends in Iran, but with this visit I have found new friends," he added, "This was a memorable visit for me. ... I leave with optimism about future ties."

You may look at the budding unity between Daniel Ortega and Minister Farrakhan, and the overseas visits of Chavez and Castro to the Arab world and Asia as further evidence to support your dislike for these leaders. But when you factor these developments into recent events like the unity between South Africa, Brazil, Cuba and India on the issue of AIDS drugs, you can begin to see that the United States can't explain away the growing unity in the economically developing world and the anti-American sentiment, as isolated incidents.

Something else is going on.

If you are sincerely looking for a better relationship between Latin America and the US, you wouldn't just accuse Latin America of looking back; you would in fact muster the courage to ask the US to look in the mirror and see what it has done to alienate so many countries around the globe, especially those in the Western Hemisphere.


Cedric Muhammad

Tuesday, May 15, 2001