Thursday, May 28, 2015

Quest for Decolonization #9: Blood, Veins, Wounds and Scars

Someone once told me that Nicaragua is a land of wounds. If Latin America is a land of open veins, Nicaragua is a land of wounding after wounding. Since becoming independent from Spain in the early 19th century, it has gone through regular periods of social upheaval and repression, generally with the United States playing some form of oppressor. In the 1850's a US mercenary and would be monarch William Walker took over the country and re-instituted slavery. Although the US government didn't necessarily fund and organize his private imperial venture, they recognized his facade of a government, as it would be one where they were certain it would follow their interests. Walker was expelled by a coalition of local Central American leaders who all detested the power that the United States and its economic and military emissaries tended to wield over their local affairs.

As the United States saw Latin America as their sphere of influence, they closely monitored any potential interference from other countries, while constantly finding ways to violently interfere for their own narrow needs. Although it has become commonplace to see the Middle East as the site where the US can't seem to leave things well enough alone in the name of Freedom and Democracy, historically its history in Latin America is much more imperial and reprehensible. For 200 hundred years nearly every single country from Mexico to Chile has been bombed by US forces, invaded by US forced, occupied by US forced, had rebels funded by US forced, or had their leaders overthrown by US intelligence forces.

Nicaragua was a battleground for the US Marines, who occupied the country for close to 20 years. They fought primarily against poor nationalists, farmer workers, peasants, mine workers who did not want their country to be occupied by a foreign power. The revered folk hero of Nicaragua Augusto Sandino emerged during that time, fighting the US Marines for six years.

In those times the interests of the US were more explicitly imperials and economic. US companies in Latin American enjoyed a great deal of freedom on how they operated, especially with corrupt autocratic rulers in power. On occasions when a reformer or someone more progressive or socialist minded would rise to power, usually with a great deal of popular support, quiet deals would be made in the darkened rooms in Washington D.C. that something had to be done, and this person who was not friendly to American business interests, would have to be shown the dangers of not cooperating with your regional mafia boss. The late 19th century and early 20th centuries were periods where the US favored direct intervention, landing troops and bombing cities both from the sea and from the air. This is where the most decorated soldier in US history, Smedley Butler makes his appearance. Butler was one of the most decorated soldiers in US military history, receiving two Medal of Honors for his role in keeping the world safe for US economic interests. He later came to regret his exploits, as he made clear in his statements such as this:
I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.
I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.
I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. 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. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

After World War II, the US changed its strategy and began to operate more through proxies. Funding revolutions and planning the overthrow of leaders that didn't support American companies or were planning to make changes to their societies that smelled like communism or socialism. The "Cold" War period of history is a violently hot period for Latin America as the time is bloody with civil wars, most of which were supported and sustained by the United States and its mirror in geopolitical aspirations the USSR. It is a time of petty tyrants and bullies propped up by the US, its guns and its money. Millions of lives were lost in the process.


The US supported the decades long dictatorship of the Somoza family. In the 1970's a guerrilla socialist, Marxist movement formed in the spirit of Sindino, who became known as the Sandanistas. They started in the hills of Nicaragua, training and building support from the poorest populations, taking advantage of international communist networks to travel to North Korea, Cuba and Palestine for further training and "advisement." The incredibly unpopular Somoza family was eventually pushed out and the Sandanistas came to power. Very soon after the US began to fund an opposition movement, who became known as the Contras, who began to fight the Sandanistas hoping to destabilize Nicaragua and wrest control of the control from them.

During this period, the Sandanistas fought the Contras and received their own support, primarily from the USSR. At that time, an interesting bit of history took place, which has long gone down the "memory hole" of the United States as Noam Chomsky phrases it. Nicaragua took the United States to the International Court of Justice in order to get them to cease their interference in the affairs of their country. In 1984, the ICJ ruled in favor of the government of Nicaragua, ruling that the funding of the Contras by the US and the mining of the harbors of the country violated their sovereignty and their rights to peace and safe commerce. The ICJ ruled that the US should pay reparations to Nicaragua, but the US refused to acknowledge the entire process, arguing the ICJ had no jurisdiction over them.

For people from imperial and colonial countries, memories are always short. When they look at the world, they see people that have trouble putting the past behind them. They see people in the developing world, the lands of scars and wounds of colonialism, as being so irrational, they won't let go of past wrongs, who hold onto feuds decades and centuries later. They get so consumed with their wounds, they can't let them go. But from the countries that have been the historic battlefields of the powerful and the would-be monarchs of the world, it is not so easy to just forget. The wounds, the scars are still there.

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