Longtime activist and author Edward S. Herman was interviewed in Philadelphia on December 26, 2008. In this interview, Herman discusses the history of US influence in Latin America, and contextualizes this with what he says is an anti-democratic US policy throughout the Global South, designed to create a favorable investment climate for US corporations. He is asked how things are changing today with the popular election of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and many other recently-elected leftist presidents in Latin America. Is the US losing power and influence? What will this mean for the future?
A longtime critic of US foreign policy in Latin America, Herman is a Professor Emeritus of Finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and a contributor to Z Magazine since its founding in 1988. He is the author of numerous books, including his 1979 book, co-authored with Noam Chomsky, The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism: The Political Economy of Human Rights: Volume I, and Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.
The Washington Connection has an interesting history. When Chomsky and Herman wrote its precursor, they found their analysis of U.S. foreign policy unwelcome by the corporate media establishment. Warner Modular Publications (at that time a subsidiary member of the Warner communications and entertainment conglomerate) was set to release it, but when the parent company learned about the book in the fall of 1973, it condemned its “unpatriotic” scholarship. William Sarnoff, a high officer of the parent company, explained why the book upset him so much, citing the book’s “unpatriotic” argument that “the leadership in the United States, as a result of its dominant position and wide-ranging counter-revolutionary efforts, has been the most important single instigator, administrator, and moral and material sustainer of serious bloodbaths in the years that followed World War II.”
As a result, Chomsky and Herman explain in The Washington Connection‘s introduction that:
Although 20,000 copies of the monograph were printed, and one (and the last) ad was placed in the New York Review of Books, Warner Publishing refused to allow distribution of the monograph at its scheduled publication date. Media advertising for the volume was cancelled and printed flyers that listed the monographs as one of the titles were destroyed. The officers of Warner Modular were warned that distribution of the document would result in their immediate dismissal.
Following this, Warner backed down a little, and formally agreed to not suppress the book: reaching a compromise with the lower-level publisher (who struggled for distribution of the monograph). However, before the compromise could be enacted the publishing house was shut down, with Warner selling the house’s “stocks of publications and contracts to a small and quite unknown company” effectively killing the book.
Taking a closer look at the book’s content, Chomsky and Herman argue that the “ideological pretense…that the United States is dedicated to furthering the cause of democracy and human rights throughout the world, though it may occasionally err in the pursuit of this objective” has been constructed to mask: “the basic fact…that the United States has organized under its sponsorship and protection a neo-colonial system of client states ruled mainly by terror and serving the interests of a small local and foreign business and military elite.”
Focusing largely on US support for the Latin American “National Security States,” Chomsky and Herman argue that U.S. corporations purposefully support (and in many instances create) fascist terror states in order to create a favorable investment climate. In exchange for a cut of the action, local military police-states brutally repress their population when it attempts to assert basic human rights. They write:
The proof of the pudding is that U.S. bankers and industrialists have consistently welcomed the “stability” of the new client fascist order, whose governments, while savage in their treatment of dissidents, priests, labor leaders, peasant organizers or others who threaten “order,” and at best indifferent to the mass of the population, have been accommodating to large external interests. In an important sense, therefore, the torturers in the client state are functionaries of IBM, Citibank, Allis Chalmers and the U.S. government, playing their assigned roles in a system that has worked according to choice and plan.
Chomsky and Herman cite official statements by State Department planner George Kennan, to illustrate the mindset behind US policy in Latin America and around the world. In 1948, Kennan wrote Policy Planning Study 23, stating that if the U.S. wanted to maintain (and expand) its position of world dominance, it could not truly respect human rights and democracy abroad. The document said:
We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only about 6 percent of its population…In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships that will permit us to maintain this disparity…To do so we will have to dispense with sentimentality and daydreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives…We should cease to talk about vague and…unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization.
Kennan elaborated on this concept in a 1950 briefing of U.S. ambassadors to Latin American countries. Of prime importance was to prevent the spreading of the idea “that governments are responsible for the well being of their people.” To combat the proliferation of this idea, Kennan argued that “we should not hesitate before police repression by the local government…It is better to have a strong regime in power than a liberal one if it is indulgent and relaxed and penetrated by Communist.”