Category Archives: El Salvador

Requiem for a People-Centered World Dream

My dream is to invite a reader into a room and pour a nice cup of tea . . . and then nail the door shut.

— author Charles Bowden, 2010 NPR interview

There is so much daily that expresses so much about the slippery slopes we are in globally because of predatory-penury-parasitic-pugilistic capitalism.

In the USA, on this continent, north, and south of those colonial and Manifest Destiny “borders,” the amount of both absurdity and abomination is magnified in a world of protracted panic.

It’s there, truly, the panic. Young people are offing themselves with Narcan and with opiates. There are more dreams not only deferred, but dreams turned into nightmares by a thousand cuts.

We have a world where getting into uniform, with a rifle, with a joystick for murder incorporated, is the new abnormal. Hitch up in the killing machine US Army for $50K.

If this isn’t blasphemy, then, you know we have lathered ourselves on that slippery slope of the multi-pronged Faustian Bargain.

Then, more mercenaries recruited for big bonuses: Make that the disgusting US Army,

You know how messed up the USA is, from A to Z, and the news continues to illustrate the dying empire. Paying punks to enlist in the killing machine!

FORT CAMPBELL, KY — The U.S. Army is offering its largest bonus ever for new recruits with up to $50,000 available to qualified individuals who sign on for a six-year active-duty enlistment.

The total incentive package for a new recruit is based on a combination of incentives offered for the selected career field, individual qualifications, length of the enlistment contract, and the ship date for training.

In the past, enlistment incentives for full-time soldiers could not exceed $40,000.

The Army is competing for the same talent as the other services as well as the private sector and must have the ability to generate interest in the current employment environment, according to Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, who leads U.S. Army Recruiting Command in its mission to fill full-time and part-time vacancies in about 150 career fields in the regular Army and the Army Reserve.

“This is an opportunity to entice folks to consider the Army,” said Brig. Gen. John Cushing, who serves as the deputy commanding general for operations under Vereen at USAREC. “We’ve taken a look at the critical (military occupational specialties) we need to fill in order to maintain the training bases, and that is where we place a lot of our emphasis.”

Now run that up against The Man who coined the term Military Industrial Complex, and a new book written by, well, shall we call that person part of the elite, part of the chosen people from Ivy League and East Coast silver spoon roots. And, in the magazine that for many is a sell-out, for sure, Jacobin: Here, the article reviewing the man and the book.

Crisscrossing the country, Butler denounced US warmaking abroad and ruling-class violence at home as two sides of the same bloody coin, telling audiences from Racine to Roanoke that America was divided into “two classes”:

On one side, a class of citizens who were raised to believe that the whole of this country was created for their sole benefit, and on the other side, the other 99 percent of us, the soldier class, the class from which all of you soldiers came.

Butler published a short book, War Is a Racket, collecting the key themes of his orations in 1935. Later, in an essay in the socialist magazine Common Sense, Butler confessed to having been a “racketeer for capitalism,” elaborating that, as “a member of our country’s most agile military force,” he had served as “a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers.” In 1936, Marine Corps informants sent to spy on the ex-general observed him speaking on a panel alongside self-identified Communists and reported that “the General appeared to us to be either insane or an out and out traitor.”

[Major General John A. Lejeune, head of the Marine Corps, calls on General Smedley Butler in camp at Frederick, Maryland in 1922. (Bettmann / Getty Images)]

And, as an aside, but a big ASIDE, we are in a time of collective cholera of the conscious, in this remote work, remote being, remote news world. Just watching the fake left, Amy Goodman, daily (M-F) with an absolute stiff arm to authority, as the Democracy Now newsroom in New York is with Goodman, solo, while her correspondents, including Juan Gonzalez, are stuck in their homes with their laptops and tiny cameras and mic delivering their fear porn.

Young Lords logo.png

Imagine this happening today, 2022 — Verboten, again, in the Zoom Doom of Dead Consciousness. Mask up, sit on your toilet, tune into Zoom, if you are lucky:

[Students at the University of California at Berkeley filing in to listen to Smedley Butler’s Peace Day address in 1939. (Library of Congress)]

I analyzed Juan’s book, News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media, a while back. Remember, Juan was once in the radical group, the Young Lords.

Luís Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil’s Highway, said “…in Murder City Charles Bowden plunges in head-first, without a parachute. There are moments when the book threatens to burst into flames and burn your hands.”

We are in a time of cholera of the consciousness, of infantalized masses following the dictates of a few chosen people, men and women of those classes, those groupings, the vetted and vaunted few, the ones who have been knighted by the lords of finance insurance real estate, and, more than FIRE, but the complex: Butler, War is a Racket.

Of course, it isn’t put that crudely in war time. It is dressed into speeches about patriotism, love of country, and “we must all put our shoulders to the wheel,” but the profits jump and leap and skyrocket — and are safely pocketed. Let’s just take a few examples:

Take our friends the du Ponts, the powder people — didn’t one of them testify before a Senate committee recently that their powder won the war? Or saved the world for democracy? Or something? How did they do in the war? They were a patriotic corporation. Well, the average earnings of the du Ponts for the period 1910 to 1914 were $6,000,000 a year. It wasn’t much, but the du Ponts managed to get along on it. Now let’s look at their average yearly profit during the war years, 1914 to 1918. Fifty-eight million dollars a year profit we find! Nearly ten times that of normal times, and the profits of normal times were pretty good. An increase in profits of more than 950 per cent.

Take one of our little steel companies that patriotically shunted aside the making of rails and girders and bridges to manufacture war materials. Well, their 1910-1914 yearly earnings averaged $6,000,000. Then came the war. And, like loyal citizens, Bethlehem Steel promptly turned to munitions making. Did their profits jump — or did they let Uncle Sam in for a bargain? Well, their 1914-1918 average was $49,000,000 a year!

Or, let’s take United States Steel. The normal earnings during the five-year period prior to the war were $105,000,000 a year. Not bad. Then along came the war and up went the profits. The average yearly profit for the period 1914-1918 was $240,000,000. Not bad.

There you have some of the steel and powder earnings. Let’s look at something else. A little copper, perhaps. That always does well in war times.

Anaconda, for instance. Average yearly earnings during the pre-war years 1910-1914 of $10,000,000. During the war years 1914-1918 profits leaped to $34,000,000 per year.

Or Utah Copper. Average of $5,000,000 per year during the 1910-1914 period. Jumped to an average of $21,000,000 yearly profits for the war period.

Let’s group these five, with three smaller companies. The total yearly average profits of the pre-war period 1910-1914 were $137,480,000. Then along came the war. The average yearly profits for this group skyrocketed to $408,300,000.

A little increase in profits of approximately 200 per cent.

Read the short book, then scale it up to today! Trillions stolen from US taxpayers, and all the apps, all the services of the private money hecklers who have gotten sweetheart contracts with every branch of the government you and I supposedly fought for. All those trillions in bribes and bailouts. Imagine that, a Trump LLC and then a CitiBank Biden BBB. And before these two scoundrels? Do the history, look at the administrations, and figure it out. Here, just one short diatribe featuring one hell of a Satan, Kissinger. Beware of the verbiage I deploy to singe this fellow and those presidents who have utilized this war criminal. I have already gotten emails threatening me for the Blog Post. And notice all those cozy photos of Henry Kissinger with all the tribes of descrutive capitalism, a la war. War on us, war on societies, war on nations, war on children, war on ecology, war on thought, war on agency, war on the human body, war on thought.  “Tribalism Rules.”

So here we are, now, the kernel of this diatribe today — our faces. Oh, how we give up more and more each day, until the chip is in the back of the neck, and those bots are gathered in our organs with graphene building blocks to our souls.

Again, I harp on this one blasphemey, IRS demanding facial recognition — and that agency is for us, right? A truly representative form of democracy demands we the people have a huge say in what happens to us, and that’s not just idiotic voting, but again, “War is a Racket” is now “Banking-AI-Pharma-Med-Entertainment-Science-Education-Prisons-Law-Congress-Energy-Transportation-Chemicals-Engineering-Space-Data” ARE the Racket.” This is yet another single story that comes to us via the Net which is yet another chink in the armor of humanity plucked from our souls:

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the US will require people to submit a facial scan through a third party provider to make payments or file taxes online. The system raises obvious privacy concerns.

Currently, users only require a username and password to log into their IRS accounts. But starting the summer of 2022, users will need to verify their identity through a third-party identity verification company called ID.me. The change was first noticed by Krebs on Security.

So you dig a bit, and find out who these millionaires and hedge funders and social impact investors are behind this “third party” (gouging, sick profiteers) outfit, ID Me!

Nader’s good, but he can only go so far. Yesterrday, 1/20, on Democracy Now, a rare media visit for Ralph Nader, who has been locked out of board rooms, out of newsrooms, locked out of so much for decades, when his memory, his insight, his analyses are vital to institutional memory and his own sort of harping against the profiteers.

He has to beat those dead horses, multiple times, year after year . . . dead horses tied to the fact there are no real journalists in the legacy media, and that there are no cops working the FTC or DoJ or EPA or FDA. He is spot on, but he never gets on NPR or PBS or Fox or CBS. Nader is spot on about Republicans being fascistic and messianic. They are, of course, worse:

And the reporters didn’t take him to task there. The reporters, either they’re not doing their homework or they’re full of taboos. I mean, they never raise the corporate supremacy over our country. There isn’t a single agency in the federal government that isn’t influenced maximally by corporate lobbies. And Congress is swarmed by corporate lobbies. You have 500 drug company lobbyists full-time assigned to Congress, and there are 535 members of Congress. And these corporations are strategically commercializing every aspect of our society, commercializing childhood, strategically planning the tax system, the food system, the health system, fighting global warming remedies, the fossil fuel industry, ExxonMobil. They’re planning our genetic inheritance. Commercializing childhood should be a left-right issue, conservative issue. The press never asks about it. The self-censorship of the press is overwhelming. That’s why we have to have a more independent media.

We have to have — I mean, look at the coverage of Ukraine. As Katrina pointed out, if our country was invaded in a span of 40 years from the north, with 50 million casualties, what do you think we would do? Do you think we would just station troops on the northern border? We would have taken over the northern country and annexed it. And that’s why dictator Putin can get away with what he’s doing now, in terms of public opinion of the impoverished Russian people, is because they remember. They have their casualties in their families from the western frontiers, started with Napoleon.

And here we are, expanding a military alliance for arms sales for the military-industrial complex, because, as was pointed out, a condition of joining NATO is to buy the F-16 and other weapons in Eastern European countries. NATO is a military alliance organized against the Soviet Union. And now they’re expanding it in Eastern Europe and putting troops there. It’s, here we go again, a completely preventable conflict. What Putin really wants is Ukraine never to join NATO, no strategic offensive weapons in the Ukraine. He’s asking for ending strategic weapons in Europe — that is not going to happen.

But the press asks war-inciting questions. NPR asked it. David Sanger asked it. They asked war-inciting questions. It’s like Vietnam all over again. It’s like Iraq all over again. They don’t ask peace-inciting questions about diplomacy. And this is a dangerous situation, and the press just isn’t doing its job. It isn’t just Biden.

He can’t communicate how the GOP is opposed to everything that’s defined as human. You don’t make moral appeals to the GOP, like Senator Warnock just did. You show that they are opposed to sending $250 and $300 monthly checks to 65 million children, which has stopped now, and the GOP will not expand it. I mean, that’s a good political item to communicate to the American people. Those 65 million children come from conservative and liberal families who are both deprived. He doesn’t know how to communicate. The GOP knows what it wants. It’s messianic. It’s fascistic. It’s driven. And the communication from the Democrats, from the DNC to the White House, is weak. It’s anemic. And the public senses that. (source)

See the source image

Finally, a story NOT covered in legacy media or left wing media. Ralph doesn’t get it yet. He still believes in his book title, how billionaires will save the world.

See the source image

 

He’s dead wrong about the above statement/title of one of his books. And, here it is, again, social impact investing, and the soul of humanity, especially youth, being sucked up by the ultra rich and investment teams for their data and their compliance — The Internet of Bodies and Human Capital Futures Bets In Brazil

In the coming years, global financiers, will attempt to meld dynamic pricing and mobile payments with biometric digital identity, Internet of Body sensors, and blockchain smart contracts and then weave it all into an expansive spatial web meant to control our social and economic relations in both the material world and, through digital assets, rights and privileges, in the Metaverse, as well. Click here to listen to an interview I did with Bonnie Faulkner of Guns and Butter that goes into more detail about how impact investing connects to digital twins, and mixed reality.

Surely it is twisted to view communities as resource deposits of untapped data, but that is the logic of end-stage capitalism. The infrastructure needed to scale human capital finance profit are ICT (Individual Communication Technology) devices including phones, tablets, and inexpensive computers like chrome books; wearable technologies and biosensors; and 5-6G used in combination with data-dashboards that verify impact data against predictions and success metrics laid out in the terms of the deals. These are all things one finds in recreation centers in the United States now, and given inroads made by the Aspen Institute, Stanford, Harvard and the like, they will very likely become standard issue in the favelas, too. Not because any of it is good for children, but because the children’s data has value, and their compliance has value.

The Metaverse will be populated by compliant avatars. Beyond social impact, the conditioning of the young to cyborg life is going full throttle. Meanwhile for portfolio managers, children’s futures are just tranches of investment – data commodities. It’s only business. — Alison McDowell, Wrench in the Gears (dot) com!

Most people I talk with do not have the bandwidth or wherewithal to understand this next stage, end stage, capitalism into our very souls, which is fascism, inverted totalitarianism, all bunched up in a world of chaos, all drawn and quartered on the backs of us, vis-a-vis all these scams of Build Back Better variety, or UN’s sustainability goals and Universal Basic Income propaganda, and the 4IR and WEF — the fourth industrial revolution is part and parcel of the Great Reset.

This sort of stuff Alison writes about does get under many of our skins, but for the most part, I know so many people who have given up, who think that we all are data mined anyways, that we have all our info in the banking-IRS-DMV-insurance-medical-education superhighway of giving up all agency, anyway, so what’s the big deal we are being tracked, and what’s the big deal that our kids are being watched and what’s wrong with our ovaries and prostates and such being monitored by the Internet of Bodies and Nano-Things when we just have to lean back and enjoy this new world?

And I have harped for 17 years here at Dissident Voice, and decades before, in newsrooms, in classrooms, in homeless shelters, in programs for the disenfranchised, on stage, at conferences for sustainability, on my radio show, elsewhere. I have harped and harped about the false flags, about the overlords drilling into our very being, about more and more of our agency stripped from us daily, not as part of a huge democratically controlled system of community building, power to the people organizing, or we are the 80 Percent movements, but to mine our souls so we are ghosts in their machines.

The agency we have given up was with that passport, all those sick people who pressed my ass at various border control passings. Strip searched and body cavity groped twice. Then, all the shot records needed to go here and go there. All the proof of life in school (Iowa IQ tests), the SAT, the LSAT, all the tests (run by the chose people, millionaires) and all the records of accomplishment, of criminal involvement, all the credit scores and all the car blunders, all of that kept for THEM, the Complext, the Insurance, Real Estate, Finance, FIRE, millionaires who get legislation in THEIR favor passed through the tricks of pimping and prostituting and arm twisting and outright bribery.

Imagine, protests and cops rounding us up, and then court cases, appearances, the hassles, the humiliations. Try it out for size.

How many arguments have I had with MD’s who know squat about nutrition and each time challenged me and my vegetarianism? Me, running 6 miles a day, biking 30 and scrambling underwater and up hills?

How man dirty arguments about “that” history, versus a new and improved revisionist history vital to a population from which to rise up and take on the paymasters, the body snatchers, the mind thieves?

Until we are here, 2022, in a chamber of stupidity, all the dumb and worthless stuff out there, all the racists and white-priviledged perspectives out there pounding it in the heads of unsuspecting youth, K12, TikTok, YouTube, all of the Net and WWW. All the Ivy League and Oxford-trained scum who determine not only our futures, but write our histories, and what they write is almost always semi-dead wrong. Because without the voices of the oppressed, those on the streets, in homeless camps, those suffering poverty and the inflammatory disease of capitalism; i.e., fines-tolls-fees-surcharges-service fees-handling charges-tickets-code violations-late fees-taxes-triple taxations-levies-processing fees-mortgages-ball on payments-PayDay loan rigged systems — without their voices at the forefront, and in the newsrooms, inside schools, and in the publishing houses and the actual process of writing their own stories, then we have the tin ear writers and prognosticators and anthropologists and psychologists, the elite, the highly connected, the bias of the white man and white woman writing about us.

They get it wrong 90 percent of the time!

Now, if this graphic doesn’t run chills up and down your spine, then, you are not following the overlords’ script. Catch up please!

UNSIF 17 UNSDGs

Dig down and listen, watch, read: And it’s not pretty, and it’s not slick, and it’s not all east coast, Ivy League, London Bridges Falling Down stuff.

Finally, I was reading about Charles Bowden last night. Found a piece in Literary Hub, and then went backwards to see one of his talks. Rough guy, but an amazing chronicler of people.”Eulogy for a Visionary: On the Grim Narrative Introspection of Charles Bowden — Leath Tonino Considers His Brief Correspondence with the Author of Murder City”

The piece was written and published December 2021, even though Chuck died in 2014.

Here, a gravel-voiced Chuck talking to the California Commonwealth Club. Mostly about the lies around the war on drugs.  I talked with Chuck years ago, in the 199os, in Juarez and El Paso. I was working on things for the two newspapers, and he was working the narcotraficante stories. That’s a whole other story, of my life maybe some autofiction is due, but for now, here, from the young writer who wanted to interview Chuck in Tucson, but never got the chance since Chuck died at 69 in his sleep. His piece is from the heart, and good.

My first thought: Murder City, solid title.

It was 2011 and I was scraping by in San Francisco, spending hours at the public library, tinkering with writing projects, browsing the stacks during breaks. The name on the book’s spine—Charles Bowden—was familiar yet unfamiliar; essayist Rebecca Solnit, a neighbor with whom I’d recently taken a long walk, had referenced Bowden, telling me that “he could make your skin crawl by describing a Q-tips factory.” Uncertain what that meant, but eager to learn, I slipped Murder City from the shelf, intending to start it when I got home, sip some vodka, have myself a relaxed Friday evening.

Little did I know that Bowden, a veteran investigative reporter from the South-west, author of twenty-five-plus books about polluted rivers, crooks in silk suits, flies swarming over pooled blood, collapsing communities, contract killers, rattlesnakes, and desire, had a slightly different plan. In a 2010 NPR interview, he summarized his approach to crafting stories on the page: “My dream is to invite a reader into a room and pour a nice cup of tea . . . and then nail the door shut.”

So, I end with a dead man, his words not dead, the voice alive on YouTube, and what an interesting conversation it would be with him now, as it would be with Andre Vltchek, with Kevin Zeese,  with David Graeber. So many others, long gone, or just gone. Even Gonzo Thompson.

I have been coming to this city [Ciudad Juárez] for thirteen years, and naturally, I have, like everyone here, an investment in the dead. And the living. Here is a story, and like all stories here, like Miss Sinaloa, it tantalizes and floats in the air, and then vanishes. — From Murder City

More from Bowden, at the Lannan Foundation.

Charles Bowden (1945-2014) was the author of scores of books including A Shadow in the City: Confessions of an Undercover Drug WarriorDown By the River: Drugs, Money, Murder and FamilyJuárez: The Laboratory of our Future; and Blood Orchid: An Unnatural History of America.  In Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields, he presented a devastating chronicle of a city in collapse where not just the police and drug cartel members die as violence infects every level of society. Luís Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil’s Highway, said “…in Murder City Bowden plunges in head-first, without a parachute. There are moments when the book threatens to burst into flames and burn your hands.” Bowden was a contributing editor for GQ and Mother Jones, and also wrote for Harper’sThe New York Times Book Review, and Aperture. Winner of a 1996 Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction, he lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Post Script — One story is worth a thousand points of stabbing (not lights). Two here to end this missive. If you haven’t figured out how ugly the overlords and then the Eichmann’s are, then, gain, read, live, walk the streets:

The queen and her minimum wage payout, oh those billionaires! The pay for the 20-hour-per-week job is £9.50, or the equivalent of $12.96 an hour. That reflects the U.K.’s new minimum wage, which will rise from £8.91 an hour now to £9.50 an hour in April.

Queen Elizabeth II tours Queen Mother Square on October 27, 2016, in Poundbury, England.

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“I apologize to the person who appeared before me and to our entire community for having failed to meet the high standards that we expect of our judicial officers, and that I expect of myself,” Alexis Krot said in a statement posted on the court’s website.

The statement was dated Tuesday, days after she ordered Burhan Chowdhury to pay $100 for failing to get rid of weeds and other vegetation at the rear of his property. The judge’s apology followed a TV report about the case and criticism about how she treated the man.

“Shameful! The neighbors should not have to look at that. You should be ashamed of yourself,” Krot said during the online hearing. “If I could give you jail time on this, I would.”

Chowdhury, a native of Bangladesh, explained that he was weak with cancer. A son, Shibbir Chowdhury, said he helps his father with the yard but was out of the country at the time last year.

The post Requiem for a People-Centered World Dream first appeared on Dissident Voice.

21st Century US Coups and Attempted Coups in Latin America

During the 21st century, the US, working with corporate elites, traditional oligarchies, military, and corporate media, has continually attempted coups against Latin American governments which place the needs of their people over US corporate interests. US organized coups in Latin American countries is hardly a 20th century phenomenon.

However, this century the US rulers have turned to a new coup strategy, relying on soft coups, a significant change from the notoriously brutal military hard coups in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and other countries in the 1970s. One central US concern in these new coups has been to maintain a legal and democratic facade as much as possible.

The US superpower recognizes successful soft coups depend on mobilizing popular forces in anti-government marches and protests. Gene Sharp style color revolutions are heavily funded by US and European NGOs, such as USAID, NED, National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute, Open Society Foundations, Ford Foundation, and others. They make use of organizations professing “human rights” (such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International), local dissident organizations, and increasingly, liberal-left media (even Democracy Now) to prepare the groundwork.

US regime change operations have found three mechanisms this century that have been tremendously successful. First, economic warfare on a country, through sanctions and outright blockades, creates rising discontent against the targeted government. Second, increasing use of corporate media and social media to spread disinformation (often around “human rights,” “democracy,” “freedom,” or “corruption”) to foment mass movements against leaders that prioritize their nation’s development over US financial interests. This heavily relies on CIA social media operations to blanket a country with disinformation. Third, lawfare, using the appearance of democratic legality to bring down those defending their country’s national sovereignty. Related to lawfare are the electoral coups in countries such as Haiti, Honduras, and Brazil, where the US engineers or helps to engineer a coup by stealing the election.

Many of the attempted coups failed because the people mobilized to defend their governments, and because of crucial and timely solidarity declarations in defense of these governments by the Latin American bodies of the OAS, UNASUR, and the Rio Group. Today, the Rio Group no longer exists, UNASUR is much weakened, and the OAS is now fully under US control.

US Backed Coups and Attempted Coups

2001 Haiti. Haitian paramilitaries based in the Dominican Republic launched an attack on the National Palace, seat of the government of President Aristide. The attack failed, but until 2004, similar to the 1980s Nicaraguan contras, these paramilitaries launched numerous raids into Haiti, and played a key role leading to the 2004 coup perpetrated directly by US troops.

2002 Venezuela. The US government partially funded and backed the short-lived April 11-14 coup against Hugo Chavez.

2002-3 Venezuela. Management of the state oil company PDVSA organized an “oil strike,” actually a lockout of the oil workers, to drive Hugo Chavez out of power. This again failed in early 2003.

2003 Cuba. In the lead up to the March 2003 US invasion of Iraq, John Bolton claimed Cuba was a state sponsor of terrorism, producing biological weapons for terrorist purposes, just as Saddam’s Iraq was falsely claimed to have weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). During this period, the US increased its anti-Cuba propaganda directed at the country and increased funding to “pro-democracy” groups in Cuba, while anti-Cuban right-wing groups escalated their activities. The US paid “dissident” groups to organize protests and disruptions, including hijacking seven boats and airplanes to reach the US where they were never prosecuted. The goal was to create the appearance of disorder in Cuba, which, combined with its alleged biological WMDs, demanded an international intervention to restore order. Cuba squashed this movement in spring 2003.

2004 Haiti. In an early 20th century style US coup, US troops invaded Haiti, kidnapped President Jean Bertrande Aristide and exiled him to the Central African Republic.

2008 Bolivia. The Media Luna attempted coup involved right-wing leaders and some indigenous groups from Bolivia’s lowlands financed by the US. They sought to separate the richer Media Luna region from the rest of the country. In the process, they killed 20 supporters of President Evo Morales. Juan Ramon Quintana of the Bolivian government reported that between 2007-2015, the NED gave $10 million in funding to some 40 institutions including economic and social centers, foundations and NGOs. US embassy cables showed it sought to turn social and indigenous movements against the Evo Morales government.

2009 Honduras. Honduran military forces, under orders from the US, seized President Manuel Zelaya, brought him to the US military base at Palmerola, then exiled him to Costa Rica. This began an era of brutal neoliberal narco-trafficking regimes that ended in 2021 with the landslide election of Xiomara Castro, Zelaya’s wife.

2010 Ecuador. In September a failed coup against President Rafael Correa by military and police units backed by the indigenous organizations CONAIE and Pachakutik. The US had infiltrated the police and armed forces, while the NED and USAID funded these indigenous organizations.

2011 Haiti. Following the Haiti earthquake in 2010 that killed 200,000, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton imposed Michel Martelly as president after threatening to cut off US aid to Haiti. Clinton flew to Haiti to demand that Martelly be named one of the two runoff candidates, although Martelly was not recognized by the Electoral Council as one of the qualifiers. Despite a voter boycott, with fewer than 20% of the electorate voting, Martelly was announced the winner of the “runoff.” One reason why most Haitians boycotted was that the most popular political party in the country, Fanmi Lavalas, the party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was excluded from the ballot. The Haiti elections were funded by USAID, Canada, the OAS, the European Union and other foreign bodies.

2012 Paraguay. President Fernando Lugo was scapegoated for a land occupation confrontation between campesinos and the police, which led to 17 deaths. President Lugo was removed from office without a chance to defend himself in a lawfare coup.

2013 Venezuela. After the April election that Nicolas Maduro narrowly won, Henrique Capriles, the US-supported loser, claimed the election was stolen and called his supporters out into the streets in violent protests. Due to the strength of the UNASUR countries at the time, the US could not convince other countries to also reject Maduro’s victory.

2014 Venezuela. “La Salida”(The Exit), led by Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado, resulted in 43 deaths, and aimed to drive President Maduro from power. Again, the US could not get other Latin American governments to denounce Maduro, either in UNASUR or in the OAS.

2015 Ecuador. Between 2012-2015, $30 million from NED went to political parties, trade unions, dissident movements, and media. In 2013 alone, USAID and NED spent $24 million in Ecuador. This paid off in 2015 when CONAIE, which thanked USAID for its funding, called for an indigenous-led uprising. They began with marches in early August and concluded in Quito for an uprising and general strike on August 10.  The attempted coup failed.

2015 Haiti.  A new electoral coup for the presidency was funded by the US to the tune of $30 million. Both the US and the OAS refused Haitians’ demands to invalidate the election. The police attacked Supporters of opposition parties were shot with live and rubber bullets, killing many. President Michel Martelly’s chosen successor Jovenel Moise became president.

2015 Guatemala. The US engineered a coup against right-wing President Otto Perez Molina because he was not sufficiently subservient.

2015 Argentina. Argentine prosecutor Alber Nisman was evidently murdered days after he made bogus criminal charges against President Cristina Fernandez, claiming she was involved in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center. This was used to create a scandal, unseat her, and bring neoliberals back to power. Neoliberal forces and media used the case to disrupt the Kirchner coalition from winning another presidential election.

2015-2019 El Salvador. El Salvador’s right-wing opposition backed by the US sought to destabilize the government of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).  The conservative mass media launched a smear campaign against the administration, in concert with a surge in gang-driven homicides that the police chief said was part of a campaign to drive up body counts and remove the FMLN government. Sanchez Cerén and other former officials who were members of the FMLN later became targets of lawfare, “a strategy used in recent years by conservative groups in power to try to demobilize the organization and resistance of the peoples against neoliberalism and other forms of domination.”

2016 Brazil. US-backed right-wing movements launched a campaign against President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party for “corruption.” Aided by the corporate media, they organized a series of protests in Brazil’s largest cities throughout 2015. In March 2016, a massive political demonstration brought together more than 500,000 people in support of impeaching President Rousseff. She was finally impeached by Congress and removed from office in a successful lawfare coup.

2017 Venezuela. Violent protests (guarimbas), led by Leopoldo Lopez, sought to oust President Maduro, with 126 fatalities. The guarimbas ended after the elections for the National Constituent Assembly.

2017 Honduras. The US supported an electoral coup by President Juan Orlando Hernández involving widespread electoral fraud and government killing of dozens in protests. The US quickly recognized him as president and pressured other countries to do so also, even though the OAS itself had called for a new election.

2018 Nicaragua. US-backed violent protests, supported by anti-FSLN media and social media disinformation campaigns, sought to remove President Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas from power. After two months, public sentiment turned strongly against the violent protests and they disintegrated.

2018 Brazil. Former President Lula de Silva was the leading candidate to win the presidential election, but was imprisoned due to a lawfare operation of the US and Brazil’s right-wing, using bogus corruption charges. Bolsonario won the election, aided by a large-scale fake news operation which sent out hundreds of millions of WhatsApp messages to Brazilian voters.

2019 Venezuela. In January, Juan Guaido declared himself president of Venezuela after US Vice President Pence assured him of US recognition. On April 30, the Guaido-Leopoldo Lopez’ planned uprising outside an air force base flopped. Later, a mercenary attack from Colombia failed to seize President Maduro in the presidential palace.

2019 Bolivia. The US engineered a coup against Evo Morales, in part by using a social media campaign to make the false claim he stole the election. The OAS played a key role in legitimizing the coup. The disastrous coup government of Jeanine Anez lasted for just over one year.

2021 Cuba. The US orchestrated and funded protests against the Cuban government in July and November. The US sought to build a new generation of counter-revolutionary leadership by creating new “independent” press and social media platforms. These failed more miserably than the 2003 protests.

2021 Bolivia. In October, the right-wing tried to organize a coup and general strike, demanding the release of former President  Anez who was now imprisoned. The attempt was only successful in Santa Cruz, the center of the Media Luna. Later, mass organizations led a rally, encompassing 1.5 million, to the capital to defend the MAS government.

2021 Peru. The right-wing oligarchy used lawfare unsuccessfully to unseat new President Castillo, a leader who emerged from the popular indigenous movement, seeking to remove him for being “permanently morally incapable.” However, a new lawfare case has been brought against President Castillo concerning “corruption.”

2021 Nicaragua. The US planned to repeat the 2018 Nicaragua protests, combined with a concocted campaign that the Daniel Ortega government had imprisoned US-financed opposition “pre-candidates” before the presidential election. This coup attempt failed but the US and OAS refused to recognize the election results.

In 2022 we can expect the US to continue “regime change” operations against Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, and now Chile with the election of progressive President Boric.

This list of 27 US-backed coups and attempted coups in the first 21 years of this century may be incomplete. For instance, not included are the lawfare frame-ups directed by Ecuador’s former President Lenin Moreno, a US puppet, against former Vice President Jorge Glas, who is now imprisoned, nor against former President Rafael Correa, now in exile.

This listing of US coups and attempted coups is also misleading. As throughout the 20th century, the US daily, not periodically, interferes in what it considers its colonies to both impose neocolonial regimes and maintain those regimes which open their markets to the US without conditions and align themselves with US foreign policy.

Under the facade of “democracy promotion” Washington works to advance the exact opposite goal: foment coups against democratic and popular governments. Governments and leaders that stand up for their people and their national rights are the very targets of “democracy promotion” coups.

Present day US reliance on soft coup operations involves funding not only NGOs and right-wing groups in the targeted countries for training in Gene Sharp style “democracy promotion” programs. Many liberal and liberal-left alternative media and NGOs in the US now receive corporate funding, which pushes their political outlook in a more pro-imperialist direction. This is well-illustrated in the soft coup attempts against Evo’s Bolivia and Rafael Correa’s Ecuador. These NGOs and alternative media give a false humanitarian face to imperialist intervention.

Moreover, these regime change operations are now openly being used at home against the US people. This is seen in the confusion and political divisions in the US population, manufactured by the 2016 Hillary Clinton Russiagate disinformation campaign against Trump and the Trump 2020 stolen election disinformation campaign against the Democrats. For those of us opposed to US interventionism, we are called upon to expose these new sophisticated methods of soft coup interference, to demand the national sovereignty of other nations be respected, and to bring together the US people against this manipulation by the corporate rulers.

The post 21st Century US Coups and Attempted Coups in Latin America first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Is the US Global Empire Actually in Decline?

It is almost taken for granted, if not an article of faith, in the progressive milieu (e.g., here) that the US empire is declining. Does this hold up, or is it comfort food for the frustrated hoping for the revolution?

First, it is essential not to confuse the ongoing decline of the living conditions of US working people with a decline in the power of the US corporate empire. The decline of one often means the strengthening of the other.

In the aftermath of World War II, the US was the world manufacturing center, with the middle class rapidly expanding, and this era did end in the 1970s. It is also true the heyday of uncontested US world and corporate neoliberal supremacy is over, its zenith being the decade of the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its allies. Now, looming on the horizon is China, with the US empire and its subordinate imperial allies (Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Belgium, Canada, Australia, Italy) unable to thwart its rise this century, even more than when China stood up in 1949.

Yet the US imperial system still maintains decisive economic and political dominance, cultural and ideological hegemony, backed by tremendous military muscle. If US ruling class power were in decline, why have there been no socialist revolutions ­­­− the overturning of capitalist rule ­­­− in almost half a century? What would the world look like if the US lacked the muscle to be world cop?

Imperialism continually faces crises; this is inherent to their system. The question is: which class takes advantage of these crises to advance their interests, the corporate capitalist class or the working class and its allies at home and abroad. In the recent decades, capitalist crises have resulted in setbacks for our class, and a steady worsening of our conditions of life.

Previous proponents of US empire decline have predicted its demise with an expanding Communist bloc, then Germany and Japan with their supposedly more efficient capitalist production methods, then the European Union encompassing most of Western Europe into a supra-national entity, then the Asian Tigers, and then BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). All challenges turned out to be wishful thinking. Now the proponents of decline expect China itself will soon supplant US dominion.  We explore a number of the economic, political, and military difficulties the US empire confronts in its role as world cop.

Imperial Decline or Adjustments in Methods of Rule?

A common misconception among believers of US ruling class demise holds that imperial failure to succeed in some particular aim signifies imperial weakening. Examples of setbacks include Afghanistan, the failure to block North Korea from developing nuclear weapons, catastrophic mishandling of the COVID pandemic, and seeming inability to reign in the mammoth US national debt. However, throughout history, successful maintenance of imperial hegemony has never precluded absence of terrible setbacks and defeats. Most importantly, the fundamental question arising from a setback is which class learns to advance its interests more effectively, the imperial overlords or the oppressed.

The US rulers, as with other imperial nations, have proven adept at engineering more effective methods of control from crises, as Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine illustrates. For instance, in the mid-20th century the imperial powers were forced to relinquish direct political governance of their colonial empires, often due to costly wars. Until after World War II, the Western nations owned outright most of Africa and much of Asia. Yet this new Third World political independence did not herald the end of imperial rule over their former colonies. The imperialists simply readjusted their domination through a neocolonial setup and continued to loot these countries, such as siphoning off over $1 trillion  every year since 2005 just through tax havens.

Likewise, for seven decades the imperial ruling classes endured repeated defeats attempting to overturn the seemingly invincible Russian revolution. But they only needed to succeed one time, using a new strategy, to emerge victorious.

A third example, the growing US national deficit due to the cost of the war on Vietnam forced Nixon to no longer peg the value of the dollar to gold at $35 an ounce. After World War II, the US had imposed the dollar as the international reserve currency, fixed at this exchange rate.  Today gold is $1806 an ounce, yet the dollar continues as the world reserve currency. The US rulers resolved their crisis by readjusting the manner their dollar reigned in international markets.

A fourth example is the world historic defeat dealt the empire at the hands of the Vietnamese. Yet Vietnam today poses no challenge to US supremacy, in sharp contrast to 50 years ago.

The US ruling class is well versed in the lessons gained from centuries of Western imperial supremacy. They have repeatedly demonstrated that the no longer effective methods of world control can be updated.  Bankruptcy in methods of rule may not signify a decline, but only the need for a reset, allowing the domination to continue.

Part 1:  US Economic and Financial Strength

Decline in US Share of World Production

A central element of the waning US empire argument comes from the unparalleled economic rise of China. As a productive powerhouse, the US has been losing ground. As of 2019, before the COVID year reduced it further, the US share of world manufacturing amounted to 16.8%, while China was number one, at 28.7%.

Similarly, the US Gross Domestic Product itself (GDP) slipped from 40% of the world economy in 1960 to 24% in 2019. GDP is the total market value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country.

When GDP is measured by the world reserve currency, the dollar, the US ranks first, at $21 trillion, with China number two at $14.7 trillion. Using the Purchasing Power Parity measure of GDP,  which measures economic output in terms of a nation’s own prices, China’s GDP surpasses the US at $24.16 trillion. By either measure, a steady US erosion over time is evident, particularly in relation to China, and a major concern for the US bosses.

Worsening US balance of trade reflects this decline. In 1971 the US had a negative balance of trade (the value of imports greater than the value of exports) for the first time in 78 years. Since then, the value of exports has exceeded that of imports only two times, in 1973 and 1975. From 2003 on, the US has been running an annual trade deficit of $500 billion or more. To date the US rulers “pay” for this by creating dollars out of thin air.

Ballooning US National Debt

The ballooning US national debt is considered another indicator of US imperial demise. The US debt clock puts the national debt at $28.5 trillion, up from $5.7 trillion in 2000. According to International Monetary Fund (IMF) numbers, the US debt is 118% of the GDP, near a historic high point, up from 79.2% at the end of 2019.

The international reserves of the imperialist nations do not even cover 2% of their foreign debt. In contrast, China tops the list with the largest international reserves, which covers 153% of its foreign debt.

However, today US debt as a percent of GDP is lower than in World War II, at the height of US economic supremacy. Germany’s debt to GDP ratio is 72%. Japan’s is 264%, making its debt over two and a half times the size of the country’s GDP. China’s is 66%.

Yet a key concern with the ballooning national debt − inflation caused by creating money backed with no corresponding increase in production − hasn’t been a problem in any of these countries, not even Japan. The immediate issue with debt is not its size in trillions of dollars, but the degree annual economic growth exceeds the annual interest payment on the debt.

In the US, this payout costs almost $400 billion a year, 1.9% of GDP. Federal Reserve Board president Powell stated: “Given the low level of interest rates, there’s no issue about the United States being able to service its debt at this time or in the foreseeable future.” Former IMF chief economist and president of the American Economic Association, Olivier Blanchard likewise declared: “Put bluntly, public debt may have no fiscal cost” given that “the current US situation in which safe interest rates are expected to remain below growth rates for a long time, is more the historical norm than the exception.” According to these ruling class economists, the huge size of the US national debt presents no economic difficulty for their bosses.

Technological Patents

Patents are an indicator of a country’s technological progress because they reflect the creation and dissemination of knowledge in productive activities. Today China is on the technological cutting edge in wind power, solar power, online payments, digital currencies, artificial intelligence (such as facial recognition), quantum computing, satellites and space exploration, 5G and 6G, drones, and ultra-high voltage power transmission. In 2019, China ended the US reign as the leading filer of international patents, a position previously held by the US every year since the UN World Intellectual Property Organization’s Patent Cooperation Treaty System began in 1978.

The failure of the US rulers to thwart China’s scientific and technological advances threatens the preeminence the US holds on technological innovation. Rents from the US corner on intellectual property is a major contributor to the US economy. The drastic measures the US has taken against Huawei exemplify the anxiety of the empire’s rulers.

US technological superiority is now being challenged. Yet, as John Ross points out, “Even using PPP measures, the US possesses overall technological superiority compared to China…. the level of productivity of the US economy is more than three times that of China.”1

The US Still Controls the Global Financial Network

While the world share of US manufacturing and exports has shrunk, the US overlords still reign over the world financial order. A pillar of their world primacy lies in the dollar as the world’s “reserve currency,” an innocuous term referring to US sway over the global financial and trade structure, including international banking networks, such as the World Bank and the IMF.

Following the 1971 end of the dollar’s $35 an ounce peg to gold, Nixon engineered deals with the Middle East oil exporting regimes, guaranteeing them military support on condition they sell their oil exclusively in dollars. This gave a compelling new reason for foreign governments and banks to hold dollars. The US could now flood international markets with dollars regardless of the amount of gold it held. Today, most of the world’s currencies remain pegged directly or indirectly to the dollar.

To facilitate growing international trade, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) was created in 1973. SWIFT is a payment and transaction network used by international banks to monitor and process purchases and payments by individuals, companies, banks, and governments. Dominated by the US, it grants the country even greater mastery over world trade and financial markets. Here, China poses no challenge to US supremacy.

After the euro became established, the percent of world reserves held in US dollars diminished from the 71% share it held in 2001. Since 2003, the dollar has kept the principal share, fluctuating in the 60-65% range. Today, the percent of world nations’ currency reserves held in US dollars amounts to $7 trillion, 59.5% of international currency reserves.

In 2021 the dollar’s share of total foreign currency reserves is actually greater than in the 1980s and 1990s.

Because only a few reserve currencies are accepted in international trade, countries are not free to trade their goods in their own money. Rather, over 90% of nations’ imports and exports requires use of the dollar, the euro, or the currencies of other imperial states. The Chinese RMB, in contrast, constitutes merely 2.4% of international reserves, ranking China on the level of Canada. The US continues as the superpower in world currency reserves, while China is a marginal player.

The US Dollar as the World Reserve Currency

The US maintains preeminence because banks, governments and working peoples around the world regards US dollar as the safest, most reliable, and accepted currency to hold their savings.

A capitalist economic crisis, even when caused by the US itself, as in 2008, actually increases demand for the dollar, since the dollar is still viewed as the safe haven. People expect the dollar to be the currency most likely to retain its value in periods of uncertainty. Ironically, an economic crisis precipitated by the US results in money flooding into dollar assets, keeping world demand for dollars high. The 2008-09 crisis enabled the ruling class to advance their domination over working people, fleecing us of hundreds of billions of dollars.

SWIFT data show that China’s RMB plays a minor role in world trade transactions.  While China has become the world exporter, its currency was used in merely 1.9% of  international payments, versus 38% for the US dollar, with 77% of transactions in the dollar or euro. This means almost all China’s own imports and exports are not traded in Chinese currency, but in that of the US and its subordinates.

Being the leading force in SWIFT gives the US a powerful weapon. The US rulers can target countries it seeks to overthrow (such as Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, and Iran) with sanctions declared illegal by the United Nations. SWIFT enables the US rulers to prevent those countries’ access to their overseas bank accounts, blocks their access to international trade as well as loans from the World Bank, the IMF and most international banks. The US uses its authority in the World Trade Organization to prevent countries like Venezuela from demanding the WTO punish the US for disrupting Venezuela’s legitimate trade by means of these sanctions.

Arguments that China and Russia are abandoning the dollar point out that, while in 2015 approximately 90% of trade between the two countries was conducted in dollars, by spring 2020 the figure had dropped to 46%, with 24% of the trade in their own currencies. This shows some increasing independence, yet almost twice as much China-Russia trade still takes place in the dollar rather than in their own money. Further, their moves from the dollar have been in reaction to US imposed sanctions and tariffs, forcing them off the dollar, not from their own choice to cast aside the dollar as the international currency.

If China and Russia had the means to create a new world economic order they could withdraw their over $1.1 trillion and $123 billion invested in US Treasury bonds and use the funds to start their own international financial structure.

That China pegs the RMB to the dollar, rather than the dollar pegged to the RMB, also indicates the economic power relations between China and the US. China has expressed unease about the US potential to cut China off from the SWIFT network. Zhou Li, a spokesperson for China’s Communist Party, urged his party’s leaders to prepare for decoupling from the dollar, because the US dollar “has us by the throat… By taking advantage of the dollar’s global monopoly position in the financial sector, the US will pose an increasingly severe threat to China’s further development.”

While China has displaced the US as the primary productive workhouse of the world, it remains far from displacing the US as the world financial center. The size of China’s economy has not translated into a matching economic power.

Part 2: Military and Ideological Forms of Domination

The US regards as its Manifest Destiny to rule the world. The US bosses equate their national security interests with global security interests; no place or issue is insignificant. The US sees its role as defending the world capitalist order even if narrow US interests are not immediately and practically involved.

The Question of a US Military Decline

The second central element of the waning US empire argument is based on the US armed forces failures in the Middle East wars. However, they overlook that the US rulers suffered more stinging defeats in Korea 70 years ago and Vietnam 50 years ago, when the US was considered at the height of its supremacy. While over 7000 US soldiers and 8000 “contractors,” a code word for mercenaries, have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, this is much smaller than the 41,300 troops killed in Korea, or the 58,000 in Vietnam. Although in wars against Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan, the US ruling class could not achieve its aims, these peoples’ anti-imperial struggles were derailed, a US key objective. To the extent the peoples of these countries “won,” they inherited a country in ruins.

Likewise, the rising British empire suffered defeats at the hands of the US in 1783 and 1814, but this had little impact on 19th century British global ascendancy.

Save Iraq in 1991, the US has not won a war since World War II. Yet even in its heyday, the US military did not take on and defeat another major power without considerable outside aid. Spain was mostly defeated in Cuba and the Philippines before the US attacked. The US entered World War I after the other fighting forces were reaching exhaustion. In World War II, the Soviet Red Army broke the back of the German Wehrmacht, not the US. Only against Japan did the US military play a key role in crushing an imperial rival, though even here, the bulk of Japanese troops were tied down fighting the Chinese.

While today, the US military is reluctant about engaging in a full-scale land war, this has been mostly the case for the whole 20th century before any alleged imperial deterioration. Previously, the US rulers proved adept at not entering a war until it could emerge on top once the wars ended.

The “Vietnam syndrome,” code word for the US people’s opposition to fighting wars to defend the corporate world order, continues to haunt and impede the US rulers when they consider new military aggressions. This “syndrome,” which Bush Sr boasted had been overcome, has only deepened as result of the Afghanistan and Iraq debacles. Yet the corporate class took advantage of these wars to loot trillions from public funds, with working people to pay the bill.

The US is spending over a trillion dollars to “upgrade” a nuclear capacity which could wipe out life on the planet.  Even if US military capacity were diminishing in some areas, this is immaterial so long as the US still can, with a push of the button, annihilate all it considers opponents, even if this means a likely mutually assured destruction. The US also possesses similarly dangerous arsenals of biological and chemical weapons. It is not rational to think the US rulers spend mind-boggling sums of money on this weaponry but will not use them again when considered necessary to preserve their supremacy.

The US empire’s military dominion remains firmly in place around the world. Peoples’ struggles to close US military bases have met with little success. US ruling class de facto military occupations overseas continue through its over 800 bases in over 160 countries. These constitute 95% of the world’s total foreign military bases.

To date, if there has been any lessening of US military destructive capacity, no new armed forces or uprisings have dared to take advantage of this. If some national force considered it possible to break out of the US world jailhouse, we would be seeing that.

Hybrid Warfare: US Regime-Change Tools Besides Military Intervention

Military victory is not necessary for the US rulers to keep “insubordinate” countries in line. It suffices for the US to leave in ruins their attempts to build political and economic systems that prioritize national sovereignty over US dictates.

When incapable of overturning a potential “threat of a good example” through military invasion, the US may engineer palace coups. Since 2000, it has succeeded in engineering coups in Honduras, Bolivia, Georgia, and Haiti, to name a few.

Alternatives to fomenting a military coup include the US conducting lawfare to overturn governments, as seen in Paraguay and Brazil. The US ruling class also skillfully co-opts “color revolutions,” as seen in the Arab Spring and in the implosion of the Soviet bloc. Worldwide, the US regularly violates the sovereignty of nations through its regime-change agencies such as the CIA, USAID, and NED.

Besides invasions, coups, lawfare, election interference, and color revolutions, the US relies on its command over the global financial system and the subservience of other imperialist nations. This enables the US overlords to impose crippling sanctions and blockades on countries that assert their national sovereignty. The blockades on Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, and Syria constitute a boot on their neck, which have only become more severe the more these peoples valiantly defend their independence.

Condemnation of these blockades by working people and nations worldwide has yet to have material effect in constraining this imperial cruelty against whole peoples. Rather than a decline of the US empire’s ability to thwart another country’s right to determine their own future, there have been changes in method, from overtly militaristic to more covert hybrid warfare. Both are brutal and effective means of regime change.

US-First World Ideological Hegemony

The corporate leaders of the West wield world dominion over the international media, including news services, social media, and advertising. Their Coke and Disney characters, for instance, have penetrated even the remotest corners of the world. Today most of the world’s viewers of the news are fed a version of the news through media stage-managed by the US and its subordinate allies. In addition, there are almost 4 billion social media users in the world, with six social media companies having more than one billion users. China owns just one of these. Only the US and its subordinates have world reach in their control of news and social media, while China does not.

Ramon Labanino, one of the Cuban 5, illustrated how the US rulers use their media to foment the July 12 regime change operation in Cuba:

We are in the presence of an international media dictatorship, the big media are in the hands of imperialism and now the social networks and the alternative media also use them in a masterful way. They have the capacity, through data engineering, bots, to replicate a tweet millions of times, which is what they have done against Cuba. A ruthless attack on social networks and in the media to show a Cuba that is not real. On the other hand, we have an invasion in our networks to disarticulate our computer systems so that even we cannot respond to the lies. The interesting thing is the double purpose, not only that they attack us, but then we cannot defend ourselves because the media belong to them… Within the CIA, for example, they have a special operations group that is in charge of cyber attacks of this type and there is a group called the Political Action Group that organizes, structures and directs this type of attack.

Worldwide use of media disinformation and news spin plays a central role in preserving US primacy and acceptance of its propaganda. As Covert Action Magazine reported:

United States warmakers have become so skilled at propaganda that not only can they wage a war of aggression without arousing protest; they can also compel liberals to denounce peace activists using language reminiscent of the McCarthy era. Take the case of Syria. The people and groups one would normally count on to oppose wars have been the ones largely defending it. They have also often been the ones to label war opponents as “Assad apologists” or “genocide deniers”—causing them to be blacklisted.

The ruling class media’s effective massaging of what is called “news” has penetrated and disoriented many anti-war forces. This illustrates the appalling collapse of a world anti-war opposition that almost 20 years ago had been called “the new superpower,” not some decline of the US as world cop. Corporate media operations play a role comparable to military might in perpetuating US global control.

Part 3: The Threat US Rulers Perceive in China

Secretary of State Blinken spelled it out:

China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system, all the rules, values and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to, because it ultimately serves the interests and reflects the values of the American people.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin responded to Washington’s view that the international system operates primarily to advance US corporate interests:

The ‘rules-based order’ claimed by the US…refers to rules set by the US alone, then it cannot be called international rules, but rather ‘hegemonic rules,’ which will only be rejected by the whole world.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov recently said:

The United States has declared limiting the advance of technology in Russia and China as its goal…They are promoting their ideology-driven agenda aimed at preserving their dominance by holding back progress in other countries.

The Challenge China Presents to US Rulers Differs from that of the Soviet Union

China’s development poses a threat to imperialist hegemony different from the former Soviet bloc. China competes in the world markets run by the Western nations, slowly supplanting their control. China’s economic performance, 70 years after its revolution, has been unprecedented in world history, even compared to the First World countries. In contrast, the Soviet economy after 70 years was faltering.

China does not provide the economic and military protection for nations striving to build a new society the way the Soviet Union had. The importance of the Communist bloc as a force constraining the US was immense and is underappreciated. The Communist bloc generally allied itself with anti-imperialist forces, encouraging Third World national liberation struggles as well as the Non-Aligned Movement. The Communist bloc’s exemplary social programs also prompted the rise of social-democratic welfare state regimes (e.g., Sweden) in the capitalist West to circumvent possible socialist revolution.

Now, with no Soviet Union and its allies to extend international solidarity assistance to oppressed peoples and nations, countries such as Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea are much more on their own to defend themselves against US military maneuvers and blockades.

As John Ross points out, China is capable of slowly supplanting US-First World power over a long period of time, but in no position to replace these imperial states as world hegemon, nor does it desire to do so. US products are being driven out by China’s cheaper high-quality products and China’s more equitable “win-win” business arrangements with other countries, offering the opportunity for Third World countries to develop. However, China cannot displace the US in the world financial system, where the US and its allies retain overwhelming control.

The US has proven incapable of impeding China from becoming an independent world force. No matter the tariffs and sanctions placed on China, they have had little impact. Yet, the US has caused China to digress from its socialist planned economy, through US corporations and consumerist values penetrating the Chinese system.

Part 4:  The World if the US were in Decline

Revolutions on the International Stage

A weakened US imperialism would encourage peoples and nations to “seize the time” and score significant gains against this overlord’s hold on their countries. Yet since shortly after 1975, with the victories in Vietnam and Laos, a drought in socialist revolutions has persisted for almost half a century. If the US empire were in decline, we would find it handicapped in countering victorious socialist revolutions. However, the opposite has been the case, with the US rulers consolidating their hegemony over the world.

This contrasts with the 40-year period between 1917 and 1959, when socialist revolutions occurred in Russia, China, Korea, Vietnam, eleven countries across eastern Europe, and Cuba. These took place in the era of US rise, not decline. During this period, the US empire had to confront even greater challenges to its dictates than presented by today’s China and Russia in the form of the world Communist bloc, associated parties in capitalist countries, and the national liberation movements.

During the period of alleged US imperial demise, it has been socialist revolution that experienced catastrophic defeats. In the last 30 years, the struggle for socialist revolution has gone sharply in reverse, with the US and its subordinates not only blocking successful revolutions but overturning socialism in most of the former Communist sphere. The last three decades has witnessed greater consolidation of imperial supremacy over the world, not a deterioration.

The socialist revolutions that continue − North Korea, China, Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba − have all had to backtrack and reintroduce private enterprise and capitalist relations of production.  North Korea has allowed the growth of private markets; Cuba relies heavily on the Western tourist market. They have this forced upon them to survive more effectively in the present world neoliberal climate.

A victorious socialist revolution, even a much more limited anti-neoliberal revolution2 , requires a nation to stand up to the imperial vengeance that enforces neo-colonial subjugation. Small countries, such as Cuba, North Korea, and Venezuela, have established political and some economic independence, but they have been unable to significantly advance against crushing blockades and US-backed coups in order to create developed economies. Historically, the only countries that have effectively broken with dependency and developed independently based on their own resources have been the Soviet Union and China.

Raul Castro made clear this world primacy of the US neoliberal empire:

In many cases, governments [including the subsidiary imperial ones] do not even have the capacity to enforce their sovereign prerogatives over the actions of national entities based in their own territories, as these are often docilely subordinated to Washington, as if we were living in a world subjugated by the unipolar power of the United States. This is a phenomenon that is expressed with particular impact in the financial sector, with national banks of several countries giving a US administration’s stipulations priority over the political decisions of their own governments.

A test of the US overlords’ decline can be measured in the struggle against US economic warfare in the form of sanctions. To date, the US can arm twist most countries besides China and Russia into abiding by its unilateral sanctions against Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, North Korea, and Iran. The US rulers still possess the power and self-assurance to ignore United Nations resolutions against economic warfare, including the UN General Assembly’s annual condemnation of the US blockade on Cuba. The peoples and nations of the world cannot make the US rulers pay a price for this warfare.

Domestic Struggles by the Working Class and its Allies that Shake the System

If the US empire were weakened, our working class could be winning strikes and union organizing drives against a capitalist class on the defensive. But the working class remains either quiescent, its struggles derailed, or most strikes settled by limiting the degree of boss takebacks. The 1997 UPS and 2016 Verizon strike were two that heralded important gains for workers. So far, however, the weakening class at home is not the corporate bosses, but the working class and its allies.

The workers movement has not even succeeded in gaining a national $15 minimum wage. The US rulers can spend over $900 billion a year on its war machine even during a pandemic that has killed almost 700,000, amid deteriorating standard of living  − no national health care, no quality free education, no raising of the minimum wage − without angry mass protests. This money could be spent on actual national security at home: housing for the homeless, eliminating poverty, countering global warming, jobs programs, and effectively handling the pandemic as China has (with only two deaths since May 2020). Instead, just in the Pentagon budget, nearly a trillion dollars a year of our money is a welfare handout to corporations to maintain their rule over the world. This overwhelming imperial reign over our workers’ movement signifies a degeneration in our working class organizations, not in the corporate overlords.

A weakened empire would provide opportunities for working class victories, re-allocating national wealth in their favor. Instead, we live in a new Gilded Age, with growing impoverishment of our class as the corporate heads keep grabbing greater shares of our national wealth. Americans for Tax Fairness points out:

America’s 719 billionaires held over four times more wealth ($4.56 trillion) than all the roughly 165 million Americans in society’s bottom half ($1.01 trillion), according to Federal Reserve Board data. In 1990, the situation was reversed — billionaires were worth $240 billion and the bottom 50% had $380 billion in collective wealth.

US billionaire wealth increased 19-fold over the last 31 years, with the combined wealth of 713 billionaires surging by $1.8 trillion during the pandemic, one-third of their wealth gains since 1990.

This scandalous appropriation of working people’s wealth by less than one thousand bosses at the top without causing mass indignation and working class fightback, encapsules the present power relations between the two contending classes.

With a weakened empire, we would expect a rise of a militant mass current in the trade unions and the working class committed to the struggle to reverse this trend. Instead, trade unions support corporate governance and their political candidates for office, not even making noise about a labor party.

With a weakened empire, we would expect the US working people to be turning away from the two corporate parties and building our own labor party as an alternative. In 2016 the US electorate backed two “outsiders,” Bernie Sanders and Trump, in the primaries against the traditional Democratic and Republican candidates, but this movement was co-opted with little difficulty. That the two corporate-owned parties still wield the power to co-opt, if not extinguish, our working class movements, as with the mass anti-Iraq war movement, the Occupy movement, the Madison trade union protests, the pro-Bernie groundswells in 2016 and 2020, shows the empire’s continued vitality, not deterioration.

In 2020 most all liberals and lefts capitulated to the Democrats’ anti-Trumpism, under the guise of “fighting fascism.” The “resistance” became the “assistance.” The promising Black Lives Matter movement of summer 2020 became largely absorbed into the Biden campaign a few months later. If the corporate empire were declining, progressive forces and leftist groups would not have bowed to neoliberal politicians and the national security state by climbing on the elect-Biden bandwagon. The 2020 election brought out the highest percent of voters in over a century to vote for one or the other of two neoliberal politicians. This stunning victory for the US ruling class resulted from a stunning surrender by progressive forces. To speak of declining corporate US supremacy in this context is nonsense.

Likely Indicators of a Demise of US Supremacy

For all our political lives we have been reading reports of the impending decline of US global supremacy. If just a fraction of these reports were accurate, then surely the presidential executive orders that Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, and Cuba are “unusual and extraordinary threats to the national security of the United States” would have some basis in reality.

If US corporate dominion were declining, we might see:

  • The long called for democratization of the United Nations and other international bodies with one nation, one vote
  • Social democratic welfare governments would again be supplanting neoliberal regimes
  • Replacement of World Bank, WTO, and IMF with international financial institutions independent of US control
  • Curtailing NATO and other imperialist military alliances
  • End of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency
  • Dismantling of US overseas military bases
  • Emergence of regional blocs independent of the US, replacing the current vassal organizations (e.g., European Union, OAS, Arab League, Organization of African Unity)
  • Nuclear disarmament rather than nuclear escalation
  • Working peoples of the world enforcing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions
  • A decline of the allure of US controlled world media culture (e.g., Disney, Hollywood)

Part 5: Conclusion:  US Decline looks like a Mirage

Proponents of US decline point to two key indicators: its diminished role in global production and ineffectiveness of the US ruler’s military as world cop. Yet, the US rulers, with the aid of those in the European Union and Japan, maintain world financial control and continue to keep both our country and the world under lock and key.

The US overlords represent the spokesperson and enforcer of the First World imperial system of looting, while compelling subservience from the other imperial nations. None dare pose as potential imperial rivals to the US, nor challenge it in any substantial manner.

It is misleading to compare China’s rise to the US alone, since the US represents a bloc of imperial states. To supplant US economic preeminence, China would have to supplant the economic power of this entire bloc. These countries still generate most world production with little prospect this will change. A China-Russia alliance scarcely equals this US controlled First World club.

To date, each capitalist crisis has only reinforced the US rulers’ dominion as the world financial hub. Just the first half of this year, world investors have poured $900 billion into the safe haven US assets, more than they put into funds in the rest of the world combined. So long as the US capitalists can export their economic downturns to other countries and onto the backs of its own working people, so long as the world turns to the US dollar as the safe haven, decline of US ruling class preeminence is not on the table.

The last period of imperial weakening occurred from the time of US defeat in Vietnam up to the reimposition of imperial diktat under Reagan and his sidekick, Margaret Thatcher. During this time, working peoples’ victories were achieved across the international stage: Afghanistan, Iran, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, and Grenada; Cuban military solidarity in Angola, Vietnam’s equivalent in Cambodia; revolution in Portugal and in its African colonies, in Zimbabwe, and seeming imminent victories in El Salvador and Guatemala. At home, a rising class struggle current arose in the working class, as in the Sadlowski Steelworkers Fight Back movement and the militant 110-day coal miners strike, which forced President Carter to back down. This worldwide upsurge against corporate rule ended about 40 years ago, as yet unmatched by new ones.

Proclamations of a waning US empire portray a wishful thinking bordering on empty bravado. Moreover, a crumbling empire will not lead to its final exit without a massive working peoples’ movement at home to overthrow it. Glen Ford observed that capitalism has lost its legitimacy, especially among the young: “But that doesn’t by itself bring down a system. It is simply a sign that people are not happy. Mass unhappiness may bring down an administration. But it doesn’t necessarily change a system one bit.”

Capitalism is wracked by crisis – inherent to the system, Marx explained. Yet, as the catastrophe of World War I and its aftermath showed, as the Great Depression showed, as Europe in chaos after World War II showed, capitalist crises are no harbinger of its collapse. The question is not how severe the crisis, but which class, capitalist or working class, takes advantage of it to advance their own interests.

A ruling class crisis allows us to seize the opportunity if our forces are willing to fight, are organized, and are well-led. As Lenin emphasized, “The proletariat has no other weapon in the fight for power except organization.” In regards to organization, we are unprepared. Contributing to our lack of effective anti-imperialist organization is our profound disbelief that a serious challenge at home to US ruling class control is even possible.

Whatever the indications of US deterioration as world superpower, recall that the Roman empire’s decay began around 177 AD. But it did not collapse in the West until 300 years later, in 476, and the eastern half did not collapse for 1000 years after that. Informing a Roman slave or plebe in 200 AD that the boot on their necks was faltering would fall on deaf ears. We are now in a similar situation. The empire will never collapse by itself, even with the engulfing climate catastrophe. Wishful thinking presents a dysfunctional substitute for actual organizing, for preparing people to seize the time when the opening arises.

  1. John Ross, “China and South-South Cooperation in the present global situation,” in China’s Great Road, p. 203.
  2. There is a continuous class struggle between popular forces demanding increased government resources and programs to serve their needs, against corporate power seeking to privatize in corporate hands all such government spending and authority. This unchecked corporate centralization of wealth and power is euphemistically called “neoliberalism.”  An anti-neoliberal revolution places popular forces in political control while economic power remains in the hands of the capitalist class.
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Bitcoin the Messiah: El Salvador Goes Crypto

In a particular deli store in South Melbourne, a tongue-and-cheek message is attached to the cash register.  “Bitcoin accepted there,” it proclaims brightly.  Naturally, it is nothing of the sort, a teasing ruse for the punters and those casting an eye in the direction of the store.  Cold hard cash remains king, albeit one with a tarnished crown; pandemic times have driven consumers towards such non-intimate transactions as contactless payment.

One country has decided to make using cryptocurrency a reality, sticking its neck out in adopting bitcoin as something akin to an economic messiah.  Few thought it would be El Salvador, whose government made the currency legal tender on September 7.  To mark the occasion, each citizen signing up to Chivo, the national digital wallet, has received US$30.  Foreigners adventurous enough to invest three bitcoins in the country are promised residency.

The introduction was far from spontaneous.  The surf town of El Zonte, with its Bitcoin Beach project, began an experiment to adopt the currency in 2018, a venture aided by the Californian cryptocurrency zealot Michael Peterson.  Through the Evangelical Christian church, Peterson combined God and crypto, proselytising the value of such currency.  Each local family received US$50, and the currency came to be used for such projects as rubbish collecting and lifeguarding.

Leaving aside Bukule’s own wish to mark the history books, this move into the world of digital currency has various motivations.  One is the portion of income received from international money transactions from citizens abroad, which amounts to something like a fifth of the country’s GDP.  With such transactions come high fees which whittle away the value of the transfer.  To this can be added the need for having a bank account.  (Only 30% of Salvadorans have one.)  Bitcoin alleviates any such need, while also facilitating cheap payments.

Then there is the prevalence of the US dollar, which is also accepted as legal tender.  President Nayib Bukele has been keen to give his citizens another option, a move intended to encourage greater expenditure in the country.  Over 200 bitcoin machines are being put in place across the country to convert cryptocurrency into dollars.

The introduction of such currency presents a paradox of mighty dimensions.  A degree of technological literacy is required, a challenge, to say the least.  The Bitcoin law stipulates that “the necessary training and mechanisms” will be supplied by the government to aid Salvadorans access bitcoin transactions.  This promises to be a herculean venture, given how many people actually understand how  the currency works.  A survey by the Central American University of 1,281 people found that a humbling 4.8% actually comprehended what the currency was and how it was used.  Of those, 68% took issue with using it as a legal tender.

The process of mining bitcoin is also a headache for policymakers, as it requires vast reserves of electricity and poses an environmental challenge.  (Elon Musk was at pains to emphasise the latter in reneging on his decision to permit customers to purchase Tesla cars using the cryptocurrency.)  The Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, looking at figures generated last year, puts the amount of energy used by global bitcoin mining at 105 terawatt hours of electricity.

In June, the state-owned geothermal electric company was instructed by Bukele to come up with a plan to facilitate bitcoin mining “with very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy from our volcanoes.”

Then comes that testy issue of its status as legal tender.  Under general circumstances, currency deemed legal tender must be accepted as payment for a debt.  In the absence of a debt, the store owner, retailer or company may accept some other form of payment (credit card, online transactions).  El Salvador’s Bitcoin law, however, has muddied matters by stating that “every economic agent must accept bitcoin as payment when offered to him by whoever acquires a good or service.”

Such financial coercion did not sit well. It caused a flurry of protests.  Economists squawked in alarm.  President Bukele had to relent, issuing a grumpy clarification last month that businesses would not be compelled to accept bitcoin.  In doing so, he could not resist a snarky remark that those not seeking to win over customers with the currency were essentially discouraging growth and continuing the daft practise of paying fees on remittances.

The forces of orthodoxy have also balked.  When asked for assistance by El Salvador to implement the bitcoin scheme, the World Bank was dismissive.  “While the government did approach us for assistance on bitcoin,” a spokesperson revealed in June, “this is not something the World Bank can support given the environmental and transparency shortcomings.” The International Monetary Fund, severe as ever, disapproves of a currency that presents “macroeconomic, financial and legal issues that require very careful analysis”.

The response to the introduction has been fairly predictable.  Bond prices have fallen and bitcoin’s value has fluctuated.  The naysayers suggest that the general adoption by residents will be small, fearing the currency’s volatility.  Protestors fear that the cryptocurrency will simply enable further corrupt practices to take place.

The converse may also be true: given Latin America’s long history of fiscal instability, banking collapses, and failed economic advisors, bitcoin promises an unorthodox form of insulation from shock.  “With bitcoin, for the first time in a very long time, people in Latin America saw an asset appreciate in dollar terms,” Mauricio Di Bartolomeo, chief executive of the Toronto-based digital asset company Ledn remarked.  The time for this experiment, on the surface a quixotic one, is nigh.

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2020 Latin America and the Caribbean in Review: The Pink Tide May Rise Again

The balance between the US drive to dominate Latin America and the Caribbean and its counterpart, the Bolivarian cause of regional independence and integration, tipped portside by year end 2020 with major popular victories, including reversal of the coup in Bolivia and the constitutional referendum in Chile. Central has been the persistence of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution against the asphyxiating US blockade, along with the defiance by Cuba and Nicaragua of US regime-change measures.

The grand struggle played out against the backdrop of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, impacting countries differently depending on their political economies.  As of this writing, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba had COVID death rates per million population of 35, 25, and 12, respectively. In comparison, the death rates in right-leaning neoliberal states of Peru, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Guatemala were respectively 1123, 888, 849, 805, 843, 306, and 263. The manifestly lower rates on the left reflected, in large part, better developed public health systems and social welfare practices.

Andean Nations

Venezuela’s continued resistance to the US “maximum pressure” hybrid warfare campaign is a triumph in itself. Hybrid warfare – a diplomatic, propaganda, and financial offensive along with a crippling illegal blockade and attack on the Venezuelan currency – kills as effectively as open warfare.  “It bleeds the country slowly and is much more devastating than direct bombardment,” observes Vijay Prashad of the Tricontinental Institute.

Venezuela featured prominently in the campaign speeches of Trump and Biden, with both promoting regime change, as they vied for the votes of the right-leaning Venezuelan émigré community in Florida, the second largest Latinx group in that critical swing state. US-anointed fake President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, received a standing ovation at Trump’s State of the Union address in February – about the only thing the Democrats and Republicans agreed on – but received a far less friendly reception back home.

In March, the US falsely charged Venezuela of narco-terrorism, placing multi-million-dollar bounties on the heads of Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro and other officials. A naval armada was sent off the coast of Venezuela under the pretext of interdicting drugs. US government data, however, show the source of the drugs and the countries through which the illicit substances transit to the US are precisely the US client regimes in the region such as Colombia and Honduras.

In May, mercenaries launched an attack from Colombia but were captured, including two US ex-Green Berets. Initially, some Iranian oil tankers evaded the US blockade to bring critically needed fuel to Venezuela, where refining capacity has been impacted by the US sanctions. But later the US seized tankers in international waters, like pirates of yore, having a devastating impact on transport, agriculture, water treatment, and electricity generation in Venezuela.

In another victory in June, federal charges were dropped against the final four embassy protectors, who had defended the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington last year from being usurped by the illegal Guaidó forces. Kevin Zeese, one of the four and a revered progressive movement leader in the US, tragically and unexpectedly died in his sleep in September.

In October, Venezuela adopted controversial anti-blockade measures aimed at facilitating private investment and circumventing the US blockade. The unrelenting US regime-change campaign has had a corrosive effect on Venezuela’s attempt to build socialism. With the economy de facto dollarized, among those hardest hit are government workers, the informal sector, and those without access to dollar remittances from abroad who continue to be paid in the bolivar, now ever more grossly inflated.

Prior to calling the US presidential elections a fraud, Trump made the same accusation regarding the elections for the Venezuelan National Assembly and for the same reason; his preferred candidates would not win. The opposition to the leftist government in Venezuela was divided between an extremist Guaidó faction, which heeded the US directive to boycott the election, and a more moderate grouping opposed to the US blockade, open to dialogue with the Maduro administration, and in favor of US recognition of  the Maduro government. Although turnout was low for the December 6 election, the ruling Socialist Party enjoyed a landslide victory giving them a mandate.

Guaidó, who has become an embarrassment, may be dropped by the new US administration. Biden, however, is expected to “keep using [the] US sanctions weapon but with sharper aim,” as reported by Reuters.

Colombia is the chief regional US client state, distinguished by being the largest recipient of US military aid in the hemisphere and the largest world source of illicit cocaine. With at least seven US military bases, Colombia is a principal staging point for paramilitary attacks on Venezuela. President Iván Duque continues to disregard the 2016 peace agreement with the guerrilla FARC as Colombia endures a pandemic of right-wing violence. In October, the largely indigenous Minga mobilization converged on the capital of Bogotá to protest rampant killings. A national strike followed, called by a broad coalition led by the teachers’ union FECODE. Colombia is the most dangerous country to be a social activist with a leader murdered every other day. The approaching 2022 presidential election could portend a sea change for the popular movement.

Ecuador achieved international notoriety with the streets of Guayaquil littered with dead bodies attributed to mismanagement of the pandemic by President Lenín Moreno. A vice president under leftist Rafael Correa, Moreno turned sharp right after his presidential election in 2017, reversing the anti-imperialist stance of his predecessor. Moreno is prosecuting his former allies and privatizing the state-owned electric and oil companies, while poverty has worsened. Moreno’s popularity rating plummeted to an abysmal 8%, and his administration has been wracked with corruption scandals and popular, anti-neoliberal revolt. Polls for the presidential election, scheduled for this coming February 7, give progressive Andrés Arauz a lead as the Pink Tide may again rise in Ecuador.

Peru. The crises in Peru last year, which saw a succession of corrupt presidents replacing former ones with some sent to prison, were repeated this year. President Martín Vízcarra was dismissed in December, followed by the Manuel Merino presidency of less than a week, followed by the appointment of President Francisco Sagasti. COVID raged in a country, where investment in public health is half that recommended by the World Health Organization, while the youth took to the streets in protest, some demanding a new constitution. A left current is building in Peru as seen with the promising candidacy of Verónika Mendoza in the upcoming April 2021 presidential contest.

Bolivia. Evo Morales returned to Bolivia less than a year after a US-backed coup forced him to escape. Morales had won his reelection bid in October 2019, but the Organization of American States (OAS) conspired with the US and the domestic ultra-right to allege that his victory was fraudulent. Although his reelection was proven fair, the intervention of the OAS gave a patina of legitimacy to the ensuing putsch. Right-wing Senator Jeanine Añez was installed as “interim-president” after Morales was forced to resign by the military and police hierarchy. She presided over two massacres and a campaign of repression against the majority indigenous population and activists of Morales’s party, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS). A heroic resistance based on strong grassroots organizing by social movements, unions, and the MAS, forced Añez to call a new presidential election, after she had postponed it three times.

On October 18, MAS presidential candidate Luis Arce won with a landslide 55%. The new government has returned to ALBA, CELAC, and UNASUR – regional bodies founded by Hugo Chávez – but is saddled with a $300M loan from the IMF, made by Añez though not authorized by the Senate. The year closed with the Constitution Court propitiously overruling a domestic law that banned same-sex union as inconsistent with international law, permitting the first legal same-sex marriage in Bolivia.

The Southern Cone

Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro’s second year in office was like the first: dismantling social welfare measures and rewarding multinational corporations, while the Amazon burned and the popular sectors protested. His unscientific belief in coronavirus herd immunity contributed to excessive deaths in Brazil, especially impacting indigenous peoples.

Chile has been in turmoil for most of the year with protests against their corrupt President Sebastian Piñera, incidentally the richest person in the country. Finally, on October 23, the right-wing politicians were forced to allow a plebiscite, which passed with a resounding 78% to replace the constitution imposed on the country by the dictator Pinochet. The vote was preceded by a week of massive demonstrations commemorating the first anniversary of the popular struggle against the neoliberal order. Elections for Constituent Assembly members are scheduled for April and presidential elections are scheduled for November, with Communist Eduardo Artés now leading in the polls.

Argentina. The new President Alberto Fernández and VP Cristina Fernández are slowly recovering Argentina after four years of right-wing governance. On October 17, crowds celebrated Peronist loyalty day in support of the center-left government.  Emilio Pérsico said their movement is revolutionary because “it gave power to those who had no power and incorporated the workers into politics.”

Caribbean

Cuba’s Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for its medical missions combatting the pandemic across the world. Cuba is also producing COVID-19 vaccines and is in the process of distributing them to needy countries, all the while suffering under an intensified US blockade. While decrying foreign interference in US internal affairs, the Trump administration has funded some 54 regime-change groups in Cuba through the USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy. The economy has been severely impacted by the pandemic and tightening of US sanctions, forcing Cuba to take pragmatic economic adjustments.

Puerto Rico, a spoil that the US empire gained in the first war of imperialism, the Spanish-American War of 1898, is today one of the few outright remaining colonies in the world. Emblematic of the neglect of Puerto Rico was the physical collapse on December 1 of the Arecibo Observatory’s giant radio telescope, once the largest in the world and source of pride. Nearly 60% of the island’s children live in poverty.

Haiti has been in nearly continuous popular revolt against US-backed President Jovenal Moïse, who has ruled by decree after cancelling elections. Government repression has been violent and intense, which is ignored in the western press.

Central America and Mexico

Central America was battered by not only the pandemic but two devastating hurricanes that hit just ten days apart in October. As conditions further deteriorate, migrants, especially from the US client states of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, continue to flee to the US. Migrants and asylum seekers, who were then deported back from the US, have been killed, raped, or tortured when they were forced to return, according to human rights groups.

El Salvador. In a flagrant overreach of executive prerogative, President Nayib Bukele sent the military on February 9 into the Legislative Assembly to influence a vote on his proposed security program. Bukele, formerly associated with the left FMLN party, has now turned right, militarizing the border between El Salvador and Honduras to enforce the “safe third country agreements” and joining the pro-US interventionist Lima Group.

Guatemala. Angry citizens burned down Guatemala’s congress building on November 21, after a record high budget passed giving the legislators substantial raises and rewarding multinational corporations but cutting social welfare. A national strike followed demanding the resignation of rightist President Alejandro Giammattei, a former director of the Guatemalan penitentiary system.

Honduras. Eleven years since the US-backed coup overthrew the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, the country has devolved into a state where current President Juan Orlando Hernández is an unindicted drug smuggler, the intellectual authors who ordered the assassination of indigenous environmental leader Berta Cáceres run free, Afro-descendent people and women are murdered with impunity, gang violence is widespread, and state protection from pandemic and hurricanes is grossly deficient.

Costa Rica. Workers staged a week-long national strike in October against the neoliberal policies of President Carlos Alvarado, who then ignored the people and resumed negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), sparking more popular demonstrations. Despite intervention by the Catholic Church to diffuse the protests, the rebellion against destructive tax increases, cuts to public services, and privatizations “has changed the political dynamics in a country which was formerly seen as ‘the Switzerland of Central America,’” according to journalist Rob Lyons.

Nicaragua. Under the Sandinista government of President Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua enjoys: “reduction of poverty and extreme poverty, eradication of illiteracy, the highest economic growth in the region for a decade, free quality education, change of the energy matrix to 77% renewable energy, [and] from 90th place to number 5 worldwide…in reducing the gender inequality gap.”

Given this “threat of a good example,” US efforts to isolate Nicaragua economically to achieve regime change continued. Reports by the PBS NewsHour, the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal, and the Oakland Institute of alleged abuses to the indigenous and Afro-descendent communities provided evidence in support of boycotting the import of “conflict beef,” which would have had a major impact on the Nicaraguan economy. After the allegations were exposed as unsubstantiated, the accusers hypocritically claimed their actions resulted in the Nicaraguan government correcting itself.

The US State Department has already called the Nicaraguan presidential election a fraud even though it is not scheduled until November 2021. After Venezuela and Cuba, Nicaragua is the hardest hit country in Latin America by US sanctions.

Mexico is the second largest economy in Latin America, the eleventh in the world, and the US’s top trade partner. After decades of right-wing rule, left-of-center Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and his new MORENA party have been in office for two years.

A little over a year ago, Mexico flew then President Evo Morales out of Bolivia, when his life was threatened by a rightwing coup, and gave asylum in the Mexican Embassy in La Paz to other deposed Bolivian officials. Mexico has also defied the US blockade of Venezuela, and AMLO has called for the release of whistleblower Julian Assange.

Last spring, AMLO closed factories in response to the pandemic except for those supplying essential services. Workers went on strike when some factory owners defied the government closures. The US intervened forcing border maquiladoras that produce goods for the US military to open.

With high COVID infection rates, AMLO has been criticized for what some characterize as a lax and delayed handling of the health crisis. He was also confronted by protests from the extreme right nationalist coalition FRENA, demanding that the “Bolivarian Dictator” must resign, while a rightist plan called Project BOA outlined a strategy for ousting him from office.

In July, AMLO made an official state visit to Washington. “Under Trump, Mexico has had to navigate abrupt demands to stem illegal migration or face trade tariffs.” As the nineteenth century Mexican President Porfirio Díaz famously lamented: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.”

Campaign for 2021

UN Secretary General Guterres’s plea for a “global ceasefire,” ever more necessitated by “the fury of the virus,” has been ignored by the US. Meanwhile, some 30 nations worldwide, including Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, are suffering under suffocating US sanctions, which are a form of hybrid warfare. These unilateral, coercive measures, impacting a third of humanity, are illegal under the UN Charter. As the “liberator” Simón Bolívar presciently observed in 1829: “The US appears to be destined by providence to plague the Americas with misery in the name of freedom.”

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Biden Urged to Adopt a Good Neighbor Policy Toward Latin America

Election season is a difficult time to develop good policies towards Latin America, since both Democrats and Republicans cater to the small, but organized, conservative factions of the Latinx community in Florida, vying for their votes. But if Biden wins the White House, there is a chance to reverse the Trump administration policies that have been devastating for Latin America, policies that punish innocent civilians through harsh economic sanctions, destabilize the region through coups and attempts at regime change, and close our borders to desperate people fleeing north in search of safety and opportunity, often as a result of U.S. security and economic policies.

The Trump administration openly calls its Latin America and Caribbean policy the “Monroe Doctrine 2.0.” The Monroe Doctrine — asserting U.S. geopolitical control over the region — served as a pretext for over 100 years of military invasions, support for military dictatorships, the training and financing of security forces involved in mass human rights violations and economic blackmail, among other horrors.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt distanced himself from this doctrine, outlining a new vision for relations in the hemisphere. His “Good Neighbor” policy temporarily ended the gunboat diplomacy that characterized U.S. foreign policy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the policy had its flaws, such as FDR’s support for the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua, his administration’s failures were often the result of not adhering to the Good Neighbor principle of non-interference.

That is why over 100 organizations that work on issues related to Latin America and the Caribbean sent a letter calling for the next administration to adopt a new Good Neighbor Policy toward the region based on non-intervention, cooperation and mutual respect. Among the organizations calling for a new approach are Alianza Americas, Amazon Watch, the Americas Program, Center for International Policy, CODEPINK, Demand Progress, Global Exchange, the Latin America Working Group and Oxfam America.

The letter to the presidential candidates warns that in January 2021, the U.S. president will face a hemisphere that will not only still be reeling from the coronavirus but will also be experiencing a deep economic recession, and that the best to help is not by seeking to impose its will, but rather by adopting a broad set of reforms to reframe relations with our neighbors to the south.

First among the reforms is lifting the brutal economic sanctions against Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua that are causing widespread human suffering, especially during a pandemic. These sanctions have not fulfilled their objective of regime change; the past 20 years of U.S. wars in the Middle East has taught us that U.S.-imposed regime change brings nothing but death and chaos.

Another reform is to put a stop to the hundreds of millions of dollars of police and military equipment and training that the U.S. provides Latin American and Caribbean countries each year. In many cases, such as Honduras and Colombia, U.S. funding and training have supported troops involved in corruption and egregious human rights abuses, including numerous extrajudicial killings and attacks targeting local activists and journalists. Much of this militarized “aid” is transferred in the name of the decades-long war on drugs, which has only fueled a vicious cycle of violence. The letter asserts that the “war on drugs” is a counterproductive way to deal with a US public health issue that is best addressed through decriminalization and equitable legal regulation. It also calls for scaling down US “security assistance” and arms sales, as well as the removal of US military and law enforcement personnel from the region.

The letter points out that although the U.S. public has been rightly condemning any sort of foreign interference in our own country’s elections, the U.S. government has a history of flagrant interference in the elections of our neighbors, including training political groups it favors and funding efforts to marginalize the political forces it opposes. In Venezuela, the Trump administration has gone to the extreme of anointing a legislator, Juan Guaidó, as the unelected “president” of Venezuela and putting a multi-million dollar bounty on the head of the UN-recognized president, Nicolas Maduro. The letter denounces such blatant interference and calls on the U.S. to respect the sovereignty of other nations.

The endorsing organizations also denounce U.S. intervention in domestic economic policymaking, which occurs in large part through its enormous influence within multilateral financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Bank. In order to obtain credit lines from these institutions, governments typically have to agree to austerity measures and other policies that lead to the downsizing of welfare states and a weakening of workers’ bargaining power. Moreover, as Latin American economies are reeling from the pandemic, the U.S. must cease demanding the implementation of neoliberal models and instead support public health, education and other basic needs.

Regarding human rights, the letter notes the U.S. has a role in advocating for them across the hemisphere. However, it warns against the instrumentalization of human rights for political gain, since too often human rights violations in the U.S. or in allied countries are ignored, while violations in countries considered adversaries are magnified. It says the U.S. should focus — both at home and abroad — on the rights of historically excluded communities, including indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, LGBTQ+ individuals, women, and migrants and refugees. It urges the United States to speak out when human rights defenders, including environmental and land rights activists and labor organizers, are in danger—a situation all too frequent in Latin America and the Caribbean today. It also calls on the U.S. to help depoliticize and strengthen existing multilateral institutions that defend human rights.

With respect to immigration, the letter insists that the next administration must undo the brutal harms of the Trump administration, but also reject the status quo of the Obama administration, which deported more people than any administration ever before and built the infrastructure for the Trump administration to carry out violent anti-immigrant policies. The next administration must hear the demands for immigrant justice, including a moratorium on all deportations; an end to mass prosecutions of individuals who cross the border; the re-establishment of asylum procedures at the border; an immediate path to citizenship for the Dreamers and for Temporary Protected Status holders; defunding the border wall; an end to the “zero-tolerance” (family separation) policy and other policies that prioritize migration-related prosecutions; and an end to private immigration detention.

As the region — and the world — anxiously awaits the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections, groups in the U.S. are gearing up for the possibility of a Biden win, and the need to push a new administration to make a positive contribution to the well-being of people throughout the hemisphere.

The post Biden Urged to Adopt a Good Neighbor Policy Toward Latin America first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Love Thy Neighbor: One Woman’s Fight for Her Husband

Aspire not to have more, but to be more.

— Oscar Romero

Counting your lucky stars is many times a matter of perspective. I am so honored to have traveled to El Salvador in 1984. I was not happy with the death and destruction I witnessed.

I met beautiful people there. However, there was rampant killing by military death squads. Just four years earlier, March 24, 1980, the Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, while giving mass, was murdered by US-backed military.

For Madras, Oregon, mother of four, Ana Maria Mejia, her husband’s deportation to El Salvador earlier this year – right before the CV-19 viral outbreak – has left her in a triple-state of trauma.

She’s 35 and Moises, her husband, is 37. He is now living with his mother in the town of San Luis Talpa. He has to keep his head down.

“My counselor has asked me what does my world look like if my husband doesn’t come back,” Ana said.

That question is riddled with anxiety. She told me she takes an anti-anxiety prescription because of years of stress tied to the threat of her husband’s deportation.

For now, ICE and the immigration laws have barred Moises for five years from reentry to the US.

For the time being, Ana is working at home with four children under her wings. They live in a mobile home, and her oldest daughter, Amanda (she turns 11 April 25), is an anchor for the other three children —  Katalina, 2, Natalie, 5, and Samuel, 10 months.

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Ana’s story is rich with the power of a Latina who is steeled to weather a very trying time. Amanda asked her mother who I was while Ana answered my questions. “Well, aren’t you going to tell him about me, the miracle child?”

That miracle occurred at her birth when she was c-sectioned into this world with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck three times. She aspirated, and was helicopter-lifted to the hospital in Bend. Those facilities weren’t equipped to handle the neonatal case, Ana said, so the newborn Amanda was jet lifted to Emanuel Hospital in Portland.

“We were put up at the Ronald McDonald House for a month.”

Ana had the support of her husband, Moises.

Crossing Many Borders

The trip for her husband from El Salvador included crossing into Piedras Negras, where ICE arrested him but released him the same day, as Moises reported he has family in California. That was March 2005.

Moises went to live with an aunt in California. He ended up coming to Madras and worked on farms, one being in Spray. He was the head breadwinner of the growing family. He has set down many roots in Jefferson County.

Ana was born in Los Angeles to a mother who had just come to the US as a widow, nine months pregnant with Ana.

She was from San Miguel del Comitlan in the state of Guerro. Her mother was undocumented, worked in a textile factory, and she eventually moved to Madras with a bunch of other people. “She worked in the fields, and it’s been 32 years, and she still works in agriculture at age sixty.”

During the Ronald Reagan presidency, amnesty was offered to Mexican workers, and her mother jumped on that.

Fast-forward to April 2005. Ana was working for H & R Block as a client services professional. She had a second job at a medical clinic.

In came in Moises Mejia, who needed a translator. He returned the following week, and he hit it off with Ana.

“He found out where I worked at this clinic and surprised me with roses. I wasn’t really ready for a relationship. But he told me he pictured us together. Together married with a family.”

That same year, they were married, Nov. 3, 2007.

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Return to Sender?

The order for deportation was issued the same year Moises came into the country. After Amanda was borne, Ana said they wanted to know how to petition for his permanent residency.

While working in Spray, OR, in 2014, Moises was stopped for a traffic violation. The police officer did a background check and saw there was a warrant for his arrest.

ICE arrested him, took him the ICE facility in Tacoma, WA, and in three weeks he was released because Ana was pregnant with Natalie.

The process of hiring immigration lawyers has taken both a financial and mental toll on the family. Ana told me she has been seeing a counselor because of the stress of deportation hanging over them. Now that Moises has been deported, the trauma has increased many times. All three children are also receiving counseling for a type of PTSD.

Thousands of dollars spent on lawyers, and hundreds more for the trips to Eugene and Portland to check in with ICE, and then the expenses of filing petitions – she is stressed by the financial ruin looming on the horizon.

Ana and Moises are embedded in several communities in Jefferson County. Moises had been working for Jim, who has a small privately owned air pump company. Ana says Jim and his wife Karen consider them as family. Part of the legal fees were paid by Jim, Moises’ employer of four years. Five dozen eggs from Jim and Karen’s chickens get delivered to the mobile home.

This case is emblematic of a paperwork hell, as well as injustice tied to missing a court date.

Fleeing Violence, Fleeing Death

Refugee status was a given to Moises’ brother and the children of another brother who was murdered in El Salvador by the international gang, Calle 18 (also known as Barrio 18, Mara 18, or simply La 18).

Even when Moises was a kid (he was born two years before I visited EL Salvador), there was a lot of violence perpetrated by military death squads. Moises has become a bus driver (his uncle owned the transportation business) and attended school to be a mechanic.

Ana’s never met her mother-in-law – they have talked on the phone and exchanged photographs. Ana says her mother-in-law is highly devoted to her church. She wants her son to go back to Madras “where he belongs with his wife and four children.”

For Ana, her goals have not been put on hold – she is an early childhood development student with Central Oregon Community College. She works for Early Head Start through the Oregon Childhood Development Commission.

“What are you going to do next is a question my counselor keeps asking me. It’s not easy to think about. I can’t move to El Salvador with my four children. What kind of education would they get there? It’s not safe. His brother was murdered, shot in the head in 2009. That is no life for me and my children.”

I met Ana through the non-profit program I am heading up, both in Lincoln County and Jefferson County. Family Independence Initiative of Oregon is a pilot project collecting valuable stories from working families in exchange for $840 for one-year participation.

The quarterly deposit of $175 I had just put into her account precipitated Ana to contact me. She told me the money helped her make a car payment. She also is attempting to get more people in Jefferson County to sign up, or at least to email me.

I was thinking about El Salvador before I embarked on interviewing Ana. Another Oscar Romero quote comes to mind: “The ones who have a voice must speak for those who are voiceless.” This is profound, especially for the Madras Pioneer, if they eventually let me publish this story about Ana and Moises.

Ana sings in the choir at St. Patrick’s, and she is part of a large volunteer contingent. She states her social capital in Madras and surrounding communities is deep. Many people at her church have offered help.

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What she learns everyday about the situation in El Salvador is valuable to her own friends and family who are from that country. The quarantining measures there are much tighter than those in the US.

I’m also thinking about my own involvement in protesting the US involvement in the politics and military of El Salvador. The Salvadoran Civil War lasted from October 1979 to January 1992. I still have one of the pamphlets the Salvador military was passing out in the countryside — the infamous “Be a patriot! Kill a priest!” pamphlet.

I’m also involved in the literary arts in Oregon. April is National Poetry month, and I am recalling Carolyn Forché, an American poet, translator, and memoirist. Her books of poetry are In the Lateness of the World, Blue Hour, The Angel of History, The Country Between Us, and Gathering the Tribes. Her memoir, What You Have Heard Is True, was published by Penguin Press in 2019.

I don’t know if Moises knows about this American who lived in El Salvador for some of those years.  Forché’s now legendary poem, “The Colonel,” describes a harrowing dinner with a Salvadoran military officer. Her a memoir is about her political education during those years. The title, What You Have Heard Is True, is from the first line of the poem “The Colonel.”

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A quick Q & A

Paul Haeder: What did you do as a family before Moises was deported?

Ana Maria Mejia: We spent time enjoying the outdoors. Going to the park, taking our children to play. We always we watched fireworks on the 4th of July. We were always going out, including the fair and my children enjoyed petting farm animals and the carnival portion. We went to movies with our children and went to our friends and family gatherings

PH: What gives you strength?

AM: What gives me strength is my faith in God and my family.

PH: When I say “community,” what comes to your mind?

AM: Community is culture, diversity opportunities, welcoming, sheltering family and home stability. It’s a group of people gathering to connect together to affirm we all are in this together. It doesn’t matter the religion, race, color or where you’re from or what language you speak, we all come together.

PH: Tell people why your husband (like thousands of other wives and husbands) deserves to be repatriated to the USA?

AM: My husband deserves to be back to this country because he is a hard worker and he is not a criminal. He is a number one provider for our family. My children and I need him to be with us. No family should be separated.

PH: What do you love about Madras, and Oregon?

AM: I love Madras because I lived here all my life. I was brought over from Los Angeles California and to me Madras is my hometown. I love the community because there’s a lot of people that are very supportive of schools. Also, there’s a lot of great events that my family and I enjoy going to and being a part of.

PH: What does your older daughter want to do when she grows up? Does she know?

AM: At the moment my older daughter does not know what she wants to do when she grows up, but she enjoys drawing, music, and dancing. Art inspires her.

 

2019 Latin America in Review: Year of the Revolt of the Dispossessed

A year ago, John Bolton, Trump’s short-lived national security advisor, invoked the 1823 Monroe Doctrine making explicit what has long been painfully implicit: the dominions south of the Rio Grande are the empire’s “backyard.” Yet 2019 was a year best characterized as the revolt of the dispossessed for a better world against the barbarism of neoliberalism. As Rafael Correa points out, Latin America today is in dispute. What follows is a briefing on this crossroads.

Andean Nations

Venezuela, the leader for regional integration and 21st century socialism, continued to be ground zero in the clash between the empire and those nations pursuing post-neoliberal alternatives and a multipolar world.

On the evening of January 22, trained US security asset and head of the suspended Venezuelan National Assembly Juan Guaidó received a call from US Vice President Pence, giving Guaidó the green light to declare himself president of Venezuela. The next day, Guaidó proclaimed his presidency on a Caracas street corner. Within minutes Trump recognized the self-appointment, later followed by some fifty US allies. Still most nations in the world did not recognize Guaidó, and the United Nations continues to recognize Maduro as the constitutional president of Venezuela.

Guaidó called for harsher US sanctions on his own people and even the US “military option.”  Gone was the pretext that sanctions targeted only the government. The former US Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield  boasted that these measures “would have an impact on everyone… to accelerate the collapse.” From President Barack Obama’s sanctions in 2015, Trump progressively ratcheted up the pain to the current blockade. This illegal collective punishment had already caused over 40,000 deaths by the beginning of the year according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in a war by economic means, denying the Venezuelan people vital food and medicine.

Yet Guaidó failed to come to power. His publicity stunt on February 23 to bring “humanitarian aid” from Colombia fizzled. To make things worse, envoys of Guaidó in Colombia were caught embezzling some of the very funds slated for humanitarian assistance. Soon after this debacle, a staged coup on April 30 by Guaidó and a few military officers on an overpass in eastern Caracas aborted. In November, Guaidó made an even more pathetic coup attempt. His ability to garner support atrophied, drawing the ire even of some hardline opposition who formerly backed him, while the Maduro government continued to rally substantial popular demonstrations and signed a peaceful coexistence agreement with some moderate opposition parties in September.

Despite attempts by Washington to incite ruptures within the Venezuelan security forces, the “civic-military union” built by Chavez and continued under Maduro held firm, and the ranks of the militias continue to grow. And despite heavy lobbying by the Trump administration, Venezuela was voted onto the UN Human Rights Council on October 27.

In a bid to compensate for the diminished stature of the anti-Venezuela Lima Group,  on December 3, Colombia convened a summit for the activation of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR) against Venezuela, to ratchet up sanctions even further and keep the military option on the table. By the end of 2019, even the Wall Street Journal conceded, “Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, once thought ripe for ouster, looks firmly in place.”

In Washington, North American solidarity activists defended the Venezuelan embassy from being taken over by Guaidó collaborators (April – May 2019). With the permission of the Venezuelan government and pursuant to international law, the Embassy Protectors held out for 37 days until expelled by the Secret Service. The four last defenders – Margaret Flowers, Kevin Zeese, Adrienne Pine, David Paul – will go to trial, facing possible stiff penalties. On October 25, journalist Max Blumenthal was also arrested and charged (subsequently dropped), as the US government cracks down on dissent both at home and abroad.

Colombia is the chief regional US client state, distinguished by being the largest recipient of US military aid in the hemisphere. Hillary Clinton called Plan Colombia a model for Latin America. Yet this model leads the world in extra-judicial killings of journalists, union leaders, and environmentalists. Meanwhile, Colombia continues to be the planet’s largest supplier of illicit cocaine.

A 2016 peace agreement saw the guerrilla FARC lay down their arms, but the government has honored the agreement mainly in the breach. Death squad activity continued in 2019, targeting former FARC militants. A faction of the FARC returned to the guerrilla path.

In a sign of growing disaffection with the hardline right-wing influence of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and his protégé and current President Iván Duque, the far right suffered significant losses in the October regional and municipal elections. Left-leaning Claudia López became the first woman and first lesbian to be mayor of the capital city of Bogotá. By year-end, Colombia experienced massive general strikes opposed to government austerity policies dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Bolivia. Evo Morales was the first indigenous president of this largely indigenous country. Under the 14 years of his Movement for Socialism party (MAS), Bolivia had the highest economic growth rate and the greatest poverty reduction in the Western Hemisphere. Bolivia became a world champion for indigenous and poor people, aligning with the progressive governments of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.

Morales was fairly re-elected president on October 20. Because the US-backed candidate lost, the US called his election “fraudulent.” A compliant Organization of American States (OAS) disseminated misleading information on the validity of the election. Thus, the stage was set for the November 10 coup, when Morales was forced to “resign” by the military.

Thirteen US members of Congress sent a “dear colleague” letter condemning the “Administration’s support for [the] military-backed regime and silence on violent repression [which] contributes to spiraling crisis.” This letter stands in stark contrast to the close association of key figures behind the coup with allies in Washington, the OAS Secretary General’s embrace of coup leader Luis Fernando Camacho, and the endorsement of the coup by the right-wing neighbors. President Trump “applauded” the Bolivian military despite its well documented systematic  violations of human rights.

The self-proclaimed President Jeanine Áñez smeared indigenous communities as “satanic” in tweets, later deleted. Morales is now in exile, and the indigenous and other poor continue to protest in the face of lethal, racist repression.  At this writing, Morales, the MAS, and most of the popular sectors have agreed to new elections but efforts are underway by backers of the de facto government to disqualify the MAS from participating in an eventual election.

Ecuador. Speaking of reversals, Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno took the prize. Moreno had served as vice president in a previous leftist government headed by Rafael Correa, who had campaigned for Moreno. Upon assuming the presidency in 2017, Moreno inexplicably and unexpectedly betrayed the platform, the voters, and the party that put him in office. He jailed his vice president and later other leaders of his former party and put out an arrest warrant for Correa, who is now in exile. On April 11, Moreno handed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who had been in asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, to the British police.

Moreno withdrew Ecuador from ALBA, the leftist regional organization of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and some Caribbean nations. Last January, he recognized the US puppet Guaidó as president of Venezuela. By mid-year, Moreno gave the US an airbase on the Galápagos.

Moreno forgave some $4.5 billion in fines and debt by major corporations and oligarchs and then papered it over by an IMF loan. With the loan came austerity measures, el paquetazo, including removing fuel subsidies. The mass protest of the dispossessed, led by the indigenous CONAIE organization, was so overwhelming that Moreno was temporarily forced to flee the capital city of Quito and rescind some elements of the paquetazo. Moreno continues to push IMF stipulated austerity measures, while repressing his former party’s elected representatives.

Peru is in crisis, wracked with corruption scandals. In April 2019, former President Alan García shot himself as the police were preparing to arrest him for corruption, while fellow former President Alberto Fujimori is in jail on corruption accusations and human rights violations.  Former President Alejandro Toledo also faces corruption accusations and is fighting against extradition from the US. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was the last directly elected president of Peru. Formerly a US citizen and an IMF and World Bank official, he was forced to resign for corruption in March 2018 shortly before he was slated to host a meeting of the anti-Venezuela Lima Group to expose Venezuela for corruption.

Ever since, the presidency of Peru has been disputed. The current moderate-right President Martín Vízcarra dissolved the congress; the congress controlled by the far-right Keiko Fujimori (free after a year in detention for corruption) impeached the executive, although Vízcarra recovered the presidency. In the context of this dog fight among the elites have been massive anti-corruption mobilizations from below.

The Southern Cone

Brazil. New Year 2019 marked the inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil. The election of hard-right Bolsonaro – called the “Trump of Brazil” by friends and foes alike – was a major reversal from the previous left-leaning Workers Party governments.

Brazil has by far the biggest economy in Latin America and the eighth in the world and is part of the BRICS bloc including Russia, India, China, and South Africa. With a sycophant of Trump heading Brazil, both hemispheric and world geopolitics suffer the loss of a countervailing element to US hegemony. Brazil voted with the US and Israel for continuing the US blockade on Cuba and against 187 other UN members.

Former left-leaning President Lula da Silva would have easily beaten Bolsonaro, if the polls were any indication, but corrupt judge Sergio Moro sent Lula to prison on evidenceless charges. The judge was rewarded by ironically being made minister of justice in the new Bolsonaro government. Similarly, Dilma Rousseff, who was Lula’s left-leaning successor as president of Brazil, had been deposed on a technicality by the right-leaning congress in what amounted to a parliamentary coup in 2016.

An international campaign to free Lula finally succeeded in November, but far too late for him to run against Bolsonaro. Lula is free and fighting now, but could be incarcerated again.

Bolsonaro went about dismantling social welfare measures, firing government workers, and rewarding multinational corporations, while the Amazon burned. Predictably the popular sectors arose leading to an uncertain political situation in Brazil.

Chile. The Chilean people launched a general strike against austerity with slogans such as “neoliberalism was born in Chile and will die here.” Reacting to the “privatization of everything,” the uprising this fall has been truly from the grassroots with the established political parties sprinting to catch up with the popular revolt of the dispossessed.

Over a million protestors have taken to the streets in a country with a population of only 19 million. Many have remained there for weeks despite severe repression by the state, leaving numerous killed by live ammunition and rubber bullets. According to official state data, more than 8,000  have been jailed, almost 3,000 injured, and over 200 suffered ocular damage. Hundreds of  lawsuits for police brutality have been filed, including sexual abuses. The right-wing billionaire President Sebastián Piñera suspended some constitutional rights, declaring a “state of emergency” in a country still under the constitution created by the dictator Pinochet.

Argentina. After right-wing President Mauricio Macri imposed textbook perfect neoliberal economic reforms, the Argentine economy spectacularly and predictably failed with rampant inflation, food shortages, currency free-fall, and capital flight. Even the middle class protested in the streets in enormous uprisings of the dispossessed.

On October 27, the center-left ticket of Alberto Fernández as president and Cristina Fernández as VP won and announced Argentina will leave the regional anti-Venezuela Lima Group. They will also have to deal with Macri’s record breaking $50.1 billion IMF loan, saddling the people with austerity measures in a country that is broke and again at the edge of default.

Uruguay. The ruling left-center Frente Amplio’s candidate, Daniel Martínez, won in the first round of Uruguay’s presidential elections on October 27, but by a too narrow margin to avoid a runoff election. He faced a united right-wing in the November 24 runoff against Luis Lacalle Pou, which ended his party’s 15-year rule.

The Caribbean

Cuba. The US embargo of Cuba, initiated  by US President Kennedy and now a blockade (el bloqueo), along with covert regime-change operations and occupation of Guantánamo have continued in an unbroken policy of aggression through Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Most recently Trump resurrected Title III of the Clinton-era Helms-Burton Act to intensify the blockade. The Cuban people show no sign of capitulating.

Cubans welcomed a new president, as Miguel Díaz-Canel succeeded Raúl Castro. On April 10, they ratified a new constitution, after an extensive consultative process, engaging some 9 million people, 780,000 suggestions, 9,600 proposals, and 133,000 citizen meetings.

Puerto Rico and Cuba were the spoils of the first imperialist war, the 1898 Spanish-American War. Unlike free Cuba, Puerto Rico is still a neglected colonial possession of the US. And that political fact has never been clearer with Puerto Rico still not fully recovered from Hurricane María and still not governing itself to solve its own problems.

Puerto Rico experienced mass protests and a general strike in 2019. Governor Ricardo A. Rosselló was forced to resign on July 22. Puerto Rican liberation hero Oscar López Rivera observed: “Even before the governor announced his resignation, the fact is that he was not governing Puerto Rico.”

Haiti. After the harsh 29-year US-backed Duvalier dictatorships and the subsequent “military transition,” a brief flourishing of democracy ended in Haiti when the US brazenly kidnapped President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and flew him into exile in 2004. Since then, a series of dubiously elected presidents – some literally installed and all propped up by the US – have produced human rights and social welfare conditions worse than under the dictatorships.

Billions in relief after the 2010 earthquake and in Petrocaribe funds from Venezuela have largely “disappeared” into the pockets of corrupt politicians. In response, the ever-restive Haitian populace has yet intensified the uprising of the dispossessed throughout the country. The newly formed Patriotic Forum united 62 social movements, who call not only for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse, but a complete dismantling of the “system of exclusion” and for a new republic of justice, transparency, and participation. They demanded chavire chodyè a (overturn the cauldron).

Central America and Mexico

Honduras. The designation of Honduras as a narco-state is supported by the October 18  conviction in US federal court of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s (JOH) brother Tony for cocaine smuggling.  JOH, the latest of a line of corrupt presidents since the 2009 US-backed coup, is identified as co-conspirator by the prosecutors. Testimony in the US court revealed that the notorious Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo gave JOH $1 million to help him rig the presidential election in 2013.

The US continued to prop up the tottering JOH regime staggering in the face of huge waves of popular protests including a prolonged national strike this summer. And those not opposing the government in the streets headed for asylum in the US, fleeing from gang violence and government malfeasance.

Guatemala. Right-wing comedian Jimmy Morales became president of Guatemala in August. In response to the revolt of dispossessed against his neoliberal rule, he declared a state of siege in five departments. Tens of thousands marched on Guatemala City, including the indigenous Xinkas, while many more Guatemalans fled the violence and everyday oppression seeking asylum at the US border.

The wounds of the US-backed genocidal dirty war of the 1980s against the largely indigenous population, taking some 200,000 lives, have not been healed but continue to be reinforced by harsh neoliberal measures and a regime of impunity fueling the exodus to the north. While lamenting the plight of these migrants, the corporate press in the US failed to recognize the made-in-America causes of their evacuation.

El Salvador. Likewise, El Salvador, another former victim of the US-backed dirty wars, added to the stream of Honduran and Guatemalan migrants seeking asylum in the US from the conditions created in large part by the country of their intended refuge.

Businessman Nayib Bukele, formerly associated with the left FMLN party and now turned right, was elected under the banner of the right-wing GANA party. He assumed the presidency on June 1, replacing Salvador Sánchez Ceren of the FMLN. Bukele has fallen in line with Washington’s drive to curtail emigration from the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and has reversed his nation’s foreign policy to accord with the Lima Group’s drive for regime change in Venezuela.

Nicaragua. 2019 was a year of hopeful recovery in Nicaragua, healing from successfully repulsing a US-backed coup the previous year. The domestic perpetrators were granted amnesty by leftist President Daniel Ortega, and social welfare indices were again on the ascent. Although the poorest country in Central America, Nicaraguans were for the most part not fleeing for the US but were rebuilding their homeland.

Mexico is the second largest economy in Latin American and the eleventh in the world. After decades of right-wing rule, left-of-center Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) assumed the presidency last December and his new MORENA party swept local and regional offices with the expectation that corruption, inequality, and other long festering economic injustices would be addressed. AMLO dissented from the anti-Venezuelan Lima Group and instituted a series of progressive domestic reforms.

Trump forced AMLO to contain the Central American immigrants massing on the US southern border or face tariff increases and other measures that would wreck the Mexican economy. As nineteenth century Mexican President Porfirio Díaz famously lamented: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.”

A New Year’s message

2019 has not been an entirely bullish year for US imperialism, notwithstanding the hard turns to the right in Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador.  Powerful winds against neoliberalism are gusting in Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, and even in the US “Commonwealth” of Puerto Rico. Regime-change operations failed in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. US-preferred candidates suffered losses in Mexico, Colombia, and Bolivia (later reversed by a coup). And the hegemon is challenged in its own “backyard” by the increased influence of Russia and especially China, now the second largest trading partner with Latin America and the Caribbean.

Recently Cuban President Díaz-Canel addressed the 120-state Non-aligned Movement (a third of which are sanctioned by Washington) with this perceptive thought for a multi-polar world: “There are more of us. Let us do more.”

In the Eye of the Eagle: From Strict Catholic School to Adventures in Rainforests

A slow, tacking flight: float then flap. Then a pirouette and it has swung on to a different tack, following another seam through the moor as if it is tracking a scent. It is like a disembodied spirit searching for its host…” — description of the strongest of all harriers, the goshawk, by James Macdonald Lockhart in his book, Raptor: A Journey Through Birds

We’re watching a female red-tail hawk rejecting the smaller male’s romantic overtures barely 50 yards overhead.

There it is. Ahh, the male has full extension. So does his girlfriend. I see this every day from here. This courting ritual . . . testing each other’s loyalty. Watching them in a talon lock, spiraling down, now that’s an amazing sight.

I’m with Chris Hatten on his 10 acres overlooking the Siletz estuary along a gravel road. Saying he lives for that typical red-tail hawk behavior would be an understatement. His passion for raptors has taken him to many parts of the globe, and those trips involved exhilaration, danger, risks to his life, and the trials and tribulations of living primitively in tropical zones which Westerners sometimes deridingly call undeveloped countries or third world nations.

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 Wild Harpy eagle being recaptured and treated after being shot in leg, northern Guatemala.

We are traipsing around his property where Chris is ninety percent finished with a two-story 1,400 square foot home, a modern efficient house he’s been building for two years from a kit out of Lynnwood, Washington.

He told me he’ll never do that again – building a full-sized house.

The 42-year-old Hatten got a hold of my name when he found out I write about Oregon coastal people with compellingly interesting lives. He is in the midst of witnessing adjoining land (more than a hundred acres) to his property about to be clear-cut – forested hillside owned by Hancock Timber Resource Group, part of John Hancock Insurance (now owned by a Canadian group, Manulife Financial).

When he first bought the land eight years ago, representatives of Hancock told him that the company had so much timberland it would take years, maybe a decade, to get to this piece of property.

We discuss how Lincoln City and Lincoln County might prevent a clear cut from the side of the hill all the way down to Highway 101. “It’s amazing to witness in this coastal area — that depends on tourism — all this land clear-cut as far as the eye can see.”

The red-tail hawk pair circles above us again, while a Merlin flits about alighting on a big Doug fir.

When he first saw the property — an old homestead which was once a producing dairy farm — Chris said two eagles cawed above where he was standing, which for a bird-man is a positive omen and spiritual sign of good health. He calls his place “The Double-Eagle.”

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Hands on bio blitz Northern Brazil.

Non-Traditional Student Backpacks into Jungles

He’s not living in the house, per se, but rather he has a tent he calls home. “I feel suffocated inside four walls. I want to hear animals, hear the wind, be on the ground.” He’s hoping to rent out the house.

His current kip is set up near a black bear den, where mother bruin and her two cubs share an area he is willing to stay away from. “The mother bear and I have an understanding. We don’t bother each other.”

He’s part Doctor Dolittle, part Jim Fowler (from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom), and part John Muir. My own intersections with blokes and women around the world like him have put me eye-to-eye with pygmy elephants in Vietnam, great hammerheads off Baja, king cobras in Thailand, schools of barracudas off Honduras, and a pack of 20 javelina chasing me along the Arizona-Mexico border.

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Jaguar rescue northern Belize.

Hatten’s wildlife adventures indeed take it up a few notches.

“When I finished high school, I wanted to follow my dreams.” That was at Saint Mary’s in Salem, a school that was so constricting to Chris he had already been saving up dollars for a one-way ticket out of the country.

He had started working young – aged 8 – picking zucchini and broccoli in fields near where his family of six lived. “You feel invincible when you are young. You’re also more adaptable and more resilient.”

He ended up in Malaysia which then turned into trekking throughout Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, East Timor, and even down south to Darwin, Australia.

Those two years, from age 17 to 19, are enough to fill two thick memoirs. Upon returning to Salem, he applied to the National Park service and bought a one-way ticket to Alaska, working the trails in small groups who lived in tents and cleared trails with 19-Century equipment – saws, shovels, picks, pry bars.

With his cash stake growing, he headed back south, by mountain bike, along the Prudhoe-Dalton Highway. He hit Prince George, Vancouver Island, and stopped in the Olympics.

He then worked summers and attended Chemeketa College in Salem.

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Finding small spot fire Colombia River Gorge, Oregon, working for U.S.F.S.

Homeless-but-inspired at Evergreen State College

He wanted to study temperature rainforests, so he showed up unannounced hoping for an audience with a well-known scientist and faculty member — Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, who is an expert in temperate forests and sap maples. Chris had read the book she co-authored, Forest Canopies.

Before showing up to Evergreen, Chris had developed a sling-shot contraption to propel ropes into forest canopy. He barged into Nadkarni’s office with his invention. She was surprised Chris wasn’t already student, but she quickly made sure he enrolled in the environmental studies program.

Spending his last dollar on tuition, Chris resorted to sleeping in a tent and inside his 1988 Honda Civic while using campus rec department showers. He told me he received free produce on Tuesdays when the farmer’s market would pass out vegetables and fruit after a day’s sales.

Another faculty member, Dr. Steve Herman, motivated Chris to really delve into ornithology. Chris recalls coastal dune ecology trips, from Olympia in motor pool vans, all the way into the southern reaches of Baja. “We looked at every dune system from Baja all the way back north to Florence.”

The ornithologist Herman was also a tango aficionado, and Chris recalled the professor announcing to his students many times, in the middle of dunes in Mexico, it was time for some tango lessons. “He told us there was more to life than just science.”

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Educational Harpy eagle to take into classrooms Panama city, Panama, has one blind eye, could not be released into wild.

Adventures and Misadventures of a Bird Fanatic

My life’s work has been to produce scientists who will seek to protect wildness. But I also just really enjoy teaching people about birds. I’ve been lucky to get to do that for a very long time.

— Steve Herman, Evergreen State College faculty emeritus Steve Herman, 2017

Chris laments the lack of real stretches of wilderness in Oregon, most notably along our coast. These are postage stamp areas, he emphasizes, around Drift Creek, Rock Creek, Cape Perpetua, but “it’s abysmal.”

We have the Cascades in Washington and the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, and lots of wilderness in Alaska. But really, nothing along the Pacific in Oregon.

After camping in the forest around Evergreen College, Chris still had the travel bug bad. On one foray, he went to Thailand, studying the mangrove forests there. He traveled with Thai army anti-poaching teams who went after poachers. He came across poachers’ camps, witnessed firefights and saw a few poachers laid out dead. “The captain gave me a pistol and one bullet. He said the torture would be so bad if I got captured by tiger poachers that I’d beg for a bullet.”

He’s worked on the island of Hawaii with the USGS focusing on a biocomplexity project looking at how mosquitoes are moving higher and higher because of global warming. The consequences are pretty connected to other invasives – pigs introduced to the islands several centuries ago – disturbing the entire natural ecosystem.

Pigs chew down the ferns, and places that have never seen pooled water before are now wet troughs where mosquitoes can now breed.

Those insects carry avian malaria, and alas, endangered honey creepers can’t adjust to the mosquitoes like their cousins elsewhere who have evolved over millennia to just rub off the insects. The honey creeper is being decimated by this minor but monumental change.

Peregrine Fund

Right after matriculating from Evergreen with a bachelor’s of science, Chris ended up in Panama, working throughout Central America rehabilitating, breeding and introducing Harpy Eagles – the biggest forest eagle in the world with a wingspan of six and a half feet – into their native jungle habitat.

These are massive birds. They dwarf our American bald eagle, for sure. My job was to follow them when the fledglings were grown and released.

He acted like an adult Harpy who catches prey and puts it in the trees for the youngster to eat and learn some hunting skills. Frozen rats, GPS backpack transmitter fashioned on the birds, and orienteering throughout Belize and Southern Mexico were his tools.

It sort of blew me away that here I was living the dream of studying birds in a rainforest.

Territorial ranges for these birds spread into Honduras and south to Colombia. Wild Harpies eat sloth, aunt eaters, howler monkeys, even giant Military Macaws.

He ended up in the Petén, Tikal (originally dating back 2000 years), one of Central America’s premier Mayan archeological and tourist sites.

His role was to study the orange-breasted falcon, a tropical raptor which is both endangered and stealth. “We got to live on top of pyramids off limits to anyone else,” he says, since the bird was using the pyramids as nesting and breeding grounds.

He recalled tiring of the tourists down below repeating the fact that one of the Star Wars movies was filmed here – “I got tired of hearing, ‘Wow, is this really where Yavin 4,  A New Hope, was filmed? We’re really here.’”

Imagine respecting this ancient Mayan capital, and studying amazing raptors as the antithesis of goofy tourista comments.

No 9 to 5 Working Stiff

He tells me that his idols are people like Jane Goodall and David Attenborough. While he went to school in a conservative Catholic setting where his peers were mostly farm kids —  and some were already pregnant and married (before graduation), his family was not of the same stripe.

“We were like the people in the movie ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’’’ he says with a laugh. His parents took the brood to the Oregon Coast a lot, and that 1976 yellow VW van’s starter was always going out. “I remember we had my sister and mom blocking the intersections in places like Lincoln City while we pushed the van to get it started.”

He’s got a brother, Steve, an RN in Portland, and another Portland-based brother, Mark, owner of a micro-car shop. His older sister, Amy, is a newspaper journalist in Grand Junction, Colorado – a real lifer, with the written word coursing through her blood. She’s encouraged Chris to write down his story.

Their mother went to UC-Berkley, and has been a public education teacher for over 25 years. Their father (divorced when he was 12) got into real estate but is now living in New Zealand.

That one-way ticket to Singapore that got him into Southeast Asia, ended with him running out of money after a year, but he was able to get to Darwin, Australia, by paying a fishing boat in East Timor to get him down under illegally. He spent time picking Aussie Chardonnay grapes to stake himself in order to see that continent.

He was blown away by the kangaroo migration, a scene that involved a few million ‘roos kicking up great clouds of red dust. He ended up going through Alice Springs to see the sacred Uluru (formally known as Ayers Rock). He met undocumented immigrants from El Salvador and Greece while making money picking oranges.

We talk about some frightening times in our travels, and per usual, the worst incidents involved criminals or bad hombres, not with wildlife. For Chris, his close call with death occurred in Guatemala where he, his female supervisor (a Panamanian) and another raptor specialist were confronted by men on horses, brandishing machetes and leading tracker dogs.

“’We’ll let you live if you give us the woman.’ That’s what they gave us as our option.” The bird team went back into the jungle, the two male researchers buried their female companion with leaves, and then Chris and the other guy took off running all night long.

The banditos chased them through the jungle. He laughed saying they ran virtually blind in places where eyelash vipers (one bite, and three steps and you’re dead), coral snakes and tropical rattlesnakes lived in abundance.

“It’s a very creepy feeling being hunted by men with dogs.” Luckily, the female team member headed out the opposite direction, with a radio. All in a day’s work for environmentalists.

That’s saying, “all in a day’s work,” is ominous since we both talk about how most indigenous and local environmental leaders in so many countries have been murdered by loggers, miners, oil men, ranchers, and coca processors (many times executed by paid-for military soldiers).

Never Return or There Will Be Tears

Two telling quotes from world-renown traveler and writer, Paul Theroux, strike me as apropos for a story about Chris Hatten:

Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.

You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.

We talk about a crackling campfire being the original TV, and how being out in wilderness with 5 or 10 people for an extended period gets one really connected to working with people and counting on them to be friends and support.

“It’s tough going back to places I’ve been,” he says with great lamentation. In Borneo, a return trip years later discombobulated him. “The rainforest is being plowed over daily. I couldn’t tell where I was walking miles and miles through palm oil plantations. It was as if the jungle had been swallowed up.”

What once was a vibrant, multilayered super rich and diverse place of amazing flora and fauna has been turned into a virtual desert of a monocrop.

This reality is some of the once most abundant and ecologically distinct places on earth are no longer that. “This is the problem with any wildlife reintroduction program. You can breed captive animals like, for instance, the orangutan but there’s nowhere to release them. Everywhere is stripped of jungle, healthy habitat.”

The concept of rewilding any place is becoming more and more theoretical.

We climb the hill where the clear-cut will occur. Chris and I talk about a serious outdoor education center – a place where Lincoln County students could show up for one, two or three days of outdoor learning. We’re serious about reframing the role of schools and what youth need to have in order to be engaged and desirous of learning.

That theoretical school could be right here, with Chris as the lead outdoor/ecological instructor.

All those trees, terrestrial animals, avian creatures, smack dab on an estuary leading to a bay which leads to the Pacific is highly unique – and a perfect place from which to really get hands on learning as the core curriculum.

We imagine young people learning the history, geology, biology, and ecology of where they live. Elders in the woods teaching them how to smoke salmon, how to build a lean-to, how to see outside the frame of consumption/purchasing/screen-time.

Interestingly, while Chris has no desire to have children, he has taught tropical biology/ecology to an international student body at the Richmond Vale Academy on the island of Saint Vincent (part of the Grenadines).

Koreans, Russians, Venezuelans, Peruvians and Vincennes learned organic farming, bio-fuel production, solar power design, how to grow passion and star fruit. There is even a little horse program in the school, founded by two Danes.

Chris said that the local population is taught about medicinal plants, recycling and responsible waste disposal. “Everything used to be wrapped in banana leaves in their grandparents’ time. Now there is all this single-use plastic waste littering the island.

Like the dynamic rainforest that once carpeted the Central Coast – with herds of elk, wolves, grizzlies and myriad other species – much of the world is being bulldozed over, dammed and mined. Wildlife leave, stop breeding, never repopulate fractured areas where human activities are the norm.

But given that, when I asked Chris where he might like to go now, he mentioned Croatia, his mother’s side of the family roots. He may have swum with 60-foot-long whale sharks and kayaked over orcas, but Chris is still jazzed up about raptors – maybe he’d end up on the Croatian island of Cres which is a refuge for the spectacular griffon vulture.

“Nature has a purpose beyond anything an extraction-based society puts its monetary value on trees. We have to show young people there is value to natural ecosystems beyond extracting everything for a profit.”

One-Minute Q and A

Paul Haeder: What is your life philosophy?

Chris Hatten: Make the best use of your time. Time is short.

PH: How do we fix this extractive “resources” system that is so rapacious?

CH: We need to value forests for the many multitude of services they provide, not just quick rotations. Forests are not the same as fields of crops.

PH: Give any young person currently in high school, say, in Lincoln County, advice on what they might get out of life if they took your advice? What’s that advice?

CH: Get off your phone, lift up your head, see the world for yourself as it really is, then make necessary changes to it and yourself.

PH: What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve experienced — what, where, when, why, how?

CH: I have had very poor people offer to give me all they had in several different countries. Strangers have come to my aid with no thought of reward.

PH: In a nutshell, define the Timber Unity movement to say someone new to Oregon.

CH: They are people who mostly work in rural Oregon in resource extraction industries and believe they are forgotten.

PH: If you were to have a tombstone, what would be on it once you kick the bucket?

CH: “Lived.”

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Running in step, at sunset on the beach with horse St. Vincent and Grenadines

A Gory Gift to Trump: A Cruel, Militarized, Expensive, and Decades Old, Bipartisan Border Policy

John Carlos Frey’s Sand and Blood relates the roughly 140-year history of U.S. anti-immigrant racism and policy on the southwest border, and highlights its mostly pre-Trump, bipartisan intensification over the last thirty-odd years. Frey, an American citizen born in Tijuana, Mexico, and raised in San Diego county, did not give the Border Patrol or border policy much thought until one day in 1977, when he was 12. His mother, a green card-holding, legally-residing Mexican American, was arrested walking near her home because a Border Patrol agent did not believe she was legal, nor that she lived nearby. She was deported to Tijuana before her family could do anything. Luckily, they were able to bring her back the next day. The experience encouraged Frey’s outlook to shift from innocent indifference to sober scrutiny, a shift that pushed him to become a leading journalist examining border and immigration policies and attitudes.

Anti-immigrant hate and hysteria in the United States is hardly an unknown matter. However, Frey managed to surprise this reader when he dug up a rather antique, if grotesque case. In 1753, Ben Franklin, sounding Trump-like, but with more august language, worried about what he considered the low-quality Germans entering the country, threatening to destroy our language and even, he must have gasped, our very nation. The expression of such anti-German opinion, however, like other early anti-immigrant expressions, never rose to the fever-pitch fixated on Chinese immigrants. And that is where Frey begins his 140-year history.

In the 1880s, the terrifying immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border were desperate Chinese laborers, not Mexicans. Mexicans were crossing, returning, and re-crossing then, but their presence was mostly ignored given that they met the exploitative needs of agricultural interests and, I would guess, American insecurities lay elsewhere. Mexican migrants remained invisible near-slaves—the status of hated-celebrity near-slaves, that would be a future privilege. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act barred Chinese laborers from entering the country—belying the sentiments about “huddled masses” and all that, written just a year later and eventually stamped on the base of the Statue of Liberty. The focus of early military patrols along the Mexican border, as early as 1904, remained on Chinese immigrants. However, a shift characterized by increased anti-Mexican attitudes and policies soon began; policies which included such humiliations as daily stripping and delousing of migrant workers, including the spraying of clothes with toxic chemicals during a Typhoid scare.

In 1924, border and immigration policy worsened notably, though it would take decades before it reached the current systematic militarized cruelty aimed overwhelmingly at desperate and poor Central American migrants. That year, the Immigration Act prohibited entry by most Asians entirely (on whom racist hysteria, as noted, was then still fixated) and created a quota system for other immigrants, all on the basis of worries about “American homogeneity” (14)—meaning whiteness, mostly. Additionally, the Labor Appropriations Act established the Border Patrol, the pre-existing body of which was expanded from 75 agents to 450 by the previously-mentioned Act—putting it on its path to its current gargantuan, nearly-20,000-agent size. Still, the Border Patrol was, in the 1920s certainly, mostly absorbed with stemming alcohol smuggling from Canada. And for fifty years, border and immigrant policy remained relatively low key.

Frey says that in the 1970s, border security still appeared mostly a “show for the public” (5) and the border, particularly near San Diego, a tranquil “free zone” (29) where cross-border movement and family contact continued to some extent undisturbed. Politically-powerful business interests focused on maintaining cheap labor sources managed to mute racist and militaristic policies. In the 1980s, however, though the capitalist desire for cheap labor remained, as it does to this day, officials began, largely for “political reasons” (5), to shift the balance toward the racism and militarization. Reagan, though hardly anti-racist, to say the least, sincerely backed the “amnesty” angle of a mid-80s immigration bill, eventually adopted. However, the bill also made life harder and more dangerous for Central American immigrants, including those fulfilling cheap labor needs. In California, Governor Pete Wilson, despite a two-thirds disapproval rating, rode anti-immigrant Proposition 187 to a second term. President Bill Clinton noticed this, apparently, and turned increasingly anti-immigrant. Clinton built on Bush Sr. policies remarkably reminiscent of the suggestions of a hate-group, the moderately-named Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Clinton even ignored INS and Border Patrol calls for administrative reforms to accelerate legalization and opted instead for an unprecedentedly brutal militarized approach at the border that intentionally funneled migrants into desert death-zones. Presidents Bush Jr. and Obama inherited and continued the policies. 9/11 served the hysteria well, and provided an excuse for the expense and horror, though it did not originate them.

Trump did not bring border policy horror to America, either. He also inherited it. He remains unable to gain any further legal leeway to impose his vision of border policy, reports Frey. Instead, he has taken full advantage of existing laws, while trying often to stretch their applicability (which has meant increased cruelty to migrants). Though he has been “bold and brash” (178) about the policies, and his rhetoric devoid of nuance, his expressions have often merely echoed those of previous politicians, like Bill Clinton. His wall is an impossibility, in part, for the same reason migration is so deadly—the harsh terrain. The default option will remain the militarized crossing places in concert with the death zones. Yet, the impossibility of the wall did not prevent the longest government shutdown in US history, all over funding for the impossible wall—highlighting the political nature of border policy, as the death and cruelty grinds on.


The unfortunate father and daughter depicted in the image above, and how they relate to Frey’s narrative, merit notice. The AP story1 from which it was taken included a graph illustrating death rates at the border over the last twenty years, based on U.S. Customs and Border Patrol stats. These peaked, we are to believe, at nearly 500 in 2005, and again in 2013, before declining to last year’s number, 283. The father and daughter’s deaths occurred on the Mexican side of the border, so the thoroughness of the accounting for their loss of life may be hard to determine. However, a key matter to understand, as Frey tells us, is that the Border Patrol consistently and knowingly undercounts the dead, ignoring the significant numbers of border deaths discovered by others (while also sometimes exaggerating apprehensions). Such policies misinform the public, certainly, obscuring the conscious lethal-desert-method of deterrence, while playing up the apprehension-method. In Vietnam, official body-counts of enemies killed were controversial, but reportedly exaggerated to demonstrate achievement of official goals; body-counters, for bureaucratic reasons, simply double- or triple-counted those dead they found. At the modern U.S.-Mexico border, bodies are undercounted because the understood policy of deterrence by death cannot be broadcast—and so the Border Patrol ignores those dead found by others, dead who thereby do not exist in official counts converted into published graphs like the one accompanying the AP News story.


Frey and I share a birth year (1965), and we both grew up in the American Southwest, giving us a chronological as well as a cultural overlap I appreciate. However, since my entire family is U.S.-born, and because, frankly, we customarily check the ‘white’ box on the decennial census form, Frey’s experiences and mine diverge. Mercifully, the Border Patrol never arrested my mother walking down the street in her neighborhood due simply to her ethnicity and proximity to the border. Frey’s extensive work as a journalist offers another line of departure between us, toil that led him eventually to this volume.

The book is an important and very informative addition to the current conversation about immigration and border policy. It serves to support serious critique of relevant Trump policies, which have upped the ante in the worst ways, while at the same time gutting the simplified histories that leave the impression horrible border policies began in 2017. Frey demonstrates how the militarized, inhumane border policies are not Trumpian, but American, common to both liberal and conservative administrations, taking on their current hyper-militaristic and hyper-cruel qualities at the eager command of Bill Clinton, Democratic star.

Frey could have strengthened his argument that U.S. policies and behaviors have contributed to the push and pull factors encouraging immigration; details, for example, regarding such policies and behaviors in regard to places like El Salvador and Honduras. Relating the experiences of two brothers from the former country, one of whom dies while the other becomes incarcerated, Frey mentions the now-international El Salvadoran street gang MS-13, the menaces of which compelled the two brothers to leave. Frey might have given some attention to the history of the gang in the context of the illegal U.S.-proxy war against El Salvador, carried on in the country for over a decade, and its aftermath. Said history would reinforce Frey’s contention that U.S. immigration policy has been both cruel and irrational, and has long been complicated by the needs of other power centers in the United States, whether agricultural and construction interests, or the foreign policy establishment. Those of the first examples have effectively pulled migrants to U.S., while those of the other, such as our illegal intervention in the El Salvadoran civil war, or the birth of MS-13 as an outcome of the violence we magnified, pushed migrants here. Additionally, the 2009 US-supported military coup in Honduras against the country’s elected government has decidedly worsened conditions there, pushing Hondurans to go somewhere, and the US remains, ironically, the most promising destination of desperate people in Central America.

Likewise, Frey’s plea would have benefited from fuller consideration of the neoliberal capitalist context of the harshening border and immigration policies over the last thirty years. It seems hardly a coincidence these policies occurred just in the wake of the turn to neoliberal policies in the US, policies which have exported jobs like hot commodities, exalted the market at the expense of the public, increasing poverty and inequality, and cast down the government as any kind of help to the public and brake on private ambition. Clinton’s neoliberal NAFTA sent the Mexican economy into the gutter. Increased migration resulted, which he answered with death zones at the border.

Regarding nationalism and its relation to this matter, though arguably outside the scope of Frey’s reportorial approach, more discussion of the attitudes and psychology involved would have explained some of the insanity. For instance, the theme of supposed Mexican dirtiness (discussed in chapter one), arising intermittently for decades, mimics a common refrain heard from nationalist racists in many modern contexts—an attitude enlisting germ theory to serve of the cause of white supremacy, a sort of ideological cousin of social Darwinism. Also, as social psychologist Richard Koenigsberg has said:

Nations are conceived as bodies. We project our own body into a national body. One’s fragile, vulnerable self is blown up—to become a gigantic, omnipotent self. Because territory is imagined in corporeal terms (Neocleous), the state seeks to secure it borders—its “orifices and entry points.” Orifices and entry points must be closed—to prevent penetration. Porous boundaries need to be firmed up, sealed off—walls built to protect the vulnerable self. One’s actual, fragile body fuses with the fantasy of a of a gigantic, invulnerable body. National bodies require borders to prevent penetration. Anxiety is played out on a monumental scale. Walls must be built—nothing can be allowed to penetrate. Each and every orifice must be sealed.

How this “anxiety is played out on a monumental scale” is the story of a state that has arrived at both indifference and desperation. This desperation arises from a political degeneration that refuses to answer, is indifferent to, the decline of the public in any way that threatens the globalization interests of the U.S. ruling class—which, as Sean Starrs’ has written, has not declined, as commonly believed, but globalized instead. Decline is just the fate of the rest of us. And if harsh border policies, thrown as thin scraps to a deluded public, seem to ease their despair, so much the better. If society’s increasingly desperate need for some form of civic freedom, which fosters both community and popular power, and not just tolerance, is forbidden for the threat it poses to ruling class power and wealth, then closing up the nation’s orifices becomes the toxic political gruel of the day. And, in turn, opening them without thought about the issue of civic freedom and popular power, looks like the only conceivable reply.

The words of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, in Dialectic of Enlightenment, seem suitable here. They spoke, in part, of the Nazis and their high-tech horrors when they wrote the following line, but they also had their eyes on the West more generally, including, of course, those who triumphed over the Nazis. The “wholly enlightened earth”, they wrote, “is radiant with triumphant calamity”. Certainly, our wholly enlightened border policy radiates with a sort of triumphant calamity. The policies and infrastructure, as documented by Frey, the expensive, tax-payer-funded high-technology, a boon to private interests, the largely-privatized internment camps (what’s more enlightened than privatization?), the rationality of pushing migrants into desert and mountain death zones, and the political, corporate, and bureaucratic deceits that cover it all up, including the uncounted dead, epitomize the serene, systematic malice of a modernity sucked nearly dry of humanity.

Frey relates the shock and horror he felt while accompanying the nonprofit Angels of the Desert on a search for two missing migrants. Their faceless corpses were eventually found. “Animals and insects eat the soft flesh of the face first” (199). These were two of the officially-undercounted hundreds who die every year in our Border Patrol’s intentionally-created death zones, zones which, they say, offer them a “tactical advantage”, certainly a shrewd building block in our “triumphant calamity”. Martin Luther King Jr.’s cautionary words about “sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity”, cited by Frey, accord in a way with Horkheimer and Adorno’s verdict on modernity. Frey’s critique comes up short of the latter’s, but his judgment is nevertheless worth taking to heart. He reminds us that we have rejected the enslavement of African Americans, the slaughter of Natives Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans, the denial of the vote to women, of interracial and same-sex marriage, and the delay of civil rights. Frey says rejecting our cruel and (objectively) irrational border policies would continue that tradition. He looks forward to all of this horror becoming a mere part of “our dark, stained history” (200).

The extremely negative impacts of Trump’s border policies on actual human beings, and the relatively-popular racist fever dreams both partially underpinning and feeding off them, illuminate our present with a hellish light. However, the neoliberal capitalist policies and transformations, and all the deceits about drugs, terrorism, and immigration, of the last forty years or more, all of which preceded Trump, and which in the wrong hands feed the racist fever dreams even more, were effectively embraced across party lines. Trump, chin up, to more cruel and deadly effect for migrants, simply took the bipartisan decorated-but-desiccated zombie of border policy and wore it like a gaudy costume.

• First published at Hard Crackers

  1. Peter Orsi and Amy Guthrie, “A grim border drowning underlines peril facing many migrants”, AP News, June 26, 2019.