Sunday, February 18, 2007

Assualt on Democracy

Today much of the unpopularity of the U.S abroad is a result of the incompetence of those who make decision with regards to foreign policy, however in some parts of the world it goes far deeper then that. I am bringing this to attention not because I am anti-American, but rather because it is important for us to realize why our nation is so unpopular. We are not hated because of our "freedom and values" as the President has suggested, but rather our lack of respect for the freedom and values of others.

The U.S has had a long history of replacing Democratically elected governments with dictators over differences of opinion. We did it in Guatemala, Iran and, Chile and we supported it in many other nations.

As a young army officer Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán had helped to overthrow the repressive militaristic dictatorship of Jorge Ubico and served as defense minister under the new democratically elected government of Juan José Arévalo. In March of 1951 Guzmán took the office of presidency in Guatmela's second ever election with universal suffrage. His assecion to the Guatemalan Presidency marked the first peaceful transition of power in that nation. In the election Guzmán won 60% of the vote as a reformist promising to make Guatemala an economically independent, capitalistic nation that would no longer be dependent upon the U.S.

Democracy in Guatemala seemed to be working. Voting rights had been extended to all citizens, this of course did not please the aristocracy, but already twenty attempted coups had failed. The peaceful election and transition of power helped to add to this feeling. Guatemala's future looked bright. However, the economy was still poor. 2% of Guatemalans owned 70% of all araiable land, however only 12% of all this land was being used. In June of 1952 President Guzmán, a student of U.S history and a self-avowed socialist began an agrarian reform program modeled after the U.S's 1862 Homestead Act.

Under the plan the government was given the power to redistribute land that was not being used to peasants. Exempted under the plan where estates of up to 670 acre (provided at least two thirds of the land was cultivated) and land with a slope of 30 degrees or more (remember Guatemala is a mountainous nation). This land was then given to poor families. The owners of seized land where compensated with in 3% twenty five year bonds. Under the program Guzmán saw 1,700 acres of his own land seized. Unfortunately, another group to see their land seized was United Fruit, a large U.S company operating in Guatemala with friends in Congress and the administration (Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, his brother CIA director Allen Dulles, Eisenhower's trusted aide Walter Smith where all shareholders of United Fruit) With his socialist attitude and the seizure of Land from a powerful U.S corporation the new leader was already on bad terms with the U.S.

Guzmán's fate was sealed with allegation of Communist influence within his government ( a claim that is still hotly contested). In 1954 The CIA was ordered to initiate a coup d'état. Guzmán was forced to resign and flee to Mexico. The CIA installed Carlos Castillo Armas a ruthless dictator who, at U.S request, established the National Committee of Defense Against Communism, a death squad that targeted political dissidents. Armas was brought to power in July of 1954, by November 72,000 people would be detained without trial on the accusation of supporting communism. Dictatorships, coups, and violence, would engulf Guatemala for thirty two years after the coup. A democratic government was not restored until 1986.

Salvador Allende was another South American socialist. He had co-founded the Chilean socialist party and he had won the presidency of Chile with 36% on a socialist platform in 1970. The CIA had tried to influence the outcome of the election through clandestinely funding Allende's main opponent, but the U.S backed candidate was defeated by a narrow margin.

In the October after the election General René Schneider, the commander and chief of the Chilean army, was shot and killed in a failed assassination attempt backed by the CIA. General Schneider strongly supported the military subordinance to civilian authority. He viewed the army's role was to protect the nation' s sovereignty and not to interfere in politics.

After taking office in November of 1970 Allende began carrying out his promised reforms. Corporations where nationalized and government administration of the health care system began. Allende then seized all irrigated land of more then 80 hectares, froze oil prices, announced its intention to default on all debt owed to foreigners, and established close diplomatic relations with Cuba.

above: these prisoners, captured in the presidential palace during the coup would be executed a few hours after this photo was taken

To say the least Washington was alarmed. After taking the U.S Presidency Richard Nixon (who referred to the Guatemalan coup as "the liberation") ordered the CIA and the State Department to put "pressure" on Chile. After several failed attempts to prevent Allende from exercising his office the CIA actively backed a Sept. 11, 1973 coup that toppled the government. After hearing explosion outside the Presidential Palace Allende rushed to broadcast these final words over national radio:
"This will surely be my last opportunity to address you. The Air Force has bombed the antennas of Radio Magallanes. My words have neither bitterness but disappointment. They should stand as a moral castigation of those who have been traitors to their oaths: Chilean soldiers, titular commanders-in-chief, Admiral Merino, who has designated himself commander of the Navy, even more señor Mendoza, the cringing general who only yesterday manifested his fidelity and loyalty to the Government, and who also has named himself Director General of the Carabineros. In the face of these deeds it only falls to me to say to the workers: I shall not resign!

Standing at a historic point, I will repay with my life the loyalty of the people. And I say to you that I am certain that the seed we have surrendered into the worthy conscience of thousands and thousands of Chileans, will not be able to be reaped at one stroke. They have the power, they can make us their vassals, but not stop the social processes, neither by crime nor by force. History is ours and is made by the people.

Workers of my Nation: I want to thank you for the loyalty you have always had, the confidence you placed in a man who only was the interpreter of great yearnings for justice, who pledged his word to respect the Constitution and the law, and who did so. In this final moment, the last in which I will be able to address myself to you, I want you to take advantage of the lesson: foreign capital, imperialism, united with reaction, created the climate for the Armed Forces to break their tradition, that which they were taught by general Schneider which was reaffirmed by commander Araya, victims of the same social sector that today will be be expecting with an alien hand to reconquer the power to continue defending their profits and their privileges.

I address myself to you, above all to the modest woman of our land, to the campesina who believed in us, the mother who knew of our concern for the children. I address myself to the professionals of the Nation, to the patriotic professionals who continued working against the sedition overseen by their professional academies, classist academies that also defended the advantages of a capitalist society.

I address myself to the youth, to those who sang and who brought their happiness and their spirit to the fight. I address myself to the man of Chile, to the worker, to the campesino, to the intellectual, to those who will be persecuted, because in our country fascism has now been present for several hours; in the terrorist assassinations, blowing up the bridges, cutting the railways, destroying the oil and gas pipelines, in the face of the silence of those who had the obligation to behave.

They are in jeopardy. History will judge them.

Radio Magallanes will surely be silenced and the tranquil metal of my voice will no longer reach you. It is not important. You will continue to hear it. I will always be together with you. At least my memory will be that of an upright man who was loyal to the Nation.

The people ought to defend themselves, but not sacrifice themselves. The people ought not let themselves be subdued or persecuted, but neither should they humble themselves.

Workers of my Nation, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will go beyond this gray and bitter moment when treason tries to impose itself upon us. Continue to know that, much sooner than later, we will reopen the great promenades down which free men pass, to construct a better society.

Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!

These are my last words and I have certainty that my sacrifice will not be in vain, I have certainty that, at the least, I will be a moral lesson to castigate felony, cowardice, and treason."
The democratically elected president of Chile died with an AK-47 assault rifle at his side defending his country.

After the coup Augusto Pinochet took power and began bloody and ruthless reign full of torture, death squads, and political assassinations that would range from car bombs in Washington to mass killings in Argentina. The dictator would stay in power for 26 years until 1990.

I will look at Iran next week.