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illusions of democracy

February 11th, 2004 by isaac · No Comments

(Katie, my really smart girfriend, let me post a paper she wrote in her masters program in Paris. I had to edit it down a bit for it to make sense to all of us who don’t know some of the specialized language and political theory.)

We live in an international world with many realities that at times contradict each other. For example, the United States as a democracy is one reality. The United States views democracy as the ideal form of government, and therefore wants other countries to follow their example, so they work to promote democracy abroad. Another reality is a case in history where the United States deliberately supported the dictator Augusto Pinochet instead of a democratically elected president in Chile. The reality of a democratic ideal in the U.S., and this example from history contradict each other.

The United States used covert means in 1973 to oust Chile�s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende and replace him with Augusto Pinochet. President Nixon first ordered the CIA in 1970 to �make the economy scream� in order to undermine Allende�s favor with the Chilean people. This destabilization campaign continued for three years with approximately one million dollars being spent on propaganda and other such damaging operations. The realities of the situation were in direct contrast with what was being said in Washington. National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger claimed, �The intent of the United States was not to destabilize or to subvert Allende.� Although Allende was a socialist, upon taking office he planned a �second� path to socialism, changing the existing political and economic order within a peaceful, democratic framework. This was unsatisfactory for the interests of the United States, so they made plans for Pinochet to lead a successful coup on September 11, 1973. U.S. military aid was raised from $800,000 annually under Allende, to $10.9 million as the coup plans were being prepared.

When Pinochet took office, he murdered more than 3,100 of his people, and over 1,100 disappeared while thousands more were jailed and tortured. His form of democracy was used to close the Chilean Congress, ban political parties, censor the press, and take over the universities. Yet President Ford claimed the United States� intervention was �in the best interest of the people of Chile and certainly in our best interest.� Was it in the best interest of the many torture victims assaulted by Pinochet�s secret police? One victim tells her story: �During the rest of the night they had me, applying electricity over my whole body, accompanied by blows with sticks, because of which I came out with several fractured ribs. During the day on several occasions I was again taken to �interrogation� where I was beaten.� In 1976, Kissinger paid a visit to Pinochet where he assured him that he �approved of his methods� and told him he had done a great service to the West. These methods that Kissinger approved of were torture, executions, and assassinations abroad. He had received enough cables and memos to know of Pinochet�s gruesome methods.

Before Pinochet assumed office, the CIA stated that an Allende victory would create �considerable political and psychological costs,� including �a definite psychological advance for the Marxist idea.� Kissinger also personally told Pinochet that the previous government was headed toward communism, and as Pinochet was not, Kissinger could fully support him. Kissinger and company trusted in democratic processes and institutions to break the power of the ruling elites and ease their appetite for violence. Peace then becomes merely a process of establishing legitimate democratic systems throughout the world. Unfortunately, Pinochet�s democratic system did not ease the violence, but only served to fuel his appetite for more. William Rogers, who at the time served as the Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs, confessed, �Although we have expressed as a general proposition our preference for democracy in the hemisphere�what occurred is a real disappointment and is regrettable.�

Kissinger worried that having Allende in government would �significantly affect world balance and our own position in it.� The U.S. was concerned with the world balance, and primarily that the balance would be in their favor. The United States clearly favored Pinochet over Allende because he was more democratic, yet he did not live up to a truly democratic ideal. The desire for democratic stability in the face of a communist regime to take power allowed the U.S. to look the other way when faced with Pinochet�s horrendous human rights records. As Kissinger said, �However unpleasant they act, this government is better for us than Allende was.� The United States� interests and stability were at stake and their support of Pinochet prove that this is what they wanted protected, over and above the promotion of a peaceful democracy.

The United States also chose to use democracy as a tool of intervention in Nicaragua, a country nestled between Honduras and Costa Rica. The United States recognized the regime of Anastasio Somoza in 1936 and continued to support this dynasty when his sons led the country after his death in 1956. The U.S. marines created the Nicaraguan National Guard and installed Somoza in power. Subsequently, Somoza had his rival Augusto Sandino assassinated after he had signed a truce and put down his arms. While U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua Thomas Whelan argued, Somoza was �not a dictator in the true sense of the word,� he still made a habit of killing political antagonists, banning labor movements, and torturing his people. Somoza managed to increase his supremacy by using the National Guard as a power base, keeping the opposition in check by paying them off politically, while keeping his supporters in the United States happy.

One way of keeping the United States happy was by allowing Nicaragua to be used as a base for international operations. During the early 1960s, when Anastasio�s sons were in power, the United States gave support to Nicaragua in order to use facilities on their coast as a staging area for the Cuban exiles for the Bay of Pigs operation. Somoza also helped keep the U.S. happy by allowing their companies to operate in Nicaragua while taking advantage of the extremely cheap labor. Somoza knew his country�s economy was desperate for the U.S. funds, so he welcomed these new companies. The relationship was reciprocal as more than 90 percent of all exports from Nicaragua went directly into U.S. hands.

The United States once again used liberal democratic ideals as a tool of intervention in Nicaragua, as they clearly stated that they supported democracy over dictatorship in Latin America. In a speech to the Pan American Society in 1949, Secretary of State Dean Acheson avowed the U.S. had �long-range objectives in the promotion of democracy.� To address the U.S. public, President Roosevelt supported a State Department memorandum in 1939 listing the �distinguishing ideals and beliefs which bind us together,� including �faith in republican institutions, loyalty to democracy as an ideal, reverence for liberty, acceptance of the dignity of the individual.� Did these ideals and beliefs really hold the United States and Nicaragua together? Somoza�s loyalty to democracy and acknowledgement of the dignity of individuals did not coincide with his practice of torture, killing, and the suppression of his own people.

Democracy was clearly not the only aim the United States had in Nicaragua. The U.S. minister to Nicaragua, Arthur Lane, explained the U.S. policy of intervention as based on ensuring local peace and �our own interests as well.� The U.S. was simply ensuring its own interests by disguising its actions in the rhetoric of democracy. The U.S. benefited economically and politically by its partnership with Somoza. This partnership ensured continued stability for the United States, while neglecting to promote a true democratic regime. As President Roosevelt put it regarding Somoza, �He�s a son of a bitch, but he�s our son of a bitch.�

Merely one hundred miles south of Nicaragua, the United States used the liberal ideal of democracy to intervene once again with Panama�s head of state, Manuel Noriega. With an ironic twist, the U.S. used force to capture and prosecute Noriega in 1989, a man who they had supported for the four years. Although Noriega received mixed and confusing signals from the United States, they supported him in one way or another until the end of his regime.

Noriega had allies throughout the United States long before he began his rule in Panama. He was on and off the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) payroll beginning in 1971 at a salary of $200,000 a year. He easily cooperated with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and had friends in the Department of Defense. The U.S. used him as a vital source of information for dealing with Cuba�s Fidel Castro. During the civil war in Nicaragua, he also provided access and support to the contra campaign against the Sandinistas. During this time he also kept up his other reputation as a corrupt official involved with illegal smuggling of drugs and arms. In 1982, The CIA assisted Noriega by buying fuel for airplanes that Noriega himself filled with narcotics for transport. The planes were originally meant for supplying U.S. arms to the contras in Nicaragua, yet Noriega found creative ways to fill these planes on their return trips. The U.S. was helping fight the war on drugs, just on the wrong side. In a 1975 DEA investigation, Noriega�s drug dealing was explicitly revealed to the U.S. government. Before Noriega took office, senior officials in the Carter administration restrained federal prosecutors from charging him with drug trafficking and arms smuggling because they received such vital intelligence information in return, and thus considered him too valuable an asset to let go.

Once Noriega tasted the power that came from being a leader in Panama, he only yearned for more. �He craved power and became a tyrant. He craved wealth and became a criminal.� To the detriment of Panama, he used the country�s money for his own purposes. At one point, he owned fourteen houses, several retail businesses, shares in TV channels, and led many corrupt racketeering industries. These various transactions helped his bank accounts overflow with cash totaling close to one billion dollars. He dabbled in election fraud with the help of the Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) to allow his friend, Barletta, to win the 1984 elections. One year later, Dr. Hugo Spadafora was found decapitated after announcing that he would expose Noriega�s involvement in his many corrupt practices. Although the local newspaper, La Prensa, had implicated Noriega as the prime suspect, he used his power and money to block the truth from coming out.

In the summer of 1987, the United States finally sent a clear message to Noriega that they were not happy with him. The change occurred as a result of the confessions of Colonel Diaz Herrera, who was intended to replace Noriega as PDF commander. Noriega decided to prevent this so he demoted Herrera to a low-level diplomatic position instead. Left bitter and angry, Herrera responded by revealing details of Noriega�s various crimes. These confessions inspired massive weeklong protests and led to the creation of a coalition aimed at ousting Noriega. Noriega violently reacted by suppressing the protests, destroying property belonging to his political opponents, and shutting down the media. Because of these incidents, the U.S. Senate approved a nonbinding resolution calling upon Noriega to step down. In retaliation, he sent government workers to demonstrate near the American Embassy, which quickly turned into a damaging riot. His actions proved to the U.S. that a beneficial relationship was lost, so aid was withdrawn from Panama, and Noriega was cut from the CIA payroll.

The United States not only withdrew support from Noriega they also needed him out of power, as he was becoming a serious public relations liability. They launched an anti-Noriega campaign and once again claimed it was an effort to promote democracy in Panama, requesting democratic elections to be held once Noriega was out. However, this policy was aimed solely on ousting Noriega, with little concern as to what would be done afterward. Why did the United States finally decide to stop supporting Noriega? It certainly was not the sudden undemocratic behavior he exhibited, because it was clear that the U.S. knew from the beginning what kind of corrupt man Noriega really was. In 1988, after the U.S. withdrew support, Noriega was indicted by two federal grand juries in Florida on accounts of racketeering, drug trafficking, and money laundering. This created an embarrassment for the U.S. as it became clear that officials had tolerated his activities while fully supporting his rule in Panama.

Once again, liberal democratic rhetoric covered up the real intentions of both keeping Noriega in power and taking him out of power. The United States wanted to promote Noriega as someone who was able to help them by offering access and vital information to combat communism in the region, and thus further the promotion of democracy. The U.S. was more concerned with their own sovereignty and how Noriega could help them economically or geopolitically.

Throughout these three case studies, it is shown how the United States used avenues in Latin America to support undemocratic leaders, while at the same time using democratic ideology to explain their actions. Closer to home, the United States has trained many of these dictators on its own soil. The School of Americas (now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) was founded in Panama in 1946 as a U.S. military training academy. It was established to provide high-quality warfare training for Latin American militaries in order to make them efficient in intervening in Latin American conflicts. This school was relocated to the United States in 1984 and continued to specialize in teaching techniques such as combat, infantry tactics, military intelligence, commando operations, counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency. After the Pentagon was required to release the school�s training manuals, there was evidence the school taught military methods of torture, extortion, and execution. There have been over 60,000 graduates of this school, many of who have created some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America. One of these graduates was Manuel Noriega. In 1967, Noriega completed his courses in infantry, counter-intelligence, and jungle operations. One of his instructors described him as �outstanding.� This school also trained key officers in the Pinochet regime (Hodge and Cooper 1999). The United States not only supported these dictators from afar, they were also responsible for training them on U.S. soil to become the dictators they later became.

Throughout these situations, the United States used liberal rhetoric and democratic explanations to describe what they were doing. In the case of Chile, the U.S. was in support of Pinochet because the alternative was believed to be worse. The U.S. ousted Allende because he was a socialist and might pose as a future communist threat. It was easy for the U.S. to explain their actions and find support because democracy is purported to be more peaceful and supportable than communism. The U.S. therefore had to cover up the atrocities in Chile during this time with liberal democratic rhetoric in order to gain support from the public and policy makers. Intervening in Nicaragua and Panama as well, the U.S. claimed to desire the placement of democratic leaders in Latin America during the Cold War paranoia.

The reality of the United States� liberal ideal of democracy as a form of justification for intervention in Latin America negates the reality of what actually occurred as a result of the support given to Pinochet, Somoza, and Noriega. The effects of Pinochet, Somoza, and Noriega are not just simple history lessons. They were atrocious regimes that left thousands dead while the U.S. government only supported and advocated them.

Because the U.S. wants to preserve their own sovereignty it will only promote democracy when it does not interfere or damage their own survival. The United States has shown it is living in a �world in which those states possessing the elements of great power once again play the role their power entitles them to play.� Throughout these three case studies, the U.S. has shown it has the power to play most any role it wants in the international system, and get away it with by endorsing its actions with liberal ideals.

(I was not able to include her citation in this online format, but please email me if you would like her sources: isv2@duke.edu.)

Tags: theology