Looking South

Mural in Bogota Columbia Commemorating the Banana Massacre     There is no justice for the victims of western imperialism, at least not in the American courtroom.  This year, a U.S. court of appeals ruled in favor of Chiquita Brands International who admitted to funding the United Self-Defense Committees of Colombia (AUC), a rightwing paramilitary group, that slaughtered scores of Columbians in recent years.  It underscores a long history of corporate impunity that is drenched in the blood of the poor.

On December 6, 1928 thousands of Columbians were massacred in the town of Ciénaga on behalf of the United Fruit Company, now Chiquita Brands International.  The slaughter of these workers was at the behest of the US government who threatened to invade Columbia to defend UFC’s interests.  This was only one example of this company wrecking havoc and subverting democracy throughout the hemisphere with the assistance of the US government.

Cover for Chiquita Music SheetIn 1954 a mercenary army hired by the United Fruit Company and assisted by the US government, staged a military coup which overthrew the democratically elected, reform oriented government of Guatemala and replaced it with a fascist, military dictatorship and, essentially, neo-feudalism. When some Mayans protested their oppression all Mayans in the country were collectively punished, culminating in the genocide of nearly 250,000 people and creating at least 1 million refugees.

Israel was also complicit in the genocide, supplying arms and training mercenaries.  General Rios Montt, the military general who is largely blamed for directing the slaughter, gave his personal thanks to both the US and Israel for assisting him in the rape, torture and slaughter of the country’s indigenous population.  Montt was an evangelical Christian minister and a personal friend of both Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. He was also unquestioningly supported and praised by President Ronald Reagan.

Rios Montt and Ronald Reagan juxtaposed to the Mayan Genocide“President Ríos Montt,” Reagan said, “is a man of great personal integrity and commitment . . . . I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.”

According to a 2004 report on the massacre by the Inter-American Court on Human rights, Montt’s forces:

“separated the children and the young women aged from about 15 to 20. Then the massacre began. First they tortured the old people, saying they were guerrillas, then they threw two grenades and fired their guns. Finally they sprayed petrol around and set fire to the house… [The next day, Buenaventura Manuel Jeronimo] emerged from his hiding place to see the destruction they had caused. Along with Eulalio Grave Ramírez and his brothers Juan, Buenaventura, and Esteban, they put out the flames that were still consuming the bodies. Those that weren’t totally charred showed signs of torture, as did the naked bodies of the youngest women.”

Rios Montt with his victims in the photos behind  Photo Credit  Gabriela Alvarez Castaneda

Another account was from a survivor:

“After having killed our wives, they brought out our children. They grabbed their feet and beat their heads against the house posts. I had six children. They all died, and my wife as well.. All my life my heart will cry because of it.”
– sole survivor of San Francisco massacre in Huehuetenango, Guatemala

General Mott was charged with genocide, but his monied legal team has successfully stalled due process of the trial on technicalities.

Indigenous Maya witness and testify at former Guatemalan dictator Rios Montts genocide trial  Source ReutersUnited Fruit Company (Chiquita Brands International) was also complicit in aiding the Honduran dictator General Oswaldo López Arellano into power, later deposed, in 1972.  Fast forward to 2009 it is not too difficult to connect the dots between the coup that removed democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, who proposed a 60% raise in the minimum wage, to Chiquita, who vehemently opposed such a move.

We are seeing the tragic repercussions of neoliberal economic policies that allow US corporations to spread tyranny and terror abroad in the name of profit.  Now thousands of child refugees are flowing over the border, sent by their families in a desperate attempt to escape the hellish conditions that are a direct result of US foreign and economic policy.  If the American government was serious about stemming the flow of immigrants to the US it would begin by holding corporations accountable for their crimes and abuses.  But despite the catchy slogans, imperialism is about dominance and plunder, not democracy and human rights.

Mayan mother and child, Guatemala

There is hope to be found, but it does not lie in the kangaroo courts of oligarchs or corrupt governments of US supported banana republics.  Several South American nations, spurred on by the courageous persistence of the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, have mounted laudable opposition to US imperialism.  But their struggle does not come without consequences.  They may not suffer the unjust isolation that Cuba has, but they face a tide of belligerence from the corporate media and undoubtedly covert subversion from Washington.

Nevertheless their struggle against corporate tyranny should stand as testament to the persistence of social justice.  And Americans may soon need to look south for inspiration as we face what is fast becoming a corporate police state here at home.

Kenn Orphan   2014


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