Week 9 Reflections

This week’s reading and videos were quite interesting in considering the impact of American Empire, and the waves with which we still feel today. One particularly aspect I wanted to look at was the position of figures like Augusto Sandino and Jacobo Arbenz. Arbenz is, in many ways, a typical image of the tragic revolutionary. His ideas were respected and held popular approval, he stood up against an excessively powerful organization, and he was conspired against, and ultimately defeated. Arbenz’s story is one that would be repeated many times in Latin America, and around the world. What’s most interesting is the notion that American intervention is so often justified in the name of spreading democracy or freedom. Yet, when things become too democratic for the liking of American interests, they’re inevitably deposed. Democracy, in this context, becomes a word that loses all meaning. The same way ‘peace-keeping mission’ describes invasion, or ‘collateral damage’ describes the killing of civilians, ‘democracy’ is yet another word that has been abstracted to the point of meaninglessness. We can see this in American foreign policy going on, the Vietnam War being a significant example. Stephen Wright inĀ Meditations in GreenĀ describes the way in which Ho Chi Minh was depicted as analogous to Adolf Hitler in a film he watched during basic training. This brand of hyperbole is synonymous with American foreign policy, exaggeration creates fear creates public support. As recently as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US government invented a threat of nuclear weapons in order to galvanize the public.

What’s particularly jarring about this is the manner in which corporate interests, in this case United Fruit, are projected onto the public sphere; that which will negatively affect profits are an affront to the citizens of the US themselves! The US citizen sees the price of the banana rising, and United Fruit is able to point the blame at an individual in Guatemala. It is a tactic that is unscrupulous and effective, simultaneously appearing as sympathetic to its customers (the communists are making life hell for United Fruit!), and effectively deposing its political enemies. Most bananas I buy seem to come from the Chiquita Brand, the modern successor to the United Fruit Company, what are the implications of this? How can such a long legacy of oppression be ignored? As recently as 2007, the company has been accused of knowingly violating its workers basic rights, as well as funding various terrorist groups. How far removed is this from what Sandino was experiencing in the liberal vs. conservative violence of his day?

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