Week 9: On “Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire”

It has been hard for me to read the first half of this chapter calmly and unemotionally. As if China’s misery in the 19th and 20th centuries inflicted by European and American imperialism had not stung me enough, the similar experience that Latin America undertook reminded me of the interest-driven nature and ruthless measures of some if not all states. The claim that the US was at its core an anti-imperialist nation faced stark contradiction when the US annexed lands and veritably colonized parts of Latin America. It is even more ironic that domestic propaganda always justified the nation’s military and economic deeds. That US made considerable amount of interventions to the relatively small countries of the Caribbean but faced frustration when it came to stronger states like Mexico demonstrates the “law of the jungle”. Further proving this law, UFCO extended economic domination to political influence; CIA supported the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in protection of UFCO’s interest. It’s all about strength. You got the strength and you do whatever you want; humanitarianism and morality are diversions in good mood.

It’s arguable and naive to say that US presence in Latin America is all abominable. For one thing, life became better for a group of people, like the landed owners, the middle class, and the dictators supported by US. While some benefited more, however, the marginalized peasants and oppressed working class also suffered more. This is consistent with the idea from last chapter that “one person’s boom was always another’s crisis”. But American imperialism couldn’t care less about the welfare of the weak, could it? Let alone the sheer enervation (if not deprivation) of another nation’s sovereignty in Guatemala’s case. For another, US intervention was also a boost to regional economy. It might not have been the best route of development for those regions, but there was no other choice. From last week’s discussion we know that not all countries can follow the same route of development and with the presence of a superpower like the US the routes are more or less distorted.

The second half of the chapter, the culture part, is more complicated than a simple predator-prey scenario. In Latin America, we see rejection towards Americans, but more often we see desire for and dependence on America’s modernization and wealth, embodied in those industrial products. We see ambivalence in Brazilians’ mixture of pride and resentment about Miranda’s success, and further complication when the culture was monetized and benefited those “selling” the culture. We see Latin America being stereotyped but this stereotyping can be lucrative, and those being stereotyped held ambiguous feelings toward it. Such phenomenon, characterized in the book by “mutual consumption”, is something beyond right or wrong.

Leave a Reply