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Enzo SchlatterThe condition of life within a nation is dependent on its economic well being. This is apparent when looking at the vast differences in quality of life between “First-World” (Rich) countries and “Third-World” (Poor) countries: Healthcare, education, and other services (Public interests) are dependent on the wealth that support them. Besides public economic interest, private interest also play a role in determining the behavior of a nation’s government. Because of this dependency on wealth, a nation’s economic interests becomes a driving force in their politics. While some nations attempt to reach economic prosperity through “morally acceptable” means, history has shown us that many of the wealthy nations of the modern world acquired their wealth through war and plunder, or simply put, imperialism. The United States, a nation that claimed to be founded on the principles of Democracy, acted in contradiction of its ideals in pursuit of this economic prosperity. In the mid 1800s it replaced Spain as the primary imperialist power in the region, spreading its influence throughout Central and South America. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the United States directly or indirectly involved itself in the politics of the other nations within its sphere of influence in an attempt to secure economic superiority over the region. As a result, the region was plagued with social and economic turmoil; Central America was ridden with civil wars and conflicts between different factions (The United States always supporting one side of these conflicts), and every South American country at one point in its history was ruled by a US Supported dictatorship. US support for these regimes or factions was either indirect (Money or Arms) or direct (Training soldiers, CIA or Military Personnel directly involved in operations, etc). The majority of these interventions occurred during the Cold War, at a time when the United States and the Soviet Union competed for political and economic control worldwide. The victory of Communism in East Asia (In the Soviet Union, China, and Mongolia) led to the spread of Far-Left movements worldwide. As Mao Tse-Tung said, “A single spark can light a prairie fire”. In the case of South America, the spark was the Cuban Revolution, the fire the various left-wing movements in the Americas, and the prairie American economic interest in the region. The primary goal of North American foreign policy in the 19th and 20th centuries was to put out this fire, and to prevent its spread, no matter the ethical consequences. American politicians would usually justify these interventions by claiming that they were justified in fighting “Communism”, which North Americans claimed was undemocratic or tyrannical. In reality though, in contradiction to its own proclaimed ideals, American foreign policy acted to protect its own economic interest, even if it had to support undemocratic or tyrannical governments.American influence in the region started in the mid 1800s, with the signing of the Monroe Doctrine (1823). Spain, which was the largest imperialist power in the region, was losing its control of the region. At the time of the Doctrine’s signing, Simon Bolivar waged war against Spain, leading various South American nations to independence. The official purpose of the Monroe Doctrine was to prevent European colonialism from returning to Latin America. However, rather than acting for the cause of anti-imperialism, its true purpose was to secure Latin American as a part of the United State’s sphere of influence. This would end up to be a major contradiction in American foreign policy, which at the time claimed to be isolationist. Even Simon Bolivar himself, someone who was radically anti-imperialist, praised the Monroe Doctrine, as he saw it as a way to defeat Spain in Latin America. In practice, Spain would be defeated, but the United States would replace it as the sole imperialist power in the region. During the Cold War, the Monroe Doctrine would be invoked as a justification for interventions in various Latin American countries, in the name of fighting so-called “Soviet influence”. In reality, the United States would conduct its foreign policy based on its economic interest. Public opinion of these interventions was mostly apathetic or supportive of the interventions, as the Mccarthyist era had influenced Americans to thinking that fighting leftist movements worldwide was equivalent to fighting for freedom and against tyranny. But words like “Tyranny” meant nothing in the eyes of American politicians, it was a word that could be invoked as a justification for coups, economic influence, or assassination attempts. This mindset led to some of the most brutal dictatorships of Latin America’s history to be installed, with financial and military support from the United States, all in the name of anti-communism. In 1954, democratically elected president of Guatemala Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán was overthrown by the forces of Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas. By 1950, the United Fruit Company’s annual profits were 65 million U.S. dollars twice as large as the revenue of the government of Guatemala. The company also virtually owned Puerto Barrios, Guatemala’s only port to the Atlantic Ocean, allowing it to make profits from the flow of goods through the port. Due to its long association with Ubico’s government, Guatemalan revolutionaries saw the UFC as an impediment to progress after 1944. This image was reinforced by the company’s discriminatory policies against its workers of color. Due to its size, the reforms of Arévalo’s government affected the UFC more than other companies. Among other things, the new labor code allowed UFC workers to strike when their demands for higher wages and job security were not met. The company saw itself as being specifically targeted by the reforms, and refused to negotiate with the numerous sets of strikers, despite frequently being in violation of the new laws. The company’s troubles were compounded with the passage of Decree 900 in 1952. Of the 550,000 acres (220,000 ha) that the company owned, only 15 percent was being cultivated; the rest was idle, and thus came under the scope of the agrarian reform law.The UFC responded by intensively lobbying the U.S. government; several Congressmen criticized the Guatemalan government for not protecting the interests of the company. The Guatemalan government replied that the company was the main obstacle to progress in the country. American historians observed that “to the Guatemalans it appeared that their country was being mercilessly exploited by foreign interests which took huge profits without making any contributions to the nation’s welfare”. In 1953, 200,000 acres (81,000 ha) of uncultivated land was expropriated by the government, which offered the company compensation at the rate of 2.99 U.S. dollars to the acre (7.39 U.S. dollars per hectare), twice what the company had paid when it bought the property. More expropriation occurred soon after, bringing the total to over 400,000 acres (160,000 ha); the government offered compensation to the company at the rate at which the UFC had valued its own property for tax purposes. Since this was a major undervaluation, the company was unhappy with its compensation, resulting in further lobbying in Washington, particularly through U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who had close ties to the company.The UFC also began a public relations campaign to discredit the Guatemalan government; it hired Edward Bernays, who mounted a concerted misinformation campaign for several years which portrayed the company as the victim of a communist Guatemalan government. The company stepped up its efforts after Dwight Eisenhower was elected U.S. President in 1952. These included commissioning a research study from a firm known to be hostile to social reform, which produced a 235-page report that was highly critical of the Guatemalan government. Historians have stated that the report was full of “exaggerations, scurrilous descriptions and bizarre historical theories” but it nonetheless had a significant impact on the members of Congress who read it. Overall, the company spent over half a million dollars to convince lawmakers and the American public that the Guatemalan government needed to be overthrown. Following a surge in global coffee demand in the late 19th century, the Guatemalan government made several concessions to plantation owners. It passed legislation that dispossessed the communal landholdings of the indigenous population and allowed coffee growers to purchase it. Manuel Estrada Cabrera, President of Guatemala from 1898 to 1920, was one of several rulers who made large concessions to foreign companies, including the United Fruit Company (UFC). Formed in 1899 by the merger of two large U.S. corporations, the new entity owned large tracts of land across Central America, and in Guatemala controlled the railroads, the docks, and the communication systems. By 1900 it had become the largest exporter of bananas in the world, and had a monopoly over the Guatemalan banana trade. Historian William Blum describes UFC’s role in Guatemala as a “state within a state”. The U.S. government was also closely involved with the Guatemalan state under Cabrera, frequently dictating financial policies and ensuring that American companies were granted several exclusive rights. When Cabrera was overthrown in 1920, the U.S. sent an armed force to make certain that the new president remained friendly to it.Fearing a popular revolt following the unrest created by the Great Depression, wealthy Guatemalan landowners lent their support to Jorge Ubico, who won an uncontested election in 1931. Ubico’s regime became one of the most repressive in the region. He abolished debt peonage, replacing it with a vagrancy law which stipulated that all landless men of working age needed to perform a minimum of 100 days of forced labor annually. He authorized landowners to take any actions they wished against their workers, including executions. Ubico was an admirer of European fascist leaders such as Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, but had to ally with the U.S. for geopolitical reasons, and received substantial support from this country throughout his reign. A staunch anti-communist, Ubico reacted to several peasant rebellions with incarcerations and massacres.By 1930 the UFC had built an operating capital of 215 million U.S. dollars, and had been the largest landowner and employer in Guatemala for several years. Ubico granted it a new contract, which was immensely favorable to the company. This included 200,000 hectares (490,000 acres) of public land, an exemption from all taxes, and a guarantee that no other company would receive any competing contract. Ubico requested the UFC to cap the daily salary of its workers at 50 U.S. cents, so that workers in other companies would be less able to demand higher wages. The Cuban Revolution, though not the first time the United States had intervened in another country’s affairs, is perhaps one of the most blatant attempts by the United States to secure economic interest within what the US deemed its “Sphere of Influence”. Cuba, a former territory of the United States, was one of the many nations to be affected by US economic interest. On the 1st of January, 1959, Fidel Castro and the forces under his command marched into Havana, Cuba’s capital, and declared the victory of the Cuban Revolution. Castro’s forces had overthrown Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Batista’s rule over Cuba was marked with extreme poverty in rural areas, and vast income inequality. The Cuban Revolution, though originally supported by the American public and media, would inevitably challenge American economic interest on the island, and find itself an enemy of the American government. Batista was supported financially and militarily by the United States until the last few months before his overthrow. Batista’s role in Cuba was one that was beneficial to the United States, as he enforced Cuba’s status as a “playground” for wealthy Americans. The Mafia and the richest of Americans would go to Cuba as a vacation spot, and would live in luxury while Cubans suffered. Batista’s rule was also characterized by extreme authoritarianism and disregard for human life. Protests, even those conducted by students, would often be shut down with extreme violence, the police using live rounds on protestors. Despite this, the United States continued to support the Batista government, as long as he would protect American economic interests. Under Batista, foreigners had owned more than 70% of the arable land. Sugar, Cuba’s largest export, was also owned primarily by foreigners (The vast majority of these foreigners being Americans). After the revolution, the revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro launched the Agrarian Reform Act, which sought to redistribute Cuban land to the landless peasants. This included the expropriation of foreign-owned land. As Fidel Castro himself described it “Our Agrarian Reform went against the interests of the large North American companies. They (The Americans) waged war against us because of our Agrarian Reform. Later, Kennedy promoted Agrarian Reform in other Latin American countries to prevent radical revolutions”. After some American-owned land was nationalized by the new Cuban government, the Cuban government ordered American-owned oil refineries to refine crude oil that the Cuban government received from the Soviet Union. After they refused, the oil refineries were nationalized as well. In retaliation, the United States would end the Cuban sugar quota, and as a result, the Cuban government would nationalize all American properties in Cuba. Fidel Castro and his brother Raul addressed a crowd of Cubans, and read a list of American companies that would be nationalized by the government. The company whose nationalization led to the most cheers within the crowd was #24, United Fruit Company, the culprits of the Guatemalan coup d’etat. In the decades following United States’ invasion of Cuba in 1898, and formal independence from the U.S. on May 20, 1902, Cuba experienced a period of significant instability, enduring a number of revolts, coups and a period of U.S. military occupation. Fulgencio Batista, a former soldier who had served as the elected president of Cuba from 1940 to 1944, became president for the second time in 1952, after seizing power in a military coup and canceling the 1952 elections. Although Batista had been relatively progressive during his first term, in the 1950s he proved far more dictatorial and indifferent to popular concerns. While Cuba remained plagued by high unemployment and limited water infrastructure, Batista antagonized the population by forming lucrative links to organized crime and allowing American companies to dominate the Cuban economy.During his first term as President, Batista had been supported by the Communist Party of Cuba, but during his second term he became strongly anti-communist, gaining him political and military support from the United States. Batista developed a powerful security infrastructure to silence political opponents. In the months following the March 1952 coup, Fidel Castro, then a young lawyer and activist, petitioned for the overthrow of Batista, whom he accused of corruption and tyranny. However, Castro’s constitutional arguments were rejected by the Cuban courts. After deciding that the Cuban regime could not be replaced through legal means, Castro resolved to launch an armed revolution. To this end, he and his brother Raúl founded a paramilitary organization known as “The Movement”, stockpiling weapons and recruiting around 1,200 followers from Havana’s disgruntled working class by the end of 1952.The 1973 Chilean coup d’etat is a perfect example of the United States hypocritical approach to foreign policy. In 1970, Salvador Allende became the first democratically elected Marxist president of Chile. The United States saw this election as proof of Soviet influence spreading in Latin America, and, looking to avoid a second “Cuban Revolution”, the secret services of the United States began to conduct covert operations against the government of Chile. The military deposed Allende’s Popular Unity government and later established a junta that suspended all political activity in Chile and repressed left-wing movements, especially the communist and socialist parties and the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR). Allende’s appointed army chief, Augusto Pinochet, rose to supreme power within a year of the coup, formally assuming power in late 1974. The United States government, which had worked to create the conditions for the coup, promptly recognized the junta government and supported it in consolidating power.During the air raids and ground attacks that preceded the coup, Allende gave his last speech, in which he vowed to stay in the presidential palace, refusing offers of safe passage should he choose exile over confrontation. Direct witness accounts of Allende’s death agree that he killed himself in the palace.Before the coup, Chile had for decades been hailed as a beacon of democracy and political stability while the rest of South America had been plagued by military juntas and Caudillismo. The collapse of Chilean democracy ended a streak of democratic governments in Chile, which had held democratic elections since 1932. Historian Peter Winn characterized the 1973 coup as one of the most violent events in Chile’s history. A weak insurgent movement against the Pinochet regime was maintained inside Chile by elements sympathetic to the former Allende government. An internationally supported plebiscite in 1988 led Pinochet to relinquish power.Bibliography:

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