Although Katherine sees my fraternity past as wasted years, I point to at least two valuable lessons gleaned from my Alpha Tau Omega days.
First, I learned not to make excuses for neglected pledge chores. “I screwed up, sir, and I will try to see it doesn’t happen again” was the preferred response and has stood me in good stead to this day. Second — and important for an understanding of what follows — “You puke, you clean it up.”
This moral lesson brings me to the topic of this week’s column: American foreign policy with a special emphasis on Mexico’s neighbor to the south, Guatemala.
We gringos have a nagging habit of scouring the world on behalf of global capitalism and creating horrible messes which we leave for others to clean up. We topple a democratically elected, reformist government, install a puppet regime subservient to our “policies” and walk away without regret.
Religion aside, does anyone wonder why — with all the other “Christian” embassies to ransack — Iranians chose ours to occupy? With apologies to Trump idolaters who adore history which makes us look like heroes and ignore the rest, American taxpayer dollars went to overthrow the legitimate government of Mohammed Mossadeq, bringing back the deposed Shah. Our boy was a brutal tyrant kept in power by our military backing and a secret police network whose torture chambers would have been the envy of the Gestapo.
Mossadeq’s crime? Common to most nationalist leaders who sought to revive their economies after decades of exploitation by Western powers, he believed his country’s natural resources belonged to Iranians and not foreign petroleum conglomerates.
To assess just how much national wealth had been plundered under the Shah, Iran’s Parliament requested an audit of the financial dealings between the English oil consortium and the prior government. When Britain refused to cooperate, Parliament was left with one option and nationalized the oil industry. Just like England did after World War II with steel, coal, iron, gas, electricity and the railways.
Needless to say, Uncle Sam, seeing Red, used CIA covert operatives to orchestrate and bankroll the coup that robbed Iranians of their only shot at democracy. Mossadeq’s fate was sealed. Western investors rejoiced and we left a bloody tyrant in place.
The only people who can forget our role in the toppling of another democratically elected president, Salvador Allende of Chile, are those who know nothing of the Frank Church commission which revealed our role in covert regime change operations.
Allende was a reformer, a believer in self government and a proponent of a uniquely “Chilean path to socialism.” Among his “crimes” were nationalizing copper, the health care system, providing free milk for children and continuing the agrarian reforms begun by his predecessor.
As for U.S. involvement, the CIA station and Embassy both sought to strong arm the Chilean Congress in 1970 from fulfilling its constitutionally mandated responsibility in certifying Allende. In 1973, the CIA closely collaborated with the plotters, gave assurances to the junta that the U.S. would do nothing to stand in their way and said nothing to alert the government.
On Sept. 11, the generals seized power, Allende was dead and a reign of terror began. Within two days, political parties were outlawed, all political activity squelched and the military dismissed the democratically elected Congress. The next 17 years under Augusto Pinochet was a time of unspeakable brutality. Once more, we left behind a devastated country where once had been a fledgling democracy.
Which brings us to Guatemala. You know — the country Trump told us was sending caravans of terrorists and criminals to wreak havoc at our border.
History paints a grim picture of a nation whose infrastructure was devastated by 30 years of civil war, genocide against indigenous peoples and a society in shambles.
Guatemala was ruled by a military junta until 1944 when a peasant uprising ushered in a democratically-elected government. For the first time in its history, there was nearly universal suffrage and the trembling steps of an infant democracy.
As the largest landholders were Spanish overlords and foreign corporations, agrarian reform was a major thrust of government policy. Vast uncultivated tracts of land were owned by the United Fruit Company while the rural population lived in dire poverty without ground to farm.
Augusto Arbenz was elected President in 1951 and continued the policies of his predecessors in redistributing unused land. Offers of compensation were made but were rejected by United Fruit. They had their man, Allen Dulles, as head of the CIA and a U.S. planned and funded coup ended both Arbenz’ reforms and any hope of self-government. A dictator, Carlos Castillo Armas, was installed and was succeeded by a string of right-wing military strongmen. A civil war ensued which lasted until 1996.
Neither the economy nor civil society has recovered from the ruination of the last half century. Devastation which we brought about.
Our response to the “huddled masses” seeking to escape death and starvation? Brand them terrorists and criminals!
A lifelong activist, Steve McGehee settled here in 1973 and lives in Palouse with his wife, Katherine. His work life has varied from bartender to university instructor to wrecking yard owner.