on May 14, 2006
This book is much more than a history of the US in Latin America. It's an explanation of the importance of Ronald Reagan's Central American policy in the formation of the conservative movement and how that policy led to war in Iraq. All of the stuff that we are reading about today - abuses of power such as the NSA wiretapping controversy, the surveillance of antiwar protesters, the way the Bushies have used public relations companies and so-called "grassroots" conservative groups like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the justification of torture in the name of supporting freedom, the lying and misinformation - have their beginnings in Reagan's Central American policy. The stuff in chapter four on how Otto Reich and the rest of the neocons learned out to manipulate the press is fascinating and scary. And Grandin's discussion of how the Christian evangelicals joined forces with the neocons to fight liberation theology is the best discussion I've so far read on the origins of Bush's foreign policy. It's much more interesting than Kevin Phillip's book on the theocons or any of the multiple books on the neocons. This is the smartest historical examination of neoconservative foreign policy adventurism that I have read.
on June 3, 2006
The second reviewer above misses the point of this book, which is to show the historical relationships between the players in current United States Foreign Policy (e.g., Cheney, Rumsfeld, Negroponte) and the players of the mid-'80s in the Reagan Foreign Policy. Moreover, his number one point, that no one in "Latin America" killed 3500 Americans (presumably a reference to the attacks of 9/11), sort of misses the obvious fact that no one in Iraq did either. I think the fact that so many players in Reagan's Iran-Contra clandestine foreign policy have surfaced once again in the current Middle East policy cries out for a book like this. Buy it and learn more.
on July 31, 2007
This is truly an excellent book that in a clear way illustrates American involvement in South and Central America.The book begins by telling the story about how Kennedy set out to reshape the Americas into a place where true revolutionary ideals could grow spread by free men and women. He started something called the "Alliance for progress" which contained the nucleus of this idea. The problem was that he armed exactly those people who where completley opposed to these revolutionary ideas. thus began an era of counterrevolution, that gave birth to the death squads and coups in Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina. When Richard Nixon arrived in Venezuela in 1958 his limousine was attacked by an angry mob. The next day they cleared the streets with tear gas so he could leave safely. This set the tone for American and Latin American relation in the coming years. Allendes election in Chile terrified Nixon because Allende wasnt trying to create another Cuba with Soviet style repression of civil liberties. He wanted a socialist state that would be a symbol of real reform, and this was truly frightening to Washington. Therefore Nixon with the help of the strong arm of the CIA ordered Allendes downfall.
Later when Reagan came to power he saw his purpose to reinstate a sense of national purpose and this he did by restoring military power. Almost all of Latin America was ruled at the time by pro american dictators, but something was starting to brew in Central America. The hardest hit countries where El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala. US allies killed approximatley 300,ooo people during Reagans two terms. Hundreds of thousands where tortured. Jean Kirkpatrick advised the Reagan administration to undo the human rights programs that Carter had initiated and spoke instead of the true nature of politics that was based on "competition for power", and that "brute force" was often better than "human reason". This rationalized such things as the dictatorships death squads-because "salvadors political culture respected a sovreign who was willing to wield violence". America now painted itself as the vanguard against the evill empire of the Soviet Union and this was used as an excuse to legitemize the brutal opposition to third world nationalism. In countries like El salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, the United States did not make the same mistake as they did in Vietnam. Instead they "outsourced" their army and by supporting local bad boys let death squads do their dirty work. The idea of "going primitive" was implemented in these conflicts, where the most brutal crimes against human rights imaginable where committed.To tell you the truth I skimmed past most of the descriptions of the violence due to the intense brutality that was described.
Already in the 1960s Kennedy had installed such anti-communist paramilitary groups in El Salvador called ANSESAL and ORDEN. These groups where to work preemptively to stop any communist threats in the area. These groups where such a large part of the political oppression that eventually the people rose up,and this gave the Reagan administration the motivation they needed to "go primitive". One US expert said that "the horrible lesson of El Salvador is that terrorism works". Several torturers defected from the notorious Battalion 316 and testified in American courts of how they where trained by American specialists. They where taught to employ psychological torture instead of physical torture. This is what we are seeing today in Abu Graihb. Ofcourse if this didnt work then the good old hands on methods where used. Finally at the end of the cold war in 1991 the FMLN rebels where not defeated and saw to it that the United States helped to implement the changes that they had long been fighting for. If El Salvador was bad then Guatemala was worse. Here there was a literal genocide that moved into its most brutal faze when Ronald Reagan became president. The military turned the Guatemalan highlands into a "slaughterhouse" committing as many as 600 massacres there between 1981 and 1983. Most of the victims being Indian men, women and children, all the while Reagan pushed military aid to the area.
Reagan was also handson in rearming Somozas National guard and with the help of the CIA turning that ruthless group of marauding thugs into the "freedom fighters" better known as the Contras. After the US government froze the funding for the Contras Reagans accomplice Oliver North was sent to negotiate arms deals with Iran, securing large sums of money for the Contras. Large amounts of evidence say that he also negotiated delas with drug cartels to have access to their planes bringing weapons to the contras while giving them easier access to US markets for their drugs. The Contras where infamous for their "murders, mutilations, tortures and rapes" and at the end of the war an apporximate 30,000 civilians hand been killed, most at the hands of the Contras. They destroyed schools, health clinics, and power stations to show the Nicaraguan civilians that the Sandinistas werent capable of bringing stability to the region. There also followed an intense degredation of the Sandinistas in US media. The sandinistas where linked to such things as "terrorism, nuclear submarines, religious and ethnic persecution, totaliarianism, Castro, East germany Bulgarians, Libya, Iran, and even the Bader meinhoff gang".
The American christian right opposed itself to "peace christianity"(the same thing as liberation theology)-this christianity opposed Reagans policies in Central America. Liberation theology said that democracy and capitalism were antithetical values. This liberation teology also threatend the new right because they opposed the rights claim that capitalism was linked to human freedom. The christian right therefore now claimed that corporate capitalism mirrors "god's presence on earth". They fought latin american liberation theology with an american "theology of the corporation". They called liberation theology the "theology of mass murder" and claimed it to be "the single most critical problem that christianity has faced in its 2000 year history". The evangelical christian right argued that in a universe of free will where the good are rewarded and the bad are punished, then the USA is a shining example of gods blessing. The misfortune of the third world was "gods curse". The christian right proclaimed Robert DÁubuisson, the despicable murderer of the El Salvadorian archbishop Oscar Romero, as hero and freedom fighter.
This is infact the story of how American corporate elites helped to bring down reformist presidents in places like Chile, Brazil, and Guatemala. Dictatorships where therefore needed for these countries to understand the values of individualism, consumerism and passive rather than participatory democracy. Grandin writes that "Chile had fulfilled the new rights agenda of defining democracy in terms of economic freedom and restoring the power of the executive branch." In 1973 the US experienced a deep economic recession therefore third world nationalism was seen as a great obstacle to economic recovery. This led to Latin Americas "second conquest". First the Spanish and the Portugese took all the gold. Then during the second half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth the second faze came- which "entailed the initial phase of US corporate expansion, as firms like United Fruit Company, Standard Oil, and Phelps Dodge turned on the region as a source of raw materials and agricultural products, coming to control most of the continents railroads, electric companies,ports, mines and oil fields." The third conquest began in the 1980s "Railroads, postal service, roads, factories, telephone services, schools, hospitals, prisons, garbage collection services,water, broadcast frequencies, pension systems, electric, television,and telephone companies were sold off-often not to the highest but to the best connected bidder." Much of this property landed with multinational corporations or with latin American "superbillionaires- this was a new class that had taken advantage of the dismantling of the state.
Although Latin America now has democracies with the exception of Cuba many of its countries are devestated economically. Countries like Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador all suffer from incredible poverty In Latin America 165 millionpeople live on less than 2 dollars a day. 60 people are murdered in Guatemala city each week. For many people the only alternative is to try to make it into America through Mexico to find work. This is becoming increasingly difficult due to the tough border patrols. All this has resulted in a new movement in Latin America, which could be called the anti-globalization movement. More and more left politicians are being elected and are protesting against free-market orthodoxy. This to me is a hopefull sign. And even though the Us keep projecting their imperial ambitions in Iraq I think its clear that if they couldnt do it in their own backyard they wont be able to do it in the middle east either. All in all I think that this was a great book and I can reccomend it to anyone that wants to learn more about US foreign policy and how it has effected the third world.
on July 14, 2006
I saw Grandin discuss this book at an event last month in Cambridge, where he appeared with Noam Chomsky. The place was packed, and both Grandin and Chomsky gave great presentations. Grandin's was one of the best summaries of the origins of the modern conservative movement I have ever heard, so I bought the book. It is an amazing analysis, very counter-intuitive. Grandin's book stresses the importance of foreign policy in the rise of the New Right, in particularly the importance of the US's long history in Latin America. I've read a lot of interesting speculation about neoconservatives and the Christian New Right, but this book traces their alliance back to Ronald Reagan's Central American policy. Actually, the connections between Bush's foreign policy, which has gotten us into the mess the US is in in Iraq, and Reagan's support of the Contras in Nicaragua and the death squads in El Salvador is kind of terrifying. Since so many of the bushies first got started in Iran-Contra, I have to wonder why nobody has connected the dots before this book. At the presentation in Boston, Grandin pointed out that Chomsky's book on Central America, Turning the Tide, came out 21 years ago. I just read that book a few years ago myself, and Empire's Workshop is a worthy follow-up.
on June 8, 2006
I was going to buy Paradise Lost, but chose what I thought would be about a totally unrelated topic. Not so.
The subject obviously isn't California's what-the-rich-can-bear housing market that's sent its middle class packing for 8 years. Yet this domestic disaster is made possible partly by today's global "free market" policies, and those ARE its subject.
Grandin discusses four America invasions of Latin America. I and II were the pre-Depression advances by U.S. corporations, backed by use of force, and the parade of coups backed not only by ag' companies and the CIA but economists of a certain school of thought. Beyond the Contras, it's revealed how the Great Communicator and IMF, in Episode III, blackmailed debtor countries into playing by rules of fewer checks and balances, privitization, and cheap foreign goods while sacrificing the home manufacturing base. Sound familiar? What we Americans see at home, it's argued, has already been tried by elsewhere, and there's good reason we don't hear about it.
The "Christian" movement also got involved with business and war under Reagan, forming the triple-alliance behind Bush II's Episode IV. This text actually offered me the most believable explaination yet of just why we're in Iraq. It also superbly discusses the brainwashing of pious Americans into believing what I've read myself in business magazine editorials - that God's mission for mankind, let alone America, is to be "creative" by making tons of money.
I've read one critic accusing the author of playing fast and loose with the facts on corporate involvement with death squads. Not necessarily overlooking that possibility, this book invites me to learn more. It's certainly taught me that what's happened to California, with discontent Latinos busting down America's borders, didn't happen overnight and is indeed largely by Uncle Sam's own hand. God help U.S. Well worth the read.
on April 6, 2007
I've understood for some time that there is a connection between US foreign policy history, corporate globalization, militarism, and current events around the world -- and that US rhetoric says one thing, while US policy often does the opposite. This is the first book I've read that presents the timeline and the players of our involvement in Latin America so completely and so accessibly. I'm not a history buff, or a political scientist, or an academic - just someone who believes that it's important to understand our history so that I can better understand the present and be an informed participant in our democracy. I'm following the events in Iraq and elsewhere with a greater understanding of the US's true objectives and methods.
on July 3, 2013
Empires Workshop stands a good head and shoulders above most works of this nature I have recently read. Grandin writes fluently about the relationship between the United States and Latin America over the last hundred years or so, identifying the continuities as well as the innovations. The only innovation that comes across as being halfway sensible is FDR good neighbour policy. The rest of the presidents would seem to require some sort of International ASBO to keep them in check.
The interesting part of the book covers the evolution of the Radical Religious Right in American foreign policy and the free reign it in particular was able to excercise in Central America during the 1980's under the Regan Presidency. Central America is where such Bush II luminaries as John Negroponte, John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz and an assortment of other lunatics including Col. Oliver North cut their teeth. The devastation and death that resulted from their policies was astonishing when one takes into account the population size of those countries. Central America under the nascent neo-cons was a hell on earth.
The thesis, which the author backs up with an immense amount of information and erudition, is that Central America was a sort of "workshop" where the neo-cons developed the ideas and put into practice the policies that were used to such bloody effect in Iraq over the last 6 years. For instance Grandin notes John Negropontes role in Central America and the continuities betwen what happened there and what went on during and after his short stay in Iraq. He also notes American involvement in Death Squads in Iraq, an issue I have wondered about for some time and which formed such a central part of U.S. policies in Central America during the 1980's.
The book also covers Latin America as well, including the Pinochet regime with particular regard the the Friedman/Hayek school of thoughts influence on it. There is something particularly nauseating about reading of Hayek (he of Road to Serfdom fame) praising Pinochets vicious authoritarian regime - by their friends we shall know them.
Thoroughly reccomended, this is this best book of this type I have read in quite some time.