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C H A P T E R F I V E
The reactionary statist tendencies of the post-Vietnam period arose in response to a dual challenge: the decline of U.S. dominance of the international order, and the popular activism of the 1960s, which challenged the dominance of the same privileged sectors at home. Neither Kennedy's "Grand Design" nor the efforts of the Nixon administration succeeded in restricting Europe to its "regional interests" within the "overall framework of order" managed by the United States, as Kissinger urged. There was no alternative to the trilateralism embraced by the Carter neoliberals, who, like their predecessors, were no less troubled by the popular democratic thrust at home -- their "crisis of democracy" that threatened to bring the general population into the political arena in a meaningful way.
As already discussed, these challenges inspired a campaign to restore the population to apathy and obedience and thus overcome the "crisis of democracy," and to enhance business power generally. By 1978, UAW President Doug Fraser had seen the handwriting on the wall. Resigning from the Labor-Management Group, he denounced the "leaders of the business community" for having "chosen to wage a one-sided class war in this country -- a war against working people, the unemployed, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old, and even many in the middle class of our society," and having "broken and discarded the fragile, unwritten compact previously existing during a period of growth and progress." A year later, in another recognition of reality, Cleveland's populist mayor Dennis Kucinich told a UAW meeting that there is only one political party in the United States, the pro-business "Demipublicans."1
The period of steady economic progress was over. The challenge of rival powers was real for the first time since World War II, and the fragile social compact could not be sustained. Programs designed through the 1970s were implemented, with an extra touch of crudity, during the Reagan years, with the general support of the other faction of the business party and the ideological apparatus.
The historical and planning record and underlying institutional factors provide good reason to expect the post-Cold War era to be much like the past as far as relations between the United States and the Third World are concerned, apart from tactics and propaganda. "Radical nationalism" and experiments with independent development geared to domestic needs will raise the danger flags, and call forth a reaction, varying with circumstances and the functions of the region. The same continuity is to be expected with regard to the concomitants of these policy goals, including the persistent support for human rights violations, the general hostility to social reform, and the principled antagonism to democracy.
Democratic forms can be tolerated, even admired, if only for propaganda purposes. But this stance can be adopted only when the distribution of effective power ensures that meaningful participation of the "popular classes" has been barred. When they organize and threaten the control of the political system by the business-landowner elite and the military, strong measures must be taken, with tactical variations depending on the ranking of the target population on the scale of importance. At the lowest rank, in the Third World, virtually no holds are barred.
If the security forces are under control, the death squads can be unleashed while we wring our hands over our painful inability to instill our passion for human rights in the hearts of our unworthy allies. Other means are required when control of the security forces has been lost. Nicaragua, the obsession of the 1980s, was one such case, a particularly dangerous one because it was feared that the government in power was one "that cares for its people," in the words of José Figueres, referring to the Sandinistas, who, he said, brought Nicaragua the first such government in its history, popularly elected in a free and fair election that he observed in 1984. It was for expressing such improper sentiments as these that the leading figure of Central American democracy had to be rigorously excluded from the U.S. media through the 1980s.2
It is therefore not at all surprising that hostility to the Sandinistas was virtually uniform in media commentary and other elite circles.3 The official reasons (human rights, democracy, the Soviet threat, etc.) are too far-fetched to take seriously, and were, in any event, thoroughly refuted so many times, with no effect, as to reveal the pointlessness of the exercise. The real issue is the one that Figueres identified. Throughout, the only debatable question has been tactical: how to restore Nicaragua to "the Central American mode" and impose "regional standards" -- those of the U.S. client states. Such matters as freedom of press and human rights aroused profound libertarian and moral passions in Nicaragua, as distinct from the death squad democracies next door, or other states with records vastly worse than Nicaragua but with the compensating merit that they too were properly respectful of U.S. priorities.4 Similarly, elections in the terror states revealed heartening progress towards democracy, but not in Nicaragua, where radically different standards were applied. The elections of 1984 were intolerable to the United States because they could not be controlled. Therefore Washington did what it could to disrupt them, and they were dismissed and eliminated from history by the media, as required. In the case of the long-scheduled 1990 elections, the U.S. interfered massively from the outset to gain victory for its candidates, not only by the enormous financial aid that received some publicity, but, far more significant and considered quite uncontroversial, by White House announcements that only a victory by the U.S. candidate would bring an end to the illegal U.S. economic sanctions and restoration of aid.
In brief, Nicaraguan voters were informed that they had a free choice: Vote for our candidate, or watch your children starve.5
These efforts to subvert the 1990 election in Nicaragua are highlighted by a comparison to the reaction at exactly the same time to elections in neighboring Honduras. Its November 1989 elections received scanty but generally favorable coverage in the U.S. media, which described them as "a milestone for the United States, which has used Honduras as evidence that the democratically elected governments it supports in Central America are taking hold." President Bush, meeting with Honduran President Rafael Callejas after his election, called the Honduran government "an inspiring example of the democratic promise that today is spreading throughout the Americas."6
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1 Kim Moody, An Injury to All (Verso, 1988), 147-50.
2 See references of note 58, chapter 12.
3 See Necessary Illusions for extensive evidence.
4 Editorial, Washington Post weekly, March 1, 1986. See chapter 12, pp. 00f.
5 On the reaction to the success of this strategy, see chapter 10. For a comparative study of media treatment of the 1984 elections in Nicaragua and those in El Salvador, see Manufacturing Consent, chapter 3. The same model was used by Lex Rietman in a very careful study of the European press. The range was much wider than in the U.S. media. Thus, the London Guardian, keeping to professional standards, applied the same criteria in both cases, unlike the U.S. media, which shaped their criteria to the requirements of the state. At the other extreme, the allegedly independent leftist Libération in Paris dutifully marched to Reaganite commands. The study is revealing with regard to the cultural colonization of Europe in the past decades, particularly France. Rietman, Over objectiviteit, betonrot en de pijlers van de democratie: De Westeuropese pers en het nieuws over Midden-Amerika, Instituut voor massacommunicatie, Universiteit Nijmegen, 1988. On the comparative treatment of the 1989-1990 Salvadoran and Nicaraguan elections in the New York Times, see Patricia Goudvis, "Making Propaganda and Mobilizing Support" (Institute of Latin American Studies, U. of Texas), demonstrating the same pattern of subordination to shifting U.S. government agendas rather than any concern for democratic values or professional standards. Thus, in the case of El Salvador, there was no mention of freedom of speech, assembly, or the press, and scarcely a comment on army harassment and death threats against opposition candidates, or the general climate of terror and fear. In the case of Nicaragua, where conditions were far more benign, the agenda was reversed. No mention was made of contra disruption of elections, which was severe, while FMLN rebels in El Salvador were regularly discussed in these terms. And so on, in the well-documented pattern.
6 Wilson Ring, Boston Globe, Nov. 24, 1989. Also NYT, Nov. 27. Bush, AP, April 17, 1990.