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A closer look helps us understand what is meant by "democracy" in the political culture. The November elections were effectively restricted to the two traditional parties. One candidate was from a family of wealthy industrialists, the other from a family of large landowners. Their top advisers "acknowledge that there is little substantive difference between the two and the policies they would follow as president," we learn from the press report that hails this milestone in the progress of democracy. Both parties represent large landowners and industrialists and have close ties with the military, the effective rulers, who are independent of civilian authority under the Constitution but heavily dependent on the United States, as is the economy. The Guatemalan Central America Report adds that "in the absence of substantial debate, both candidates rely on insults and accusations to entertain the crowds at campaign rallies and political functions" -- if that sounds familiar to a U.S. audience, it is not mere coincidence. Popular participation was limited to ritual voting. The legal opposition parties (Christian Democratic and Social Democratic) charged massive electoral fraud.
Human rights abuses by the security forces escalated as the election approached. In the weeks before the election, there were attacks with bombs and rifle fire against independent political figures, journalists, and union leaders, condemned as a plan to repress popular organizations by the head of the Coordinating Committee of Popular Organizations, ex-rector of the National University Juan Almendares. In preceding months, the armed forces conducted a campaign of political violence, including assassination of union leaders and other extrajudicial executions, leaving tortured and mutilated bodies by roadsides for the first time. The human rights organization CODEH reported at least 78 people killed by the security forces between January and July, while reported cases of torture and beatings more than tripled over the preceding year. But state terror remained at low enough levels so as not to disturb U.S. elite opinion.
Starvation and general misery are rampant, the extreme concentration of wealth increased during the decade of "democracy," and 70% of the population are malnourished. Despite substantial U.S. aid and no guerrilla conflict, the economy is collapsing, with capital flight and a sharp drop in foreign investment, and almost half of export earnings devoted to debt service. But there is no major threat to order, and profits flow.7
In short, Honduras, like Colombia, is a praiseworthy democracy, and there is no concern over the "level playing field" for the elections, unlike Nicaragua.
Even El Salvador and Guatemala, murderous gangster states run by the U.S.-backed military, are considered democracies. Elite opinion expresses considerable pride in having established and maintained these charnel houses, with "free elections" permitted after a wave of slaughter, torture, disappearance, mutilation, and other effective devices of control. Physical destruction of the independent media and murder of editors and journalists by the security forces passed virtually without comment -- often literally without report -- among their U.S. colleagues, among many other atrocities.
Occasionally, one hears an honest comment. Joachim Maitre of Boston University, one of the leading academic supporters of Reagan administration policies in Central America, observes that the U.S. has "installed democracies of the style of Hitler Germany" in El Salvador and Guatemala.8 But such candor is far from the norm.
Nicaragua, however, was different, because of the threat of independent nationalism and social reform, heightened by the loss of U.S. control of the security forces, a problem that has arisen elsewhere as well, and a serious one, because the standard device for repressing and eliminating undesirable tendencies is then no longer available. In the case of Guatemala and Chile, it was necessary to resort to economic strangulation, subversion, and military force to overthrow the democratic regimes and establish the preferred regional standards. In the case of the Dominican Republic in 1965, direct invasion was required to bar the restoration of a constitutional regime. The response to the Cuban problem was direct aggression at the Bay of Pigs, and when Soviet deterrence made further such attempts unfeasible, an unprecedented campaign of international terrorism along with unremitting economic and ideological warfare -- again, surely not motivated by the reasons advanced in the official government-media line, which are hardly credible. Other cases require different measures, including Panama, another long-term target of U.S. intervention, to which we turn directly.
1. Creeping Colonialism
We may continue to think of the Third World in the terms used in early post-World War II planning, as the region that is to "fulfill its major function as a source of raw materials and a market" for the Western industrial societies.9 One longstanding source of international conflict was the failure of the Soviet empire to fulfill its function in the required way. This problem, it is hoped, will now be remedied as Eastern Europe advances toward the conditions of Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines. The fear of "creeping Communism" can then be put to rest, as the modern forms of colonialism expand toward their natural borders.
The three major power groupings are eagerly swooping down upon the collapsing Soviet empire (as China, a few years earlier) in search of markets, resources, opportunities for investment and export of pollution, cheap labor, tax havens, and other familiar Third World amenities. These efforts to impose the preferred model of two-tiered societies open to exploitation and under business rule are accompanied by appropriate flourishes about the triumph of political pluralism and democracy. We can readily determine the seriousness of intent by a look at the reaction to popular movements that might actually implement democracy and pluralism in the traditional Third World countries, and to the "crisis of democracy" within the industrial societies themselves. The rhetoric need not detain us.
We may also take note of the broad if tacit understanding that the capitalist model has limited application; business leaders have long recognized that it is not for them. The successful industrial societies depart significantly from this model, as in the past -- one reason why they are successful industrial societies. In the United States, the sectors of the economy that remain competitive are those that feed from the public trough: high tech industry and capital-intensive agriculture, along with pharmaceuticals and others. Departures are still more radical in most of the other state capitalist systems, where planning is coordinated by state institutions and financial-industrial conglomerates, sometimes with democratic processes and a social contract of varying sorts, sometimes not. The glories of Free Enterprise provide a useful weapon against government policies that might benefit the general population, and of course, capitalism will do just fine for the former colonies and the Soviet empire. For those who are to "fulfill their functions" in service to the masters of the world order, the model is highly recommended; it facilitates their exploitation. But the rich and powerful at home have long appreciated the need to protect themselves from the destructive forces of free market capitalism, which may provide suitable themes for rousing oratory, but only so long as the public handout and the regulatory and protectionist apparatus are secure, and state power is on call when needed.
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7 Central America Bulletin (CARIN), Aug. 1989; Council on Hemispheric Affairs, News and Analysis, Nov. 24; Washington Report on the Hemisphere, Nov. 22; Central America Report (Guatemala; CAR), Nov. 17, 24; Latinamerica press (Peru), Aug. 24, 1989.
8 Discussion after "Chronicle," ABC TV, Boston, Dec. 20, 1989; quoted with his authorization.
9 See chapter 1, p. 5.