Thursday, January 31, 2019

THIS IS WHAT THE VENEZUELA COUP IS ABOUT: a repost from April, 2013

April 10, 2013

THE EMPIRE IN DISARRAY: GLOBAL CHALLENGES TO THE INTERNATIONAL ORDER
Harry Targ

A whole generation of activists have politically “grown up” conversant with the central place of empire in human history. Children of the Cold War and the “sixties” generation  realized that the United States was the latest of a multiplicity of imperial powers who sought to dominate and control human beings, physical space, natural resources, and human labor power. We learned from the Marxist tradition, radical historians, scholar/activists with historical roots in Africa, and revolutionaries from the Philippines and Vietnam to Southern Africa, to Latin America. We tended to accept the view that imperialism was hegemonic.
A “theory of imperialism” for the 21st century should include four interconnected variables that explain empire building and responses to it. First, as an original motivation for empire, economic interests are primary. The most recent imperial power, the United States needed to secure customers for its products, outlets for manufacturing investment opportunities, an open door for financial speculation, and vital natural resources such as oil.

Second, geopolitics and military control parallel and support the pursuit of economic domination. The United States, beginning in the 1890s, built a two-ocean navy to become a Pacific power as well as a Western Hemisphere power. The “Asian pivot” of the 21st century and continued opposition to the Cuban and Bolivarian revolutions reflect the one hundred year extension of the convergence of economics and geopolitics in U.S. foreign policy.
Third, as imperial nations flex their muscles on the world stage they need to rationalize exploitation and military brutality to convince others and their own citizens of the humanistic goals they wish to achieve. In short, ideology matters. In the U.S. case “manifest destiny” and the “city on the hill” have been embedded in the dominant national narrative of the country for 150 years.

However, what has often been missing from the leftwing theoretical calculus is an understanding of resistance. Latin American and African dependency theorists and “bottom-up” historians have argued for a long time that resistance must be part of the understanding of any theory of imperialism. In fact, the imperial system is directly related to the level of resistance the imperial power encounters. Resistance generates more attempts at economic hegemony, political subversion , the application of military power, and patterns of “humanitarian interventionism” and diplomatic techniques called “soft power” today to defuse resistance. But as the recent events suggest resistance of various kinds is spreading throughout global society. 
The impetus for adding resistance to any understanding of imperialism has many sources including Howard Zinn’s seminal history of popular movements in the United States, “The Peoples History of the United States.” Zinn argued convincingly that in each period of American history ruling class rule was challenged, shaped, weakened, and in a few cases defeated because of movements of indigenous people, workers, women, people of color, middle class progressives and others who stood up to challenge the status quo.

More recently, Vijay Prashad, “The Darker Nations,” compiled a narrative of post-World War II international relations that privileged the resistance from the Global South. World history was as much shaped by anti-colonial movements, the construction of the non-aligned movement, conferences and programs supporting liberation struggles and women’s rights as it was by big power contestation. The Prashad book was subtitled “A Peoples History of the Third World.”
The 21st century has witnessed a variety of forms of resistance to global hegemony and the perpetuation of neo-liberal globalization all across the face of the globe. First, various forms of systemic resistance have emerged. These often emphasize the reconfiguration of nation-states and their relationships that have long been ignored. The two largest economies in the world, China and India, have experienced economic growth rates well in excess of the industrial capitalist countries. China has developed a global export and investment program in Latin America and Africa that exceeds that of the United States and Europe.

In addition, the rising economic powers have begun a process of global institution building to rework the international economic institutions and rules of decision-making on the world stage. On March 26-27, 2013 the BRICS met in Durban, South Africa. While critical of BRICS shortcomings Patrick Bond, Senior Professor of Development Studies and director of the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society, in a collection of readings on the subject introduces BRICS:
In Durban, five heads of state meet to assure the rest of Africa that their countries’ corporations are better investors in infrastructure, mining, oil and agriculture than the traditional European and US multinationals. The Brazil-Russia-India-China-SAS summit also includes 16 heads of state from Africa, including notorious tyrants. A new ‘BRICS bank’ will probably be launched, There will be more talk about monetary alternatives to the US dollar.”

On the Latin American continent, most residents of the region are mourning the death of Hugo Chavez, the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution. Under Chavez’s leadership, inspiration, and support from oil revenues, Venezuela launched the latest round of state resistance to the colossus of the north, the United States. Along with the world’s third largest trade bloc MERCOSUR (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and associate memberships including Venezuela and Chile), Latin Americans have participated in the construction of financial institutions and economic assistance programs to challenge the traditional hegemony of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. The Bolivarian Revolution also has stimulated spreading political change based on various degrees of grassroots democratization, the construction of workers’ cooperatives,  and a shift from neoliberal economic policy to economic populism. With a growing web of participants, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and, of course, Cuba, the tragic loss of Chavez will not mean the end to the Bolivarian Revolution. It might lead to its deepening.
But the story of 21st century resistance is not just about countries, alliances, new economic institutions that mimic the old. Grassroots social movements have been spreading like wild fire all across the face of the globe. The story can begin in many places and at various times: the new social movements of the 1980s, the Zapatistas of the 1990s, the anti-globalization/anti-IMF campaigns going back to the 1960s and continuing off and on until the new century, and repeated mass mobilizations against a Free Trade Agreement for the Americas.

Since 2011, the world has been inspired by Arab Spring, workers mobilizations all across the industrial heartland of the United States, students strikes in Quebec, the state of California, and in Santiago, Chile. Beginning in 2001 mass organizations from around the world began to assemble in Porto Allegre, Brazil billing their meeting of some 10,000 strong, the World Social Forum. They did not wish to create a common political program. They wished to launch a global social movement where ideas are shared, issues and demands from the base of societies could be raised, and in general the neoliberal global agenda reinforced at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland could be challenged.
Since 2001, the World Social Forum has assembled in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the United States. Most recently, the last week in March, 2013, 50,000 people from 5,000 organizations in 127 countries from five continents meet in Tunis, the site of the protest that sparked Arab Spring in 2011. Planners wanted to bring mass movements from the Middle East and North Africa into the collective narrative of this global mobilization. As Medea Benjamin reports, this Social Forum was the first to have a “dedicated ‘Climate space’ to emphasize ‘food sovereignty, water justice and respect for the rights of indigenous and forest peoples. Session rejected ‘false solutions” put forward by governments that would not solve the environmental crises facing humankind.

Benjamin reported that a Tunisian student, when asked whether the Social Forum movement should continue, answered in the affirmative. The student paid homage to the Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, who committed suicide and launched Arab Spring and declared that “for all those who have died struggling for justice, we must continue to learn from each other how to build a world that does not respond to the greed of dictators, bankers or corporations, but to the needs of simple people like Mohamed Bouazizi.”

(The original essay was posted on The Rag Blog as "Global Challenges to the International Order," April 10, 2013) 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

THE SPIRIT OF SOCIALISM (and the memory of US Imperialism) IN CHILE LIVES ON: A Repost


Harry Targ
The Chilean Song Movement had become so identified with Popular Unity, it had been such a strong factor, emotional, cohesive, inspiring, that the military authorities found it necessary to declare ‘subversive’ even the indigenous instruments, whose beautiful sound had become so full of meaning and inspiration. Together with prohibiting even the mention of Victor’s name, they banned all his music and the music of all the artists of the New Chilean Song Movement….

It was a mystery to me how Victor was remembered. Since the coup his very name had been censored, his records prohibited. But in spite of that I heard his songs being sung in poor community centres, in church halls, football clubs and universities, with whole audiences of young people joining in the singing as though his songs had become part of Chilean folklore (from Joan Jara, Victor, An Unfinished Song, Bloomsbury, London, 1998).
Victor Jara, The Voice of the People

In a powerful biography of the life of Victor Jara, his wife captures the deep political and cultural roots her husband planted in the soil of the working people of Chile. He committed his life to celebrating and popularizing the songs and stories of the Chilean people, recognizing that his cultural project had to be intimately connected to the political project of Salvador Allende’s socialist and democratic Popular Unity coalition. Allende in October, 1970, was the first elected Socialist president of a Latin American country.
The Nixon Administration and the Chilean military found the people’s choice unacceptable and set about undermining Allende’s government. On September 11, 1973 the military launched a coup, killed Allende, rounded up thousands of his supporters, and brought them to a huge soccer stadium, and tortured and shot their cultural icon, Victor Jara.

The United States Crushes Revolution in Chile
The United States had supported the Christian Democrats in Chile with official assistance and CIA financing since the 1950s. The Christian Democratic candidate in 1970 was opposed by Marxist Salvador Allende, who, as the head of a coalition of six left parties, won a plurality of votes.

From the time of the election in October, 1970, until September, 1973, when a bloody military coup toppled Allende, the United States did everything it could to destabilize the elected government. First, the United States pressured Chilean legislators to reject the election result. When that failed, energy and resources were used to damage the Chilean economy and build a network of ties with military personnel ready to carry out a coup.
Allende developed policies to redistribute land, nationalized the vital copper industry, and established diplomatic relations with the former Soviet Union, China, and Cuba. Popular culture stimulated by artists such as Victor Jara flowered and grew. All these moves exacerbated tensions with the United States, since its investments in copper, iron, nitrates, iodine, and salt were large.

The Nixon administration formed a secret committee, “the 40 committee,” headed by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, to develop a long-term plan to destabilize and overthrow the Allende government. The CEO of the International Telephone and Telegraph Company, a major foreign influence in Chile, was enthusiastic about the Nixon plan.
Among the policies utilized by Washington were an informal economic blockade of Chile, termination of aid and loans, International Monetary Fund pressure on the government to carry out anti-worker policies, the engineering of a substantial decline in the price of copper on the world market, fomenting dissent in the military, and funding opposition groups and newspapers, particularly the influential Santiago daily, El Mercurio. Despite growing economic crisis and  protests by the rightwing spurred by U.S. covert operations, the Allende-led left coalition scored electoral victories in municipal elections throughout the country in March, 1973. 

Since Nixon’s directive to make Chile’s “economy scream” had not led to Allende’s rejection at the ballot box, the Kissinger committee and the right-wing generals decided to act. On September 11, 1973 the military carried out a coup that ousted the Allende government, assassinated him in the Presidential Palace, and established brutal rule under the leadership of General Augusto Pinochet. A year after the coup, Amnesty International reported that some 6,000 to 10,000 prisoners had been taken. The new regime banned all political parties, abolished trade unions, and initiated programs to assassinate pro-Allende emigres, including former Foreign Minister, Orlando Letelier, who was blown up in an automobile in Dupont Circle in Washington D.C.
The spirit of the brutal U.S. policy in Chile was expressed by Kissinger in 1970 when he declared: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.” One year later President Ford (who replaced the discredited Richard Nixon) defended the coup as being in the “best interests of the people of Chile and certainly in the best interests of the United States.” A different assessment was provided by a distinguished diplomatic historian, Alexander De Conde who wrote that the United States “had a hand in the destruction of a moderate left-wing government that allowed democratic freedoms to its people and to its replacement by a friendly right-wing government that crushed such freedoms with torture and other police-state repressions.”

Chile is one example of the way the United States has sought to control and influence the internal affairs of nations. But the spirit of resistance planted in so many different ways in so many places by cultural performers and revolutionaries such as Victor Jara lives on.
As long as we sing his songs,
As long as his courage can inspire us
to greater courage
Victor Jara will never die.




“Singout Magazine” 1975


Saturday, January 26, 2019


US  IMPERIALISM IN LATIN AMERICA CONTINUES: IT IS TIME FOR THE PEACE MOVEMENT TO SAY “NO”
A revised statement

Harry Targ


"The Maduro government in Venezuela has been waging a violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society, violated the constitution by dissolving the National Assembly and was re-elected last year in an election that many observers said was fraudulent. Further, the economy is a disaster and millions are migrating.

"The United States should support the rule of law, fair elections and self-determination for the Venezuelan people. We must condemn the use of violence against unarmed protesters and the suppression of dissent. However, we must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the business of regime change or supporting coups – as we have in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. The United States has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries; we must not go down that road again."  (Statement issued by Senator Bernie Sanders, January 24, 2019).
Progressives Need to Move Beyond Stances Based on Critiques of Both Sides to Address US Imperialism

The world again enters an economic, political, and military crisis in the Western Hemisphere. It remains important to historicize and contextualize this week’s call by the United States and 10 hemisphere countries for President Nicholas Maduro to step down as President of Venezuela. The sub-text of statements from the United States, the Organization of American States, and numerous right-leaning governments in Latin America is “or else” or “all options are on the table;” meaning that there might be a military intervention to overthrow the government of Venezuela. For many who are learning about US imperialism for the first time, it is important to revisit the history of the Western Hemisphere and to contextualize a regional crisis which is misrepresented throughout the mainstream media. And after revisiting this history it becomes clear that a progressive position, such as that of Senator Bernie Sanders, is inadequate. The peace movement needs to infuse political discourse with a twenty-first century anti-imperialist agenda.

A Brief History
As Greg Grandin argues in “Empire’s Workshop,” the rise of the United States as a global empire begins in the Western Hemisphere. For example, the Spanish/Cuban/American war provided the occasion for the United States to develop a two-ocean navy, fulfilling Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt’s dreams. After interfering in the Cuban Revolution in 1898 defeating Spain, the United States attacked the Spanish outpost in the Philippines, thus becoming a global power. Latin American interventionism throughout the Western Hemisphere, sending troops into Central American and Caribbean countries thirty times between the 1890s and 1933, (including a Marine occupation of Haiti from 1915 until 1934), “tested” what would become after World War II a pattern of covert interventions and wars in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.


The Western Hemisphere was colonized by Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, and France from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. The main source of accumulated wealth that funded the rise of capitalism as a world system came from raw material and slave labor in the Western Hemisphere: gold, silver, sugar, coffee, tea, cocoa, and later oil. What Marx called the stage of “primitive accumulation,” was a period in world history governed by land grabs, mass slaughter of indigenous peoples, expropriation of natural resources, and the capture, transport, and enslavement of millions of African people. Conquest, land occupation, and dispossession was coupled with the institutionalization of a Church that would convince the survivors of this stage of capitalism’s development that all was “God’s plan.”

Imperial expansion generated resistance throughout this history.  In the nineteenth century countries and peoples achieved their formal independence from colonial rule. Simon Bolivar, the nineteenth century leader of resistance, spoke for national sovereignty in Latin America.

But from 1898 until the present, the Western Hemisphere has been shaped by US efforts to replace the traditional colonial powers with neo-colonial regimes. Economic institutions, class systems, militaries, and religious institutions were influenced by United States domination of the region.
In the period of the Cold War, 1945-1991, the United States played the leading role in overthrowing the reformist government of Jacob Arbenz in Guatemala (1954), Salvador Allende in Chile (1973), and gave support to brutal military dictatorships in the 1970s in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. Also, the United States supported dictatorship in Haiti from 1957 until 1986. The Reagan administration engaged in a decade-long war on Central America in the 1980s.  In 1965 the United States sent thousands of marines to the Dominican Republic to forestall nationalist Juan Bosch from returning to power and in 1989 to overthrow the government of Manuel Noriega in Panama. (This was a prelude to Gulf War I against Iraq).


From 1959 until today the United States has sought through attempted military intervention, economic blockade, cultural intrusion, and international pressures to undermine, weaken, and destroy the Cuban Revolution.

Often during this dark history US policymakers have sought to mask interventionism in the warm glow of economic development. President Kennedy called for an economic development program in Latin America, called the Alliance for Progress and Operation Bootstrap for Puerto Rico. Even the harsh “shock therapy” of neoliberalism imposed on Bolivia in the 1980s was based upon the promise of rapid economic development in that country. 

The Bolivarian Revolution
The 21st century has witnessed a variety of forms of resistance to the drive for global hegemony and the perpetuation of neoliberal globalization. First, the two largest economies in the world, China and India, have experienced economic growth rates well in excess of the industrial capitalist countries. China has developed a global export and investment program in Latin America and Africa that exceeds that of the United States and Europe.

On the Latin American continent, under the leadership and inspiration of former President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela launched the latest round of state resistance to the colossus of the north, with his Bolivarian Revolution. He planted the seeds of socialism at home and encouraged Latin Americans to participate in the construction of financial institutions and economic assistance programs to challenge the traditional hegemony of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.

The Bolivarian Revolution stimulated political change based on varying degrees of grassroots democratization, the construction of workers’ cooperatives, and a shift from neoliberal economic policies to economic populism. A Bolivarian Revolution was being constructed with a growing web of participants: Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and, of course, Cuba.

It was hoped that after the premature death of Chavez in 2013, the Bolivarian Revolution would continue in Venezuela and throughout the region. But the economic ties and political solidarity of progressive regimes, hemisphere regional institutions, and grassroots movements have been challenged by declining oil prices and economic errors by Maduro; increasing covert intervention in Venezuelan affairs by the United States; a US-encouraged shift to the right by “soft coups” in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Ecuador; and a more aggressive United States foreign policy toward Latin America. Governments supportive of Latin American solidarity with Venezuela have been undermined and/or defeated in elections in Honduras, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, and now attacks have escalated against what National Security Advisor John Bolton calls “the troika of tyranny;” Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.  As Vijay Prashad puts it: “Far right leaders in the hemisphere (Bolsonaro, Márquez, and Trump) salivate at the prospect of regime change in each of these countries. They want to eviscerate the “pink tide” from the region” (Vijay Prashad, thetricontinental.org, January 20, 2019).

Special Dilemmas Latin Americans Face
Historically all Western Hemisphere countries have been shaped and distorted in their economies, polities, and cultures by colonialism and neo-colonialism. They have also been shaped by their long histories of resistance to outside forces seeking to develop imperial hegemony. Latin American history is both a history of oppression, exploitation, and violence, and confrontation with mass movements of various kinds. The Bolivarian Revolution of the twenty-first century is the most recent exemplar of grassroots resistance against neo-colonial domination. Armed with this historical understanding several historical realities bear on the current threats to the Venezuelan government.


First, every country, with the exception of Cuba, experiences deep class divisions. Workers, peasants, the new precariat, people of color, youth, and women face off against very wealthy financiers, entrepreneurs, and industrialists, often with family ties, as well as corporate ties, with the United States. Whether one is trying to understand the soft coup in Brazil, the instability in Nicaragua, or the deep divisions in Venezuela, class struggle is a central feature of whatever conflicts are occurring.

Second, United States policy in the administrations of both political parties is fundamentally driven by opposition to the full independence of Latin America. US policy throughout the new century has been inalterably opposed to the Bolivarian Revolution. Consequently, a centerpiece of United States policy is to support by whatever means the wealthy classes in each country.

Third, as a byproduct of the colonial and neo-colonial stages in the region, local ruling classes and their North American allies have supported the creation of sizable militaries. Consequently, in political and economic life, the military remains a key actor in each country in the region. Most often, the military serves the interests of the wealthy class (or is part of it), and works overtly or covertly to resist democracy, majority rule, and the grassroots. Consequently, each progressive government in the region has had to figure out how to relate to the military. In the case of Chile, President Allende assumed the military would stay neutral in growing political disputes among competing class forces. But the Nixon Administration was able to identify and work with generals who ultimately carried out a military coup against the popular elected socialist government of Chile. So far in the Venezuelan case, the military seems to be siding with the government. Chavez himself was a military officer.

Fourth, given the rise of grassroots movements, the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela began to support “dual power,” particularly at the local level. Along with political institutions that traditionally were controlled by the rich and powerful, new local institutions of popular power were created. The establishment of popular power has been a key feature of many governments ever since the Cuban Revolution. Popular power, to varying degrees, is replicated in economic institutions, in culture, and in community life such that in Venezuela and elsewhere workers and peasants see their own empowerment as tied to the survival of revolutionary governments. In short, defense of the Maduro government, depends on the continuing support of the grassroots and the military.

Fifth, the governments of the Bolivarian Revolution face many obstacles. Small but powerful capitalist classes is one. Persistent United States covert operations and military bases throughout the region is another. And, perhaps most importantly, given the hundreds of years of colonial and neo-colonial rule, Latin American economies remain distorted by over-reliance on small numbers of raw materials and, as a result of pressure from international financial institutions, on export of selected products such as agricultural crops. In other words, historically Latin American economies have been distorted by the pressure on them to create one-crop economies to serve the interests of powerful capitalist countries, not diversified economies to serve the people.
Finally, and more speculatively, United States policy toward the region from time to time is affected by the exigencies of domestic politics. For example, the Trump Administration verbal threats against Venezuela are being articulated as the president’s domestic fortunes are being challenged by the threat of impeachment and confrontations with the new Congressional leadership. War often masks domestic troubles.


Where do Progressives Stand

First, and foremost, progressives should prioritize an understanding of imperialism, colonialism, neocolonialism, and the role of Latin American as the “laboratory” for testing United States interventionist foreign policies. This means that critics of US imperialism can be most effective by avoiding “purity tests” when contemplating political activism around US foreign policy. One cannot forget the connections between current patterns of policy toward Venezuela, with the rhetoric, the threats, the claims, and US policies toward Guatemala, Haiti, the Domincan Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, and in the new century, Bolivia, Venezuela, Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina.

Second, progressives need to show solidarity with grassroots movements in the region, support human rights, oppose military interventions, and demand the closure of the myriad of United States military bases in the region and end training military personnel from the region. (When citizens raise concerns about other countries interfering in the US political system, it is hypocritical for the United States to interfere in the political and economic lives of other countries in Latin America.).

Finally, progressives must oppose all United States foreign policies that are designed to maintain twenty-first century forms of imperialism in the Western Hemisphere. Support for progressive candidates for public office should require that they oppose economic blockades, punishing austerity programs imposed by international financial institutions, the maintenance of US ties with ruling classes in the region; essentially all forms of interference in the economic and political life of the region. And, as progressives correctly proclaim about domestic life, their candidates should be in solidarity with the poor, oppressed, and marginalized people of the Western Hemisphere. Progressives cannot with integrity support the “99 percent” in the United States against the “1 percent” without giving similar support for the vast majority of workers, farmers, women, people of color, and indigenous people throughout the hemisphere.
And if it is true that US policy toward Latin America is a laboratory for its policy globally, the same standard should be applied to United States policy globally. 

The time has come for the articulation of a comprehensive stand against United States imperialism in the Western Hemisphere, and around the world.

(A useful history of United States interventionism can be found in Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq,


Thursday, January 24, 2019

US IMPERIALISM IN LATIN AMERICA CONTINUES: Now it is Venezuela


Harry Targ
The world again enters an economic, political, and military crisis in the Western Hemisphere. It remains important to historicize and contextualize this week’s call by the United States and 10 hemisphere countries for President Nicholas Maduro to step down as President of Venezuela. The sub-text of statements from the United States, the Organization of American States, and numerous right-leaning governments in Latin America is “or else” or “all options are on the table;” meaning that there might be a military intervention to overthrow the government of Venezuela. For many who are learning about US imperialism for the first time, it is important to revisit the history of the Western Hemisphere and to contextualize a regional crisis which is misrepresented throughout the mainstream media.

A Brief History
As Greg Grandin argues in “Empire’s Workshop,” the rise of the United States as a global empire begins in the Western Hemisphere. For example, the Spanish/Cuban/American war provided the occasion for the United States to develop a two-ocean navy, fulfilling Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt’s dreams. After interfering in the Cuban Revolution in 1898 defeating Spain, the United States attacked the Spanish outpost in the Philippines, thus becoming a global power. Latin American interventionism throughout the Western Hemisphere, sending troops into Central American and Caribbean countries thirty times between the 1890s and 1933, “tested” what would become after World War II a pattern of covert interventions and wars in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

The Western Hemisphere was colonized by Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, and France from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. The main source of accumulated wealth that funded the rise of capitalism as a world system came from raw material and slave labor in the Western Hemisphere: gold, silver, sugar, coffee, tea, cocoa, and later oil. What Marx called the stage of “primitive accumulation,” was a period in world history governed by land grabs, mass slaughter of indigenous peoples, expropriation of natural resources, and the capture, transport, and enslavement of millions of African people. Conquest, land occupation, and dispossession was coupled with the institutionalization of a Church that would convince the survivors of this stage of capitalism’s development that all was “God’s plan.”
Imperial expansion generated resistance throughout this history.  In the nineteenth century countries and peoples achieved their formal independence from colonial rule. Simon Bolivar, the nineteenth century leader of resistance, spoke for national sovereignty in Latin America.

But from 1898 until the present, the Western Hemisphere has been shaped by US efforts to replace the traditional colonial powers with neo-colonial regimes. Economic institutions, class systems, militaries, and religious institutions were influenced by United States domination of the region.
In the period of the Cold War, 1945-1991, the United States played the leading role in overthrowing the reformist government of Jacob Arbenz in Guatemala (1954), Salvador Allende in Chile (1973), and gave support to brutal military dictatorships in the 1970s in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. Also the United States supported dictatorship in Haiti from 1957 until 1986. The Reagan administration engaged in a decade-long war on Central America in the 1980s.  In 1989 the United States sent 23,000 marines to overthrow the government of Manuel Noriega in Panama. (This was a prelude to Gulf War I against Iraq).

From 1959 until today the United States has sought through attempted military intervention, economic blockade, cultural intrusion, and international pressures to undermine, weaken, and destroy the Cuban Revolution.
Often during this dark history US policymakers have sought to mask interventionism in the warm glow of economic development. President Kennedy called for an economic development program in Latin America, called the Alliance for Progress and Operation Bootstrap for Puerto Rico. Even the harsh “shock therapy” of neoliberalism imposed on Bolivia in the 1980s was based upon the promise of rapid economic development in that country.

The Bolivarian Revolution
The 21st century has witnessed a variety of forms of resistance to the drive for global hegemony and the perpetuation of neoliberal globalization. First,
the two largest economies in the world, China and India, have experienced economic growth rates well in excess of the industrial capitalist countries. China has developed a global export and investment program in Latin America and Africa that exceeds that of the United States and Europe.

On the Latin American continent, under the leadership and inspiration of former President Hugo Chavez Venezuela launched the latest round of state resistance to the colossus of the north, with his Bolivarian Revolution. He planted the seeds of socialism at home and encouraged Latin Americans to participate in the construction of financial institutions and economic assistance programs to challenge the traditional hegemony of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.

The Bolivarian Revolution stimulated political change based on varying degrees of grassroots democratization, the construction of workers’ cooperatives, and a shift from neoliberal economic policies to economic populism. A Bolivarian Revolution was being constructed with a growing web of participants: Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and, of course, Cuba.

It was hoped that after the premature death of Chavez in 2013, the Bolivarian Revolution would continue in Venezuela and throughout the region. But the economic ties and political solidarity of progressive regimes, hemisphere regional institutions, and grassroots movements have been challenged by declining oil prices and economic errors by Maduro; increasing covert intervention in Venezuelan affairs by the United States; a US-encouraged shift to the right by “soft coups” in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Ecuador; and a more aggressive United States foreign policy toward Latin America. Governments supportive of Latin American solidarity with Venezuela have been undermined and/or defeated in elections in Honduras, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, and now attacks have escalated against what National Security Advisor John Bolton calls “the troika of tyranny;” Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.  As Vijay Prashad puts it: “Far right leaders in the hemisphere (Bolsonaro, Márquez, and Trump) salivate at the prospect of regime change in each of these countries. They want to eviscerate the “pink tide” from the region” (Vijay Prashad, thetricontinental.org, January 20, 2019).

Special Dilemmas Latin Americans Face
Historically all Western Hemisphere countries have been shaped and distorted in their economies, polities, and cultures by colonialism and neo-colonialism. They have also been shaped by their long histories of resistance to outside forces seeking to develop imperial hegemony. Latin American history is both a history of oppression, exploitation, and violence, and confrontation with mass movements of various kinds. The Bolivarian Revolution of the twenty-first century is the most recent exemplar of grassroots resistance against neo-colonial domination. Armed with this historical understanding several historical realities bear on the current threats to the Venezuelan government.

First, every country, with the exception of Cuba, experiences deep class divisions. Workers, peasants, the new precariat, people of color, youth, and women face off against very wealthy financiers, entrepreneurs, and industrialists, often with family ties, as well as corporate ties, with the United States. Whether one is trying to understand the soft coup in Brazil, the instability in Nicaragua, or the deep divisions in Venezuela, class struggle is a central feature of whatever conflicts are occurring.
Second, United States policy in the administrations of both political parties is fundamentally driven by opposition to the full independence of Latin America. US policy throughout the new century has been inalterably opposed to the Bolivarian Revolution. Consequently, a centerpiece of United States policy is to support by whatever means the wealthy classes in each country.

Third, as a byproduct of the colonial and neo-colonial stages in the region, local ruling classes and their North American allies have supported the creation of sizable militaries. Consequently, in political and economic life, the military remains a key actor in each country in the region. Most often, the military serves the interests of the wealthy class (or is part of it), and works overtly or covertly to resist democracy, majority rule, and the grassroots. Consequently, each progressive government in the region has had to figure out how to relate to the military. In the case of Chile, President Allende assumed the military would stay neutral in growing political disputes among competing class forces. But the Nixon Administration was able to identify and work with generals who ultimately carried out a military coup against the popular elected socialist government of Chile. So far in the Venezuelan case, the military seems to be siding with the government. Chavez himself was a military officer.
Fourth, given the rise of grassroots movements, the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela began to support “dual power,” particularly at the local level. Along with political institutions that traditionally were controlled by the rich and powerful, new local institutions of popular power were created. The establishment of popular power has been a key feature of many governments ever since the Cuban Revolution. Popular power, to varying degrees, is replicated in economic institutions, in culture, and in community life such that in Venezuela and elsewhere workers and peasants see their own empowerment as tied to the survival of revolutionary governments. In short, defense of the Maduro government, depends on the continuing support of the grassroots and the military.

Fifth, the governments of the Bolivarian Revolution face many obstacles. Small but powerful capitalist classes is one. Persistent United States covert operations and military bases throughout the region is another. And, perhaps most importantly, given the hundreds of years of colonial and neo-colonial rule, Latin American economies remain distorted by over-reliance on small numbers of raw materials and, as a result of pressure from international financial institutions, on export of selected products such as agricultural crops. In other words, historically Latin American economies have been distorted by the pressure on them to create one-crop economies to serve the interests of powerful capitalist countries, not diversified economies to serve the people.
Finally, and more speculatively, United States policy toward the region from time to time is affected by the exigencies of domestic politics. For example, the Trump Administration verbal threats against Venezuela are being articulated as the president’s domestic fortunes are being challenged by the threat of impeachment and confrontations with the new Congressional leadership. War often masks domestic troubles.

Where do Progressives Stand
First, and foremost, progressives should prioritize an understanding of imperialism, colonialism, neocolonialism, and the role of Latin American as the “laboratory” for testing United States interventionist foreign policies. This means that critics of US imperialism can be most effective by avoiding “purity tests” when contemplating political activism around US foreign policy. One cannot forget the connections between current patterns of policy toward Venezuela, with the rhetoric, the threats, the claims, and US policies toward Guatemala, Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, and in the new century, Bolivia, Venezuela, Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina.

Second, progressives need to show solidarity with grassroots movements in the region, support human rights, oppose military interventions, and demand the closure of the myriad of United States military bases in the region and end training military personnel from the region. (When citizens raise concerns about other countries interfering in the US political system, it is hypocritical for the United States to interfere in the political and economic lives of other countries in Latin America.)
And finally, as tensions rise again in the hemisphere there are two growing dangers of violence spreading throughout Latin America. By attacking “the troika of tyranny,” the United States is increasing the likelihood of class war throughout the region. And, given growing Chinese and Russian economic and political involvement in the Western Hemisphere, it is not inconceivable for regional war to escalate to global war.

The time has come to stand up against United States imperialism in the Western Hemisphere.
(A useful history of United States interventionism can be found in Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, Henry Holt, 2006).