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Human Rights or Oil Rights? The Origin of U.S. Intervention

Human Rights or Oil Rights? The Origin of U.S. Intervention

While pundits on mainstream media circuits of CNN and Endless will go into endless debates on whether or not the U.S. should carry out the Trump administration’s proposed “sending” of ground troops to Venezuela, few of these pundits are actually questioning why our government actually is putting up an embargo against Venezuela.

History suggests that the reason for U.S. embargoes against Cuba, Chile and Venezuela have less to do with protecting human rights or democracy and have more to do with protecting U.S. business interests and ensuring U.S. hegemony over Latin America.

Let’s start by examining the case of Cuba. By the 1950s, Havana Cuba had essentially become a playground for middle class wealthy Americans. The economic boom of the 1950s created demand for a vacation spot, and with its cigars, rum, casinos, and red-light district, Cuba provided the perfect venue. Fulgencio Batista had backing from the U.S. government. Seventy five percent of Cuban land was owned by U.S. corporations. 40 percent of the valuable sugarcane was controlled by U.S. interests. In the 1960s, president John F. Kennedy sought to create an American led Alliance for progress, which would essentially be an international agreement to push for American style market reforms and combat soviet influence.  In 1962, he shifted the focus of U.S. foreign policy in the region, to internal security, meaning that the blunt of military force would not be directed against outside threats, but civilian dissenters to the established order. Charles Maechling Jr. who led U.S. counterinsurgency efforts and defense planning from 1961 to 1966 described the shift to “internal security” as a transition from toleration of  the "rapacity and cruelty of the Latin American military"" to ""direct complicity"" in their crimes. Protecting human rights was not the goal here, unless one is speaking of the right to hold private property, especially if the investor was from the U.S. Of course, the Cuban revolution of 1959 posed a major roadblock to Kennedy’s plans. With the revolution, came the nationalization of all U.S. properties in Cuba. In response, the U.S. placed a trade embargo which lasts to this day. Of course, Castro’s movement quickly shifted from a populist revolution involving exploited peasants to an oppressive totalitarian regime which instated one of the Western Hemispheres largest police states and complete government control of the economy. However, studies repeatedly show that placing sanctions against dictatorial states is ineffective. It is the common people who suffer the consequences, but the Castro government never let go of power. Cuba responded by trying to industrialize by buying machines from the Soviet Union, but the Soviet Union was more willing to continue making Cuba grow sugar in order to purchase it cheaply. Unable to industrialize, the embargo against Cuba has been highly successful in terms of depleting the economic power of Cuba, yet it has been unsuccessful in causing regime change. The Cuban economic recession of the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union caused Cuba to reopen its tourism industry. Recently the Cuban government has adopted some market reforms, such as allowing micro-businesses to operate, but with the Trump administrations retightening of sanctions, relations with Cuba have once again began to deteriorate.

If the reason for a U.S. intervention is to protect democracy, one must question why the U.S. staged an attempted intervention in Cuba, interfered to collapse a democratically elected leader in Chile, and threatens to topple  Venezuelan dictator Maduro, but did not propose an intervention to other non-democratic governments in Latin America. “Some claim democracy has driven the Trump administration to intervene,” writes Historian and Venezuela specialist Alejandro Velasco in the Washington Post. “But when President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras stole the election in 2017, the United States offered him full support. Likewise, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tacitly backed Guatemala’s president, Jimmy Morales, as he quashed a United Nations-mandated anticorruption commission, Cicig, in a move widely seen as antidemocratic.” Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, but much of its oil industry was originally owned by foreign corporations. Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez forcibly purchased property from Conoco Philips and other oil companies, nationalizing the privately-owned oil infrastructure and expropriating the profits for government programs. It’s no secret that recent U.S. tensions with Venezuela stem from a dispute over property. In an infamous 2002 coup against Hugo Chávez the Bush administration immediately endorsed the new president, businessman Pedro Carmona. The Guardian reports that senior U.S. officials gave advice to Venezuelan orchestrators of the coup.

This dynamic has an old history in Latin America. When socialist candidate Salvador Allende was elected to the presidency of Chile, the U.S. placed an Embargo. However, the tmbargo placed against Chile under not as successful because Chile was able to produce more of its own goods since it has a larger land areas and more natural resources. In Chile, the Cia funded candidates who opposed Allende, and in collaboration with Chilean elites, orchestrated a coup to put the right-wing strongman, Augusto Pinochet in power as the country’s dictator. The U.S. owned significant properties in the copper mines of Chile. The embargo placed against Chile under Allende was not because of any human rights abuses but was to pressure Chile to remain open to U.S. foreign investment. In the words of the Nixon administration the goal of the overthrow was to kill the "virus" that might encourage all those "foreigners who are out to screw us". Human rights were not the concern. Preventing “foreigners” to take control of their own natural resources and pursue a policy of independent development was the stated goal.

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