Sunday, July 3, 2011

Against the Fourth of July with Eduardo Galeano

I've now read the magnificent Memory of Fire trilogy in its entirety, having finished Century of the Wind in time for this weekend's national celebration of jingoism, neocolonialism, militarism and mass murder. Thank you Eduardo Galeano, Uruguay's literary/historical gift to the world, for documenting the truth about U.S. imperialism and what it has done to the peoples of the Americas.

For U.S. imperialism, born two years before the turn of the 20th century, is necessarily the main focus of any honest treatment of the story of the Western Hemisphere in that century. Galeano is above all honest. So in this book he takes as his task, unpleasant to say the least though it must have been, to ferret out the hidden history and guide us step by step through what happened, when, where, to whom--by whom, at whose behest, funded by whom, these last questions leading always back to Washington and Wall Street.

As with the first two books in this series, Genesis and Faces and Masks, which I wrote about here and here, Century of the Wind consists of a series of vignettes ranging over all of Latin America and the Caribbean and occasionally touching down in the U.S. as well. Each is a small story about something that happened. Something that actually happened--at least one source for each is provided--yet about which something like 99 percent of the people in this country are unaware. Like the repeated U.S. invasions of Nicaragua. If you only count actual U.S. troops officially entering the country, that's happened eight times--yes, count 'em, U.S. soldiers have invaded the small Central American country of Nicaragua eight times. But of course the official admitted military incursions only tell half the story. If you also include "unofficial" U.S. invasion and occupation of Nicaragua--that is, by the National Guard, by paid U.S. mercenaries, by U.S.-paid Latin American mercenaries, by Latin Americans trained at the Pentagon-run School of the Americas a.k.a. School of the Assassins, and by private corporate-provided forces--the scope of the picture enlarges hugely.

Here's one example from the book. A vignette from 1909, headed with Galeano's typically mordant wit "Inter-American Relations at Work."
Philander Knox is a lawyer and a shareholder in the Rosario and Light Mines Company. He is also secretary of state of the United States. The president of Nicaragua, José Santos Zelaya, does not treat the company with due respect. He wants Rosario and Light to pay taxes. Nor does he respect the Church enough. The Holy Mother has judged him to be in sin ever since he expropriated her lands and suppressed tithes and first-fruits and profaned the sacrament of matrimony with a divorce law. So the Church applauds when the United States breaks relations with Nicaragua and Secretary of State Knox sends down some Marines who overthrow President Zelaya and put in his place the accountant of the Rosario and Light Mines Company.
Wow. Among the many striking things about just this single vignette are the fact that those profiting from the foreign companies robbing Nicaragua's resources were one and the same as those running the U.S. government. The fact that the Church was in complete cahoots with the imperialists. The fact that the U.S. intervention was brazen. The fact, which sort of blew my mind although I know it's mere coincidence, that exactly 100 years before the U.S. backed and engineered a coup that ousted a progressive president named Zelaya who was working to lessen the deep poverty of Honduras by redistributing agricultural land albeit on a modest scale, the U.S. had staged a coup against a president named Zelaya who was working toward similar reforms in the neighboring country of Nicaragua.

Another fact stands out. Along with the history of relentless exploitation, invasion, occupation, along with the mass graves and slaughtered Indigenous people and slave labor in mines and fields--there was also, always, resistance. There was always, as there today continues to be, organizing by the workers and poor. There were, as there are today, heroes. There were, as there will be again, revolutions. So in these pages we meet Sandino and Marti, Zapata and Villa, Torrijos and Bosch, Arbenz and Allende and Parra, and of course Che and Fidel and even Ethel and Julius, and many others whose names were less familiar to me who I'm grateful to Galeano for teaching me about.

On this July 4 weekend, reading Galeano spurs us to remember these additional facts:
  • The U.S. military has carried out over 144 "interventions" in Latin America and around the world.
  • The number of secret, hidden, unacknowledged interventions and those carried out by entities other than the official arms of the U.S. military reaches the thousands.
  • Today U.S. troops occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, and have killed over a million people in those countries. U.S. bombs rain down on Libya, Yemen and Somalia. The U.S. arms and funds the apartheid Israeli state's ongoing occupation of and war against Palestine. U.S. secret forces  kidnap, torture and murder unknown numbers of people via "extraordinary rendition" operations in an unknown number of countries. 
  • There are currently over 700 U.S. military bases around the world.
I love a backyard barbecue as much as the next gal. Ditto for the beach. Fireworks are pretty. Hooray for three-day weekends. But as you relax and enjoy, don't forget the truth and don't allow yourself to get swept up into this holiday's hypocritical celebrations. This country was founded and built on invasion and genocide against Indigenous people, kidnapping and chattel slavery of African people, wage slavery of workers, racism, union-busting, subjugation of women. Its riches derive to a great degree from all the invasions, interventions, occupations around the world a key part of whose history Galeano presents in Century of the Wind.

So no, don't support the troops. Fight to bring them home, all the hundreds of thousands of them. Don't fly or salute the flag: it is the symbol of U.S. imperialism, and regarded as such by our sisters and brothers around the world. Fly the red flag instead, the flag of solidarity, unity, class struggle and revolution.

And read the Memory of Fire trilogy. It'll help fire you up for the work that lies ahead.