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The crimes humans commit against each other have numerous justifications and rationalizations, to most of us in North America, we hear more about the atrocities of our enemies, that we do of the ones we commit in our name.  John Dower examines the Cold War period in history and concludes that our hands were just as bloody, if not more so, than our hated enemy.

     “When the torture manuals refer to “neutralizing” targets, this was commonly recognized as a euphemism for killing.  There is no evidence that cover US forces participated directly in the the grotesque torture, death squads, massacres, and “disappearances” characteristic of the dirty wars that ravaged Latin America, only that they promoted and supported them.  At the same time, there i”s little or no evidence that, in taking sides in these wars and training and materially aiding “anticommunist” participants in them, the United States gave serious attention to human rights or the rule of law.  In most countries south of the border, Washington supported right-wing regimes in their state terror.  In Nicaragua, it abetted the Contras in pursing a murderous campaign of “guerrilla” terror against the government.  Proxy war, surrogate terror, disdain for human rights and even for plain decency all came together. 

      As always, it is not possible to quantify the costs of this violence with any exactitude.  For South and Central American societies, the political, cultural, and psychological costs were – and to some degree still are – enormous.  Writing in Cambridge History of the Cold War, John Coatsworth observed that the Contra insurrection in Nicaragua devastated the economy, forced the government to abandon most of its social programs, and “cost th lives of 30,000 Nicaraguans, mostly civilian supporters of the Sandinista revolution.”  He put the death toll in El Salvador between 1979 and 1984 at nearly forty thousand, most who were unarmed combatants murdered by the armed forces. 

    Coatsworth also noted in passing that President Reagan visited Guatemala City in December 1982 and praised the ruling military junta for its commitment to defend the country against the threat of communism.  In 1982- 1983 alone, the government forced eight hundred thousand peasants into “civil patrols” ordered to uncover and kill insurgents or see their communities destroyed.  It followed up on its threat by destroying an estimated 686 villages and hamlets and killing between fifty thousand and seventy-five thousand people. 

    All told, Coatsworth estimates that the Cold War in Central America saw nearly three hundred thousand deaths in a population of thirty million, plus a million refugees who fled the area, mostly for the United States.  Based on examination of published CIA and State Department materials plus other reports unsympathetic to communist regimes, he reached this conclusion: “Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin’s gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those in the Soviet Union and its East European satellites.  In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet Union bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries.” 

   This does not diminish the multiple horrors of Soviet violence and oppression, but helps place them in perspective.”

-John W. Dower.  The Violent American Century. pp. 68 – 69.

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The lack of reflection in North American society reflects in our policies and economic choices.  Countries that have experienced the ripsaw of  neo-liberal capitalism (essentially the unbalanced “free-market” reforms that we impose on other countries to savage their people and exploit their resources) are contemplating life after the free marketers have been kicked out and those countries must once again reform a nation from the hollow shell left by ‘free-market’ plundering.   In this piece from Al-Jazeera we gain an inside look at what happened at the forum and some of the topics discussed.

“I just returned from the sixth International Forum of Philosophy in Maracaibo, Venezuela, where philosophers from four continents were invited to discuss “State, Revolution and the Construction of Hegemony”.The event was inaugurated by the vice-presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia, televised by several channels, and on the last day, a prize of $150,000 was awarded to the best book presented within the Libertador Award for Critical Thinking of 2011.”

It is nice to see that somewhere in the world people can speak of the world as it is as opposed to the geo-political bias imposed by living in North America.

“Similar to the World Social Forum of Brazil, both the prize and forum aim to reflect not only upon the social progress that characterises these nations, but also the progress taking place in rest of the world; this is why only thinkers whose position is essentially leftist are invited, that is, those in the service of the weak, marginalised, and oppressed sectors of society.”

Before we jump on the ‘fair and balanced’ objection, let me remind you fair readers that the opposing point of view can be found by simply accessing any major newspaper of record, or any corporate media source.

“Regardless of how effective the conference’s statement is on the governors that read it, what is interesting for us – European academics – is the institutional significance that is given to philosophy in the region. Is there a philosophy conference or forum in the United States or EU where vice-presidents take time to inaugurate a similar event?

Before exploring this relation [between governance and philosophy], it is necessary to remember that most Latin American countries today are governed by socialist governments whose main objective is to elevate from poverty those citizens that were discarded by the neoliberal (and in some cases dictatorial) states that ruled the region in the past. This is why for more than a decade now, such renowned progressive intellectuals as Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and many others have been endorsing Chavez, Morales, and other democratically elected presidents for their social programmes and economic independence from the IMF.

    It might be nice to learn some of the lessons from these failed neoliberal experiments as the doctrines are still playing in Canada, US and Europe.

“But despite the social progress (since 2003, extreme poverty has been reduced by 72 per cent in Venezuela), ecological initiatives (Morales has been declared the “World Hero of Mother Earth” by the president of the United Nations General Assembly), and economic efficiency (unlike the EU, Latin American economies will grow by 4.7 per cent in 2012) of these governments, a campaign of hatred and disinformation has been taking place throughout our Western media in order to discredit these achievements.

Perhaps, as Oliver Stone pointed out in his brilliant documentary South of the Border, this campaign is a symptom of fear that citizens in the West might also begin to demand similar policies. After all, while in Europe we are cutting social services following the European Central Bank demands, Latin American states are increasing them, just as so many western protesters (“indignados”, Occupy Wall Street, and other courageous movements) demand.”

Ah, the threat of a good example.  To the embattled North American Economies a threat worse than Iran, Iraq and the Taliban all rolled into one.  The idea that a model focused on people rather than profit can and is working in the world.  Fortunately for these Southern Cone countries they are now too big and well organized to be brought down, as Nicaragua was in the 90’s by the US.

“These Latin American countries are not calling philosophers to obtain from them rational justifications or hoping that some of us write propaganda articles for their policies. Rather, they are showing their awareness that history has not ended. I’m referring here to Francis Fukuyama’s famous theory of “the end of history” (“liberal democracy is the only legitimate form of government broadly accepted”), which has now been assimilated, if not completely incorporated, by our capitalist culture.

But history in Latin America has neither ended nor started anew. It’s simply proceeding as an alternate to our capitalist logic of economic enrichment, technological progress and cultural superiority. The Latin American countries do not aim to dominate others, but simply to evoke those whom Walter Benjamin called the “losers of history”, that is, the ones who have not succeeded within our neoliberal democratic system. These unsuccessful “shareholders” are represented not only by underprivileged citizens, but also by underdeveloped nations and continents. In this condition, philosophy is called upon to think historically – that is, to maintain living history. But how?”

How refreshing to see another point of view being expressed and some of the tenets of neoliberalism thoughtfully challenged.  And how do we see our “free press” respond to such a conference?  Observe.  The silence is deafening.  Such an unscrupulous avoidance news is a regular feature of our corporate news media, that exists mostly to feed and reinforce the system that it profits from, and most certainly not to educate its populace.

Let’s hope that people can find out more about alternative points of view and learn about competing narratives so they can more effectively judge the systems that they currently inhabit.  The OWS movement is a step in the right direction but need to ground themselves in the historical struggle for citizens rights and power within the state capitalist system.   Looking toward Latin America and what people have and are achieving there would be a good start.

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