CRITIQUE OF US IMPERIALISM IN CENTRAL AMERICA
[The following criticism of US policy in Central America comes from Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, (1895-1979), Peruvian political theorist and activist who founded and led the Aprista Party. He was among Latin America's most influential political thinkers. He founded (May 7, 1924) the Popular Revolutionary American Party (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana [APRA]), known as the Aprista movement. APRA was dedicated to Latin-American unity, the nationalization of foreign-owned enterprises, and an end to exploitation of Indians. He published this critique in 1926, focusing on a US business contract with Guatemala. The company he criticizes, the United Fruit Company of Boston, would grow quickly yto become a huge landowner and presence in Guatetmala. At the company's urging, the US CIA would engineer the overthrow of Guatemala's constitutionally elected president in 1954.]
THE FOUR OFFENSIVES OF IMPERIALISM ARE ACTIVE IN CENTRAL America: the economic, the political, the military, and the cultural. As in the Antilles and as in Panama, imperialism in Central America is obvious and four-sided. Economically, the imperialist offensive is carried out by the great companies. Of them, the brilliant North American writer Carleton Beals has said, in his lectures at the University of Mexico, that they would not be tolerated by the North American people "'for five minutes" if they carried out their exploitation there as they do in Central America. The American companies in the Central. American isthmus represent the most violent, most unconditional, and piratical form of monopoly. They have succeeded in making themselves all powerful, and their force is today so great that they determine changes in the national and international political life of those countries, intervene in elections, designate diplomats, dominate a part of the press, and even could involve the peoples in war, inciting among them a misleading, petty, local patriotism, which only favors imperialism. Recently this was obvious in the dispute between Honduras and Guatemala, which was actually a conflict between the United Fruit Company and the Cuyamel Fruit Company, two of the gigantic sentinels of Yankee imperialism in Central America.
Each one of these four offensives has its special tactic and corresponds ably to each of the countries where it functions. Whereas in Costa Rica imperialism is cautious and astute, in Nicaragua it is brutal and pitiless. In Guatemala, as in Honduras, and in El Salvador, the North American legations are the government of proconsuls.
Berlin: April 1929, published in ?A Donde Va Indoamerica? pp. 45-52.
They issue orders. To exert pressure, they threaten fomenting a revolution if their desires are not met. Imperialism has at its call caudillos ready to seize power. The caudillos, the heads of parties are in most cases in Central America, except in Costa Rica: unconscious puppets under the total control of the great master who, from the North American Legation in each country, pulls the strings. For this purpose, it has in its hands the economy of each republic and some groups of opposition politicians in reserve. The political corruption of the great majority of the leaders of those countries is despicable. Ambition, ignorance, and fear turn them into the professional class of the satrapy; humble before the foreign power which demands everything, despotic and terrible with their inferiors and those they govern. They can do nothing worthwhile.
Subjugated by those politicians-devotees of success by whatever means-are the national masses, sometimes desperate and skeptical, sometimes rebellious and optimistic. Deep within each conscientious Central American, who is free of spirit, there perhaps exists an internal conflict, between the feeling of defeat that declares everything lost and the secret whispers of hope that everything is to be won. However, in those noble, generous, and virile peoples, they stand forth like islands of faith. There are many who respond sadly that all is corruption and chains, that it is better to adapt to tire circumstances and live. But there are also many who refuse to submit, who in each rebellion offer total sacrifice as if impelled by some holy and deer desperation. To each spark of liberty they respond warmly, to each brave action then answer with joy, as if they were rejecting completely the heavy atmosphere of pessimism and the inferiority complex with which the progressive loss of national liberty is invading all, generating in certain areas what we can call a colonial consciousness.
"The four offensives" of imperialism adopt in Central America, then, characteristic forms which are worthy of a kind of detailed study which journalistic articles, necessarily short, can only outline. In accordance with the differences of each of the Central American republics, the imperialist offensive tactics change, adapting themselves marvelously to the reality. This tactical realism is perhaps the most salient feature of their complicated maneuvers.
The economic offensive is, then, principally in the hands of the great companies exploiting the natural riches of Central America, especially those dealing with the two most important products of that whole zone: fruit (bananas) and, on a lesser scale, coffee. The controls of bananas is disputed principally by two great companies: United and Cuyamel. The first is far more powerful than the second and has under its control the economy of Guatemala and of Costa Rica, and has strong indirect influence also in El Salvador. Cuyamel has its headquarters principally in Honduras. There exist other companies exploiting other products of less importance. [Shortly after Haya wrote this, the Cuvamel Fruit Company was bought out by the United Fruit Company.]
It is not only the production of wealth which is in the hands of imperialism, so is its distribution. The great companies own, directly or indirectly, the railroads in Central America. Costa Rica, which owns its own coffee and which makes serious and increasingly effective efforts to free itself from imperialist slavery, has under government control one line: that which links the capital with Punta Arenas, its port on the Pacific. But in Central America the means of transportation belong to the foreign companies. They dominate the distribution lines, thus controlling national and foreign production, assuring themselves a monopoly. Steamship companies belonging to the fruit companies complete this total domination of vital Central American wealth. The economic empire controls lands and seas and-as we shall see further-their profits are fabulous. The economic exploitation of Central America by imperialism is one of the most monstrous cases of "legal" piracy by the imperialist offensive.
l think that I have said this before. The viceroys of the old colonial imperialism were sent from the metropolis. The viceroys of this imperialism "'without pain," according to Mr. Carter, and "with out territorial ambitions," according to the Puritan reiterations of Mr. Coolidge, are bought within these territories. The state is, then, the instrument of tile national oppression of modern imperialism especially in Latin America. For that reason, the flags, the constitutions, the national anthems, all the superficialities of the fatherland and of patriotism are left floating on the surface. They are the cork-like symbols which float over the flood. But, imperialism captures the economic roots, securing the people with its claws, although leaving their arms free-they must be free so that they can work well and so that they can bring the hand to the heart in a salute of emotional patriotism-giving the impression that the whole organism is capable of free movement.
Imperialism pays attention to form, to contracts, to treaties, to written documents, signed and sealed. They say that Pancho Villa never raped a woman without formally wedding her. He married as many times as he raped, but the next day he had the matrimonial register destroyed. It is the same with imperialism. There is no violation or assault lacking its document, a well-written contractual instrument. It doesn't matter who signs it or how it is made. The case of Bunau Varilla* signing the contract for the cession of the Panama Canal Zone is characteristic. Bunau Varilla was an official of the bankrupt French company which had unsuccessfully tried to build a canal across Panama. With the rebellion of Panama against Colombia and the almost simultaneous recognition of the new republic by the United States, Bunau Varilla turned up in Washington as the first Panamanian minister and soon afterwards signed the famous Canal Treaty. A source of controversy between the United States and Panama virtually since the day in 1903 when it was signed.What is important is that everything be "legalized" in this way. Thus it has always been. In the case of Central America, there are numerous weddings. The most recent in Guatemala is without doubt typicaI.
On April 30, 1923, Senor Adalberto Aguilar Fuentes, Secretary of State for Development, "with authorization and instructions of the President of the Republic (General Don Lazaro Chacon, old and loyal servant of Estrada Cabrera and no less than the legal successor of General Orellana, ex-aide of the famous dictator) signed a contract with Mr. Norman Eric Anderson, "as representative of the Compania Agricola de Guatemala" (the United Fruit Company), a contract which is a model of the imperialist juridical instrument.
By virtue of that contract, which I have before me, and "considering that the Government desires to stimulate the agricultural, industrial, and commercial development of the Pacific Coast of the Republic," the Government authorizes the Company-that is, the United Fruit Company-" to make explorations and carry into effect the technical labors that it deems necessary on the maritime and land coast of the Pacific Ocean of the Republic of Guatemala, between the port of Champerico and the River of Slaves for the purpose of determining the most appropriate site to construct a port."'
Article 1 of this model contract specifies that, among other things, "Within the zone three miles on each side of the port which the company constructs, there will not be permitted the construction or establishment of another dock, or embarkations or disembarkations of any kind." Article 2 adds that "the Company will have the right to carry out the agricultural and industrial development of the properties which it now possesses
to export and import, whether from other parts of the country or from abroad, through the port and docks which it constructs." It specifies, furthermore, that "all cargoes which enter the aforementioned port will not need to enter or touch arty other port or customs house of the Republic."
Article 5 ends with the interesting provision: "The Company will be permitted to import, warehouse, and re-export for the use of its own ships or those used by it or consigned to it, all kinds of fuel, without paying import, export, or any other kind of duties or taxes: whether these are national, departmental, or municipal, whether these are now in effect or may in the future be established."
According to Article 6, "the government exempts all ships belonging to the Company, and those which under any arrangements it has at its service, as well as the fuel, provisions of the ships, and the cargo which they may receive or discharge, of all taxes or port payments, on tonnage, lighthouse service, or pilotage and of all port taxes which exist or which in the future will be established, whether by the Government, municipalities, or any other natural or juridical person or any territorial division or entity.
In Article 11 it is agreed that the Company will establish a hospital-indispensable in those regions because the terrible working conditions, climate, and malaria, as well as alcohol and other diseases, devour the lives of workers, and imperialism requires that they not all die. In Article 12 the Company "is obliged to pay the Government one centavo for each stem of bananas which it exports." The stems of nine or more hands sell in the United States for three dollars and sixty cents and the Companies do not spend even 25 cents in transportation costs. Thus, its civilizing mission pays imperialism.
Article 14 is of great interest. And I quote: "The Company will have the unique and exclusive right to regulate; organize, and administer the port, railroad, and agricultural enterprises and other works and private enterprises that are established in virtue of the present contract. The Company will have the freedom of contracting with its employees and workers in the form and under the conditions which will be agreed to and established between them. Taking into account the nature of the business of the Company, it will have this right continually during the life of this contract, to work all of the enterprises authorized by this document on Sundays and holidays, so that they will not interrupt their labors."
For three miles around the Government concedes the "free use of government lands," with the right to "cross national rivers with their roads and aqueducts without other permission: according to Article 15, and in accordance with Article 16 the Company has gratis all the construction materials that it needs from lands and waters.
Article 17 is the agreement of the Government "to expropriate private lands which it [the Company] thinks indispensable for its authorized labors." The Company will pay taxes on real estate, but not on lands used for railroads or trolley cars, nor will it pay other taxes or imposts on its properties, as specified in Article 18.
Article 19 says that "in compensation for the extensive capital which the Company invests, exports will be carried out only with previous consent and arrangement with the Company," and it will have the right "to cover docking fees, port fees, and all other charges established or which will be established in the future."
The contract is for fifty years and the Company will enjoy all of the privileges and tax exemptions with regard to the cultivation of bananas, say the final articles.