Alternating between “with us or against us”, “bring ‘em on” snarling or “why do they hate us?” whining, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney characterize Americanism at its most crass and banal. The suave barbarism of Condoleezza Rice, John Negroponte or Robert Zoellick offers a more insidious version, but one no less repugnant. Based on crude US chauvinism, a facilitating medium for empire, Americanism is inherently anti-humanitarian and anti-democratic. The Bush regime’s trashing of domestic and international legal and human rights norms is Americanism rampant. Americanism deliberately confounds the undeniable contributions of the United States‘ peoples to human development with itself. Individuals like John Negroponte and Robert Zoellick exploit that confusion to camouflage their corporate imperialist assault on the interests of the majority of people in the United States.
Americanism affirms that the United States is all that really counts of the Americas, North, Central or South. It regards everything about and in Latin America as inferior, as it does all the Americas‘ indigenous peoples. Americanism presumes that the lives of United States citizens – except for the impoverished and the non-white – are worth more than the lives of people in other countries. Americanism skims glibly over multiple mass-murder on the basis that the United States is accountable to no one. It glosses over its historical crimes – slavery, the genocide of North American indigenous peoples and the invasion and/or occupation of many other peoples and their lands. Those crimes are treated at most as regrettable blemishes, past and, bar Iraq and Afghanistan, no longer relevant.
Applying even rudimentary notions of Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism helps render more clearly not just the obnoxious folly Americanism engenders but also its well-calculated political and economic consequences. Americanism still encourages people to view Latin America as a conquered physical and conceptual space – a ready victim for demeaning US and European superimposed caricatures of impotence, cruelty, stupidity, inefficiency. Europe‘s intimidating illusions of presumptuous superiority reinforce Americanism’s racist patrimony. As the US comes to terms with its incipient imperial decline, Americanism may be mutating. But it remains the basis for the never-ending attacks on alternatives that reject US domination.
Resistance leaders from Jose Marti and Augusto Sandino to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez have consistently turned the caricatures on their heads. Ever diminishing differences between competing United States, European and Pacific imperialisms have acted upon corresponding divergences among the varieties of resistance they have provoked. ALBA – the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas – is the most recent self-definition of Latin American resistance and necessarily entails an emphasis on integration. Peoples united are much harder to defeat. Since current conditions demand different strategies, Americanism’s proponents develop often shifting but singularly purposeful policies – consolidating alliances with existing elites, most obviously in Mexico and Colombia, and co-opting emergent political and economic actors wherever possible, as in Brazil and Uruguay.
A large part of the superiority Americanism assigns itself resides in what Said wrote about the Orient “The scientist, the scholar, the missionary, the trader or the soldier was in or thought about the Orient because he could be there or could think about it with very little resistance on the Orient’s part.” (1) Corporate globalization – dominated by US, European and Pacific multinationals and the politicians who front for them – is an effort to make permanent that ability to be wherever Americanism deems necessary with relatively little resistance. Americanism insists the United States and its allies must be able to be in target victim-countries as they please, while migration from those countries must be policed ever more rigidly. The proposed anti-migrant border wall between Mexico and the United States is Americanism’s concrete and razor wire apotheosis.
Cutting at the apparently seamless texture presented by would-be dominant versions of reality, like Americanism, exposes their discontinuities, their constructedness, and the fluidity of their production processes. Up against it, the understandable tendency, a kind of intellectual and moral fight-or-flight, is to veer between critical incisiveness and iconoclastic clearance towards a way out into open ground. The impulse tends both to challenge and to escape illegitimate authority’s insincere or downright mendacious workings, the sadistic criminality of its military invasions and occupations and its persistently destructive hypocritical economic interventions.
A crucial contest with the delinquent authority appropriated by suffocating orthodoxies like Americanism is over the construction of events and memories and their representations. However diffuse the spoken, textual or visual record of events, these still seep across time and memory. Their presences and absences stain, color and mark what we are able to think and what we do in fact think, what we say or write, what images we produce, what music we make. In Christian scriptural studies, the 19th century theologian Franz Overbeck argued the historical role of apocryphal texts was to define the canon – marginality and heresy defining order.
Control of the various sieves and filters of information has always been as essential as military force in imposing political and economic control. Authorized versions and imprimaturs have never gone away. They include current attempts to harass dissenting academics include cases like those of Ward Churchill or Norman Finkelstein. Fierce distortion of the recovery from the local big business oligarchy by the Venezuelan State of RCTV for use as a public service channel is another. Yet another is the suppression of information about the five Cuban anti-terrorists unjustly imprisoned in high security jails while super-terrorist Luis Posada Carriles walks free.
Just as egregious is the mass censorship by the corporate media of events in Mexico and Haiti over the last couple of years. In Mexico the routine use of torture by the police, mass rape and assault in Atenco, lawless repression in Oaxaca, the electoral fraud of July 2006 all have been handled with kid gloves, if at all, by international corporate news outlets. In Haiti the massacres of civilians by UN mercenaries have gone deliberately under-reported by the world’s corporate media. They slavishly perpetuate Americanism’s perception-management chokehold on what constitutes, or not, international news.
The various elites obsessed with power, control, status and prestige that promote Americanism use these means and many more to transmit, protect and promote their excuses, rationalizations, self-justifications and prejudices. Corporate European and US media coverage of events in Iraq, Palestine, Cuba, Colombia, Mexico, Somalia, Haiti or Afghanistan shows clearly how in an unequal relation, the interpretations and versions of the less powerful are restricted, their expression intimidated, crushed. The constantly accumulating hoard of dominant interpretations of the historical record and their management create a vast, dense archive of intimidation deployed by powerful elites to face down critical questioning and skepticism.
With regard to Americanism, the latest battleground for Latin American autonomy is the resurgence of the role of the State following the failure of the neo-liberal model on its ostensibly argued terms, if not its encrypted purpose – the consolidation of power and concentration of wealth. Ideas about or discussion and analysis of Latin America are certainly greatly determined by the fact of its colonial and neo-colonial subordination to the US and Europe. But that fact is diffused through a plethora of activities and divisions of labor which demand a persistent state of alert and resistance to the ways Americanism transmits and reproduces itself.
John Negroponte’s recent visit to Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador confirmed that the US State Department is rigging its diplomatic machinery to the hum of a less crudely debilitating white noise. The effort is to see if changing the tone and dynamic of the psychological stress might not still be effective in reducing Latin American subjects to putty in US hands. For his part, Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs uses a mellow style that superficially supplants traditional “do what we want or else…” US diplomatic argot.
But one has only to remember the “ham-and-eggs” diplomacy of Ambassador Dwight D. Morrow dealing with President Calles during the Cristero War in Mexico to realize that talking softly regularly accompanies the traditional big stick. Modernizing the workings of Americanism will remain central to US government and allied efforts to recoup lost ground for corporate imperialism in Latin America. Current continuing US efforts with local allies to destabilize Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua demonstrate that challenging and exposing Americanism will be a constant and crucial task to defend and preserve fundamental rights of the majority in Latin America.
toni solo is an activist based in Central America – toni.tortillaconsal.com
1. Introduction p7 “Orientalism” Edward Said Penguin 1995