Screening of “Mission Against Terror”, a documentary about the Cuban Five. After the showing of the film, Professor Chomsky answered questions from the audience. For more information on the on-going case of the Cuban Five, visit www.freethefive.org.
Woman: Since we are in the business of torture, and the country has swung very far to the right, what are the realistic chances of getting a fair trial for the five?
Noam Chomsky: Well, first of all it is not really true that the country has swung far to the right. Though the press systematically refuses to report it, there are extensive public opinion studies taken in the United States. We know a great deal about public opinion, and I can give you some detail if you like. But what the studies shows, consistently, is that both political parties and the media are far to the right of the public on issue after issue, on a host of issues.
To give one example, the Federal Budget came out yesterday and today. Well there hasn’t been time yet for a study of public attitude towards this budget, but it’s about the same as the budget that came out a year ago, February 2005. Right after that the most prestigious institute that studies public opinion in the world, based in the University of Maryland, carried out a study of what people thought the budget ought to be, okay. And it was very striking. It was the exact inverse of the budget. Where federal spending was going up, the public wanted to go down: military spending, supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan; where spending was going down, the public wanted to go up: social spending, health, education, veteran’s benefits, renewable energy, support of the United Nations peacekeeping missions, on and on.
Furthermore, they were an overwhelming majority; and the scale of cutback and risesâ€¦. increases the public wanted, were enormous. Well, in a democratic society, one of the things you want to know is what your neighbor thinks. I mean if each person says “look, I am some kind of a lunatic, everything I read is something else,” you are not going to get a functioning democracy. So we, therefore, want to know what happened to this information. I am willing to bet that almost none of you saw it. The reason is it was not published in a single newspaper in the United States, at least a single newspaper that’s accessed by the stadard database. Well, okay, so people don’t know about it. I suspect the same is true of this budget. And you’ll probably have the same study and the same suppression.
So it just isn’t true, I mean there is case after case like this, it’s just not true that the population has swung to the right. The government has, the parties have, the media have, the public hasn’t. And does that mean they can get a fair trial? Well, yeah, I tend to agree with Leonard Weinglass on that, it’s possible. Not in Miami, of course. But can you get fair coverage of it? Well, that’s really up to people like us. If there are delegations at the Boston Globe day after day saying why don’t you publish some of this stuff, then chances are it’ll get published. It’s the same elsewhere. If there is public engagement and involvement, things change, otherwise, they don’t. They’ll keep drifting to the right, and the public will be somewhere else, with a huge gap between public opinion and public policy. It’s startling, in fact, when you look at it.
Man: Hi, professor Chomsky, I am under the impression there is a sort of internal American electoral motivation to appear to be against Cuba in order to keep carrying Florida or something, can you address theâ€¦. The various political parties want to try to keep winning Florida. Can you address the motivation for us to be so nasty to Cuba?
Noam Chomsky: I don’tâ€¦. I mean, that’s certainly a factor, but it’s very minor. We are lucky that we are in a very free country, the freest country in the world. That means we have more information about what our government does, thinks and plans, than any other country in the world. On the other hand, we are unlucky to be in a highly indoctrinated society. That means to find out the facts about this you have to carry outâ€¦. Virtually carry out an individual research project, very much like trying to find out what public opinion is. Well, fortunately that’s a little of an exaggeration, there is some material you can look at, there is groups working on it and so on. But if you do look at it, you’ll find out what the reasons are. They are very clear. It goes right back to the time when the terrorist war began.
Remember, it’s not just a terrorist war, it’s also combined with the most extreme embargo that’s ever been imposed. It goes right back to our liberal doves in Camelot, the people from Boston, Cambridge, you know, MIT and Harvard that went down to make plans and so on. They picked up from the Eisenhower administration. Since Cuba liberated itself in January 1959, within months the Eisenhower administration formally decided to overthrow the government. And they began some sabotaging acts, but also an embargo, and they said exactly why, and now we know, since it’s public. The idea is to punish the people of Cuba, not Castro, because if they suffered enough, from starvation and disease and so on, they’d get rid of the government. Okay, so therefore there had to be efforts to make the population suffer, as the under secretary of state put it, “they are responsible for the government, therefore they had to suffer to get them to overthrow the government.”
Well, Kennedy picked that up, immediately. The reasoning was made explicit, he picked up the same thing, yeah, the population has to suffer. Kennedy right off launched an invasion of Cuba, the Bay of Pigs. That was beaten back. The reaction of the Kennedy administration was, as it was described there by insiders, as savage. They needed a plan of action immediately, they couldn’t tolerate this defeat. They instantly launched a major terrorist war, they one Phil Agee (former CIA agent interviewed in the film.) was talking about, Operation Mongoose, which was a very serious terrorist war against Cuba. The purpose of it, we know. The person in charge of it was Robert Kennedy, president’s brother, the attorney general. He took it as his highest priority, and his goal, in the words of his official biographer, historian Arthur Schlesinger who was right inside the administration. His goal was to “bring the terrors of the earth” to Cuba, so that the people would really suffer. Well, they almost brought the terrors of the earth to the entire world. That was one of the major factors that lead to the missile crisis which came within a hair of a major nuclear war.
Miraculously we escaped a nuclear war. Immediately, Kennedy re-launched Operation Mongoose, the terrorist war, immediately. The reasoning was explained, internally, the reason for it. I mean, it was a kind of fanaticism which goes on right to the present, in a minute I’ll talk about this morning’s newspaper, where you can see another example of it. The fanaticism is extreme, and the reason is explained in the internal documents, the State Department, the CIA, the liberalâ€¦. We are not talking about the right wing hereâ€¦. The liberal administration, Kennedy and Johnson, their prime concern was what they call Cuba’s “successful defiance of US policies going back 150 years.” It has nothing to do with the Russians. Going back 150 years, which meant to the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine declared that the US would control the hemisphere. In the 1820s, the US couldn’t do it, the deterrentâ€¦. The British fleet was in the area, that’s why the US never succeeded in conquering Canada and conquering Cuba and so on. But the planners recognized that sooner or later that the US will become powerful enough so that it could chuck the British aside, move over, and take it over, that’s the Monroe Doctrine. Well, Cuba was engaged in successful defiance of this doctrine, and you don’t tolerate that. Successful defiance is intolerable.
If you don’t understand why, ask your favorite mafia don. If some small store keeper doesn’t pay his money, you don’t just send goons out to get the money, you send them out to beat him to a pulp, so everyone understand that’s not tolerable behavior. Furthermore there is an additional problem with Cuba. It’s what’s called in the internal planning record “a virus.” That’s Henry Kissinger’s phrase, “it’s contagious, it may spread an infection to others.” The infection is successful independent development. There was great concern of what they called “the spread of the Castro idea of taking matters into your own hands.” Which would possibly inspire others in the hemisphere who are suffering from the same kinds of problems. They might want to do the same thing, and that’s dangerous, the whole system of control could erode.
British intelligence chimed in, Britain has, you know, hundreds of years of experience with insubordination and how to deal with it, hundred years in Ireland, and plenty elsewhere. British intelligence came along in 1961 with the same warnings. They said if Cuba succeeds it can spread, what they called revolution, that is, independent development elsewhere. So that can’t be tolerated. The combination of successful defiance and a contagious example that might spread an infection is completely intolerable. This, incidentally, is the prime thesis of the Cold War. Case after case, when you look at it carefully, those are the reasons for instituting military dictatorships, for terror, for invasion, for subversion, for starvationâ€¦. Whatever you want, going on over and over and these are some of the pretext. If you look at the internal documents, this is the reason, and Cuba is the classic case.
And ever since then, both the embargo, which we haven’t talked about, and the terror war continues right up to the moment. So lets take this morning’s newspaper, unpublished, but if you look at the New York Times webpage this morning, you’ll find an AP report about how Mexico is bringing charges against a US owned hotel in Mexico, and will continue to the US government, I don’t know if that’s actually public. The reason? There is a Cuban delegation in Mexico. It was in, I think, a Sheraton Hotel or some US owned hotel in Mexico City, and the US government ordered the hotel to kick them out, and the hotel did, in gross violation of Mexican law. Obviously the Mexicans don’t like it, so they are protesting. What were the Cubans there for? Well, they were there to meet Texas oil executives who are interested in exploiting the possible offshore oil in Cuba, which is estimated to be possibly quite extensive, some of the estimates say maybe twice as high as Equatorial Guinea, a country you don’t hear about very much but one of the leading oil exporters in Africa, run by one of the most monstrous tyrant, killer, anywhere, Teodoro Obiang, who is of course welcomed to Bush’s Whitehouse with a state visit, and so on and so forth. Well, here is possibly plenty of oil right off Cuba, Texas oil executives of even the big companies like Con-Mobile are interested in doing something, but the US government is telling them no, you can’t, because we have to strangle Cuba. Strangling Cuba is far more important than getting over our addiction to Middle East oil, to borrow the words of our leader.
Furthermore, who gave the order? You can learn a lot from this case, I mean from morning newspapers you can learn a lot, if you think about the background. The order, in this case, was given by the Treasury Department, but by a subgroup in the Treasury Department called the Office of Foreign Assets Control, OFAC. Well, what’s OFAC? OFAC is a branch of the Treasury Department that has the task of supervising suspicious financial transfers around the world. Okay, as you know, that’s a core element of the so called war on terror, for obvious reasons. OFAC has testified to congress of what it does. You won’t read it in the newspapers, but it testified. They said in the last report that they have 128 employees looking into suspicious financial transfers, 4 of them are devoted to Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, 6 times that many are devoted to whether anybody are violating the embargo against Cuba. Well, that tells you about their priorities. Protecting America from terrorism is very low on the priority list, there’s example after example of this, but strangling Cuba is very high. You do not tolerate successful defiance and possible contagious effects. That’s way more important then protecting the country from terror.
Furthermore it’s not just this administration. You go back and look at the OFAC record. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but since 1990, the number of cases brought involving terror is a tiny fraction of the number of cases brought for violating the embargo against Cuba. And the sentencing, you know, I think it’s a factor of a hundred or something, some huge number, in the difference in the sentencing. Well, that tells you the priorities of all administrations. This one happens to be extreme, but not that much different.
Well, how did that get reported? It’s an interest to people. People in the United States are interested in whether the government is protecting them from terror. Well, I couldn’t find a single mention of it anywhere. But it’s there. What about the embargo against Cuba? What do people think about that? Well, you can’t really ask Americans what they think about it, because most of them don’t even know it exist. But there are votes regularly in the United Nations, the last one was this November, something you’ve got to report. But the last vote this past November, it was I think 182 to 4. The 4 were the United States, Israel, which reflexively has to vote with the United States, Palau, and Haiti. Micronesia abstained, everyone else voted for it, so the world was divided. This has been condemned by every relevant legal authority, even the Organization of American States which is so terrified of its master that they are afraid to lift a finger.
But it doesn’t make any difference. If the population here doesn’t know about it and doesn’t do anything about it, that stranglehold will continue. Even at the cost of increasing sharply the risk of terror, sharply increasing the reliance on, supposedly unstable Middle East oil, totally independent of any possible human rights consideration, it’s totally irrelevant. Just what they said it was, successful defiance is not acceptable, and contagious example that might affect others is multiply unacceptable. Furthermore it’s not just this case. It’s consistent. It runs through case after case.
Can I just add one word to that? There is a suggestion that people might take up which actually follows from US government policy, follows it logically very strict. There is something called the Bush Doctrine. The Bush doctrine, Bush number 2, declares that any state that harbor terrorists is a terrorist state, and has to be treated accordingly by the civilized world, meaning by bombing, by invasion and so on. And it follows very simply from that, we ought to be calling on Washington to send the US Air Force to bomb Washington, because by Bush’s declaration, this is a terrorist state and the civilized world ought to attack it.
I should say there is nothing ambiguous about this. Orlando Bosch was mentioned there [in the film]. He is not only one of the leading international terrorists, but he is so declared by the FBI and the Justice Department. The FBI accuses him for about 30 terrorist acts, many committed on US soil. The US Justice Department has demanded that he be deported as a threat to US national security. George Bush number one, in the face of that, granted him a presidential pardon. Another of his associate that was mentioned here [in the film] Posada Carriles, he should be on the front pages right now. He is a notorious international terrorist, he is apparently the one who collaborated with Bosch in blowing up the Cubana Airliner, but that’s the least of it. He was in the Bay of Pigs, he was an old CIA asset for years, he went to Venezuela, work with the secret police. He was in fact imprisoned for the Cubana Airline bombing. He miraculously escaped. I mean he escaped, and the US sent him to El Salvador, to the Ilopango Air Base, where he was involve with Oliver North in supplying the Contras, a major terrorist mercenary force which was carrying out another major terrorist war against Nicaragua. I mean that alone would dwarf all the other crimes against Cuba. But that’s not considered a crime here. He then went off to other activities, you know, all sorts, I won’t run through it.
Finally he got back into the United States. Venezuela asked for his extradition for the Cubana bombing over Venezuela. Well that came to the courts and the courts turned it down, it’s now sort of in limbo. And if there is no protest about it, he will probably end up alongside his friend, Orlando Bosch in Miami, enjoying themselves in a major terrorist haven. That’s another leading international terrorist. And there is no ambiguity about any of these things. All of this is completely public in the US documents, unchallenged.
Man: My question is directed toward the July 26th Coalition. First I want to applaud you. I want to applaud an organization like yours that fight terrorism, and call out on governments that commits acts that are unjust. No government has the right to take the liberties and basic freedom of people, like the Cuban Five in the States. However, I want to say something before I leave here, and that’s that one of the things that saddens me though, there are no organizations that are capable of doing that in Cuba right now. Not only, no organization can do this, no single person has a right to call out on acts that the Cuba government has committed. Having said that I want to say that I am Cuban and I’ve lived there almost all my life, and the reason I stood up here right now is because I have friends there right now who got PhDs in physics and are selling peach on the corner. I wanted to ask a question of the 26th of July Coalition. You say that your mission is to educate others about the achievements of the Cuban Revolution, and you say that one of the achievements is healthcare, I ask what good is healthcare if you can’t buy the pills; literacy and the right for education, what good is the right to education if you can’t read what you like, you have to read what you are told to read, and you can’t express yourself; the rights of women, in work you have limited discrimination based on race and class. I’ve lived for most of my life in Cuba, I’ve experienced discrimination myself, I couldn’t say what I believed, I couldn’t think like I wanted and this is something that I wish that my people, my friends, the people I lived with enjoy right now, which is what we are doing today, the right to listen to these opinions, the right to protest against this government, and things like this. I just want to call this out because I don’t think everybody knows this. So I want to ask you, do you do this also, do you also protest for the rights of hundreds of political prisoners in Cuba, and for the freedom of speech of many Cubans on the island?
July 26th Coalition Rep.: I would be happy to talk to him afterwards, but I would also like to say that in my neighborhood, Grove Fall, health indices, and the education indices, and the availability of healthcare are far worse than they are in Cuba.
Noam Chomsky: One comment about that, I actually agree with you that there should be more freedoms in Cuba, and in fact I talked about it on Havana radio. I talked about it on Havana national television in an open audience, something that I can’t do about in the United States. Your point is correct, there should be more freedoms in Cuba, and people in the United States should be concerned about the state of human rights, let’s say in Latin America.
In particular, if they want to be concerned, a good place to start would be Amnesty International Human Rights Report which came out, the latest one. It runs through the record of human rights violations in Latin America. And there are plenty of them, they include Cuba. The worse human rights violations in Cuba that they bring up happen to be in Guantanamo. There are also human rights violations else where in Cuba, however if you compare the record in Cuba with the record elsewhere in the hemisphere, you’ll find that Cuba is one of the least of the violators of fundamental human rights in the hemisphere. Now on the rest of the hemisphere it’s you and me who are responsible for those human rights violations. In Cuba, it’s somebody else. We are partly responsible there too because of the terrorism and embargo for 45 years, but yes, it’s up to Cubans to deal with their human rights violations. It’s up to us to deal with our human rights violations, which in Latin America, is far worse than Cuba, right through the hemisphere, take a look at it. Rights of women, rights to food, rights to free speech, the ability to organize unions, anything, just run through it. That’s not me, that’s Amnesty International. Take a look at Human Rights Watch, it’s the same results.
Now if people here want to be concerned about human rights, as they should, the place to start, always, is with your own activities, no matter where you are. You start with your own activities. That’s what you are responsible for. Interested in paying attention to others? That’s fine, much lower priority, obviously. But then do it honestly. Pick the leading human rights violators and go after them. The minor human rights violators are low in priority. And the ones that are carrying out human rights violation while under our jackboot, that’s a different category all together.
So for example to go back to Ireland and England, for 800 years of British repression of Ireland, there could be, probably were people in England, who were saying “look at the terrible human rights violations of the Irish.” Let’s take say, Nazi Germany. In Nazi Germany they were terribly upset about the violence and terror carried out by the partisans, which is correct, they did carry out violence and terror. But we hardly respect them for that, and there’s a simple logic behind it.
Man: You mentioned OFAC, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and their eyes are on Cuba, well what are they to do if they see financial transactions without US citizens spending US dollars in Cuba, which means US citizens cannot go to Cuba (inaudible) I would suggest you go for yourself, if the US government won’t let you go to Cuba. I mean they are spending their resources to make sure you can’t go to Cuba. I mean that’s an attack on the rights of working people in this country to be able to travel to Cuba. I think the whole thing around the Cuban Five case is important. They are breaking and entering, seizing the documents of the Cuban Five by the FBI and government officials is an attack on all working people in this country. As well as in the conspiracy charges, you know, it’s very serious all that means is that the government says you are talking about doing this, planning to do this, not even that you did it. Isn’t it an attack on the democratic rights of working people if they allow conspiracy charges being raised against the Cuban Five, and breaking and entering and seizing computer documents and stuff?
Noam Chomsky: I didn’t quite get the question, but you know, the restriction against travel to Cuba, actually against spending one penny in Cuba, those are the conditions that OFAC insisted that the Cuban delegation be kicked out of the hotel in Mexico for, so they might make a penny out of it. And that impact not only against Cuba, but against Americans, and Texas Oil executives. They are protesting bitterly because the US government will not permit them to talk to Cubans about investing in Cuban oil that could be good for people here. Yes that’s an attack on the rights of the American people, and sure, we shouldn’t accept that.
Man: You mentioned previously how the US is using Cuba to make a point to the rest of the world. So what do you think is the consequence of the, kind of the emerging movement which are now trying to make a come back in South American countries like Venezuela and Bolivia, who now want to take more control over their natural resources, especially considering that countries such as the US pretty much control the natural resources of a lot of Latin American countries. So what do you think the consequence of these countries all of a sudden saying that, you know what? We want to control our own countries, we don’t want to, pretty much, go by what you tell us to do. So what do you think are the consequences of those mentalities?
Noam Chomsky: Most questions just depend on what people decide to do for the large part. Not much point in speculating, the question is for action. But what you point to is absolutely correct, there is something totally new happening in Latin America, new in the entire history of the continent. I mean, since the Spanish conquest, countries of Latin America have, first of all, been very divided between a tiny rich elite, and a huge impoverished population. That was true of Cuba too, as long as the US was running it, up till 1959. And it’s true throughout the continent. The wealthy simply don’t have responsibilities in Latin America. And furthermore, the countries have very little connection with each other. The elites were connected to Western countries, not the other countries, overwhelmingly. That’s changing, in both respects.
For one thing there are large scale popular movements, which are rising up and challenging the severe, I mean, grotesque, given mal-distribution of wealth and power. And furthermore they’re beginning to integrate with one another, significantly. That’s happening from Venezuela to Argentina. Also, they are more and more insisting on controlling their own resources, instead of the outsider, primarily the US, controlling it.
Beyond that the methods of control that the US used to have are eroding. It used to be that if you want to overthrow, you know, those contagious examples down there, you can carry out a military coup, you can invade it, you can carry out terrorism, one thing or another. It’s not working anymore. In fact the last time it was tried was just three or four years ago, in 2002, when the Bush administration supported a military coup in Venezuela, but quickly had to back down because there were overwhelming protest in Latin America. People actually take democracy seriously. So the US had to turn to some kind of subversion instead, which is going on.
The other modality of control is economic, that’s through the IMF, primarily, the World Bank, which is a kind of an offshoot of the US Treasury Department. That’s eroded. Where ever the countries have followed the IMF rules almost invariably been an economic catastrophe, for the last 25 years in Latin America it’s been the worse period in history. Well, they are throwing it out. Argentina, which was the poster child for the IMF until a couple of years ago, underwent a terrible economic collapse, a total disaster. They finally managed to pull themselves out of it by radically violating IMF rules. Now they are, in the words of their president, ridding themselves of the IMF. They are paying off the rest of the debt. They don’t want to have anything to do with the IMF anymore. And they are being helped in that by Venezuela, which picked up a piece of their debt, and it’s the reason we are so hostile to Venezuela participating in these efforts. The same just happened in Bolivia. Bolivia for 25 years has been rigorously following IMF rules, per capita income is lower than it was 25 years ago. Well, you just saw what happened in Bolivia, for the first time the indigenous majority managed to elect someone from their own ranks.
Incidentally that’s what is called democracy. It is dramatically different from an election where you choose between two rich guys who went to the same elite university, and joined in the same secret society, and entered politics with the same program. Of course they are supported by the same wealthy corporations and so on. But in Bolivia, they actually had a democratic election, where people selected some one from their own ranks, a peasant, didn’t go to Yale, didn’t join Skull and Bones.
And they also want to take control of their own resources. Bolivia has the second largest natural gas resources in the hemisphere, after Venezuela. The US is frightened about that. There is an Indian revival throughout the region, some are calling for an Indian nation, from Bolivia right up through Ecuador, and they are calling for control of their resources. Furthermore, a lot of them don’t see any particular point in developing their resources. Like, if you develop oil in Ecuador, you are destroying the life style and the culture of the people that live there. And many of them don’t see any purpose in that, so that people can sit in traffic jams in Boston, and they want to either not develop it or control it themselves.
Furthermore, they are diversifying their relations to the outside world. They are integrating with one another for the first time, gaining control of their own resources based on a lot of popular movements, and they are diversifying their relations outside. So, trade with China, for example, is increasing pretty sharply. Venezuela is first, but also Brazil and Chile, the other exporters. Increasing in Chinese investment coming in, they just have a lot of options they didn’t used to have. All of this can make a difference. I mean, the US planners for a long time have counted on near monopolistic access to the resources in Latin America. It’s not true any longer.
Furthermore, the Bush administration, which I admit, has a certain genius in alienating people, has even succeeded in alienating Canada. That really takes talent. The Bush administration has lost a series of NAFTA cases against Canada, and naturally just told them to get lost. Well, you know, Canada is not too happy about that, and Canada has suggested it may start to divert a portion of their oil to China, instead of sending it here. Well, that means the US’s capacity to control the resources of the hemisphere on which it relies is declining sharply. They may also succeed in losing control over Middle East oil, which really takes genius, but that’s another story. But all this is extremely dangerous. I mean, a predatory creature, you know, a wild lion or something, is dangerous. But a wounded one is even more dangerous. That means they have to be controlled, and the control can only come from inside. So these are not things we ought to be just watching and speculating about, but thinking through and acting to do something about it.
Bernie Dwyer: Our time is nearly up and I would like to really take advantage of this because we are here in Boston and we are going tomorrow. And we have Professor Chomsky here, and I like to ask him a question about the five. In his opinion, why does he think there is an absolute media silence on the case of these five Cubans?
Noam Chomsky: The same reason there is a media silence on every other major issue. So for example let’s take a question that was raised, an important question about human rights violations, which undoubtedly exist in Cuba. As I said, the worse ones are in Guantanamo. Yeah, it’s real. How much have you read in the press?
I mean, first of all, when you said that people here don’t know about Cuban human rights violations, I really have to disagree. That’s headlines all over, just so much focus on that you have to blind not to see it. Why is it the case that Cuban human rights violations, which are real, in a country we are grinding with our jackboot, why are they featured, but not the considerably worse violations in countries elsewhere in the hemisphere where we are responsible for them? Why is there silence on that? Well, we can run through a long list of cases.
Let’s take, say, terror again. You want to know something about US government priorities? Here is something you might think about, and another offer to ask about media silence about. You know, I am sure everybody knows that Saddam Hussein is on trial for some of the horrible crimes he committed. The crimes he is on trial for are in 1982, okay. 1982 happens to be a very important year in US-Iraqi relations, and you tell me how much you’ve read about this. 1982 is the year in which the Reagan administration, basically the guys now in office, the Reagan administration took Iraq off the list of state supporting terror, so that they will be able to begin providing their friend Saddam Hussein with substantial aid, including means to develop weapons of mass destruction. Dangerous bio-toxins, systems in nuclear weapons and missiles. It has nothing to do with the war with Iran. It went on for years after the war with Iran was over. That was 1982.
Well, when a state is taken off the list of states supporting terror, there’s a gap, so a country had to be put in to fill that gap. That was Cuba. Cuba was put in to fill that gap perhaps in honor of the fact that the terrorist war against Cuba had just peaked in the preceding years. The Cubana airliner bombing was just one of those cases. So here the US terrorist war against Cuba is peaking, but Cuba is not involved in various violence or supporting terrorist acts, except giving support to people who are resisting US atrocity. So Cuba is put on the list to replace Iraq so that Iraq can get US aid, including military aid, which it then had then used to carry out massive atrocities not just in 1982 but in subsequent years. Donald Rumsfeld was sent as Reagan’s special Middle East advisor to Iraq to finalize the deal. Throughout all these atrocities the US continued to support him, they didn’t care. There was congressional opposition but Reagan blocked it. How come none of this is being reported? I mean it’s really critical. It just so happens to involve Cuba, which it’s just so ironic and ludicrous, but it’s much bigger than this. You know, it’s the same throughout.
Man: can you talk about Colombia?
Noam Chomsky: Pardon? Well, take Colombia. Colombia has the worse human rights record in the hemisphere by a long shot, has for about 15 years. It’s by far the leading recipient of US military aid, dwarfing, probably greater than the rest of Latin America combined. Take whatever example you like, say labor organizing. More union activists are killed in Colombia in most years than in the rest of the world combined. Well, okay, you and I are paying for it, and it’s been going on for years. It’s under some pretext or another, pretext of the drug war, or whatever it is, total pretext, has nothing to do with what’s going on. Yeah, that’s a very good example.
The same is true, not as bad as Colombia, but if you look right through the hemisphere, women’s rights, labor rights, freedom of speech, what ever you want, there is a very high level of crime. Don’t take my word for it, read the latest Amnesty International report. Well, those are countries we are supporting. Actually Colombia literally became the leading recipient of US military aid throughout the world, next to Israel and Egypt, which are totally in a separate category. But those (inaudible) became the leading recipient of US military aid in the world in 1999 just as atrocities are peaking in Colombia. It replaced Turkey. Why had Turkey been the leading recipient of US military aid? Well, because the Clinton administration was supporting massive atrocities in Turkey. Tens of thousands of Kurds were killed, thousands of villages were destroyed, probably millions of people were driven from their homes. That was about 80 percent US aid. It was so extensive that in a single year in 1997, Clinton sent more aid to Turkey, military aid, than the entire Cold War period combined, up until the onset of the counter insurgency. It’s one of the real atrocities in the 90s. Barely a word about it in the press. Did they know about it? Sure they know about it, they all have bureaus in Ankara, they’ve read the human rights reports and so on, in Istanbul. Sure they knew it, but you don’t report that kind of things.
And you don’t explain why Colombia replaced Turkey as the leading recipient in 1999. It’s very clear. By 1999, the Turkish state atrocity the US was paying for had succeeded pretty much in crushing any resistance. But in Colombia it hasn’t yet succeeded. And therefore Colombia replaced Turkey as the leading recipient of military aid. Did you read about this anywhere? Well, you know, we can go right through the list.
We happen to live in a society which is extremely free. We are lucky. It’s not a gift, but won by a lot of struggle. We just celebrated Martin Luther King Day, commemorated a couple of weeks ago. People think the freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, they are wrong. Freedom of speech is not guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. In fact the US had a terrible record on freedom of speech. They finally reached a high level of protection in 1964 in the course of the Civil Rights movement, in a case involving Martin Luther King, when the Supreme Court for the first time hit a level of freedom of speech that’s in fact [unmatched] in the world. That’s a great achievement, but it’s an achievement of popular struggle, same with every other right we got. So we got a lot of those rights, and we are very privileged in that respect thanks to people who preceded us and fought for those rights.
On the other hand we are a very indoctrinated society. The educated classes are extremely subordinate to power. That includes the media, and there are other pressures there because of business. They are a part of the corporate system. That means you can get a lot of information, like you can find it out about what happened this morning and next if you really look, and in my case you have your wife searching the web for you. But it takes a real research project. On the other hand, that means we have plenty of opportunities. We got the freedom, we got the privilege that’s been won, so a legacy, we can use it to understand what’s going on. For example, understand why there is a skewed, distorted picture of reality that gets to us, and you can break through it. But it’s going to take work, it’s going to take organization, it’s going to take education. It’s not going to happen if people are isolated, and you know, see a movie and go home, or go to a demonstration and go home. It’s not the way things happen, anymore than it happened in the civil rights movement, or any other popular movement that won rights. You got to work on it.
Woman: Do you see their successes, future success in Cuba’s defiance of US foreign policy, and do you see more of their future alliesâ€¦. I am excited about changes going on in Latin America now too. Do you see all these countries, such as Venezuela, Argentina, and Bolivia, as potential allies to sustain and aid their defiance against this embargo?
Noam Chomsky: Well, actually that’s happening. Venezuela, if you read the American press, you read plenty of criticism, sharp criticism of Venezuela because of its alliance with Cuba. Actually it’s a very sensible alliance. They are each using what we are taught in economic courses what you are supposed to do. They are using their comparative advantage, which happens to be complimentary.
Venezuela’s comparative advantage is in energy resources. Cuba’s comparative advantage is in trained professionals, highly skilled medical professionals, teachers and others. So they are exchanging. Cuba is sending tens of thousands of doctors and teachers in Venezuela. And the Cuban doctors are not like the Western doctors. They go to the poorest, most repressed areas and live with the people. Actually it’s even going on in Kashmir and Pakistan right now. So they are significantly improving medical care, running literacy campaign and so on in Venezuela. In return Venezuela is providing cheap oil. That’s a very natural relationship, and the US is frightened of them, for one reason because it’s extending, the virus is infecting others.
There is an operation now called operation miracle, in the Caribbean, in which Venezuelan funded Cuban medical specialists go to places like Jamaica, and right now they are concentrating on blindness, blindness that can be surgically treated by advance techniques. They are finding lots of people who are blind that could be treated, taken to Cuba where they get medical treatment, Venezuela pays for it, they go back to Jamaica or where ever it is, and they can see. You can imagine what kind of effect this has on a country. And you can read about it, not in headlines in the New York Times, but you can read about it. That’s extending, and it’s extending elsewhere.
Actually it’s extending to south Boston. As I am sure some of you at least know, back around last November, I guess, a group of senators sent a letter to the 8 major oil companies in the United States, asking them if they could provide low cost oil to help poor people get through the winter, where oil cost is going way up and the support system is woefully under-funded. They got one answer from 8 corporations: Citgo, the one owned in Venezuela. And Citgo in fact started providing cheap oil to Boston, the Bronx, as I understand elsewhere (Maine, Vermont).
Woman: They are now calling for a boycott though.
Noam Chomsky: Yeah the US is hysterical about this, it’s not like the other oil company are exactly starving. Their revenues are going through the roof. And the US State Department, and press, complained that this is just a kind of showboating by Venezuela, they are doing it for political purposes, you know, quite unlike our aid, (inaudible) with no concern that their might be any benefit from it. But you know the poor people in South Boston that are getting cheap oil might not appreciate these subtleties. Just like the people recovering their sight in Jamaica may not understand all these complicated things, got to have a degree from Harvard to understand that.
The point is that all of this is spreading, and it’s spreading in a lot of places. The US is very worried about it. I mentioned I think the Venezuela buying up parts of the Argentine debt, well that’s helping Argentines ridding itself of the IMF, which is an offshoot of the treasury department, setting a measure of control. Venezuela just joined Mercosur. Mercosur is a sort of a South American trade bloc. It’s, again, novel, you know. South American countries are integrating trade for the first time.
Venezuela joining them is a big step forward. It was very strongly welcomed by the presidents of Argentina, Brazil. President Chavez, in the meeting in Uruguay, where they joined, he made a very impassioned speech in which he said Mercosur should not be just an economic alliance, it should be a political alliance. It should not be just a trade bloc which just supports rich corporations and the wealthy. It’s a not very subtle reference to what the US calls the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, which is extremely unpopular in Latin America, and North America, and they are trying to push it through kind of in secret. Well, he wants it to be a different bloc.
All of this sends off, you know, very deep concerns in Washington, and they are reacting. They’ve lost the major techniques of control, like military coup, invasion and so on. It doesn’t work. Now they are losing economic measures. The US is now, if you take a look at military personnel in Latin America, it’s going very high up. I think way higher than the Cold War, the last figures show. For the first time, the numbers of US military officers in South COM, the Southern Command all over Latin America, is higher than the number of people in the key civilian agencies. That would have never happened before. The training of Latin American officers is also going up very sharply. You’ve heard of the School of the Americas, you know what that means. Latin American officers are being trained now for domestic programs, the main one is radical populism. What does it mean when you train people to [crush] radical populism? I’ll leave that to your imagination, even if you don’t have a history in Latin America, where people do.
Military training is being shifted from the State Department to the Pentagon, that’s of some significance. The Congress has some degree of supervision over the State Department, and conditionalities have been imposed by legislation, not very influential, but they are there. There are some human rights, some democracy conditionalities for military training under State Department auspices. The Pentagon is free to do anything it likes, nobody looks, no conditionalities. You can draw your own conclusions of the consequences. Military bases are being set up all around Latin America, Ecuador, El Salvador, Dutch Islands, Paraguay. They are not there for fun. These are all parts of the planning, whether it can be implemented or not, I don’t know, I don’t think the Pentagon knows.
But it’s up to us to decide, that’s the important thing. We are not sitting on Mars watching all of this. We can determine what the outcome is. But, like everything else, by participating, not by just watching and speculating.