Two, Three, Many Colombias

The following is the expanded version of an article posted by Foreign Policy in Focus on December 29, 2010

This past September, US Secretary of State Clinton drew criticism for comparing Mexico today to “Colombia twenty years ago” and calling for heightened efforts to combat Mexican drug trafficking. Most of that criticism questioned whether the analogy was appropriate or whether the statement was an unnecessary affront to a close US ally, the Mexican government of Felipe Calderón. But the more significant part of Clinton’s comments was her enthusiastic praise for Plan Colombia—the massive military aid package started by her husband in 1999—and her insistence on the need “to figure out what are the equivalents” for other regions, particularly Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean [1].

The idea that Plan Colombia should be emulated anywhere is appalling to those acquainted with Colombia’s human rights record, which has been the worst in Latin America for the past twenty years. Ché Guevara once famously called for “two, three, many Vietnams” in order to overthrow capitalist imperialism in the Third World. Clinton’s call for the replication of the Colombia model elsewhere is some ways no less bold, for she too was calling for a kind of international transformation—albeit of an almost diametrically-opposed variety. On the other hand, that prescription appears less surprising when grounded in the broader context of recent US policy toward Latin America.

The Colombia Model: For Whom Did It “Work”?

In her September 8th remarks Hillary Clinton also commented that “there were problems and there were mistakes” with Plan Colombia, “but it worked.” As with any policy, it is essential to ask how, and for whom, did it “work”? And if the Colombia model—referring to the US policy toward Colombia over the past several decades—reflects the Obama administration’s vision for the rest of Latin America, an understanding of the model’s priorities and consequences is vital to assessing broader regional prospects.

Plan Colombia was initiated under Bill Clinton in 1999, billed as an anti-narcotics program. Since then the primary stated justification for over $5 billion in US military and police aid to Colombia has been the “war on drugs.” The first problem with this justification is that there has never been any reason to believe that the program is motivated by a sincere concern for public health on the part of US policymakers. Far more substantial threats to public health exist but elicit little concern. Cancer, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other ailments each kill far more people each year than cocaine or heroine, and are well known to be linked to tobacco use, industrial food production, corporate pollution, and the US government’s encouragement of many of these practices through subsidies, foreign trade agreements, and lax regulations. Tobacco alone kills more people than illegal drugs, alcohol, car accidents, murders, and suicides combined. A recent study by the medical journal The Lancet found that alcohol harms far more people than crack and heroin [2]. As of this writing, the US government has yet to launch an indignant War on Tobacco or a War on Alcohol, complete with mandatory prison sentences for producers, users, and distributors.

The second problem with the stated justification of the “War on Drugs” is that over a decade of Plan Colombia has had little effect on narcotics flows into the US. In 2007 Colombian economist and human rights activist Héctor Mondragón noted that “[n]ever before have drug traffickers had so much power in Colombia” [3]. Colombian coca production has fluctuated—for example, rising by 27 percent in 2007 and declining by 18 percent the next year. Despite the much-publicized recent drop in Colombian production, though, at the regional level very little has changed, in part because the periods of decline in Colombian production have coincided with increases elsewhere and vice versa, demonstrating an (easily-foreseeable) “balloon effect.” Most recently, many producers and traffickers have relocated from Colombia to Peru, and to a lesser extent Bolivia, increasing coca production in those countries. Even so, Colombia remains the world’s leading cocaine producer [4]. Former Colombian President César Gaviria, who co-chairs the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, summarized the commission’s extensive 2009 report by saying that “[w]e consider the war on drugs a failure because the objectives have never been achieved…Prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalization have not yielded the expected results. We are today farther than ever from the goal of eradicating drugs” [5]. Similar conclusions apply for Mexico, which in the 1990s replaced Florida and the Caribbean as the primary narcotics transport hub as a result of anti-drug campaigns elsewhere. As analyst Laura Carlsen noted recently, since the Mexican government began a US-funded, $1.4-billion anti-drug program in 2008, “Drug-related violence has exploded…with nearly 30,000 dead since the launch of the drug war in late 2006. Human rights violations charged against the army had gone up sixfold by [2009], and just in the past months [of mid-2010] Army forces have shot and killed several civilians” [6].

A third indication that a heavily-militarized “war on drugs” might have ulterior objectives is that the Colombian state is closely linked to the people and activities that Plan Colombia alleges to be targeting, a fact that the US Drug Enforcement Administration recognized before Plan Colombia started [7]. The United States is closely implicated in this relationship, for example through USAID’s “alternative development” programs in African palm oil and other non-traditional agricultural products. Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro notes that “Plan Colombia is fighting against drugs militarily at the same time it gives money to support palm, which is used by paramilitary mafias to launder money,” so in effect the US is “subsidizing drug traffickers” [8]. Right-wing paramilitaries continue to enjoy a close, if technically illegal, working relationship with the Colombian military, whose officials have helped them steal tens of thousands of acres of land from rural communities and smallholders in recent years. Evidence suggests that a similar intimacy exists between officials and drug lords in Peru and Mexico, though the details for the latter are a bit murkier [9].

These facts about Plan Colombia-type anti-drug programs—their ineffectiveness from a public health standpoint, the massive human rights abuses they bring, and their fundamental corruption—have been well understood by experts for many years, and the results were easily predictable long before Plan Colombia began. Ex-President Gaviria’s statement about Plan Colombia’s results is accurate, except in that the “expected results” were not drug eradication; independent experts had predicted the program’s “failure” well prior to its implementation, warning that militarization at the site of production is a highly ineffective way of combating illicit drug flows and usage compared to drug treatment programs and alternative economic development. The domestic US “War on Drugs,” which involves incarcerating over half a million people each year for drug-related offenses, is likewise a patently ineffective (as well as profoundly inhumane and hypocritical) way of reducing drug use [10]. The enormous and longstanding discrepancy between experts’ knowledge and policy raises immediate questions about the real motives of the “war” and accompanying militarization, addressed in more detail below.

So what has Plan Colombia achieved? Despite some decline in overall violence levels and improved security for middle-class urban residents, Colombia since 1999 has become even more infamous than it already was for extrajudicial executions, massive internal displacement and land theft, and the close ties between right-wing paramilitary death squads and the country’s right-wing government. Most violence targets workers and the poor, particularly those who pose a threat to the prerogatives of landlords and business elites. Since 2005, 45 peasant farmers have been murdered because they had sought to reclaim land that had been stolen [11]. In 2009 Colombia accounted for almost half of all murders of trade unionists in the world, and it has long been known as the most dangerous country in the world for labor activists; this trend continues under the new president, Juan Manuel Santos [12]. New revelations of horrendous human rights violations and politician connections to paramilitaries surface regularly; in late 2009, a mass grave of over 2,000 corpses was discovered near Bogotá. Although the left-wing guerrilla forces in Colombia have committed significant human rights violations, the large majority of abuses are attributable to the government and right-wing paramilitaries, who enjoy an atmosphere of “generalized impunity” according to a March 2010 UN human rights report [13].

Colombia’s ascendance to the rank of the continent’s worst human rights violator has coincided closely with the increase in US military aid to the country. Since 1990 Colombia has received far more US military and police aid than all other countries in the hemisphere. Plan Colombia has been responsible for much of this aid, totaling over $5 billion since 1999. The connection between US aid and Colombia’s atrocious human rights record is not coincidental. A January 2010 report published by the Center for Global Development found that “collusion between the military and illegal armed groups…means that foreign assistance directly enables illegal groups to perpetuate political violence and undermine democratic institutions, such as electoral participation.” Furthermore, the authors noted “a distinct, asymmetric pattern: when U.S. military aid increases, attacks by paramilitaries, who are known to work with the military, increase more in municipalities with [Colombian military] bases” [14]. Another recent study, by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and US Office on Colombia, tracked the incidence of extrajudicial executions by Colombian military units that received US aid over the past nine years, finding that “areas where Colombian army units received the largest increases in U.S. assistance reported increased extrajudicial killings on average.” As Paola Reyes reports, “The extrajudicial executions reviewed by the FOR/USOC report are mostly cases in which military units have killed civilians in order to inflate the body count of guerrillas they have supposedly killed in action” [15]. These most recent studies confirm a longstanding correlation between US military aid and human rights violations, a pattern that is particularly evident in countries like Colombia but which extends all over the world [16]. (If US law matters, the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 prohibits the disbursement of military aid to any regime guilty of sustained human rights abuses.)

Washington policymakers have always been aware of Colombian death squads and their connections to government figures, but that knowledge has not dampened their enthusiasm for US military aid to Colombia [17]. During his presidential campaign Obama voiced some mild criticism of the human rights situation in Colombia, but has consolidated a strong alliance with Colombia during his first two years in office. This alliance has included a 2009 deal which, if it overcomes the current legal obstacles within Colombia, will give the United States access to seven military bases in the country. The deal is intended “to make Colombia a regional hub for Pentagon operations” according to “senior Colombian military and civilian officials familiar with negotiations,” the Associated Press reported at the time [18].The actualtext of the deal pledges US-Colombian cooperation “to address common threats to peace, stability, freedom, and democracy,” language which is at once vague and bone-chilling for those familiar with the history of US policy in the region [19].

Within Colombia itself, the big winners have been the overlapping sectors of narcotraffickers, government officials, right-wing paramilitaries, landlords, and business elites. Most other Colombians have not fared so well, however. According to UN figures, “Colombia is one of only 3 Latin American countries where economic inequality increased between 2002 and 2008” (the others were Guatemala and the Dominican Republic). Foreign investment has tripled in recent years, contributing to significant economic growth, but poverty (43 percent) and extreme poverty (23 percent) have changed little. In the countryside, 0.4 percent of landowners hold 61 percent of the land [20]. In a region where powerful social movements and left-leaning governments have challenged the traditional power of the US government and multinational corporations, Colombia remains a staunch supporter of US-style “free trade,” or neoliberalism, characterized by the privatization of services, the liberalization of markets, and a government policy that collaborates with capitalists to suppress the rights of workers, peasants, minorities, and the environment. The World Bank and International Finance Corporation recently lauded Colombia’s strides toward maintaining a “business friendly environment,” designating it, along with Mexico and Peru, as the top three Latin American countries with regard to the “ease of doing business” [21]. Incidentally, these same countries are also the United States’ three closest major allies in the region.

“Envious Have-Nots” and the Logic of US Policy

Since 1990, and especially since 2000 when Plan Colombia was initiated, Colombia has become a keystone of US power in Latin America. As US influence has waned across the region, Colombia has become even more crucial as a showcase for US policy. The three basic ingredients of that policy have been economic neoliberalism, a US-friendly government, and increased militarization. If a dismal failure from the standpoint of public health, human rights, and economic well-being, these ingredients accomplish a variety of useful goals. The US preference for a militarized neoliberalism—the model which the Obama administration is now seeking to reproduce in Mexico and Central America—in fact obeys a fairly coherent logic.


If the “war on drugs” is at best an inadequate explanation for the US militarization of Latin America, and at worst simply a pretext, what other ends does that militarization serve from the perspective of US interest groups? As an entry point into answering this question, it can hardly be doubted that the US has long sought to “[m]aintain the United States as the predominant foreign military influence in Latin America,” as a key 1962 State Department guidelines paper urged [22]. Maintaining military dominance in Latin America has been a central US aim for close to a century, and particularly since World War II. The public justification for militarization during the Cold War was the alleged threat of Soviet “penetration” of Latin America [23]. But in private, astute policymakers did not take that threat very literally. In 1958 a National Intelligence Estimate noted that Latin American Communist parties, let alone Soviet agents, “are not likely to come to dominate any government” in the region. Nonetheless, US officials emphasized the need for militarization, not to defend against the Soviet Union but instead in the name of “internal security.” The enemies were inside Latin America itself, not in the Soviet bloc, and the greatest danger was Latin American nationalism, not Soviet-style Communism. The 1959 Cuban Revolution, in which Soviet-allied Communists played only a very minor part, underscored this reality. US-sponsored “internal security” programs involving massive military and police aid thus appeared all over the continent starting with Eisenhower and accelerating under Kennedy [24].

Against what were these programs designed to defend? Declassified State Department correspondence provides clear answers. To take one example, officials worried that the 1952 Bolivian Revolution “might set off a chain reaction in Latin America” if not steered down a “moderate” path. Later, after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, US planners noted with alarm that the continent’s “poor and underprivileged, stimulated by the example of the Cuban revolution, are now demanding opportunities for a decent living.” The successful revolt in Cuba had convinced many onlookers “that the Latin American states can be masters of their own destinies” rather than remaining dependent on foreign masters. In 1961 a top Kennedy adviser, Arthur Schlesinger, expressed concern about “the spread of the Castro idea of taking matters into one’s own hand[s].” Rather than acting independently of the US, Latin Americans were supposed to let the US guide them down a constructive path toward a “middle-class revolution,” as opposed to a “workers-and-peasants” one [25]. The imperative of stifling independent nationalism and development, and punishing those who entertained such fantasies, goes far back in US imperial history; such imperatives were prominent, for example, in the correspondence of the nineteenth-century military commanders who sought to exterminate all Native Americans who refused to be confined on concentration-camp-style reservations [26].

The biggest problem with this defiance was the threat it posed to US elites’ control over strategic natural resources, labor, and the maintenance of exploitative terms of trade. The dual threats of “statism and nationalism,” about which the 1958 Intelligence Estimate warned, derived from the desire of Latin Americans to have more control over their national economic resources. “Latin Americans,” according to State Department adviser Laurence Duggan, had become “convinced that the first beneficiaries of the development of a country’s resources should be the people of that country.” But that conviction was in conflict with certain US interests. As the US Ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Bonsal, wrote to his boss that same year, “This problem of maintaining the position of American oil companies in Bolivia and in other parts of South America is, as you are undoubtedly more aware than I am, one of the most important with which we are faced.” The problem, Bonsal said, resulted in large part from of Latin Americans’ distrust of foreign governments and corporations: “The fact is that it has been a tremendous task to overcome the belief of many people here that in the exploitation of Bolivia’s oil resources, Bolivian national interest would be neglected or, at least, be placed in a subordinate position.” Similar problems plagued US policymakers elsewhere, particularly in the Middle East [27].

Much of the need for militarization arose from these realities. The so-called internal security programs began popping up, including in Colombia, at about the same time that Ambassador Bonsal was writing in 1958 [28]. Leading Cold War architect George Kennan had articulated the problem a decade earlier:

[W]e have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. [29]

Later US officials were just as blunt about the need for militarization. According to General Maxwell Taylor, one of the prime perpetrators of the Vietnam War, “As the leading affluent ‘have’ power, we may expect to have to fight for our national valuables against envious ‘have-nots.’” And as Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown, explained in 1980 while arguing for the increased use of “rapid deployment forces”: “Turbulence, the threat of violence and the use of force remain widespread. [These problems] have many and varied causes, [among which is the wealthier nations’ failure] to provide for the basic needs of people and narrow the explosive disparity between wealth and hunger” [30].

Recent discussion in US government circles contains echoes of these statements. Control over Latin American resources, particularly oil, remains a top priority today. In 2008 a Council on Foreign Relations Task Force argued that “Latin America has never mattered more for the United States.” Among a handful of reasons why, the first mentioned was that “[t]he region is the largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States” [31]. The promotion of “free trade”—understood in its technical sense, as policies that redirect public wealth into the hands of private corporations, sacrificing human and environmental welfare in the process—remains central to the US strategy. Yet this effort must overcome the usual obstacles, namely the resistance on the part of Latin American populations. A 2008 report by the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) noted the threat posed by “a small group of radical populist governments” that “emphasize economic nationalism at the expense of market-based approaches,” thus “directly clash[ing] with US initiatives.” Unfortunately, the report said, this “competing vision” is quite popular in the region, where “high levels of poverty and striking income inequalities will continue to create a potentially receptive audience for radical populism’s message.” The 2010 DNI report from the Obama appointee repeats these basic concerns: governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador are “opposing US policies and interests in the region” by advancing “statist” alternatives to “market capitalism.” And as other establishment analysts have recently pointed out, “distrust of Washington’s motives still runs deep in the region” [32].

Hillary Clinton herself has been one of the most candid voices in the Obama administration with respect to US objectives in Latin America. This past March she blasted the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chávez, demanding that Venezuela “restore private property and return to a free market economy.” She has also advocated the easing of restrictions on travel to Cuba so that Cuban Americans would serve as “ambassadors…for a free market economy.” Clinton has contrasted the Venezuelan “dictator” with other regional governments, saying that “[w]e wish Venezuela were looking more to its south and looking at Brazil and looking at Chile” [33].

The promotion of “moderate” political alternatives to the current regimes in Venezuela and Bolivia has been a consistent focus of US policy in recent years. In Bolivia, for example, declassified US Embassy documents have revealed the work of USAID in funding opposition political parties in order to “serve as a counterweight to the radical MAS [the party of President Evo Morales] or its successors,” and “strengthening grassroots organizations in order to confront the MAS.” Recent revelations about the extent of US monetary assistance to opposition groups and media outlets in Venezuela—to the tune of $40 million per year—have further highlighted this strategy. State Department officials have also publicly advocated the strategy of dividing the “radical” from the “moderate” left, in order to form a “counterweight to governments like those currently in power in Venezuela and Bolivia which pursue policies which do not serve the interests of their people or the region.” Further confirmation of this strategy comes from the US diplomatic files recently released by Wikileaks, some of which offer evidence of US efforts to undermine or overthrow Hugo Chávez [34].

These statements and documents provide a fairly coherent picture of US priorities in Latin America: promote US-friendly political regimes while steering Latin American economies along an essentially neoliberal path (reducing or eliminating the social safety net, easing regulations on foreign corporations, prioritizing raw material exports, dismantling protections for national industry, etc.). The formulas of neoliberalism and the promotion of obedient client democracies are closely interlinked. And the more explicit statements of Clinton and others, rather than the more conciliatory speeches by Obama himself, seem to reflect the underlying logic behind the current administration’s policy in the region, which continues to reward regimes like those in Colombia, Peru, and Mexico that unabashedly favor corporate investors over human rights while seeking to undermine those in Venezuela, Bolivia, and elsewhere [35].

Reasons for Militarization

But why has the US placed such emphasis on re-militarizing Latin America in the past decade? Outside Colombia, there is no direct military threat to US-friendly regimes, as there sometimes was in the Cold War era when popular discontent produced armed guerrilla forces. Couldn’t US goals be achieved through economic and political imperialism alone, as they were for a short time in Bolivia after the country’s 1952 revolution [36]?

While the ongoing militarization of US global policy is amply documented, its roots require more explicit theorization (a topic which I hope to treat in the future). At the present time, though, I want to briefly suggest five contributing factors. The first two reflect what David Harvey calls the capitalist and territorial “logics of power,” or the US need to promote economic profit and maintain geopolitical control in Latin America; these first two factors are thus closely linked to the US priorities discussed above [37]. The remaining three factors overlap with the first two, but reflect more the nature of the US economy, the reality of declining US global influence, and Washington political culture.

  1. Repressing dissent
  2. Maintaining a strong US presence in the region
  3. The political influence of military contractors and weapons makers
  4. Military power as the one remaining realm of US dominance
  5. Washington’s machista political culture

  1. Repressing dissent. Within most countries, there continue to be plenty of “internal security” threats quite apart from narco-traffickers and armed guerrillas. As Edward Herman observed almost 30 years ago, the central logic behind the longstanding correlation between US military aid and human rights violations is that the suppression of human rights tends to create a climate favorable for business. In underdeveloped countries where cheap labor and raw materials are the primary attractions for foreign capital, regimes that guarantee strong political, social, and economic rights to all their people simply will not be as successful in enticing foreign investors and in winning the good will of those investors’ home governments [38]. This reality has become even more apparent since Herman made that observation in 1982, as neoliberal economic reforms have been imposed throughout much of the world to the detriment of most ordinary people. Neoliberal policies have long been unpopular among Latin Americans, and have helped trigger the resurgence of powerful Latin American social movements in recent decades; since the late 1990s, as US planners have lamented, these movements and the massive social discontent they represent have produced about a dozen left-leaning presidents vowing to break their countries’ economic, political, and diplomatic dependence on the United States [39]. Militarization in the form of increased military and police aid is one strategy for containing this phenomenon. Although the formal targets of the “aid” are drug traffickers (and in Colombia, armed guerrillas), in many countries that aid has also helped enable the repression of nonviolent social movements [40].In a rebuttal to Clinton’s September 8th comments, the editors of the Mexican daily La Jornada point out that one benefit of the “war on drugs” is that it easily lends itself to “the criminalization of social movements and activists under the pretext of combating the drug cartels” [41]. In recent years, protesters all over Latin America have been killed, imprisoned, and otherwise harassed by “security” forces funded and often directly trained by the United States: Colombian unionists, Indians, and peasants, communities protesting extractive industry in the Peruvian Amazon, activists and journalists following the June 2009 coup in Honduras, and diverse Mexican protesters (most recently teachers, miners, and electrical workers, in addition to the Zapatistas). More broadly, militarization has been the preferred way of dealing with the instability—from social protest to migration to street crime, drug production, and violence—that neoliberalism predictably exacerbates [42]. 
  2. Maintaining a strong US presence in the region. US policymakers’ obsession with dominating Latin America is not attributable to concrete material interests alone. While those interests play a central role, the region has always been deemed to have enormous geopolitical importance, which largely derives from economic interest but is not precisely the same thing. The US concern over Latin America has long bordered on the obsessive, as evidenced by the steadfast US dedication in the 1980s to repressing reformist impulses in three Central American countries which held relatively little direct economic importance to US business elites. Maintaining control over “our little region over here”—in former Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s words—is in some sense a goal in and of itself, though one that has traditionally also been considered essential “to achieve a successful order elsewhere in the world,” according to the National Security Council in 1971 [43]. The end of the Cold War and the ever-increasing US preoccupation with the Middle East has not changed this priority—thus the recent insistence by the leading establishment foreign policy think tank that “Latin America has never mattered more for the United States.” In the present context, a strong US or US-sponsored military presence is especially important as a counterweight to those left-leaning governments that are deemed the most threatening to US domination, with Venezuela topping the list. US bases in countries like Colombia,Honduras, El Salvador, and Panama, and vast amounts of military aid to Colombia and Mexico, are intended in large part as a reassertion of US dominance. The original 2009 Pentagon budget request to Congress spoke of the need for “full spectrum operations throughout South America,” in part to counter the presence of “anti-U.S. governments” and “expand expeditionary warfare capability” [44]. Although that language was removed from the final document, it’s probably a good indication of the thinking of many in Washington. And while an outright US attack on Venezuela or Bolivia seems unlikely in the near future, there is a consensus on the need for a strong regional US military presence in the region, in part as a sort of buffer against the further spread of “radical populism.”
  3. The political influence of US military contractors and weapons makers. Militarization is a government subsidy to domestic US corporations. US officials have viewed military aid to Latin America as a necessary subsidy to the military-industrial complex at least since the 1940s, when they noted that military assistance “would also give added impetus to the aircraft industry,” to shipbuilding, and to other sectors. Since then the weapons industry has grown exponentially and is now the most profitable in the world, with the US the world’s leading weapons exporter. And as political economists like Seymour Melman and Ismael Hossein-Zadeh have emphasized, a domestic economy oriented so heavily around war and war-related industries—with about half of all annual federal spending going to these ends—spawns the constituencies and lobbies that tend to be among the most vocally militarist and that help guarantee the perpetuation of the system that benefits them [45]. Apart from direct Pentagon military and police aid, in 2008 the US weapons industry and US government sold almost $2 billion in arms to Latin America, over 60 percent of which went to Mexico and Colombia. In the case of Plan Colombia, military equipment providers and oil companies are known to have lobbied hard for the bill’s passage, and the very same companies are currently benefiting from Plan Mexico (the “Mérida Initiative”) [46].
  4. Military power as the one remaining realm of US dominance. As the US economy has declined in relation to those of China, India, and East Asia, the United States’ one area of unquestioned superiority remains its military might. Like any athlete in competition—picture a big, lumbering basketball center—it naturally tends to rely on its relative strengths, hoping to use its size and power to outdo its quicker, more dynamic opponents. The occasional slam dunk, or show of force, is in part meant to remind everyone of who owns the “court,” or geopolitical battleground. For the US government, the relative strength of military power has increasingly become a first resort for a diverse range of problems and objectives, even when ultimately counterproductive. This tendency is also probably one factor behind the recent Obama escalation of US wars in Central Asia, despite strong evidence that military force will be ineffective in helping the United States consolidate a stable client regime in Afghanistan [47].
  5. Washington’s chauvinistic political culture. The association of physical strength with masculinity is widespread, and the metaphor is frequently deployed in elite political discourse with reference to nation-states in order to justify aggressive policies. During the early years of the “war on terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq, US policymakers and their loyal lap-dogs in the US press often touted US virility while casting certain European leaders who hesitated to support the invasion as weak and effeminate [48]. Celebrated New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman told a TV host in 2003 that the US invasion of Iraq was a way of saying “Suck on this” to Iraqis and others who opposed US power. “Real men go to Tehran,” US and British officials said at the outset of the war, pushing for a subsequent invasion of Iran [49]. In fact, real men never shirk from the use of military force: whether in the Middle East, Colombia, Mexico, or Hiroshima, the willingness to display one’s military prowess in response to any perceived “threat” is a prerequisite for manhood and respect. In most cases machismo is closely intertwined with profoundly racist views of foreign peoples, who are of course the primary targets of US military force.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, US political cartoons routinely portrayed Latin Americans as effeminate and in need of US protection, and today’s corporate press reproduces similar motifs in more subtle fashion. Machismo and chauvinistic pride (often infused with racism) are not just a rhetorical strategy for justifying aggression, though—they are deeply embedded within the minds of most US policymakers, and help shape policy as well as rhetoric. Machismo is perhaps especially helpful in explaining drawn-out US engagement in places like Vietnam and Afghanistan, regions whose direct economic importance to the US has been decidedly secondary. Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton wrote in a 1965 memo that by far the most important US goal in Vietnam was “to avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat,” thus justifying the slaughter of several million innocent people [50]. Likewise, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Obama escalation in Afghanistan is partly attributable to Washington’s culture of chauvinism, and especially Democrats’ reluctance to be seen as “weak” (even though most of the US public is against the war) [51].

Change We Can Believe In: Spreading the Model

The consequences of militarized neoliberalism are not debatable. While a few druglords, politicians, and corporate profiteers benefit, the unimportant people suffer from increased poverty, which in turn accelerates everything from social protest to migration to drug production, street crime, and violence—all of which are then used to justify more militarization. This cycle, with all its winners and losers, is likely to persist in Colombia, Mexico, and everywhere that the same model is applied.

Obama administration policy has shown a strong preference for the three basic ingredients of that model—neoliberal economic policies, political leaders obedient to the United States, and militarization—and has shown little desire to modify policy in a progressive direction (even along the lines of the exceedingly modest, pragmatic changes recommended by the Council on Foreign Relations in 2008). Since Obama took over, Mexico has displaced Colombia as the hemisphere’s leading recipient of US military and police aid as part of the effort that one US official has called “armoring NAFTA.” The incorporation of Central America into a US-sponsored “security corridor” stretching from the US-Mexico border down to Colombia proceeds apace [52]. If the Obama presidency has brought any “change,” it’s certainly not the sort of change that most ordinary people would find desirable.

Much current debate within progressive circles revolves around the question of whether Obama is personally in favor of continuing his predecessors’ policies or is actually a progressive-at-heart who is handcuffed by entrenched elite interests. The latter notion seems unlikely, because if Obama were genuinely interested in a more humane and less imperialistic policy, he could set in motion some modest changes by, for example, ending the cynical US “democracy promotion” programs in countries like Venezuela or restoring the trade preferences for Bolivia that he revoked in 2009.

But Obama’s inner motivations are in any case much less significant than the structural and institutional barriers to substantive change. The basic policy goals and strategies transcend party lines and electoral outcomes. Even if ultimately detrimental to certain long-term US interests, continued militarization delivers many short-term benefits to corporate and government stakeholders. Given the current constellations of power in the United States and Latin America, a substantial demilitarization of policy would simply incur too much elite resistance, and deliver too little of a political reward.

Any major policy changes in a progressive direction, if they occur, will result from pressures emanating from Latin America and/or from non-governmental forces within the United States itself.


*Thanks to Sue Dorfman, John Feffer, and Michael Schwartz for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.

[1] Carlos Chirinos, “Hillary Clinton: México se parece a ‘Colombia de hace 20 años,’” BBC Mundo, September 8, 2010; “Clinton: Mexican Drug War Resembles an Insurgency,” Los Angeles Times, September 8, 2010. This statement was not the first time the Plan Colombia model has been explicitly lauded as one to be applied elsewhere: see Bill Weinberg, “Plan Colombia: Exporting the Model,” NACLA Report on the Americas 42, no. 4 (2009), andGreg Grandin, “Muscling Latin America,” Nation (January 21, 2010). The positive view of Plan Colombia is widespread among the foreign policy elite in the United States: for example, Robert C. Bonner, “The New Cocaine Cowboys: How to Defeat Mexico’s Drug Cartels,” Foreign Affairs (July/August 2010).

[2] On tobacco see Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Productivity Losses—United States, 2000–2004,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 57, no. 45 (2008): 1226–28, cited on the CDC website; on alcohol see David J. Nutt, Leslie A. King, and Lawrence D. Phillips, “Drug Harms in the UK: A Multicriteria Decision Analysis,” The Lancet 376, no. 9752 (November 6, 2010): 1558-65. For additional statistics see Noam Chomsky, “Plan Colombia,” in Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs (Boston: South End Press, 2000), 78-80.

I am sidestepping the very important question of whether the state has any legitimate right to prohibit, and impose stiff penalties on, the personal consumption of specific substances; I for one don’t think it does, unless a given substance’s production, exchange, and/or consumption clearly harms other people or the environment in some demonstrable way. A strong case could be made that certain drugs fall within this exception, meaning that usage restrictions or all-out prohibition might be reasonable; the case of drunk driving, for example, is clear-cut. However, many of the most dangerous drugs (e.g., alcohol and tobacco) are legal, while many of the “safer” drugs by comparison (especially marijuana, but also cocaine) incur some of the harshest penalties. (On the comparatively very light penalties for drunk driving—which kills about 22,000 people each year in the United States, far more than all narcotics-related offenses—see Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness [New York: New Press, 2010], 200-01.)

[3] “Democracy and Plan Colombia,” NACLA Report on the Americas 40, no. 1 (2007).

[4] UN statistics quoted in “Morales: Bolivia Trade Suspension Shows Obama ‘Lied to Latin America’” (headline), Democracy Now! 2July 2009; UN Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2009 (New York, 2009), 11. See also Simon Romero, “Coca Production Makes a Comeback in Peru,” New York Times,June 13, 2010; Andrés Schipani, “Cocaine Production Rise Spells Trouble for Bolivia,” BBC News, June 16, 2010. “Balloon effect”: Lisa Haugaard, et al., Waiting for Change: Trends in U.S. Security Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean (CIP/LAWG/WOLA, May 2010), 16.

[5] Quoted in Rory Carroll, “Cocaine Production Surge Unleashes Wave of Violence in Latin America,” Guardian, March 9, 2009. See also the Commission’s February 2009 report, Drugs and Democracy: Toward a Paradigm Shift, and Michael Kenney, From Pablo to Osama: Trafficking and Terrorist Networks, Government Bureaucracies, and Competitive Adaptations (State College, PA: Penn State UP, 2007).

[6] “A Plan Colombia for Mexico,” Foreign Policy in Focus, September 10, 2010. On the rise of Mexican narcotrafficking see Paul Gootenberg, “Blowback: The Mexican Drug Crisis,” NACLA Report on the Americas 43, no. 6 (2010): 7-12. Two journalists with long experience covering Mexico write that “most of the murder victims are ordinary Mexicans who magically morph into drug cartel members before their blood dries on the streets.” They also emphasize the significant uncertainty regarding the identities and motives of those responsible for the enormous spike in recent drug-related violence, uncertainty which they attribute to the virtual absence of Mexican government investigations and lack of US government interest. The fact that Plan Mexico has been proceeding now for several years despite this uncertainty is yet another clue that the program has some hidden motives. See Charles Bowden and Molly Molloy, “Who Is Behind the 25,000 Deaths in Mexico?” Nation (July 23, 2010).


[7] N. Chomsky, “Plan Colombia,” 72-73.

[8] Quoted in Teo Ballvé, “The Dark Side of Plan Colombia,” Nation (May 27, 2009).

[9] Ballvé, “The Dark Side of Plan Colombia”; Weinberg, “Plan Colombia”; Angel Páez, “Peru: Wikileaks Cables Reveal Two-Faced Politics by US,” Inter Press Service, December 16, 2010.


[10] For references to expert analyses published prior to 1999, N. Chomsky, “Plan Colombia,” 80-81. “Alternative economic development” of a genuine nature of course should not be confused with current USAID programs in Colombia or elsewhere. On the highly-racialized “War on Drugs” in the United States itself, see the excellent recent book by lawyer Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010). See also the January/February 2011 special issue of The American Prospect.

[11] Adam Isacson for the Washington Office on Latin America, Don’t Call It a Model: On Plan Colombia’s Tenth Anniversary, Claims of ‘Success’ Don’t Stand Up to Scrutiny (WOLA, July 2010), p. 5.

[12] Of 101 confirmed murders of trade unionists, 48 were in Colombia. The next three countries on the list are all close US allies: Guatemala with 16, Honduras with 12, Mexico with 6; Bangladesh tied with Mexico (International Trade Union Confederation, Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights [2010]). In the words of ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder, “Colombia was yet again the country where standing up for fundamental rights of workers is more likely than anywhere else to mean a death sentence, despite the Colombian government’s public relations campaign to the contrary. The worsening situation in Guatemala, Honduras and several other countries is also cause for extreme concern.” For background plus a more recent update, see Federico Fuentes, “Colombia: Doing Business, Killing Workers,” Green Left Weekly, November 13, 2010. The murder of left-wing activists has continued unabated since former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos took over the presidency in August 2010; see Manuela Kuehr, “22 Activists Killed in Santos’ First 75 Days,” Colombia Reports, October 29, 2010.

[13] Conn Hallinan, “Recent Colombian Mass Grave Discovery May Be ‘False-Positives,’” Foreign Policy in Focus, August 1, 2010; “Informe del Relator Especial sobre las ejecuciones, extrajudiciales, sumarias o arbitrarias, Philip Alston,”A/HRC/14/24/Add.2 (March 31, 2010), 12.

[14] Oeindrila Dube and Suresh Naidu, Bases, Bullets, and Ballots: The Effect of U.S. Military Aid on Political Conflict in Colombia, Working Paper 197 (January 2010), summary and page 3.

[15] “Plan Colombia Linked to Increased Military Abuses,” NACLA News, July 30, 2010. The full report, released in July 2010, is entitled Military Assistance and Human Rights: Colombia, U.S. Accountability, and Global Implications. The post-1990 emergence of Colombia as the region’s worst human rights violator is partly attributable to the fall, in the mid-to-late 1980s, of a string of US-backed military dictatorships with horrendous human rights records.

[16] In a systematic review of the record for 1975-77, political scientist Lars Schoultz found that “[t]he correlations between the absolute level of U.S. assistance to Latin America and human rights violations by recipient governments…are uniformly positive, indicating that aid has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens” (“U.S. Foreign Policy and Human Rights Violations in Latin America: A Comparative Analysis of Foreign Aid Distributions,” Comparative Politics 13, no. 2 [1981]: 155). See also Edward S. Herman, The Real Terror Network: Terrorism in Fact and Propaganda (Boston: South End Press, 1982), 126 passim.

Some may question whether Schoultz’s correlation persists in the post-Cold War period; my sense is that while state torture and murder are less common now than they were thirty years ago, there is still a strong correlation between US goodwill and the suppression of participatory-style social democracy. The more relevant correlation now, I believe, is between levels of democracy and US favor, rather than levels of state violence and US favor. For some recent evidence that supports this argument, see the sources cited in notes 21 and 40, below.

[17] The documents in question, available on the website of the National Security Archive, reveal US government knowledge as early as 1990 of military links to death squads.

[18] AP report from July 15, 2009, also quoted in Noam Chomsky, “Militarizing Latin America,” In These Times online, September 9, 2009. On the more recent State Department approval of Colombia’s human rights record, see Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, “Giving Colombia a Free Pass: State Department Ignores Abuses of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Rights,” UpsideDownWorld.org, September 22, 2010. On the current prospects for a US-Colombia “free-trade” deal, see Dawn Paley, “What’s Next for the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement?” NACLA News, December 3, 2010.

[19] Quoted in Haugaard, et al., Waiting for Change, 4.

[20] Isacson, Don’t Call It a Model, 10 (quote), based in part on UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Social Panorama of Latin America (briefing paper, 2009), 11–12.

[21] Mexico ranked first in the region in the overall “ease of doing business” there, with Peru and Colombia second and third (Doing Business 2011: Making a Difference for Entrepreneurs [Washington, 2010], 4). Also discussed in Fuentes, “Colombia: Doing Business, Killing Workers.”

[22] “Latin America: Guidelines of United States Policy and Operations” (draft), April 24, 1962, p. 57, in US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Record Group 59, Entry 3172, Box 2, Folder 31.

[23] “Penetration” was a common trope in policymaker discourse; see, for example, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas C. Mann to the Under Secretary of State (C. Douglas Dillon), November 10, 1960, in NARA 59/3172/1/30.

[24] “Latin American Attitudes toward the US,” NIE 80/90-58, December 2, 1958, in Foreign Relations of the United States [hereafter FRUS], 1958-1960, vol. V: American Republics (Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1991), 61-62 (quote). On the Kennedy period see Stephen G. Rabe, The Most Dangerous Area in the World: John F. Kennedy Confronts Communist Revolution in Latin America (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1999), 125-47. The US fear of Latin American nationalism had started earlier, however, as David Green demonstrates in The Containment of Latin America: A History of the Myths and Realities of the Good Neighbor Policy (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971). Green notes (p. 208) that in the immediate postwar period, “Informed American observers in Latin America knew perfectly well that indigenous nationalism, not international communism, was the real threat to United States interests in Latin America.” Cf. James Siekmeier, “Fighting Economic Nationalism: U.S. Economic Aid and Development Policy toward Latin America, 1953-1961” (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, 1993).

[25] US Embassy in Bolivia to Department of State, April 30, 1953, in NARA 59, Central Decimal File, 1950-54, 824.00/4-3053; “Summary Guidelines Paper: United States Policy toward Latin America,” July 3, 1961, p. 33; “The Threat to US Security Interests in the Caribbean Area,” SNIE 80-62, January 17, 1962, p. 212; Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., “Report to the President on Latin American Mission, February 12-March 3, 1961” (undated), 12-13. The latter three documents are all found in FRUS, 1961-1963, vol. XII: American Republics (Washington, DC: USGPO, 1996).

[26] The parallels, discursive and otherwise, are striking. To take but one example, in 1879 General Philip Sheridan spoke of the need to hunt down Cheyenne Indians who had escaped miserable reservation conditions, saying that “[u]nless they are sent back to where they came from [or killed], the whole reservation system will receive a shock which will endanger its stability.” Sheridan is also famous for popularizing the phrase “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Quoted in Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (New York: Washington Square Press, 1981), 327-28, 166; cf. pp. 271, 344.

[27] Duggan quoted in Green, The Containment of Latin America, 188. Bonsal to Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Roy Rubottom, May 20, 1958, in NARA, 59/1162/27/“Bolivia 1958—Chronological—93—Letters from Amembassies—Jan.-June.” In the same year, President Eisenhower told the National Security Council that “[t]he trouble is that we have a campaign of hatred against us [in the Middle East], not by the governments but by the people…The people are on Nasser’s side” (quoted in Douglas Little, American Orientalism: The United States and the Middle East since 1945 [Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2002], 136). The NSC had already pointed out that “our economic and cultural interests in the area have led not unnaturally to close U.S. relations with elements in the Arab world whose primary interest lies in the maintenance of relations with the West and the status quo in their countries”; consequently “the majority of Arabs” correctly “believe that the United States is seeking to protect its interest in Near East oil by supporting the status quo and opposing political or economic progress” (quoted in Noam Chomsky’s response in “Why Do They Want To Do Us Harm? [Part Three],” In These Times, April 2, 2010). Cf. Salim Yaqub, Containing Arab Nationalism: The Eisenhower Doctrine and the Middle East (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2004).


[28] On the creation of Colombian death squads under US supervision in the early 1960s see Greg Grandin, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (New York: Metropolitan, 2006), 96, 98; Dennis M. Rempe, “Guerrillas, Bandits, and Independent Republics: U.S. Counter-insurgency Efforts in Colombia, 1959-1965,” Small Wars and Insurgencies 6, no. 3 (1995): 304-27; Aviva Chomsky, Linked Labor Histories: New England, Colombia, and the Making of a Global Working Class (Durham: Duke UP, 2008), 231-40; N. Chomsky, “Plan Colombia,” 69.

[29] PPS/23: “Review of Current Trends in U.S. Foreign Policy,” in FRUS, 1948, vol. I (Washington: USGPO, 1974), 524-25.

[30] Both quoted in Michael Klare, “Have R.D.F., Will Travel: The Brown Doctrine,” Nation (March 8, 1980), front cover and 263-66. Cf. Grandin, Empire’s Workshop, 179.

[31] U.S. Latin America Relations: A New Direction for a New Reality (May 2008) (quote from summary). The same concern is noted in a 2009 report published by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs: Sebastián Castañeda, “The Consolidation of U.S. Military Presence in Colombia and Those Who Are Apprehensive Over it,” September 25, 2009 (“The protection of vital natural resources, especially oil reserves, is central to the U.S. economic strategy in the region”).

[32] J. Michael McConnell (Director of National Intelligence), Annual Threat Assessment of the Director of National Intelligence for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, February 5, 2008, p. 34. The 2010 version, presented by Obama DNI Dennis C. Blair on 2 February, is somewhat more polemical vis-à-vis left-leaning governments, particularly Venezuela’s Chávez, who is rendered guilty of “working to counter US influence in Latin America” (p. 43; other quotes from pp. 30, 32). Final quote is from Christopher Sabatini and Jason Marczak, “Obama’s Tango: Restoring U.S. Leadership in Latin America,” Foreign Affairs (posted online on January 13, 2010). The authors make this point in the context of advocating “more forceful leadership” from the US in Latin America.

[33] “Remarks by Secretary Clinton, Brazilian Foreign Minister Amorim,” March 3, 2010, available from america.gov website; “Senate Confirmation Hearing: Hillary Clinton,” New York Times, January 13, 2008; Garry Leech, “U.S. Policy Towards Venezuela and Colombia Will Change Little Under Obama,” Colombia Journal, January 20, 2009; Mark Weisbrot, “Venezuela, an Imaginary Threat,” Guardian, February 18, 2009.

[34] Documents from 2002 and 2007, quoted in Jeremy Bigwood, “New Discoveries Reveal US Intervention in Bolivia,” UpsideDownWorld.org, October 13, 2008; Eva Golinger, “Documents Reveal Multimillion-Dollar Funding to Journalists and Media in Venezuela,” Postcards from the Revolution (blog), July 15, 2009;US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, quoted in Weisbrot, “Venezuela, an Imaginary Threat”; Eva Golinger, “Wikileaks: Documents Confirm US Plans Against Venezuela,” ZNet commentary, December 20, 2010 (as of this writing, one such document, entitled “A Southern Cone Perspective on Countering Chavez and Reasserting U.S. Leadership,” was available from

[35] For a summary and assessment of early Obama administration policy in the region see my “Obama and Latin America: The First Six Months,” NACLA News, July 23, 2009. There have been no substantive modifications in that policy since. On US praise for Peru—“a thriving democracy,” in Obama’s words—see Lisa Skeen, “U.S. Praise for Peru’s Economy Misses the Mark,” NACLA News, September 13, 2010.


[36] National Security Council, National Security Strategy of the United States of America, March 2006, p. 25. Thanks to Michael Schwartz for pointing me to this reference.

[37] Stephen Zunes, “The United States, Bolivia, and Dependency,” Americas Policy Program Discussion Paper (Washington, DC: Center for International Policy, November 5, 2007); Zunes, “The United States and Bolivia: The Taming of a Revolution, 1952-1957,” Latin American Perspectives 28, no. 5 (2001): 33-49.


[38] The New Imperialism (New York: Oxford UP, 2003), 26-42.

[39] The Real Terror Network, 45, 126-32. As the two 2010 studies on Colombia (above, notes 14-15) demonstrate, US military aid also tends to enhance repression—meaning the correlation derives both from the fact that initial US aid allotments favor regimes that demonstrate their willingness to repress, and from the fact that US aid once allotted actively exacerbates the problem.

[40] For a review of recent poll figures demonstrating Latin Americans’ aversion to much of neoliberal dogma, see my “Latinobarómetro 2010: Latin American Public Opinion,” ZNet, December 7, 2010, and past poll results referred to in note 3 of that article. The neoliberalism that began to sweep the world in the mid-1970s is properly understood as a particularly virulent strain of corporate capitalism, and one with many precedents long prior to the 1970s; it has not represented an entirely new phenomenon or strategy on the part of policymakers.

[41] Though not my focus here, there are crucial connections between neoliberalism, drug production, and militarization; the main link seems to be that as neoliberalism has devastated local economies, drug producers have moved in to fill the vacuum, thus providing more justification for US-led militarization. The various forms of “instability” that neoliberalism exacerbates—from protest, to street crime, to large-scale drug production—are then lumped within the same category, at least rhetorically, with the implication being that they must be eradicated through military and police action. Greg Grandin notes that the “cycle of [drug-related] violence is reinforced by the rapid spread of mining, hydroelectric, biofuel and petroleum operations, which wreak havoc on local ecosystems, poisoning land and water, and by the opening of national markets to US agroindustry, which destroys local economies. The ensuing displacement either creates the assorted criminal threats the wide war is waged to counter or provokes protest, which is dealt with by the avengers the wide war empowers” (“Muscling Latin America”).

[42] “Clinton: Confusiones peligrosas,” September 9, 2010.

[43] On Colombia see notes 11-13 above plus Mario A. Murillo, “History Repeats Itself for Indigenous Communities under Attack in Colombia,” NACLA News, October 15, 2008; Peru: Kristina Aiello, “Bagua, Peru: A Year After,” NACLA News, June 25, 2010; Honduras: Linda Cooper and James Hodge, “Honduran Coup Leader a Two-Time SOA Graduate,” National Catholic Reporter, June 29, 2009; Mexican unions: James D. Cockroft, “Mexico: ‘Failed States,’ New Wars, Resistance,” Monthly Review 62, no. 6 (November 2010), 37.

[44] Stimson quoted in Green, The Containment of Latin America, 230; NSC quoted in N. Chomsky, “Militarizing Latin America.” As Noam Chomsky notes elsewhere, US planners often “recognize that US security requires absolute control…As every Mafia Don knows, even the slightest loss of control might lead to [the] unraveling of the system of domination as others are encouraged to follow a similar path” (“Security and Control I,” ZNet, September 16, 2010). Cf. notes 25-26 above.

[45] Quoted in Grandin, “Muscling Latin America.” Cf. Haugaard, et al., Waiting for Change, 4.

[46] As Senator William Fulbright observed during the Vietnam era, “Millions of Americans whose only interest is in making a decent living have acquired a vested interest in an economy geared to war…Every new weapons system or military installation soon acquires a constituency.” Quoted in Hossein-Zadeh, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 15. Cf. Melman, Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970).

[47] Quote from Air Force General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, speaking in 1947, cited in Green, The Containment of Latin America, 260. Arms figures taken from Just the Facts website. On lobbying for Plan Colombia see Center for Public Integrity, “The Helicopter War,” undated, and sources cited in N. Chomsky, “Plan Colombia,” 77. On Mexico see Laura Carlsen, “House and Senate Pass New Military Aid to Mexico,” Americas Program (reposted on UpsideDownWorld.org), May 18, 2009.

[48] Seth G. Jones and Martin C. Libicki, How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa’ida (RAND Corporation, 2008). Various scholars have observed that the US government has increasingly tended “to flex its military muscle as the only clear absolute power it has left” (Harvey, The New Imperialism, 77).

[49] Noam Chomsky, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (New York: Metropolitan, 2006), 35.


[50] Friedman quoted in David Swanson, War Is A Lie (Charlottesville, VA, 2010), 187; British official quoted in David Remnick, “War Without End?” New Yorker (April 21, 2003).

[51] Quoted in Swanson, War Is A Lie, 184.

[52] Yet in one of the sharper ironies of recent history, the United States’ global military superiority has enabled it to conquer neither Iraq nor Afghanistan.

[53] Grandin, “Muscling Latin America” (including NAFTA quote from US official); Kevin Alvarez, “The Drug War: Towards a ‘Plan Central America,’” NACLA News, October 28, 2010.

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