Sunday, March 27, 2011

Obama, JFK, and Che Guevara: The Real Meaning of Capitalist Development

U.S. President Barack Obama recently announced in Santiago, Chile that he is interested in "working together to promote development in the Americas." This is a recycling of JFK's "Alliance For Progress," which sought to bribe Latin American nations into isolating the Cuban revolution, at the price of their national independence. In return for its client states' continued subservience, Washington offered a torrent of loans, donations, and investments, on the pretext that they would usher in prosperity for all. A half century later we know that the vast majority of Latin America has had as much chance to reach First World standards of development as a dwarf has to star in the N.B.A.

And this was clearly foreseen. Arriving to the Pan American Conference in Punta del Este, Uruguay, in the summer of 1961, Che Guevara quickly exposed the insincerity behind Washington's dangled financial aid. "Cuba is the hen that laid your golden eggs," he announced, pointing out that U.S. "generosity" was only forthcoming because of Washington's recent humiliation at the Bay of Pigs.

Propaganda worked overtime to achieve what force had failed to gain. So that nothing would change, the Kennedy administration constantly invoked the rhetoric of change. The conference's official reports ran to 500,000 pages, all of which gave prominent place to the need for "revolution," "agrarian reform," or "development." Little of it ever came to pass outside of Cuba. And when popular movements attempted to make change happen without the approval of Washington, the U.S. bloodily intervened, overthrowing the democratically elected government of Brazil in 1964, crushing a democratic revival in the Dominican Republic in 1965, and replacing the democratic government of Chile with General Pinochet in 1973.

Incidentally, on his recent trip to Chile, Obama was directly asked whether he would cooperate with legal efforts to bring to justice those who committed crimes under the Pinochet regime. Obama promised nothing, answering only that "we would like to cooperate,"and that he would "consider" releasing requested information. He avoided answering whether the U.S. would consider asking "forgiveness" for what it did in Chile in the Allende years. Apparently, the Chilean press has yet to realize that imperialism means never having to say you're sorry.

Like JFK before him, Obama is offering a "partnership for prosperity" (i.e., development) to Latin America. Perhaps a look back at the Alliance For Progress from Che Guevara's point of view can help us understand the nature of "prosperity" and "development" U.S. leaders like to deliver to Third World peoples.

In "Punta del Este: An Alternative Development Program for Latin America," Guevara offered the following analysis of the Alliance For Progress:

"It was a typical plan to domesticate all Latin American public opinion, in direct service to the United States."

"Our countries were not represented at Punta del Este, except in the case of Cuba and a few others; in general, there were governments that represented oligarchies from each one of the countries, but each one with profound problems facing it."

On why the Alliance For Progress should be seen as an effort to rescue imperialism, not the Third World, Guevara said this:

"The United States, naturally, has changed its system, formally, because the imperialist system can't change; what has changed is its system of relations with Latin American countries. They have realized something fundamental, and that is that the colonial system, even when it may just be an economic colonialism that the peoples of the Americas suffer, is in a process of such disintegration that it can't last. The remains of feudalism have to disintegrate rapidly. So the United States has foreseen the need to liquidate feudal relations of production, above all in the countryside, where the majority of Latin American countries have fundamental problems, and carry out a kind of Agrarian Reform. As they say, a kind that liquidates the large estates, the small estates, which is to say that there will be medium size estates, mechanized, with agricultural workers instead of peasants, with a high rate of productivity that permits a large volume of products to be thrown into the market; they will liquidate that parasitic feudal class, and create a new class, probably, . . . not a new class, but rather a variation of the bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie attached to importing in each country in Latin America, that comes in contact in each country with the North American monopolies, which creates mixed corporations."

"These mixed corporations function inside the political system of each country with the sole exception that their profits in the system of free exchange can be exported to the United States. In such a way everything that might otherwise be violent, like the direct interference of foreign capital in the economy of a country, isn't seen. As used to happen here in Cuba, they are called "Cuban Electric Company," "Colombian Telephone Company," "Peruvian Iron Company," etc. etc. They will have an administrator from each host country, let's say, from the country where the raw materials are, and the capital and financial direction will be North American."

"In this way they intended to develop the production of the country, as I already said, liquidate feudalism, create that new class, and then initiate a stage of capitalist development in all of those countries. Development that is, however, crippled, because of the fact that the capital they are going to use isn't independent capital, national bourgeosies that enter into conflict with the monopolies, but rather capital imprinted on monopoly capital and that works by mutual consent, in such a way that it still contributes to the colonization of the country, but momentarily relieves pressure, and naturally produces a certain boom, along with short term investment in the economies of the most undeveloped countries, where the danger of a social explosion is more obvious."

"The final result of the (Punta del Este) conference was a voluminous report, where the aspirations of the countries of Latin America over the succeeding ten years are spelled out, in the decade of 'rich, accelerated, democratic progress'. . . " From a political point of view, as far as aspirations to have Cuba condemned, the conference can be categorized as a resounding failure for the United States. Now, from the point of view of its unique political economy we doubt that it has been such a complete failure, because of the fact that they have made people believe - their governments - and through the governments of America, the peoples, that they are disposed to give aid, when in fact they aren't disposed to give. And even if they were disposed to give, they can't give. And even if they could give, they would have to give to governing circles of Latin American countries, and not exactly to governing circles, but to the alliance that governing circles form with the monopoly interests in each country, in such a way as to make investments that translate into new business for monopolies or for the same oligarchies that have an interest in depositing their money in the United States."

The Alliance promised to "develop programs of health and hygiene, with a view towards preventing diseases, fighting epidemics, and protecting, in short, human potential." Guevara, complaining of the complete lack of concrete figures in the report, responded harshly: "That is to say, nothing. In any case, what 'human potential' means is that it's necessary to preserve a sufficient labor force so that monopolists have people to work for them."

Speaking of the Alliance's projected growth rate of 2.5% for Latin America, Guevara said: "The per capita growth rate of 2.5% is extremely low for us .. . We made a little calculation . . and it was that if we had a growth rate of 2.5% for all the countries of Latin America, and with that we tried to reach the prevailing standard of living of the United States, it would take us 100 years. And if we attempted to reach the standard of living the United States was going to have, because they also were growing at a slow rate, we would need 500 years . . . what our peoples want is a growth rate that will liberate them from misery now . . .

Guevara complained of the public health provisions of the plan as well . . . "They talk of having 70% of the houses have water within ten years. That is to say they explicitly condemn 30% of the houses of Latin America to having no running water, no sewer service, etc. - in urban areas, in the countryside it's 50%."

While the U.S. used its vast power to force down the price of Latin American raw materials and cash crops, it promised the poor not equipment or machinery, but latrines! Said Guevara at Punta del Este: "For the technical gentlemen, planning amounts to the planning of latrines. If we took them seriously, Cuba could be . . . . a paradise of the latrine!"

In terms that could just as easily be applied to Obama's rhetoric today, Guevara aptly summed up the Alliance for Progress as follows: "That is to say, a very broad plan, with many pretty words, but which obligates no one and explains nothing. This is what the peoples of America will come to know as the result of 15 days of deliberations in Punta del Este."

Anyone care to wager that Obama's plans for co-prosperity by sending aid to Latin American security forces will deliver better results for today's suffering Latin American populations?

-----Michael K. Smith is the author of "Portraits of Empire" from Common Courage Press. He can be reached at


Eduardo Galeano, "Memory of Fire - Century of the Wind," (Pantheon, 1988)

Che Guevara, "Punta del Este - Alternative Development Project for Latin America," (Ocean Sur, 2006)

CNN News, "U.S. President Barack Obama and Chilean President Sebastian PiƱera Address From Santiago, Chile," March 21, 2011

Fernando Alvarez, "Obama's Trip to Latin America: The Recycling of the Alliance Without Progress?" Latin Daily Financial News," March 21, 2011

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