Juan Gonzalez’s book Harvest of Empire is a great illustration of the effects of US hegemony in the Western hemisphere. Gonzalez, a Puerto-Rican American, is best known these days as a co-host of Democracy Now! He was a long time columnist for the New York Daily News. His book is of great value in exposing the crimes of the American empire to the general public.
The first half of the book catalogs the domination of the lands south of the border. The focus is on the countries that have had large immigration to the US devastated by corporate America’s plunder. The second half of the book is mostly about Democratic Party politics with regard to Latinos
Gonzalez’s technique is to give an anecdotal account of one family for each country he discusses. He uses his own family to illustrate Puerto Rico. These stories are always powerful. The only anecdote that I found problematic was the family that fled Cuba because Castro “stole” their small business. Gonzalez appears to be very critical of the Cuban revolution in discussing this family. They go to Miami and become CIA agents trying to overthrow Castro. In most of the book, the CIA is denounced. Here the CIA seems to be doing good because they are opposing the Castro regime. I would have at least liked Gonzalez to include an extra family who fled Cuba from Batista, the US backed dictator whom Castro overthrew. This family might have illustrated a very different point of view. It appears to me that Gonzalez may be overly critical of the Cuban revolution. If so, the danger of this is that all US violence can then be justified as stopping communism.
Gonzalez points out that many Latino immigrants are proud of their service in the military of their new country. They often continue to be discriminated against despite this service. But there is an incredible irony. Here are people “harvested” from the empire after their countries are devastated, who then serve the empire to dominate poor peasants and workers in countries in Asia and Africa.
I recently saw a documentary based on the book shown at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley in Bethlehem. In the discussion that followed the movie, a number of people expressed astonishment at the extent of American misdeeds in Latin America. Obviously, the mainstream media and our education system have done such a good job at covering things up that even some of the very liberal Unitarians weren’t aware of much of the material. I pointed out that what was shown was merely the tip of the iceberg and that further important reading would include William Blum’s Rogue State (meaning the US), Greg Grandin’s Empire’s Workshop, which shows how techniques of domination developed in the Western hemisphere have been used to dominate Asia and Africa (the wars in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and the perpetual wars in the greater Middle East), and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, which goes into much greater detail of US crimes in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua
Chomsky implicates the mainstream media, including the New York Times, for serving as propaganda vehicles for the empire. Gonzalez doesn’t indict the mainstream media in his book, which is problematic from my point of view.
In the documentary Republican presidents are shown smiling and shaking hands with some of the worst dictators of the 20th Century: Eisenhower with Batista and Trujillo, Nixon with Pinochet and Duvalier), George H.W. Bush with Noriega, and George W. Bush with Rios-Montt. All of these murderers were backed or even installed by the US.
Gonzalez goes easy on the Democratic presidents. They are shown giving flowery speeches about human rights. He leaves out actions taken by Democratic Presidents not necessarily in the best interests of the people of Latin America. Harry Truman backed the brutal dictators Francois Duvalier and Raphael Trujillo. Kennedy attacked Cuba in the Bay of Pigs, tried to assassinate Castro repeatedly, and intervened in the Dominican Republic. Under Johnson, the CIA overthrew the reformist President Juan Bosch and invaded the Dominican Republic in 1964 to prevent the restoration of the elected President leading to a bloodbath of retaliation against the supporters of Juan Bosch. Thousands of these people then fled their country and settled in Washington Heights in upper Manhattan. Clinton helped to overthrow the elected President of Haiti Jean Bertrand Aristide. Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed the overthrow of the elected government of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. The current refugee caravan from Honduras is partially a result of that.
There is a segment on the assassination of Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador by the right wing government. Romero was using his position to speak out for the rights of poor people. The documentary implicates the Reagan administration. Gonzalez leaves out that the government of the great “humanitarian” Jimmy Carter completely backed the right wing government. Romero wrote a letter to Carter appealing to him to stop backing the government. Carter never even answered Romero who was assassinated not long after the letter was written. The Carter administration had been pressuring the Vatican to have Romero removed because he was backing progressive forces that threatened US business interests in El Salvador
The final scene of the documentary Harvest of Empire shows Latinos waving American flags. The cover of the book has a young Latino child waving an American flag. You certainly can’t blame people for wanting to share in the prosperity that many of us have here in America. We’re rooting for all people here, in Latin America and the rest of the world, to have peaceful and prosperous lives.
Harvest of Empire and the associated documentary are very important as jumping off points for far more extensive knowledge of the real problems that face the world due to American hegemony.
Todd Carpien is an actor in Allentown. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org