A different kind of war in America’s ‘backyard’

The US may not be supporting death squads in Latin America anymore, but it is still waging a bloody trade war.

NAFTA flooded the Mexican market with subsidised agricultural products from the US - in blatant violation of the very principle of 'free trade', writes Fernandez [Henry Romero/Reuters]
NAFTA flooded the Mexican market with subsidised agricultural products from the US – in blatant violation of the very principle of ‘free trade’, writes Fernandez [Henry Romero/Reuters]

by

@MariaBelen_Fdez

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.

Back in 1954, the United States orchestrated a coup d’etat against Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz, whose transgressions had included a less than totally obsequious approach to the American banana company United Fruit, predecessor of Chiquita Brands International.

As usual, the US knew what was best for the nations located in its self-proclaimed “backyard”.

Civil war descended on Guatemala six years after the coup, and ensuing decades played host to acts of genocide (pdf) committed by US-backed forces, with more than 200,000people ultimately killed or disappeared.

Elsewhere in Latin America, the US nobly pursued its mission to make the world safe for capitalism by extending support to right-wing death squads and dictators.

Nowadays, of course, the communist bogeyman can no longer be hyped as an existential hemispheric threat, and friendly Latin American regimes have ceased dropping suspected leftists from aircraft.

Nevertheless, the US has continued to preside over punitive manoeuvres – some subtler than others – to ensure that it remains in business in the “backyard”.

These range from endorsing right-wing coups to funding murderous police forces and other security outfits to agitating on behalf of US agribusiness agendas – thereby obliterating any notion of a separation of corporation and state.

Have we really come that far since 1954?

The free trade arsenal

In terms of recent economic conquest, free trade agreements -namely the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) – have proven to be formidable components of the US arsenal.

NAFTA, for example, flooded the Mexican market with subsidised agricultural products from the US – in blatant violation, incidentally, of the very principle of “free trade” and in reaffirmation of America’s golden double standard.

To be sure, there’s nothing like having one’s subsidised corn and eating it too.

The upshot in this case was that several million Mexican farmers saw their livelihoods destroyed, with the resulting mass displacement of human beings arguably constituting a form of violence in itself.

In a recent email to me, Dr Adrienne Pine – an anthropologist at American University in Washington DC – outlined some of the other perks of NAFTA and CAFTA-DR.

READ MORE: Mexicans left behind by NAFTA see opportunity in Trump

“[They] have been disastrous for citizens of all the countries involved (including the United States), yet hugely beneficial for corporations … They have destroyed crop diversity and the viability of small businesses, laid waste to hard-won labour and environmental protections, prevented access to life-saving pharmaceutical treatments for all but the very wealthy, and dramatically increased the wealth gap.”

One might reasonably assume that such an arrangement would be music to the ears of Trump & Co, who are not generally known for their concern for the plight of the average mortal.

Trump, however, has ordered a revamping of NAFTA – the implication being that the accord as it currently stands is in fact somehow a devious Mexican plot designed to bring the US to its knees.

The proliferation of American pseudo-food and other manifestations of corporate avarice is not a phenomenon confined to the immediate vicinity of the US, as globalisation has rendered neoliberal plunder all the easier.

But whatever NAFTA tweaks are ultimately imposed in Trump’s alternate universe, it’s safe to assume that “disaster” will still be the name of the game, and that “free trade” will be no freer than it ever was.

Toxic environment

In a 2003 report for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy that remains ever relevant to today’s landscape, Laura Carlsen highlights some additional reasons – as articulated by Mexican farmers and others – to oppose the agricultural model championed by the US.

Beyond the fact that the US system is environmentally destructive on account of the “large amount of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers applied and the monocropping techniques”, there are also issues of food sovereignty, in that free trade “encourages dependency on transnational seed and chemical conglomerates”.

Given that the fundamental aim of forcible dependency is not local wellbeing but rather corporate profit, the resulting environment is toxic in more ways than one.

As if this weren’t enough, Carlsen notes that the US model “erodes food quality to the consumer by encouraging junk-food imports … [while] inhibit[ing] culinary diversity and ethnic-based food traditions that have high cultural and health value”.

Indeed, here in Mexico these days, one might be forgiven for mistaking Coca-Cola for a bona fide food group. Mexicans consume more soda per capita than anyone on the planet – with predictably pernicious health effects.

READ MORE: Taxing soda, saving lives

Meanwhile, from Mexico to Honduras to Panama and other “backyard” territories, sectors of certain cities have come to rival US shopping malls in terms of saturation with American fast food chains.

So much for indigenous culinary tradition. Mercifully, Taco Bell has at least been thwarted in two separate attempts to install itself in Mexico – although installation was highly successful in both Honduras and Panama.

To be sure, the proliferation of American pseudo-food and other manifestations of corporate avarice is not a phenomenon confined to the immediate vicinity of the US, as globalisation has rendered neoliberal plunder all the easier.

But Mexico and Central America have the misfortune to be physically situated on the front lines of what often amounts to a war on agriculture and nutrition – not to mention the literal war on drugs and other excuses for rampant US regional militarisation.

If only US foreign policy could be put on a diet.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


As Trump Endorses Coal, EU Pledges No New Plants from 2020

  • Haul trucks move coal as seen during a tour of Peabody Energy

    Haul trucks move coal as seen during a tour of Peabody Energy’s North Antelope Rochelle coal mine near Gillette, Wyoming, U.S. on June 1, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 5 April 2017 (4 hours 47 minutes ago)
Most European countries have signed up for an initiative that would see local companies ending investments for coal-fired plants after 2020.

The European Union’s energy companies issued a statement Wednesday pledging to not invest in any coal-powered plants after 2020 in a push for clean energy, a move that comes as U.S. President Donald Trump rolls back regulations against coal mining as part of his promise for more jobs in the dying sector.

RELATED:
US Environmental Groups Sue Trump for Favoring Coal Industry

The statement by the European power sector Eurelectric said the sector was committed “to deliver on the Paris Agreement through ending investments into “new-built coal-fired power plants after 2020.”

“The power sector is determined to lead the energy transition and back our commitment to the low carbon economy with concrete action,” said EURELECTRIC President and CEO of the Portuguese energy group EDP, António Mexia. “With power supply becoming increasingly clean, electric technologies are an obvious choice for replacing fossil fuel based systems for instance in the transport sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Eurelectric represents 3,500 energy firms and institutions across country in the EU that value more than US$213 billion. Except for Greece and Poland, all nations in the bloc will implement the initiative, The Guardian reported.

Speaking at a press event Wednesday morning, the umbrella group’s Secretary-General Kristian Ruby explained that the sector is already leveraging investments to reduce harmful emissions.

“The challenge for policy makers in the next two years will be to target the political instruments, ensure that they are complementary and advance decarbonisation and electrification at the same time.”

The news of the European initiative comes a week after U.S. President Trump signed an executive order declaring an end on what he called the “war on coal” reversing former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which required states to collectively cut carbon emissions from power plants by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

RELATED:
Trump’s New Decree to ‘Wreak Havoc’ on Climate, Reward Big Oil

Obama’s orders halted federal coal leasing so that it could be reformed to protect the climate. After the Trump order last week, the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s opened up federal coal leasing.

Trump argues that his move would boost jobs in the coal industry, however experts argue that coal has lost its once important role within the energy sector in the U.S. and the Western world as nations move toward natural gas, as well as renewable energy like wind and solar.

Figures also show that U.S. renewable energy sector hires twice as much people as the coal industry, which has seen hundreds of aging coal-fired power plants retired or retrofitted. Also huge coal mining companies fall into bankruptcy, and production last year hit its lowest point since 1978.

A recent survey by Reuters showed that U.S. and international companies have been focused on reducing carbon emissions for a decade or more and are hesitant to change direction based on shifting political winds in Washington.

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Thousands Protest in Jerusalem Against 50 Years of Occupation

  • Demonstrators hold Palestinian flags during a protest against the annual Jerusalem Marathon outside Jerusalem

    Demonstrators hold Palestinian flags during a protest against the annual Jerusalem Marathon outside Jerusalem’s Old City March 17, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 2 April 2017

A number of diverse protests sprung up against the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine.

A string of protests took place in the cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on the 50-year anniversary of the illegal Israeli occupation, with crowds that drew thousands.

RELATED:
Israel Shoots Dead Palestinian Boy After Stabbing Attack

Jerusalem saw thousands march to the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City, in opposition to the ongoing occupation.

Touma-Suleiman, a member of the joint Arab-Jewish Hadash faction in the Joint List, addressed the crowd to say, “All who believe in the need to deliver both peoples from the occupation must come together in its 50th year and apply real pressure to put an end to the right-wing government, to stop creeping annexation and the strengthening of an apartheid regime.”

RT @JewsVsIsrael: “Prison Yes, Army No!
We Will NEVER Join The IDF!”
-At yesterdays Mass Protest in

“Together, Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, we can overcome the occupation,” she added.

Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, hundreds protested against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to shut down the new Israeli public broadcasting agency’s news division, with many of the protestors employees of the organization. Demonstrators compared Netanyahu to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before they were eventually removed by riot police. In Jerusalem, yet more protests called for the release of Avera Mengistu, an Ethiopian Israeli who has been detained by Israeli authorities since September 2014. More protests in the Holy City also called for protections for the disabled.

Thousands of Palestinians and Jews came together in Jerusalem in an anti-occupation protest last night.
This is what solidarity looks like.

Ilan Mengistu, Avera’s brother, told the crowd of demonstrators, “The festival of freedom (Passover) is in just over two weeks, and for our family it’ll be another Passover without Avera. Throughout this period the government has given the appearance of being concerned about him, but it’s now clear that it was all a lie; there is no information whatsoever on my brother’s condition.”

“The government has taken no action. With God’s help we will do all we can in order to bring him home,” he added.

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