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Crimea, El Salvador & the Fight Against Public Participation
Contrary to preferred myth, it’s quite natural for political elites to despise democracy. Democracy threatens their wealth and privilege therefore it is to be avoided at any cost. The historical evidence for this assertion is overwhelming. From the overthrow of Iranian democracy in 1953, Guatemalan democracy in 1954, Chilean democracy in 1973 or Haitian democracy in 1990, there are few principles in international relations as enduring as this. Even the Founding Fathers made known their distaste for democratic norms. James Madison, one of the framers of the US Constitution, defined the purpose of government as “[protecting] the minority of the opulent against the majority.” John Jay, author of the Federalist papers, asserted those who “own the country ought to govern it” while Thomas Jefferson endorsed the concept of a “natural aristocracy” as “the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society.”
It therefore should come as no great surprise that the Obama administration embraced this tradition in its refusal to raise a critical word when Ukraine’s democratically elected President, Viktor Yanukovych, was deposed in a coup. Less surprising is the fact that the Obama administration welcomed Yanukovych’s successor, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, into the oval office as if he were Ukraine’s legitimately elected leader. Whatever one thinks of the legality of Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the referendum to determine its national status, one cannot take seriously the statements coming out of Washington. President Obama’s statements concerning international law and “illegal elections” not only invites ridicule in lieu of the historical record but current events as well.
Reacting to the 93% of Crimeans who chose to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, the Obama administration passed an Executive Order imposing sanctions on Russian officials, stating “Today’s actions send a strong message to the Russian government that there are consequences for their actions that violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including their actions supporting the illegal referendum for Crimean separation.” Based on this comment one could get the impression that the Obama administration is in favor of free and fair elections, not “illegal referendums.” Nevertheless, at the same time that the Obama White House was condemning the referendum in Crimea they were “threatening to withhold development aid” from El Salvador unless the winner of its presidential elections, the FMLN’s Sánchez Cerén, adopted “economic policies that are anathema to the ruling coalition of left and center forces that have been working together over the last five years.” Furthermore, the election in El Salvador was declared to be free and fair by the Organization of American States.
According to journalist Madeleine Conway the OAS described the election as “the most transparent in El Salvador’s history.” Brigitte Gynther of School of Americas Watch described the election as “very transparent, with important new electoral reforms being carried out such as neighborhood voting.” SOA Watch’s sponsor, the Center for Exchange and Solidarity, “characterized them as the most efficient and transparent elections they’ve seen in all 10 election observer delegations they’ve done since 1994,” while election monitor Richard Hobbes described the election as “clean and transparent”, attributing the FMLN victory to “significant advances made during the past 4-5 years.”
Among the significant advances the FMLN made were the “implementation of a healthcare program that includes primary clinics throughout the country, regional hospitals and government funding for preventive health measures.” Currently, 80-85% of the population receive free healthcare, just one intolerable crime among many others, like the fact that “other reforms [included] free school uniforms and a glass of milk every day for schoolchildren.” In the place of these policies Washington favors imposing a “Public-Private Partnership” that will essentially deliver El Salvador’s economy to the corporate sector.
Not only are unions deprived protection under this policy but “If fully implemented, the law would threaten the job security of over 120,000 public-sector workers, who have seen wages drop as services have become privatized.” US Ambassador to El Salvador Mari Carmen Aponte has now decided to delay US commitments to the Millennium Challenge Corporation–”a US agency that provides foreign assistance on a competitive basis”–unless the Salvadoran leadership accedes to Washington’s demands. That this naked act of economic coercion will be overlooked should be taken as a given, assuming, of course, that those in the intellectual class continue in fulfilling their institutional task of upholding the Madisonian ideal to “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.”
One graphic example of the reigning ideology within certain dominant sectors in Washington can be found in an article that appeared in the Miami Herald titled High stakes for U.S. in El Salvador’s election. In this article former South Carolina Senator Jim Demint warns “An election is taking place in Central America in three weeks that will affect how safe we are here in our homes and on our streets.” What is the cause of this alarm? “El Salvador may be about to turn into a gang haven that will act as a transit point for drugs plunging America’s inner cities further into crime and despair,” and more ominously, this threat can be “laid at the White House’s door.” Demint proceeds to describe Sánchez Cerén as “no friend of the United States,” and someone who “celebrated al-Qaida’s attack on us on 9/11 by leading a street mob that burned an American flag.” Under Cerén’s un-”friendly” leadership, Demint warned, El Salvador would be converted into a “narco-principality.”
Putting aside the blatant attempt to fear-monger the American public by perpetuating Reagan era stereotypes about “violent Hispanic narcotraffickers,” (an “unwanted animal at a garden party” as George H.W. Bush described Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega) it’s worth examining why Cerén might be “no friend” of Washington. Could it be that throughout the 1980s the US subjected El Salvador to a massive campaign of state-directed international terror, killing thousands of civilians? This terrorist campaign included the killings in El Mozote where “the Salvadoran army’s elite Atlacatl Battalion, which was created, funded, trained and armed by the United States, massacred more than nine hundred peasants… Most of the victims were women and children.” Throughout this bloody period in El Salvador’s history the US “provided more than four billion dollars in military and economic aid,” aid which increased as atrocities mounted. The principal aim during this period was to create a “centrist, non-communist government in El Salvador”, “non-communist” maintaining its conventional ideological definition of anyone who follows US orders. So for those not afflicted with historical amnesia, the cause of Cerén’s animosity towards Washington, if there is any, is not only unambiguous but quite rational. Just imagine if a fraction were done to the US.
Incidentally, one doesn’t have to look to El Salvador or Crimea to observe the myths of power at work. Equally revealing examples can be discovered at home.
Last week a UN human rights committee in Geneva condemned the United States on a range of domestic and international abuses from NSA spying, drone warfare, gun violence and racial inequality. In a report ignored by the establishment press, the committee raised objections to the “enduring racial disparities in the [US] justice system, including large numbers of black prisoners serving longer sentences than whites”, “racial profiling by police, including the mass surveillance of Muslim communities by the New York police department”, and “segregation in schools.” The Obama administration was also criticized for its “failure to prosecute any of the officials responsible for permitting water-boarding and other ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques under the previous administration.” Instead of responding to these criticisms constructively through policy proposals the head of the US delegation Mary McLeod deflected scrutiny, saying “While we are certainly not perfect, our network of federal, state and local institutions provide checks on government.”
In regard to the committee’s criticisms of drone strikes, the US delegation responded that the bombings were “conducted in manner consistent with domestic and international law.” This is despite serious questions raised by UN official Ben Emmerson, who cited 30 drone strikes that require “public explanation,” or the uncontroversial fact that the UN Charter prohibits the use of military force against other countries without Security Council authorization, a principle reflexively invoked by US officials when faced with Russian crimes. Following this UN critique Rania Khalek published a report on a US drone strike that “murdered a child for suspected links to Al Qaeda based on evidence no one, except for President Obama and his inner circle, is allowed to see.” Obad Abdulla Al-Shabwan, a 16-year-old from Yemen’s Al-Shabwan tribe, was killed in a US drone strike on March 10th despite protests from his relatives that Al-Shabwan had no involvement in Al Qaeda. The Yemen Times reported that Al-Shabwan’s relatives informed them that his “friends and relatives have also been recently targeted by drone strikes.” Perhaps the political class would categorize these acts of attempted murder alongside the rest: “conducted in manner consistent with domestic and international law.”
Comparing the silence which surrounds these reports to the feigned outrage over Russian crimes, the obvious consequence of elite hatred for democracy is made clearer. Crimes of official enemies are magnified while crimes for which the US is responsible are routinely overlooked. Both the knowledge and victims of these crimes are immediately suppressed as well. This is why President Obama can denounce “illegal referendums” in Crimea and no one laughs or Salvadoran democracy can be undermined and few, if anyone, protests. Anticipating Salvador Allende’s electoral victory in 1970 National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger is recorded to have said “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.”
This myth–that public participation in governmental decision-making encourages disorder–is at the heart of the powerful’s hatred for democracy. The US stance towards human rights at home, in El Salvador and in Crimea is just the latest example. Surely those victimized by these policies find Washington’s contempt transparent. The question for those of us willing to struggle for a democratic society at home is “do we?”
Xavier Best is a writer and independent political critic who resides in Atlanta, Georgia. He is an editor and contributor for The Southern Praxis and maintains a regularly updated blog at xavierobrien.wordpress.com. He can be contacted via email at email@example.com.
Greenwald, Glenn. With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. New York: Metropolitan /Henry Holt and, 2011. Print.
Herman, Edward S. The Real Terror Network: Terrorism in Fact and Propaganda. Boston: South End, 1982. Print.
Leech, Garry M. Beyond Bogotá: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia. Boston: Beacon, 2009. Print.
Elections in El Salvador.” Presente! [Washington DC] 2014, Vol. 19 ed.: n. pag.