The Threats of Empire

“We’re all Americans!” — Solidarity statement of French President Jacques Chirac after 9/11.

“If you’re really Americans, you better do what I say or else!” — George W. Bush, in a private discussion with God, before his Press Seance on March 5, 2003.

“Any country that doesn’t go along with us will be paying a very heavy price.” This warning came from an unnamed U.S. diplomat to Mexican officials if they voted against the U.S. war resolution in the Security Council. The White House ordered U.S. officials to go directly to the capitals of UN Security Council countries to issue these “warnings.”

Right after the 9/11 events occurred, much of the world, including long-time adversaries like Fidel Castro, offered messages of solidarity. “Nous sommes Americains,” President Chirac said, summing up the feelings of most Europeans. Since that time, George W. Bush, as spokesman for a small group of imperial zealots, has more than reversed that positive sentiment over the subsequent year and a half. Indeed, he may have interpreted the pro-American sentiment as meaning that the rest of the world will now obey his orders — especially around the issue of waging war against Iraq, which he mystically links, since he has no evidence, to the 9/11 tragedy.

The world has responded to Bush’s bullying approach with fear and loathing. In mid March, most of the world fears the United States. Pollsters regularly report that Europeans, Asians, Africans and Latin Americans think that the United States, not Iraq or North Korea, constitutes the greatest threat to peace.

It has become apparent as a result of U.S. maneuvering to entice the UN Security Council to support Bush’s war that Washington will use whatever it deems necessary to force the UN body into the facade of an agreement.

The tactics to reach consensus over the last months may have set new levels for international bribery, blatant coercion and public prevarication, but the methods themselves date back to other U.S. imperial plans. Washington has become addicted to running the world and to using other governments to accomplish its ends: to make the nations of the world obedient to U.S. policy demands, however they may fluctuate.

Over the last 50 years, the CIA used covert operations to overthrow disobedient governments in Iran, Guatemala, Brazil, Chile and Nicaragua. That’s the short list. It invaded dozens of others to remove governments or government leaders. In the 1980s alone, think of the constant intervention in several Central American nations, the invasion of Grenada and the “arrest” of General Noriega in Panama. In addition, the U.S. has routinely bribed and intimidated other governments to “cooperate” in its covert schemes and dirty tricks.

Mexican government officials should take heed of newly declassified documents that reveal that from 1964 on, the Johnson Administration used Mexico as a source to spy in Cuba. The spying continued into the 1970s under Nixon.

In early March, the Mexican Proceso magazine published some of the hitherto secret papers obtained by Kate Doyle of the National Security Archives. The documents should not only embarrass those Mexican officials who connived with the CIA back then, but serve as an admonition to President Fox as well.

Under President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz (1964-70) and his successor Adolfo Lopez Mateos (1970-76), the Mexican government cooperated with Washington to carry out spying and harassing operations against Cuba and persons traveling to that island. The Mexicans imposed one condition, however: Washington would publicly accept the veneer of Mexico’s independent status (re: Cuba) and recognize Mexico’s sovereign right to maintain relations with Cuba. Washington readily agreed and from then on pretended annoyance at Mexico for retaining her ties to Cuba. Meanwhile, the CIA used Mexican territory and its government officials for espionage and dirty tricks.

In addition to the documents, the Archives obtained transcripts of President Lyndon Johnson’s taped phone conversations, which extended the espionage field into Cuba itself. Indeed, as Susan Ferriss writes in the March 6, 2003 Palm Beach Post, “Johnson struck a secret deal with Mexico in 1964 that converted at least some of Mexico’s diplomats in Cuba into Our Men in Havana — spies who passed information about the island and its Soviet allies directly to the White House.”

By July 1964, the United States had twisted every other government arm in Latin America to force them to vote to expel Cuba from the OAS and almost every other regional organization, but also to break all relations with the communist island. The CIA plotters, however, encouraged Mexican officials to parade their supposed “rejection” of Washington pressure and show the world how solidly independent they were. Indeed, shortly after his inauguration, Mexico’s new President proclaimed his everlasting friendship with Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Yes, with friends like Diaz Ordaz…

Internally, Mexico used its alleged pro-Cuba stance to offset its repressive policies against its own left. As Mexican police and army units tortured and murdered revolutionaries throughout the country, Presidents Diaz Ordaz and his successor Lopez Mateos held up the Cuba card to show their international “revolutionary” commitment.

In 1967, I went to Mexico to transfer to the Cubana flight to Havana to film a public television documentary. I witnessed some of these CIA shenanigans. First, the Mexicans forced Cuba-bound travelers from the United States who wished to return through Mexico to obtain permission from the Gobernacion Ministry (Interior).

Mexico required that the traveler possess official U.S. State Department permission to travel. Then, the process began, which took a couple of days and cost, in bribes, about 100 pesos (about $30 dollars in those days). After checking in at the Cubana counter at the Mexico City airport (the only air route to Cuba in the hemisphere), we went to a special room at the airport. There, uniformed Mexican officials demanded that I and the other members of the film crew pose for photographs, as we held numbers over our chests. Following that, we moved to the next obstacle. A man wearing a Mexican immigration police uniform then typed on an ancient Underwood our answers to a six page questionnaire, probing into personal and political affairs of each individual. I asked the official why he did this and under whose orders he operated. Instead of answering he threatened: “Answer my questions or we shall deport you.”

When the CIA agents, dressed as Mexican officials, had finished photographing and interrogating the passengers, other uniformed officials shepherded the travelers to the farthest point of the airport, about a half a mile walk with carry-on bags. Then we boarded the oven-like Soviet built Cubana plane, which apparently did not get permission to use the cool air pump used for other commercial aircraft. What seemed like eons later, yet another uniformed official “inspected” the plane and when the heat appeared to get to him he gave the nod to take off. Needless to say, the passengers cheered as the plane took off.

I underwent this experience twice more in 1968 and again in 1969 on subsequent film expeditions. Once in Cuba, I had to get the Gobernacion document validated by the Mexican consulate in Havana (another bribe). Failure to do this meant one had to return to the United States via Madrid or Prague.

The new documents shed more light on CIA operations previously aired by Philip Agee. A CIA official who resigned and told all, Agee estimated that “the [Mexico CIA] station’s annual budget even then was $5.5 million. And the Mexicans were very cooperative. With Mexican security’s help, the station was able to tap as many as 40 telephone lines at once. The president of the country at the time, Diaz Ordaz, was a very close CIA collaborator. So was his predecessor.” In his August 1975 Playboy interview, Agee claimed that “Mexican president, Luis Echeverria (1976-82), also was a station contact –when he was Diaz Ordaz’ minister for internal security [under Diaz Ordaz].”

In 1969, Fidel Castro revealed to me yet another CIA ploy. The Cuban government had purchased from a Mexican company a hydraulically operated sugar cane cutting machine. This cutter had the ability to cut the cane at the right place on the stalk even on uneven terrain. When Cuban technicians assembled the machine, however, it immediately malfunctioned. Referring to the accompanying instruction manual, they found gibberish in place of real repair instructions.

Edward Lamb, the factory’s owner, investigated the problem and discovered that the CIA had sabotaged the machine and rewrote the instruction manual, with the cooperation of Mexican authorities.

Similarly, in the early 1970s, the CIA poisoned a batch of pineapple seedlings Cuba had purchased from a Mexican enterprise so that when they arrived in Cuba, the baby pineapples plants had all died.

Under Nixon, the CIA operations became downright gangster-like in their texture. In 1970, a young American, Cuba-bound woman told me of her adventure. She and five other American anti-war activists arrived at the Mexico City airport where Mexican CIA agents, flashing phony badges and real guns, kidnapped them. The armed agents placed them in two cars with locked rear doors and drove them non-stop, except for bathroom breaks, to the U.S. border. Once there, U.S. Immigration authorities, expecting the delivery, took the six and told them to go home.

These few examples, of thousands, constitute illegal interference in routine commercial and travel behavior between Cuba and Mexico. They could not have transpired without the active complicity of the Mexican government. In its 71 year long rule, the PRI Party clung to the myth that it represented the spirit of the revolution of 1910 that aimed at overthrowing the ruling corrupt clique. In fact, as the new documents show, Washington found it relatively easy to bribe and intimidate Mexico’s top officials.

Now, Mexico occupies a strategic seat as one of 10 nonpermanent members of the UN Security Council. Once again, U.S. officials revert to their successful tactics of the past: bribes and intimidation. They even trotted out Henry Kissinger, a world class intimidator, to warn Mexico of the consequences of opposition to the U.S. war position.

But conditions have changed. Mexican voters ended the seven decades of PRI rule in 2000 when they chose Vicente Fox of the PAN party as their new chief executive officer. As Mexico has democratized slowly over the years, public opinion now carries some weight. Fox has not delivered on his promises. Indeed, he has vacillated and reneged on key pledges, like delivering a treaty with Washington to legalize more than three million Mexicans living in the United States. He has discovered that no amount of servility has induced Washington to concede on even minimal issues.

In Mexico’s political cartoon world, Fox has earned a brown nose for his avid butt-kissing. Now Mexico’s UN delegate on the Security Council must vote with or against the United States. Washington, as always, says: “Vote our way, or else!” Mexican public opinion polls indicate that 90% or more of the adult population oppose U.S. war policies with Iraq.

Unlike the 1960s, when Johnson allowed Mexico to maintain its facade of independence, the 2003 U.S. policies brook not even a thin covering of disobedience. In his unrelenting pursuit of war with Iraq, Bush demands that President Fox, and the other heads of state from the UN Security Council members, betray the wishes of their own people, who have manifested decisive anti-war sentiments. Like some of his predecessors, Bush does not think twice about altering the fate of millions of people in the world. He did take seriously the sentiment after 9/11. He understood what it meant when the French said: “We are all Americans.” Now he has added to that understanding: “Since you admit to being Americans, you better do what I say!”

SAUL LANDAU is the Director of Digital Media and International Outreach Programs for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. His new film, IRAQ: VOICES FROM THE STREETS, is available through The Cinema Guild. 1-800-723-5522. He can be reached at:


SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.