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Few people get to read US imperial declarations in the original. Access to official imperial texts is mostly via the interpretations and translations offered in newspapers, magazines and radio or TV. These translations tend to be unreliable because corporate media reporter-clerks themselves tend to be treacherous, lazy, biased and smug. It may be that the safest translation rule is to read any imperial text as meaning the opposite of what it seems to say.
While that rule is pretty accurate in most cases, those who need more precise translation may find this elementary primer a useful practical tool. For reasons of simplicity the examples are all taken from US Senate testimony by Roger Noriega.1 A handy glossary of terms can be found among the clandestine cemeteries, remains of massacred villages and the bodies of hundreds of thousands of victims of torture throughout the length and breadth of Latin America. Check the tens of millions of people living on less than US$2 a day for the index.
Exercise One: plutocrat panhandling as high morality
Empire speak “Our own destiny is uniquely bound to that of our neighbors to the north and south………..Our open societies, however, are vulnerable to both internal and external threats – crime of all kinds and dimensions, internal conflict and, as September 11th made clear, dangerous new forms of terrorism.”
Translation We cannot be expected to eradicate the narcotics and arms trades since they are an essential and significant part of our financial and economic system. They help keep me, you Senators, and the US government administration rich and powerful. We need significantly more tax-payers’ money so we can continue to fail to address these issues we have to fake concern about with a show of concerted, but mostly irrelevant, activity. Why?…. Oh, so as to make the corrupt plutocracy you Senators and myself represent even more rich and powerful than we are already.
Empire-speak “The most encouraging development in the hemisphere over the last two decades has been the decisive shift to democratic governance. In 1980, fewer than half the countries in the hemisphere had freely elected leaders. ………(now) Only one – Cuba – does not. Beginning at the 1994 Summit of the Americas, thirty-four Heads of State and Government have repeatedly endorsed democracy and free trade as guiding principles.”
Translation Despite the regrettable fact that our preferred, murderous, kleptocrat dictatorships are no longer sustainable or, strictly speaking, necessary, we continue to project our power through corrupt local oligarchies and decisive electoral interventions as for example in Nicaragua and El Salvador and currently in the Bolivian and Venezuelan referendums. We need substantial funding in order to subvert free and fair electoral process throughout the Americas so as to keep the poor majority from developing any alternative to what we want. Furthermore, my colleague US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick can’t make the Americas safe for corporate multinational business if his “comply or else” trade deals are subject to due democratic scrutiny. So pay up.
Empire-speak “Democratic, prosperous nations make the best neighbors. …….. They are likely to work with us to combat trans-national threats and to advance views similar to our own in multilateral fora such as the UN, the OAS, and the international financial institutions.”
Translation We need more money to continue buying friends and bullying opponents so as to get what we want in the United Nations and the Organization of American States just like we did on Iraq. Did I say Iraq? I meant Haiti. Likewise we need to make sure we retain decisive influence in the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization. So give us the money, OK?
Exercise 2: tyranny as democracy
Empire-speak “We aim to encourage continued progress throughout the hemisphere toward effective democracy with broad-based economic growth, human development and both personal and national security.”
Translation We are determined to continue imposing corporate welfare via the self-same neo-liberal economic policies that have failed categorically, remarkably and demonstrably to alleviate poverty in Latin America over the last twenty years. The continent suffers more poverty now than it did in 1990 when we really got down to forcing through privatization and cutbacks in public services. This is exactly as it should be because it makes it easier for us to get what we want. That’s worth money….
Empire-speak “While the manifestations of Haiti’s ills are poverty and misery, the root causes are political. President Aristide’s government failed its people in every way. Now we can make a new beginning in helping Haiti to build a democracy that respects the rule of law and protects the human rights of its citizens.”
Translation We successfully supported murderous tyrannies in Haiti from 1916 until 1990 thus ensuring that the people of Haiti never got any misguided ideas about taking decisions for themselves. This guy Aristide was a problem for a while but we successfully undermined him and coerced him out of power. Now we need a bunch of money to clean up some of the mess we made so as to offer a local alternative to China for US sweat-shop apparel multinationals and give ourselves a secure base for our developing intervention in Cuba.
Exercise 3: democracy as practical joke
Empire-speak “Just a few months ago, Bolivia was in the headlines. When Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was elected president of Bolivia in August 2002, we looked forward to working with him to implement, among other things, market-oriented economic reforms he had previously developed. However, he was forced to resign this past December by popular demonstrations against some of those very policies……..A principal objective of our democracy program in Bolivia is to draw the long-marginalized indigenous population into political life…..We believe that a stable democracy is a necessary condition for success in the fight against illegal drugs.”
Translation We screwed up some in Bolivia but expect to keep the place in line mainly by purchasing local politicians and the military as we have always done and co-opting popular political organizations. At the same time as we’re subverting democracy there, we can slip in a strong military presence with our one-size-fits-all fictional “war on drugs”. Our local helpers have been able to fit up Colombian rural workers rights activist Pacho Cortes as a “terrorist”, so the “war on terror” fits in here neatly too. As a stand-by we can de-stabilize the country by staging an incident on the border with our miltary riends in Chile requiring a State of Emergency and intervention from the OAS. Cool. And cheap too.
Empire-speak “Venezuela remains a cause for considerable concern………The United States has a major interest in preserving and regenerating democracy in Venezuela and facilitating a peaceful, constitutional solution to the ongoing political crisis. Foreign assistance resources will be used to improve the functioning of institutions that underpin democracy, in particular stronger, more democratic political parties and democracy-related NGOs. The absence of such dependable actors has greatly increased the distance between Chavez and his detractors and prolonged the crisis, with devastating effects on the national economy as well.”
Translation Popular support for Venezuela’s President Chavez is a real headache. We’ve got to find a way of getting the corrupt old oligarchy back into power again:preferably without an expensive armed intervention. We’re pumping millions of dollars into subverting the electoral process, buying politicians and local civil rganizations and propping up local opposition media whose credibility and sales are plummeting. It’s a bummer that the Venezuelan economy is on the up-and-up but we can still get away with lying about that for another few months:no one in the US media will check their facts in any case. So give us time on this one…..and money….
Empire-speak “In Cuba, the one country in the region that does not have a freely elected government, our policy is to encourage a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy characterized by strong support for human rights and an open market economy…… We intend to help create the conditions that will bring to an end the hemisphere’s only otalitarian government and reintegrate the Cuban people as members of the community of the Americas.”
Translation Cuba is the one country in Latin America that’s consistently shown us up for the bumbling, hypocritical, mass-murdering, racist dunderheads that we are. This is not good for our self-esteem or for our international standing. We have to destroy the successful:relative to anywhere else in Latin America:social, economic and cultural arrangments Cubans currently enjoy, force at least 60% of the population into poverty:like we have everywhere else in Latin America:and sell off everything that belongs to the Cuban people to ourselves and our friends at pathetic knock-down prices:like we have everywhere else in Latin America:otherwise it”ll never get to be a real member of our kind of neighbourhood:right? That costs money too.
Exercise 4: poverty, such a shame (tears rented from the walrus and the carpenter)
Empire-speak “At the Special Summit of the Americas held in Monterrey, Mexico, this past January, the democratically elected Heads of State and Government declared their commitment to economic growth to reduce poverty………The Summit declaration welcomed the progress achieved to date toward the establishment of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and reaffirmed the commitment to complete the FTAA on schedule, that is, by the January 2005 deadline. The declaration contained numerous other statements of support for sound macroeconomic policies, prudent fiscal management, and public policies that stimulate domestic savings, meet the need for creation of productive jobs, and contribute to greater social inclusion.”
Translation We had an excursion to sunny Mexico last winter where we stitched up a deal with our cronies from Latin America to protect the rich, keep wages down, maintain dividends , encourage capital flight and promote profitable speculation. We reckon to complete ontinent-wide free (for us) trade-in-your-sovereignty deals at the same time as we impose conditions we wouldn’t accept for a minute:”sound macroeconomic policies, prudent fiscal management, and public policies that stimulate domestic avings, meet the need for creation of productive jobs, and contribute to greater social inclusion.” – yeah, Alan Greenspan thought that was funny too…….it all costs money though……
Empire-speak “At present, too many in the hemisphere are trapped in poverty and suffer from malnutrition. Without attention to their basic human needs – food, basic sanitation and quality education and healthcare, they will never be able to participate in the gains generated by economic growth and expanded trade. Consequently, we are continuing to dedicate significant resources to improve nutrition and healthcare in selected countries and regions.”
Translation We couldn’t care less about poverty as such but it’s a bad advertisement for us to say so. We’ll continue to spend around 0.1% of our GDP (peanuts, right?) throwing crumbs in the direction of poverty alleviation aound the world, even some of it in Latin America:but remember all that “aid” is good for US business and it also means we can unload genetically manipulated foodstuffs on people who are too poor to be able to say no. And THAT means our agri-business industries end up holding the levers controlling food security throughout Latin America. Ditto pharmaceuticals. A good investment. Fund it.
Empire-speak “In Nicaragua, the second poorest country in our hemisphere, our programs address fundamental obstacles to development, including food aid to ameliorate the impact of rural unemployment. We are also providing assistance to diversify agricultural production and link agricultural products to local, regional and global arkets, giving small farmers a stake in the national economy.”
Translation We continue to obstruct equitable and sustainable rural development in Nicaragua, as in the rest of Central America, by focusing on non-traditional exports, encouraging measures to wipe out self-sufficiency in basic grain production and to promote ver-dependency on agro-chemicals. So far, as in Honduras, we have managed to encourage a massive demographic shift from rural to urban areas. This has created a satisfactorily large urban unskilled workforce desperate for jobs that foreign investors can soak up as cut-price labour for the maquiladoras. So domestically we have a reliable source of cheap tropical food products all year round and a handy alternative to Haiti, Mexico or Honduras for cheap maquila labour if those places ever get funny ideas about permitting labour unions or paying a living wage.
Exercise 5: militarization, good; environmentalism…are you kidding?
Empire-speak “Notwithstanding Haiti, Colombia continues to present the most urgent case for law enforcement and other assistance in the region. Counternarcotics remains at the center of U.S. relations with Colombia, which supplies 90% of the cocaine consumed in the United States. However, as Colombia’s three terrorist organizations – the FARC, LN, and AUC – fund their activities with the proceeds of drug trafficking, a unified response is necessary. ……..The total ACI request for FY 2005 (including Colombia) is $731 million. These funds are needed to support a unified Andean regional campaign against the drug trade and narco-terrorism.”
Translation We’re making no headway in Colombia. President Uribe is an ok bona fide fascist right up our street, though we’re not sure how long we can keep on pretending he’s helping us in the “war on drugs” since he depends on drugs kingpins in the army and paramilitaries to keep the guerillas under control. Never mind for now, we’ve called the AUC terrorists:don’t take us too seriously on that one, they’re our kind of terrorists:and issued extradition warrants for Mancuso and Castano and some other guys but, hey, we need them to destabilise Venezuela:trust me. In any case we’re using mercenaries down there so there are no comebacks:massacres, corruption – no worries. Anyhow, Colombia’s cheaper than Israel ight? So OK that cheque…..
Empire-speak “Your letter of invitation asked specifically whether, in my opinion, there were any critical gaps in the Administration’s foreign assistance request for the Western Hemisphere. Needless to say, there are always choices that must be made in putting together a budget of this kind. Our request level is sufficient to address he highest priority needs in our hemisphere.”
Translation You don’t seriously expect me to talk about the environmental disasters our policies are encouraging throughout Latin America do you? Desertification through promotion of unsustainable agricultural economic policies, catastrophic waste of water resources through encouragement of inappropriate hydroelectric schemes, systematic displacement of rural and indigenous populations as the direct and indirect result of energy xploration and exploitation programs and infrastructure integration plans like Plan Puebla Panama, devastation of vast areas of agricultural and forest areas through chemical and biological warfare as part of the bogus “war on drugs”, iping out biodiversity with our multinationals’ reckless propagation of transgenic crops ……no, let’s not talk about all that…….
Exercise six:the final wind-up
Empire-speak “The institutions of government, social services, and the free market economy we enjoy in the United States were not created overnight. We cannot expect that other countries in this hemisphere, most of which have a much shorter or inconsistent experience with democratic governance, will achieve a similar institutionalization of rights and freedoms in a few short years. ………As they become more stable partners in international endeavors and more open markets for our goods and services, we will become better friends in the broadest sense of the word. That is the overall objective we seek through our assistance program. I ask your support for full funding of the Administration’s FY 2005 budget.”
Translation We have no intention of letting the poor majority in Latin America decide their own destiny any more than we intend to permit genuine democracy and rule of law here in the US. You all voted for the PATRIOT Act didn’t you? OK then. Just like here at home we will make sure the available political arrangments throughout Latin America serve our greedy destructive needs now and for the future just as we have always done since the Declaration of President Monroe…….That’ll be several billions of dollars well spent on our overall military-industrial corporate welfare – we’ll all do well out of this, believe me.
Empire-speak: “Thank you for your attention.”
Translation You guys vote through that funding now and thanks for faithfully neglecting your constitutional duty to subject this farrago of invention and half-truth of mine to any scrutiny worth the name.
To contact TONI SOLO: firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Testimony of Roger F. Noriega, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Department of State, Before the Committee on Foreign Relations United State Senate, March 2, 2004