Category Archives: U.S. Policy

Creating S***hole Countries

I’ve continued to think about the comments made last week by the President of the U.S.  Even though he later denied some of the words attributed to him, and two of his most ardent supporters stated that they did not recall his use of the words, there seems to be little doubt about what was actually said and why.  The entire episode was astonishing to those with any sensibilities, regardless of political affiliation.

But my own reflections on the matter shifted to the countries in question, the ones which were denigrated so graphically by the leader of the free world.  What’s the possible basis for such demeaning remarks?  Are these nations really so awful?  And if so, why?  I suppose that, by comparison, Nicaragua might be one of those countries which the U.S President had in mind: it’s the second-poorest nation of the Western Hemisphere (next to Haiti), has a history of internal conflicts and dictatorships, contributes to both legal and illegal immigration to the U.S. and has sustained a strained relationship with U.S. administrations for decades.  With that in mind, I considered the circumstances that might have led countries like Nicaragua, Haiti and the African nations to be held in such contempt by the wealthiest country in the world.

At least in the case of Nicaragua, the beginning of their modern-day difficulties date back to the 1850’s invasion of that country by invasion from the U.S.  Over subsequent decades, the North American neighbor alternately funded insurrection, invaded with U.S. Marines, supported a generations-long dictatorship of oppression, illegally funded a war against a duly-elected Nicaraguan administration, ignored a World Court penalties of $6 Billion for their illegalities, consistently and forcefully interfered in elections and has recently threatened legislation to eliminate U.S. remittances to Nicaragua families.  In sum, it has been an excellent recipe for the creation of a troubled existence.

In Haiti, the early troubles inflicted by the U.S. were quite similar to the incursions in Nicaragua.  On July 28, 1915, American President Woodrow Wilson ordered  U.S. Marines to occupy the capitol.  Forces were instructed to “protect American and foreign” interests.  The U.S. also wanted to rewrite the Haitian constitution, which banned foreign ownership of land, and replace it with one that guaranteed American financial control.  To avoid public criticism, the U.S. claimed the occupation was a mission to “re-establish peace and order… [and] has nothing to do with any diplomatic negotiations of the past or the future.”  Within six weeks of the occupation, U.S. government representatives seized control of Haiti’s custom houses and administrative institutions, including the banks and the national treasury. Under U.S. government control, a total of 40% of Haiti’s national income was designated to repay debts to American and French banks.  For the next nineteen years, U.S., government advisers ruled the country, their authority provided by the United States Marine Corps.  The U.S. retained influence on Haiti’s external finances until 1947.  It was a good way to subdue a culture, an independent economy and self-determination and to ensure their third world status.

For the African continent, the litany of U.S. interventions and self-serving intrusions is far too long to even summarize here.  Africa is a big place, and nearly every one of its fifty-four countries has experienced U.S. interference at one point in history or another.  But the following description of cause-and-effect, excerpted from an article by Mark Levine at aljazeera.com provides some context for current reality:

Traveling across Sub-Saharan Africa it becomes a truism—but nonetheless in good measure true—that the areas where the region’s much-celebrated recent growth is most evident are precisely where people are able to create local markets largely outside the control of corrupt government and private elites. But the large-scale and still expanding militarisation and securitisation of US policy makes the development of such truly free-market mechanisms that much more difficult to realise, precisely because the strengthening of capacities of militaries and security/intelligence sectors invariably strengthens the power of elites and states vis-a-vis ordinary citizens, exacerbates economic conflicts and inequalities, and strengthens the position of those groups that are violently reacting to this process.

The poverty which continues to envelop much of the continent is the result of far more  than just the meddling of the United States.  But the U.S. footprint is present in both actions taken and assistance NOT rendered; if these constitute s***hole countries, perhaps they are perceived this way because we in the U.S. have chosen to see them and respond to them in that way.  After all, no less than the U.S. President has identified them as such.  (I think the President is unaware of the fact that earliest humans emerged from Africa.  Not Europe.  Not North America.  Not Norway.  But Africa.)

The unfortunate truth for many struggling nations is to be found in the poor-man-crawling story:

A wealthy man was walking on a city street, preoccupied with cell phone and important connections.  His preoccupation resulted in a collision with a somewhat disheveled and homeless man walking in the opposite direction.  The poor man fell down, momentarily stunned by the contact, but immediately reached out to gather up several of his belongings which had been knocked from his hands.  The wealthy man, perturbed at the mishap and the dropping of his own phone, retrieved it brusquely and then observed the poor man on hands and knees, salvaging his few possessions.  As he walked away indignantly, the wealthy man observed, “It’s disgusting to see the way these vagrants crawl our sidewalks.  The police should do something about them, to make the streets safe for respectable folks.”

Where there is hunger and thirst, need and distress, poverty and injustice, there are reasons for it.  And sometimes the reasons lie at the feet of those who are not thus afflicted.  S***hole countries, if they actually exist, may well be the result of outsiders who have created them….

The Nica Act: America First

It’s a comparatively obscure bill in Congress, especially in light of the “big one” having to do with health care and the flurry of Executive Orders signed by the President.  But The Nica Act is legislation that has been floating around the halls of Congress for months now, having recently received new life with a new version submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives in April and a companion version sent to the Senate several weeks later.  It’s a bill that likely won’t even register on most U.S. citizens’ radar. But for Nicaraguans- and especially the poor- it’s a very big deal, indeed.

The U.S. has made an entire history out of intervening in Nicaragua’s politics, nearly always to the detriment of that country and its people.  The history is easy to find, so it does not warrant recounting here.  But if the intention of the U.S. government is to improve the lives of Nicaraguans, once again it seems to have itself in a backwards posture, facing the usual unintended consequences.

The draft of the Nica Bill [Nicaraguan Investments Conditionality Act], threatening to impose economic sanctions on Nicaragua in response to the authoritarian drift and corruption of  Daniel Ortega’s regime, was revived recently for discussion in the US House and Senate.

Republican senator Ted Cruz reintroduced the measure, together with Republican Ileana Ros- Lehtinen and Democrat Albio Sires.

“This legislation would direct the United States to use our voice and vote at international financial institutions to oppose loans for the government of Nicaragua until President Ortega’s regime is held accountable for its oppressive policies and anti-democratic actions, and the Secretary of State certifies that Nicaragua is taking effective steps to hold free and fair elections and combat corruption,” Cruz stated.  In April, twenty-five members of the House demanded not only the reestablishment of democratic institutions in Nicaragua but also an active effort to combat corruption and to investigate the high officials tainted by this type of action, as conditions to prevent a funds stoppage.  In addition, they accelerated the timeline for the State Department to present a report about these conditions, making it a ninety-day period instead of the 120 days stipulated in the original proposal.

The new version of the Nica Act that is now in the Senate, also tends to ignore the agreement between the government and the Organization of American States (OAS). In it, the Nicaraguan government agreed to negotiate over the presence of an OAS electoral observation during the 2017 municipal elections. As a result of that agreement, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has expressed his concern about the reactivation of The Nica Act, observing that “it is not a constructive contribution to the work of the government of Nicaragua and this Secretary General on issues of cooperation for the country’s democratic, electoral and institutional strengthening.”  Almagro invited the bill’s sponsors to reconsider the initiative to provide Nicaragua and the OAS “the time and space needed to move forward with the work agreed to by both parties.”  The Nica Act does take up concerns from the OAS observation mission’s report, a document that signaled clear flaws in Nicaragua’s electoral system, but apparently doesn’t have any faith in OAS ability to work in concert with Nicaraguan officials to address those concerns.  Once again, the U.S. presumes to know best what Nicaragua needs and to force feed it.

The problem, of course, is that if The Nica Act becomes law, those who will pay the price will not be President Ortega or members of his administration or the large business interests aligned with the government.  The oppressed will be the same as always: the poor, the marginalized, many of whom still experience the effects of U.S. interventions from decades ago.  The poor almost always become the debtors, the ones who must pay the price for whatever U.S. policy dictates.  The Washington-based social justice organization Quixote Center, long present in Nicaragua and working on behalf of those without strong voice, concurs that The Nica Act is punitive legislation that will perpetuate the suffering in Nicaragua, one way or another.

Without doubt, there are significant needs that exist in this second-poorest nation of the Western Hemisphere.  But before the U.S. makes yet another foray into Central American lives and futures- from whatever motivation- perhaps we should devote our energies and attentions to our own election difficulties and inconsistencies, and the state of our own democracy.   Maybe we should take to heart the President’s call for “America First.”  Before touting democracy to others, we must first model it well….