John Pilger is one of the few real journalists who writes truthfully. In his film ‘The War on Democracy’ he talks about the US’s actions since 1945, especially in Latin America. He states that since 1945 the US has tried to overthrow 50 governments, many of them democratically elected, and bombed or attacked 30 countries. The missing word, according to John Pilger in our understanding of the US – is empire.
When I first read John Pilger’s work it was a huge eye-opener, obviously this is not the kind of information that is taught in schools! Instead we have the propaganda about the spread of ‘democracy’, and the ‘axis of evil’ and previously the ‘threat of communism’; whatever common enemy, it seems, can be drummed up to justify America’s imperial ambitions.
The film portrays Guatemala in the 1950’s and a new democratically elected government beginning some modest social justice programs. But the US felt threatened. A former CIA operative spoke on the film about a year long terror campaign they waged on Guatemala to terrify the new leader and his military. The former operative went on to describe how the CIA ‘sowed confusion and carried out a little harmless bombing’. As a result the Guatemala’s leader was forced into exile and a new US backed dictator was sworn in under whom thousands of people were murdered by death squads; trained in the US ‘School of Americas’.
Again in Chilie in 1973 the democratically elected leader, Allende, who wanted to bring social justice to the people was overthrown by a US backed coup, headed by Pinochet. Strangely enough the coup took place on September 11th 1973 and later a US economic experiment upon Chilie which has led to a deeply divided society. Under the new regime people were tortured, murdered and repressed. Kissinger denied at the time any connection with the coup but secret US documents tell a different story stating ‘it is firm and intended policy that Allende by overthrown by a coup’. And so, argues John Pilger, by the late 1970’s most of Latin America was run by dictators backed by the US, whose military were often trained in the US ‘School of Americas’.
The School of Americas is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers based in Georgia, US. Former Panamanian President Jorge Illueca stated that the School of Americas was the ‘biggest base for destabilization in Latin America’. The SOA have left a trail of blood and suffering in every country where its graduates have returned. An interview with Major Joseph Blair who taught in the ‘School of Americas’ said that the School of Americas taught that any way of obtaining information was acceptable including ‘false imprisonment, threatening the family, and if you can’t get people to do what you want – you kill them, assassinate them’.
The Rise of Social Justice
Mr Pilger speaks of a rebellion currently in Latin America against the extreme form of US capitalism whereby whole countries have been privatized, their natural wealth sold to foreign countries for peanuts. He says that there is a tide of change in Latin America; leaders being elected that want social justice, and a movement that is propagating itself and a fervour for this change.
The democratically elected president of Venezuela Hugo Chavez says on the film how he was a poor child and went barefoot. Perhaps this is why he cares for the poor. He has turned some of the oil revenues from this oil-rich country over to social programs. The majority of people in Venezuela live in Barrios, basically millions of slums stacked on top of each other. One woman from the Barrios said that for the ‘before Chavez we did not feel part of this country’. One simple program is supermarkets built in the Barrio areas where the prices are kept low and the rights of the people are printed on the back of the rice and other products. People on the film expressed that delight, saying how they didn’t know they had rights like everyone else. In Venezuela there is free health care for everyone for the first time. Children of the poorest families have a full day at school and at least one hot meal a day. The poorest housewives are paid as workers, and there is now close to full literacy following programs to provide literacy skills to everyone in the Barrios.
The rich in Venezuela are, in the main, not happy. In old Venezuela – in return for cheap oil to the US, the rich got to keep a large slice of the proceeds. Chavez said he tried to avoid a clash with what he termed ‘the empire’ but that it was ‘inevitable’.
The ‘War on Democracy’ film states how getting rid of Chavez became a national obsession in the US. A coup occurred on April 11th 2002. The usual devious tactics were employed, but the there was a remarkable ending to this story. The film shows that on April 11th 2002 a march opposing Chavez took place. But what they didn’t know was that there was also a pro-Chavez march taking place. Unexpectedly the leader of the opposition march redirected the marchers towards the palace, whereupon snipers fired on the Chavez opposition, killing several and injuring many more. The press blamed the Chavez supporters on the shootings and footage went out of Chavez supporters shooting guns. What the press cameras did not show however…was that the Chavez supporters were shooting to defend themselves against snipers attacking them, indeed the opposition march was nowhere in sight.
The totally misleading footage went out across the world and Chavez supporters were blamed for the deaths. The US was quick to say that it backed the new regime after an unelected dictator was quickly sworn in.
A CNN correspondent at the time said how he witnessed the military leaders of the coup recording their press conference before the march happened, where they spoke of the deaths carried out by Chavez’s supporters; proving it was all planned. What followed was remarkable. In waves the poor people came in their thousands down from the Barrios to the palace to try and rescue their president, who had been kidnapped. This emboldened the palace military who were in hiding and they came and retook the palace. Chavez was returned to power by the power of the people.
In Bolivia also, the people won a battle. in 2003 President Goni was elected and backed a law selling all Bolivia’s services and infrastructure for little money to foreign companies. When the people protested, Goni sent in the army and scores of people were shot dead. In response, tens of thousands of people went into La Paz and Goni was forced to resign, fleeing to Washington.
At the end of the film John Pilger draws a parallel between the torture and repression in Latin America and Guantanamo bay, and ‘all the other places that imperial power hides and tortures its perceived enemies’. He warns ‘those who see the world through the eyes of the powerful’ that ‘people are rising from the tyranny we have consigned them to, and I would say it’s unbeatable’.