Ronald Reagan Made Central America a Killing Field

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      It’s easy to talk about Latin America as a site in which the US imposes its imperial will, carries out coups and regime changes, and pays no attention to the consequences and disastrous results. But there’s another story to tell. Latin America was a challenge to the founders of the United States. They immediately had to deal with the fact that the Western Hemisphere had multiple republics, and that they shared with the founders of the United States a sense of American exceptionalism.

      Latin America resisted US expansion ideologically, economically, and politically in ways that, say, European empires prior to the collapse of Spain and England in the Western Hemisphere, or indigenous communities, couldn’t. That pushback forced the United States to figure out new strategies to project its power. Ascendant political coalitions in the United States used Latin America to work out their worldview and their tactics, and to reconcile contradictions among different constituencies.

      When Reagan comes to power in 1981, there’s not a lot of places in the world where the US can actually act. The Soviet Union is still in existence, they still have nuclear weapons. The Middle East is split between allegiances to the Soviet Union and to United States. Africa’s allegiances are split. Most of South America is under anti-communist dictatorships, following coups that the US had supported: Chile in 1973, Uruguay in 1973, Bolivia in 1971, Paraguay and Argentina in 1976. So South America was secure — it was like a garrison continent.

      But Central America was in revolt. The Sandinistas had won their revolution in 1979. There were powerful insurgencies in El Salvador and Nicaragua. So the Reagan administration uses Central America to work out ideas, work out tactics, to get a sense of themselves as an aspiring coalition. One of the arguments of Empire’s Workshop is that the importance of Central America resided in its unimportance: it had no nuclear weapons, it was firmly within the US’s sphere of influence, the Soviet Union wasn’t going to object, and the US had clients it could work with and who were eager to work with the United States. Reagan could give Central America — whether we’re talking about the Contra war in Nicaragua or the death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala — to movement conservatives with little fear of consequences.

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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