Exploring "The Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot"
By Joe Emersberger at Sep 18, 2010
Below are various quotes from "A Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot" (1996, by
Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Alvaro Vargas Llosa ) which, for brevity, I'll refer to throughout as the Idiot's Guide. As can be seen from the following excerpts, the book's content is every bit as infantile as its title:
1) "In Guatemala the URNG [rebel group] certainly made history when it caused 100,000 deaths in 30 years of war. This, however, is not the history they would like to have written..."[pg 90]
Actually, nobody should want this written because it's a monstrous lie. The authors descend to the level of people who would claim that Jews "caused" the Holocaust. This is one of the few passing remarks the Idiot Guide's makes about one of the worst bloodbaths in the Western Hemisphere in the last century - one which, in a civilized world, would have led to the conviction of several US Presidents - from Eisenhower through Reagan - for crimes against humanity.
After a US backed coup ousted Guatemala's democratically elected government under Jacobo Arbvenz in 1954, military dictatorship, generously funded, organized and trained by various US governments, proceeded to murder 200,000 people over 30 years. The UN-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) stated in 1999 that the Guatemalan state was responsible for 93% of the human rights violations committed during the war. The UN report came out after the Idiot Guide was written in 1996, but groups like Human Rights Watch had been documenting the obvious for decades. It speaks volumes about the capacity for thought control in democratic societies that the authors could lie so outlandishly about such an important topic and yet be praised by the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Reason, the Weekly Standard and others.
2) Referring again in passing to the US sponsored slaughter in Guatemala, the Idiot's Guide states
"Aside from the fact that United Fruit may have felt harmed by the agrarian reform, what caused the CIA to arrange a military expedition against this legitimately elected government was Arbenz's purchase of Chech weapons and his strong ties to communism, which at that time by the way, emphatically denied by the entire Latin American 'democratic left'".[pg 139].
What really horrified the CIA was the Guatemalan people because - as the CIA stated in internal memos - the "radical and nationalist polices" of Arbenz had "the support or acquiescence of almost all Guatemalans." Thirty years of mass murder was not necessary to get rid of a handful of politicians. It was required to terrorize Guatemalans into submission.
At home, and in Europe, where US planners did not have the option of major violence to diminish the appeal of "radical" ideas, they used carrots rather than sticks. The Marshall Plan in Europe and welfare state policies at home were employed in response to popular pressure. In Guatemala this kind of finesse was considered unnecessary. Hence, the US blocked the Arbenz government's access to arms from the US and other Western countries - a fact the authors ignore when they mention the Chech weapons. State terrorism was the only option the US wanted to pursue. See chapter 12 of Noam Chomsky's "Deterring Democracy" for more details.
3) Referring to Vietnam after the US withdrawal in the 1970s the Idiot's Guide states
"...the regime has opened the country's floodgates to Western capitalism. The devastation done by Coaca-Cola is much more significant than that caused by the Vietcong communist insurrection supported by North Vietnam's army. No one made Vietnam carry out these policies...Vietnam has been free to do as it wishes, without any foreign pressure except for its communist neighbour, China."[pg 94]
First of all, the US supported a Chinese invasion of Vietnam in 1979 and even supported the remnants of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge in Thailand after the Vietnamese kicked them out of Cambodia (over strong US objections). The US continued to punish Vietnam after the war - backing the Khmer Rouge and China were among the tactics used. See Edward Herman's essay "Aggression Rights and Wrongs: Vietnam in Cambodia; the United States in Iraq" for details.
Even more importantly, the US killed about 3 million Vietnamese during the war. It destroyed the country but failed to set up a right wing dictatorship as it had in Guatemala. Nevertheless, it can reasonably be argued that the US won the Vietnam war. That is basically what the authors are gloating about in the excerpt above. Savage violence often works. After a people are subjected to sufficient levels of it they will "freely" choose to do what the powerful want. That is why dictatorships ease up on repression once organized opposition is crushed and fear is sufficiently widespread.
4) "The violence in El Salvador throughout the 1980s has certainly been historical. Those 75,000 deaths, though caused by the FMLN [rebels] and the dirty war of death squads inspired by leaders like D'Aubusson Sr., constitute neither glorious history nor fruitful sacrifice." [pg 90]
Predictably enough, the authors ignore that according to the most extensive data available, (from the Truth Commission appointed by the UN) the US funded and trained Salvadoran military and its paramilitary allies perpetrated 95% of the killings.
5) Referring to the Sandinista governments in Nicaragua during the 1980s the Idiot's Guide says
"Always speaking on behalf of the people, the Sandinistas, in ten years, succeeded in reducing the consumption of basic commodities by 70% and the buying power of workers by 92%. The numbers --always the numbers, the best expression of reality-are overwhelmingly against such a political philosophy."[ pg. 74]
The authors' numbers do not include 30,000 Nicaraguans murdered by terrorists funded and organized by Washington. US aggression against Nicaragua was even condemned by a World Court ruling. None of these extremely relevant facts appear in the Idiot's Guide. As recently pointed out by Kevin Young in a Znet essay, "In 1980 the Sandinistas spent about half of the national budget on health care and education and 18% on defense; seven years later, the figures had reversed " thanks to US crimes.
6) Similar to its gloating over US success in Vietnam, the Idiot's Guide often celebrates victories by Washington's allies in elections shortly after years of murdering political opponents with ample US assistance:
"...the stomachs of the unemployed and the underemployed - two thirds of the population-were growling with joy when the Sandinistas lost the 1990 elections." [pg 80]
"Perhaps the FMLN in El Salvador had more success opening the people's eyes? It doesn't look like it, judging by the elusiveness of the popular support for this aparty during the last  elections...It didn't prevent the ARENA (the National Republican Alliance) from winning....and whose ties to death squads made it the perfect enemy." [pg 85-86]
"..the dictator Augusto Pinochet received more than 40% of the votes after sixteen years in government."[pg 86]
However, the impact of US backed terror and threats does not last forever as shown by electoral victories by the FMLN in El Salvador, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the Left in much of Latin America over the past several years. It Haiti, the population has been particularly resistant to US backed terror, consistently voting against US clients in elections despite suffering brutal US sponsored coups in 1991 and 2004..
The US may not have the capacity to fund and organize terror to reverse these recent victories, but much depends on refuting the lies spread by people like the authors of the Idiot's Guide.
7) "Three years of criminal acts by Cedras, Francois and Constant had to pass before its [US] troops could finally land on Haiti....where the Americans ran into danger when they faced a highly sophisticated and powerful resistance when attemting to place Aristide in the seat of power."[pg 60]
Cedras, Francois and Constant were not US foes as the authors outlandishly claim. They were US henchmen who, in 1991, overthrew Haiti's first freely elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide.
In 1996, when the authors wrote these words, Constant was living freely in Queens, New York, protected by the US government from deportation to Haiti where, at the time, he would have been tried for the crimes perpetrated by his death squad (FRAPH) between 1991-1994. The US not only protected Constant, US troops also seized thousands of documents from the offices of FRAPH and refused to return them to Haiti because they named US citizens. Constant was on the CIA payroll while his death sqaud murdered, tortured and gang raped thousands of people. The US refused to deport him to prevent more revelations about the US role in the coup. A few years ago, Constant was imprisoned in the US for mortgage fraud.
The US made a pretence of opposing the 1991 coup but deliberately allowed oil and other crucial supplies to keep the junta at work decimating the popular movement that had brought Aristide to power. For years, the Haitian elite, who financed the slaughter, travelled freely to the US on their shopping sprees as the US government claimed it was clamping down on supporters of the coup. An influx of Haitian refugees to the US, plus grassroots pressure, finally compelled the US to order Cedras to step aside.
The "powerful resistance" described by the Idiot's Guide melted away as commanded by their US bosses. Cedras and others were whisked away to luxurious exile. The US government was even kind enough to lease Cedras' home in Haiti for him. Clinton pressured Aristide to accept that his three years in exile count as time served in office and also to implement economic policies demanded by the Haitian elite. Clinton also ensured that the junta's henchman thoroughly penetrated Aristide's security forces after he returned. See Paul Farmer's "The Uses of Haiti" and Peter Hallward's "Damming the Flood" for more details. Human Rights Watch reports from the 1990s contain plenty of information as well.
8) In a chapter entitled "The Idiot's Bible" the authors assail Eduado Galeano's book "Open Veins of Latin America"
"Let's suppose Mr. Galenao's gospel is adopted as the official Latin American policy. Mexico and Venezuela shut down their oil exports; Argentina stops selling its beef and wheat overseas....millions of people would lose their jobs" [pg 24]
Galeano does not advocate that Latin America shut down its exports. Throughout the book Galeano discusses the obstacles to building a strong domestic market that would end Latin American dependence on exports - in particular the export of basic commodities that are susceptible to wild price fluctuations. That is very different - obviously - from what the Idiot's Guide alleges and impossible to miss except for those determined to misrepresent Galeano's book.
"If the international 'market' is made up only of giants annihilating the weak, why are Israel, Andorra, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Taiwan, Singapore, Honk Kong, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Curcao, the Cayman Islands and Denmark among the world's richest (and smallest) nations?" [pg 31]
Galeano never wrote that small countries cannot be rich.
"Haven't Spain and Portugal fared much better without their colonies than with them? [pg 28]
Galeano explains very clearly why the wealth looted from Latin America did not end up benefiting Spain and Portugal.
"Germany, which at the beginning of the twentieth century hardly had any colonies...had an economic power greater than the British" [pg 29]
Galeano doesn't say that a country must have colonies to get rich. He discusses how Britain, Italy, Germany and other Europeans profited tremendously from the colonies held by Spain and Portugal.
"Galeano - just like the Luddites of the nineteenth century who tried to destroy the looms and power machinery under the assumption that these devices would eliminate their jobs - believes that industrialization is harmful" [pg 34]
No, Galeano clearly doesn't oppose industrialization. The authors based this absurd conclusion on the following quote from Galeno's book
"Even industrialization - coming late and in dependent form and comfortably coexisting with the latifundia and the structures of inequality - helps spread unemployment rather than to relieve it..."
Anyone with the most basic reading skills will understand that objecting to the "dependent form" industrialization has taken in Latin America and opposing "structures of inequality" is not a call for factories to be blown up or for them not to be built. .
The Idiot's Guide ends with the following hysterical rant against Galeano
"There unquestionably exists something that Galeano hates with even greater intensity than the gringos or the multinationals or liberalism: truth, common sense, and freedom. He cannot stand them. He doesn't believe in them. His only and strongest allegiance is to feed uninformed Latin American errors and nonsense until he perfects the legendary ideological stupidity that he has made famous. And that is why his book ends ours. He's earned it." [Pg 208]
The authors based a lot of this outrage on Galeano's discussion of industrialization that took place in Paraguay under the dictator Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia and his successors: Carlos Antonio Lopez and Francisco Solano in the mid 1800s. These governments were repressive, as Galeano describes, and as were the others in Latin America at the time. However, Galeano discusses the successful industrialization that took place under these governments:
"Paraguay had telegraphs, a railroad...factories....foreign technicians , handsomely paid by the state....was able to carry out great public works without recourse to foreign capital."
Galeano merely made the observation that protectionism and state subsidy are the key to industrializing successfully. Galeano makes the same, accurate, observation of the policies used by capitalists in the northern US after they defeated the South. Of course, the authors of the Idiot's Guide do not therefore denounce Galeano for "admiring" or "revering" capitalists.
The authors pay Galeano an unintended compliment by resorting to so much dishonesty to trash his book.
9) Referring to Cuba just before the 1959 revolution the Idiot's Guide says "the health indexes were those of a developed nation" [pg 97]
Cuba may have had very good health statistics for a poor country in the 1950s. It was not at developed country levels as it is today with an infant mortality rate of 5 per 100,000 live births which is lower than that of the United States (see UNICEF's State of the World's Children report for 2010). Cuba's infant mortality rate in the 1950s was especially high compared to rich countries that escaped the ravages of the second world war.
According to UNCEF's "Trends in Child Mortality in Developed Countries" Cuba had an infant mortality rate of 39 per 100,000 live births in 1960. Some UNICEF publications have listed it as high as 70 for that year. Canada and the United states had infant mortality rates of 26 and 27 (respectively) per 100000 live births in 1960 according to UNICEF. Scandinavian countries had infant mortality rates below 20 per 100,000 live births in 1960. .
10) Referring to the US "embargo" of Cuba the Idiot's Guide says
"First of all there is no blockade Yes, the United States prohibits its companies from doing business with Cuba and American citizens from spending dollars on the Island In political jargon this prohibition is called an 'embargo' ....However the accursed embargo....has a very limited effect."[pg 100]
The "embargo" has included US support for terrorism against Cuba. The US continues to harbour Luis Posada Carriles, a man who openly boasted to the New York Times that he organized the bombing of Cuban hotels in the 1990s. The US has blocked Posada's extradition to Venezuela where he is wanted for his involvement in the bombing, in 1976, of a commercial Cuban airliner that killed 73 people on board. Unsurprisingly, the Idiot's Guide is silent about ongoing US backed terrorism directed at Cuba.
A lawsuit filed by Cuba in 1999 claims the US has inflicted 120 billions dollars worth of damage to its economy through deliberate sabotage. It also alleges that US sponsored terrorism has killed 3,478 Cubans. The lawsuit has been sitting with the Counter-Terrorism Committee of the United Nations since 2001. The US government is obviously not eager to test Cuba's allegations in court.
"If Castro yielded to democracy, as did South Africa did, the embargo would be over."[pg 101]
In fact, a comparison with the impact of the sanctions on South Africa during apartheid suggests that Cuban estimates of the damage done by the "embargo" are reasonable (i..e that the "limited effect" claimed by the Idiot's Guide is nonsense). Under sanctions between 1985-1992, South Africa's real per capita GDP contracted by 1.3% per year.
[see http://www.ekon.sun.ac.za/wpapers/2006/wp012006/wp-01-2006.pdf ]
During the period of sanctions the United States remained South Africa's second largest trading partner and the US did not support terrorism against the South Africa. In fact, economic sanctions were imposed on South Africa over the objections of the Reagan administration.
According to the estimates made by Cuban officials, Cuba's GDP per capita (adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity (PPP)) would be roughly double what it is today - enough to increase Cuba's ranking from 109th to 63rd in the world - if the "embargo" had never been in place.
That would be accurate if the "embargo" (trade sanctions plus terrorism) cost Cuba (on average) about 1.3% GDP growth per year, the same as milder sanctions cost apartheid South Africa, over the past 50 years.
"And what of Fidel Castro's constant howls in favour of lifting the American trade embargo? Isn't this the best example of how economic imperialism is a fantasy? How can denouncing economic imperialism be compatible with continual pleas for the US economy to stop ignoring - that being exactly what an embargo is - this Caribben nation" [pg 62]
"Ignoring" Cuba would obviously not involve making it a crime for US businesses to trade with Cuba (never mind giving terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles safe haven).
Noam Chomsky also observed in 2004:
"...the Treasury Department has a bureau (OFAC, Office of Foreign Assets Control) that is assigned the task of investigating suspicious financial transfers..... A few weeks ago, OFAC informed Congress that four are dedicated to tracking the finances of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, while almost two dozen are dedicated to enforcing the embargo against Cuba
From 1990 to 2003, OFAC informed Congress, there were 93 terrorism-related investigations with $9000 in fines; and 11,000 Cuba-related investigations with $8 million in fines"
It takes real fanaticism to be remotely familiar with US policy towards Cuba and describe it as one of "ignoring" Cuba.
"This blockade is nothing more than the prohibition of American companies from doing business with Cuba, and this argument is just an excuse,..." [pg 70]
The Idiot's Guide never calls for the US to take the "excuse" away which suggests that the authors don't even believe what they write.
"Cuba, for example, has one doctor for every 220 people. Denmark has one doctor for every 450. Does this mean that a Danish revolution must be incited in order to double the number of its doctors, or could it be that Cuba has irresponsibly spent hundreds of millions of dollars educating totally unnecessary doctors if a rational way of organizing hospital services were implemented?" [pg 103]
According recent data from the World Health Organization, Cuba has one doctor for every 169 people compared to one for every 259 in Denmark, one for every 265 in Norway, and one for every 390 in the United States.
As noted above, Cuba has achieved a child mortality rate superior to that of the United States. It takes quite a bit of contempt for human life to refer to Cuba's public health spending as "irresponsible" given its outcomes. It has also been well documented, by Amnesty International among others, that the US "embargo" has deliberately targeted the Cuba health system.
Moreover, if countries like Norway and Denmark had to contend with massive economic sabotage and terrorism, they might also have to train more doctors.
(11) "Trade has been one of the factors responsible for the fact that Latin America's per capita income grew 162% between 1960 and 1982. If the service economy had made its phantasmagoric appearance a few decades earlier, these figures - which have certainly not solved our poverty problem - would probably have been much lower for our area of the Western Hemisphere."[pg 45]
Actually, from 1960-1980, Latin America's real per capita GDP grew by 82 percent. From 1980-2000, per capita GDP grew by only 9 percent. From 2000-2005 it has grown by only 4 percent. Brazil and Mexico would have per capita incomes at European levels if the growth rates achieved in the 1960-1980 period had not collpased.
In other words, the neoliberal era applauded by the Idiot's Guide is one in which Latin America's economic performance took a major turn for the worse. This was evident well before IMF star pupils like Argentina suffered major economic meltdowns.
The Idiot's Guide suggests that Latin America's dwindling success is due to a "phantasmagoric" rise in the service sector. However, service sector growth has progressed to a much greater degree in developed countries.
If the root cause of falling growth rates was the rise of the service sector then Latin America should have had better growth rates compared to developed countries after 1980. The opposite has been the case.
Between 1980 - 1999, per capita GDP growth in Latin America averaged 0.6% per year in Latin America compared to 2.2% in developed countries.
Between 1960-1980, per capita GDP growth in Latin America averaged 3.1% per year in Latin America compared to 3.2% in developed countries.
See data cited in Ha-Joon Chang's "Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Startegy in Historical Perspective" [pg 132-134]
12) "The idiot...reads from left to left. He practices ideological inbreeding and incest.Any liberal, conservative, bourgeois, or other literature contrary to his revolutionary postulates seems a waste of time, a sign of irrationality, or a simple pack of lies. It's not worth looking into." [pg183]
As shown above, the Idiot's Guide can only be taken seriously by people who practice "ideological inbreeding and incest" and thereby avoid dealing with facts.
13) Mario Vargas Llosa wrote in the forward to the book
"This is a militant and polemic text, not anecdotes, using arguments, not insults or personal attacks." [pg xvi]
One wonders if Vargas Llosa ever glanced at the front cover of the book and noticed its title, never mind the content between the covers.