Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
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As noted in chapter 5, the Costa Rican system established by the 1948 coup led by José (Don Pepe) Figueres satisfied the basic conditions required by U.S. global policy and ideology. Figueres aligned himself unequivocally with the United States. His government provided a favorable climate for foreign investment, guaranteed the domestic predominance of business interests, and laid a proper basis for repression of labor and political dissidence if required, even outlawing the Communist Party in its 1949 Constitution. Still, the United States remained dissatisfied.
Suspicions about Costa Rica were voiced early on, as the intelligence reports already cited indicate.2 In 1952, the CIA warned that Guatemala "has recently stepped-up substantially its support of Communist and anti-American activities in other Central American countries," one prime example being the alleged gift of $300,000 to Figueres, then a candidate for election. The situation in Guatemala itself, of course, was regarded as "adverse to US interests" because of the "Communist influence...based on militant advocacy of social reforms and nationalistic policies identified with the Guatemalan Revolution of 1944," which initiated the ten-year democratic interlude terminated by the CIA coup. Worse yet, the "radical and nationalist policies" of the democratic capitalist government, including the "persecution of foreign economic interests, especially the United Fruit Company," had gained "the support or acquiescence of almost all Guatemalans." The government was proceeding to create "mass support for the present regime" by labor organization and agrarian reform and "to mobilize the hitherto politically inert peasantry" while undermining the power of large landholders. Furthermore, "Guatemalan official propaganda, with its emphasis on conflict between democracy and dictatorship and between national independence and `economic imperialism,' is a disturbing factor in the Caribbean area"; the background for the judgment is Washington's support for dictatorships and its natural fear of independent democratic tendencies. Also disturbing was Guatemalan support for "the `democratic' elements of other Caribbean countries in their struggles against `dictatorship'." The 1944 revolution had aroused "a strong national movement to free Guatemala from the military dictatorship, social backwardness, and `economic colonialism' which had been the pattern of the past," and "inspired the loyalty and conformed to the self-interest of most politically conscious Guatemalans." Hence "Neither the landholders nor the [United] Fruit Company can expect any sympathy in Guatemalan public opinion." A "Commie display of strength" at a "gigantic May Day celebration" was particularly distressing, given what intelligence perceived to be their leading role in these ominous developments.3 It was feared that Figueres might lend himself to similar Commie schemes.
American Ambassador Robert Woodward reported to Washington in 1955 that the Figueres government is "controversial" and not entirely reliable. True, Figueres had just "expressed appreciation for the activities of the United Fruit Company" and had "dislodged the commies from their powerful position" in the pre-coup government. But he "made himself suspect when he continued to support the Arbenz regime in Guatemala long after it was dominated by communists"; that is, long after this capitalist democracy was targeted for elimination by the CIA.
As yet, "the commies have presented no grave problem" in Costa Rica, Ambassador Woodward continued, noting that "the Constitution outlaws the Communist Party." But the commies represent "a potential danger" because they have not been rooted out of "the laboring class," and the suspect government "has made no move to stamp out the movement completely," as a solid commitment to democracy would require. With the "communists" not eliminated entirely, there might be problems in controlling banana workers and other dangerous elements. Who can tell when these subversives might try to organize to struggle for their rights? Thirty years later, the Twentieth Century Fund warns of the problems "brought on by the radicalization of the banana unions under Communist leadership," including "a lengthy strike in 1984 which resulted in violence -- and several deaths." These and other problems had led the United Fruit Company "to turn some of its acreage over to palm oil -- a less labor-intensive crop," so that such difficulties would not arise.4
Furthermore, Ambassador Woodward continued, the security forces "are handicapped in arresting communists because of the protection afforded the individual in the Costa Rican Constitution." But despite these unfortunate deviations from democracy, "it should not be too difficult to suppress communist publications," even though this risks "the hue and cry of the comrades against suppression of freedom of expression"; and "the application of limited force" should also be possible if we can provide the government with adequate intelligence and help them convince the public that "communism constituted a present menace." This public relations effort requires that the public be "conditioned" to "the use of force by the authorities," by means of "a strong propaganda campaign." Again, we see the importance of necessary illusions to lay the groundwork for the effective use of violence.
The policy recommendations, then, are that "the government should be urged to maintain closer surveillance over communists and prosecute them more vigorously" (by means that remain censored), and "the government should be influenced to amend the Constitution to limit the travel of communists, increase penalties for subversive activities and enact proposed legislation eliminating communists from union leadership," while the U.S. Information Agency programs "to condition the public to the communist menace" should be maintained. The United Fruit Company, which dominated much of the economy, should proceed to bring Figueres "to the point where he will become a Hemisphere-wide public relations agent for the Company." That should not be difficult, because he is already becoming "the best advertising agency that the United Fruit Company could find in Latin America."
To carry these efforts further, the Ambassador recommended that the United Fruit Company be induced to introduce "a few relatively simple and superficial human-interest frills for the workers that may have a large psychological effect." These recommendations should put to rest the calumny that the United States government lacks concern for the working class and the poor.
Ambassador Woodward's advice to United Fruit recalls a private communication of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to President Eisenhower on how to bring Latin Americans into line with U.S. plans for their future as providers of raw materials and profits for U.S. corporations: "you have to pat them a little bit and make them think that you are fond of them."5
The State Department perceived "weaknesses" in Costa Rica "in the detection and investigation of communist activity" and "the absence of legal authority to move against communists." Another problem was the inadequate resources of the security services, who "can, therefore, contribute little to the surveillance and control of the international communist movement." While the media "make extensive use of news and special articles" from the U.S. propaganda services, more can be done in this regard to "encourage confidence in democracy and free enterprise" -- the two being operationally equivalent -- and to overcome the current "lackadaisical...attitude of the government toward [the] suppression" of communists. The State Department recommended convincing the government to take measures to "Limit the international movement of communists, Increase penalties for communist activities, Eliminate communists from union leadership, Restrict communist propaganda," while continuing U.S. propaganda programs "to increase public support for anti-communist measures."
In short, the United States should foster democracy.
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1 Addendum to p. 113.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, the material that follows is drawn from Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955-7, VII, 2ff., 198f.
3 "Memorandum by the Director of Central Intelligence (Smith) to the Under Secretary of State (Bruce), Dec. 12, 1952; NIE-84, May 19, 1953. FRUS 1952-1954, vol. IV, 1055, 1061ff.
4 Sol W. Sanders, The Costa Rican Laboratory (Twentieth Century Fund, Priority press, 1986).
5 Feb. 26, 1953; cited by Stephen G. Rabe, Eisenhower and Latin America (North Carolina, 1988, 33).