Tag Archives: CIA

A Democratic Spring Ends: June 27, 1954 (a Sunday)

The Price of Bananas:

The Chiquita brand logo was commissioned in 1943 by United Fruit.

The Chiquita brand logo was commissioned in 1943 by United Fruit.

On this date, the democratically-elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán was overthrown by CIA-paid and -trained mercenaries, making way for the United States to install a series of military dictatorships that waged a genocidal war against the indigenous Mayan Indians and against political opponents into the ‘90s. Human rights groups estimate that, between 1954 and 1990, the repressive operatives of successive military regimes murdered at least 100,000 and probably more than 200,000 civilians.

In a radio broadcast in July 1954, Arbenz said:

They have used the pretext of anti-communism. The truth is very different. The truth is to be found in the financial interests of the fruit company [United Fruit] and the other U.S. monopolies which have invested great amounts of money in Latin America and fear that the example of Guatemala would be followed by other Latin countries… I was elected by a majority of the people of Guatemala, but I have had to fight under difficult conditions. The truth is that the sovereignty of a people cannot be maintained without the material elements to defend it…. I took over the presidency with great faith in the democratic system, in liberty and the possibility of achieving economic independence for Guatemala. I continue to believe that this program is just. I have not violated my faith in democratic liberties, in the independence of Guatemala and in all the good which is the future of humanity.

United Fruit, one of America’s richest companies, functioned in Guatemala as a state within a state. It owned the country’s telephone and telegraph facilities, administered its only important Atlantic harbor and monopolized its banana exports. A subsidiary of the company owned nearly every mile of railroad track in the country.

The fruit company’s influence amongst Washington’s power elite was equally impressive. On a business and/or personal level, it had close ties to the Dulles brothers, various State Department officials and congressmen, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, and others. Anne Whitman, the wife of the company’s public relations director, was President Eisenhower’s personal secretary. Under-secretary of State (and formerly Director of the CIA) Walter Bedell Smith was seeking an executive position with United Fruit at the same time he was helping to plan the coup. He was later named to the company’s board of directors.

Furthermore, in the early 1940s, United Fruit had brought on as its public relations counsel Edward Bernays, a diminutive man who had proven his ability to act big by convincing a generation of American women to smoke the cigarettes made by his client American Tobacco Co., luring a generation of children into carving sculptures from Ivory Soap bars made by client Proctor and Gamble, and generally tapping the ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, on why people behave the way they do, only to reshape those behaviors for the benefit of his paying customers.
 Bernays helped mastermind the propaganda campaign for his fruit company client to convince Americans that Arbenz was a Communist threat to the U.S., drawing on every public relations tactic and strategy he had refined since helping to convince Americans that Germany was a threat to the U.S. during World War I.
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A singing, dancing Chiquita banana, modeled after Carmen Miranda, became the symbol for the United Fruit Company. Through this sexy banana symbol, Latin America was feminized, creating images in Americans’ minds of a colonial Latin America with an indigenous population of topless women, which was of course not the case.

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The Eisenhower Administration painted the coup as an uprising that rid the hemisphere of a Communist government backed by Moscow. But Arbenz’s real offense was to confiscate unused land owned by the United Fruit Company to redistribute under a land reform plan and to pay compensation based on the vastly understated valuation the company had claimed for its tax payments. Arbenz “was not a dictator, he was not a crypto-communist,” said Stephen Schlesinger, an adjunct fellow at the Century Foundation and co-author of Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala (1999). “He was simply trying to create a middle class in a country riven by extremes of wealth and poverty and racism,” Schlesinger said. Both Arbenz and his immediate predecessor, Juan Jose Arevalo, who was the first democratically-elected Guatemalan president, were motivated by the policies and practices of the New Deal; their support for labor and their actions towards American businesses must be viewed in this light and were never any worse than those of the Roosevelt Administration during the Depression in the United States.

In 1970, the United Fruit Company merged with AMK Corporation; the new corporation was called the United Brands Company. This company became Chiquita Brands International in 1990.

On 10 March 1999 during remarks made in the Reception Hall in the National Palace of Culture in Guatemala City, President Bill Clinton apologized for U.S. support of the Guatemalan military (but not for the 1954 coup), saying U.S. “support for military forces or intelligence units which engage in violent and widespread repression of the kind described in the report was wrong”. He was forced into this “damn-near” apology after the U.N.’s independent Historical Clarification Commission (Spanish: Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico, or CEH) issued a nine-volume report called Guatemala: Memory of Silence [Conclusions and Recommendations archived here] on 25 February 1999.

Created as part of the 1996 peace accord that ended Guatemala’s civil war, the CEH and its 272 staff members interviewed combatants on both sides of the conflict, gathered news reports and eyewitness accounts from across the country, and extensively examined declassified U.S. government documents. The CEH concluded that for decades, the U.S. knowingly gave money, training, and other vital support to Guatemalan military regimes that committed atrocities as a matter of policy, and even “acts of genocide” against the Mayan people.

However, the Commission’s findings weren’t really news at all. That the Guatemalan military committed genocide and widespread atrocities had been widely known for many years. That the U.S. supported and trained the Guatemalan military had been a matter of public record. What was new here was the depth of documentation, and that the information was coming from an official source.

The CEH attributed 93% of the atrocities and 626 massacres to government forces, while only 3% of the atrocities were attributable to the guerrillas. (Responsibility for the remaining 4% could not be assigned with certainty.) Out of 200,000 documented victims, the CEH report found that 83% were indigenous. And worse, the vast majority of victims were non-combatant civilians. Merely trying to form an opposition political party was reason enough to be killed. So was being a trade unionist, a student or professor, a journalist, a church official, a child or elderly person from the same village as a suspected rebel, a doctor who merely treated another victim, or even a widow of one of the disappeared simply asking for the body.

Civil patrol members in northern Guatemala in March 1982. Civil patrols were established using local men forcibly conscripted by the government. This patrol had recently been supplied with U.S.-made M-1 rifles,  replacing their former shotguns and machetes.

Civil patrol members in northern Guatemala in March 1982. Civil patrols were established using local men forcibly conscripted by the government. This patrol had recently been supplied with U.S.-made M-1 rifles, replacing their former shotguns and machetes.

In fact, the same day that Clinton issued his damn-near apology, new documents obtained by the National Security Archive — a non-profit group of truth-seekers who do tremendous work obtaining and analyzing the internal records of things we aren’t supposed to know — were released that indicate that the U.S. was more intimately involved with the Guatemalan paramilitary than even the CEH report indicated.

These new documents proved irrefutably that as early as 1966, officials from the U.S. State Department, far from opposing the torturers, set up a “safe house” for security forces in Guatemala’s presidential palace, which eventually became the headquarters for “kidnapping, torture… bombings, street assassinations, and executions of real or alleged communists.” CIA documents also proved that from the very beginning, U.S. intelligence was fully aware that “disappearances” were actually kidnappings followed by summary executions. Rather than act to stop the slaughter, however, the U.S. State Department continued to provide tens of millions of dollars in aid. Once Ronald Reagan was elected president, covert money and support for the Guatemalan dictatorship soared, as did the atrocities. In fact, Reagan was the U.S. official most culpable for aiding and abetting the Guatemalan genocide.

In a muted ceremony at the National Palace in Guatemala City on 20 October  2011, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom turned to Arbenz’s son Juan Jacobo and asked for forgiveness on behalf of the state for the overthrow of his father in 1954. “That day changed Guatemala and we have not recuperated from it yet,” he said. “It was a crime to Guatemalan society and it was an act of aggression to a government starting its democratic spring.”

On 21 October 2011, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the organization Rights Action issued an open letter to President Obama [archived here] asking the administration to follow the example of the Guatemalan government and issue an apology on behalf of the U.S. government for its role in the coup d’état and subsequent human rights violations perpetrated by the Guatemalan state. It stated:

The willingness of the United States to support illegitimate governments in Latin America did not begin and unfortunately did not end with Guatemala. In fact, Guatemala was one of the most atrocious but still just one of the bloody, repressive and destabilizing interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean that the U.S. government supported over the last century. Unfortunately, this interventionism continues today. Your October 5, 2011 White House meeting with and pledged support for President Porfirio Lobo of Honduras in the aftermath of the June 2009 coup d’état and the subsequent illegitimate elections there is a cogent example of the United States’ continued wrongheaded policy approach to Latin America. Honduras is engulfed in a wave of politically motivated violence where scores of opposition activists and journalists have been murdered since the coup. Support for the repressive Lobo government is in direct contradiction to the nationwide peoples’ movement of Honduras which is demanding an end to impunity for the repression against their movement and accountability for the 2009 coup d’etat.

CCR and Rights Action concluded the letter by urging President Obama to change the course of his administration’s foreign policy in Latin America and to put his words into action by ceasing to actively undermine Latin American peoples’ right to peacefully choose their leaders democratically and have these decisions be respected by the United States.

Bodies of some of the 20 villagers killed near Salacuin, in northern Guatemala, in May 1982. The Guatemalan army blamed leftist guerrillas for this massacre; survivors of other attacks carried out in the same region during this period blamed the army.

Bodies of some of the 20 villagers killed near Salacuin, in northern Guatemala, in May 1982. The Guatemalan army blamed leftist guerrillas for this massacre; survivors of other attacks carried out in the same region during this period blamed the army.

On 12 January 2012, Efrain Rios Montt, former head of state of Guatemala from March 1982 to August 1983, the bloodiest period in its history, appeared in a Guatemalan court on charges of genocide. During the trial, the government presented evidence of over 100 incidents involving at least 1,771 deaths, 1,445 rapes, and the displacement of nearly 30,000 Guatemalans during his 17-month rule. The evidence clearly showed that Ríos Montt had ordered soldiers to burn indigenous villages and kill Mayans.

On 10 May 2013, Rios Montt was found guilty and sentenced to 80 years in prison. The verdict was the first time in history in which a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide by a national tribunal in his or her own country. However, the victory was short-lived. On May 20, Guatemala’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, vacated the verdict against Ríos Montt and annulled all the legal proceedings that had taken place after April 19; a retrial may possibly occur in January 2015. During the week following Montt’s conviction, there had been forceful and repeated calls from CACIF, Guatemala’s powerful business association, for the verdict to be overturned, explicit threats made by Rios Montt’s lawyer of national paralysis if the Constitutional Court did not rule in Rios Montt’s favor, and bomb threats at the Constitutional Court and other government offices. Guatemala has to now decide if it wants to be known throughout the world as “The Land of Eternal Spring” or as “The Land of Eternal Impunity.”

As for Chiquita Brands International, it is just as corrupt as its predecessor.

In the late 1990s, in one of many chapters in the Colombian government’s decades-old dirty war with leftist guerrillas, more than 15,000 people in the northern region of Curvaradó were forced from their land. Those that followed were las mocha cabezas, meaning “the beheaders” — paramilitary death squads fighting as the military’s proxies. Thousands fled their massacres, bombardments, and executions. Behind the beheaders came the agribusinesses, which converted the territory into African palm plantations and cattle ranches under paramilitary protection. Thus began the cozy relationship between the corporations and the paramilitaries.

Chiquita had been operating in Colombia since the early 1960s through a wholly-owned subsidiary called “Banadex”. Between 1997 and 2004, officers of Banadex paid approximately $1.7 million to the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Spanish: Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC) in exchange for local employee protection in Urabá, a region north of Curvaradó. The AUC has been responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia’s civil conflict and for a sizable percentage of the country’s cocaine exports, although they are fighting the guerrilla insurgency in order to preserve the political and economic status quo in Colombia. No later than September 2000, Chiquita’s senior executives knew that the corporation was paying the AUC and that the AUC was a violent, paramilitary organization. Similar payments were also made to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as well as the National Liberation Army (ELN) from 1989 to 1997, both leftist guerrilla organizations, as control of the company’s banana-growing area shifted. Not only were the FARC and ELN targeting U.S. personnel, they were also fighting against U.S. political and economic interests in Colombia.

The FARC and the ELN were placed on the U.S. State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 1997, while the AUC was added in 2001; on 14 March 2007, Chiquita Brands said it had agreed to a $25 million fine as part of a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department for having ties to them. The plea agreement [archived here] claimed that the company had never received “any actual security services or actual security equipment in exchange for the payments” (see paragraph 23). Chiquita instead characterized itself as a victim of “extortion”.

But court documents subsequently obtained by the National Security Archive from the Justice Department and released as “The Chiquita Papers” in April 2011 show conclusively that Chiquita Brands International had, in fact, benefited from its payments — extorted or otherwise — to Colombian paramilitary and guerrilla groups. According to a 1994 legal memo, the general manager of Chiquita operations in Turbó admits that guerrillas were “used to supply security personnel at the various farms.” In a March 2000 memo, Chiquita lawyers describe a conversation with a company manager who said that it was absolutely necessary to make payments to right-wing paramilitary groups, not because of intimidation, but rather because they “can’t get the same level of support from the military.” It is still not known why U.S. prosecutors overlooked this clear evidence of culpability that they had in their possession while they were pursuing the case against Chiquita.

Even before “The Chiquita Papers”, there were other indications that the 2007 plea agreement was dishonest. On a broadcast of the U.S. news program 60 Minutes of 11 May 2008 [transcript archived here], correspondent Steve Kroft interviewed Salvatore Mancuso, former supreme leader of the AUC, in a Colombian maximum-security prison. Mancuso said the multinational Chiquita Brands agreed to pay the paramilitaries for their safety without threats:

Kroft: Chiquita says the reason they paid the money was because your people would kill them if they didn’t. Is that true?

Mancuso: No it is not true. They paid taxes because we were like a state in the area, and because we were providing them with protection which enabled them to continue making investments and a financial profit.

Kroft: What would have happened to Chiquita and its employees if they had not paid you?

Mancuso: The truth is, we never thought about what would happen because they did so willingly.

Kroft: Did [the company] have a choice?

Mancuso: Yes, they had a choice. They could go to the local police or army for protection from the guerrillas, but the army and police at that time were barely able to protect themselves.

Kroft: Was Chiquita the only American company that paid you?

Mancuso: All companies in the banana region paid. For instance, there was Dole and Del Monte, which I believe are U.S. companies.

Kroft: Dole and Del Monte say they never paid you any money.

Mancuso: Chiquita has been honest by acknowledging the reality of the conflict and the payments that it made; the others also made payments, not only international companies, but also the national companies in the region.

Kroft: So you’re saying Dole and Del Monte are lying?

Mancuso: I’m saying they all paid.

Kroft: Has anyone come down here from the United States, from the U.S. Justice Department, to talk to you about Dole, or to talk to you about Del Monte or any other companies?

Mancuso: No one has come from the Department of Justice of the United States to talk to us. I am taking the opportunity to invite the Department of State and the Department of Justice, so that they can come and so I can tell them all that they want to know from us.

Kroft: And you would name names?

Mancuso: Certainly, I would do so.

Mancuso had helped negotiate a deal with the Colombian government in 2003 that allowed more than 30,000 paramilitaries to give up their arms and demobilize in return for reduced prison sentences. As part of the deal, the paramilitaries must truthfully confess to all crimes, or face much harsher penalties. Since the interview aired, other jailed paramilitary leaders have corroborated Mancuso’s claims that they received protection money from Chiquita. At the time of the interview, Mancuso had been indicted in the U.S. for smuggling 17 tons of cocaine into the country. On 13 May 2008, Mancuso, along with 13 other paramilitary warlords, was unexpectedly extradited to the United States allegedly for failing to comply with the peace pact.

To distance itself from the scandal, Chiquita in June 2004 sold off its Colombian subsidiary, Banadex, which had provided the company with approximately 11 million crates of bananas every year. The company also partnered with Rainforest Alliance, which certified that all of Chiquita’s farms had fair health, labor, and environmental practices. However, Banadex was bought by Invesmar, the British Virgin Islands-registered conglomerate that is the holding company of a Colombian banana producer and exporter called “Banacol”. The $51.5 million deal included an agreement that Banacol would supply Chiquita with 11 million crates of bananas every year through 2012. And low and behold, Banacol in 2011 was Chiquita’s largest global supplier, accounting for 10 percent of Chiquita’s banana purchases, according to Chiquita’s annual statement to shareholders.

Banacol plantains in a Whole Foods in Charlotte, NC

Banacol plantains in a Whole Foods store in Charlotte, NC

When the displaced communities first began to return to Curvaradó in 2002, they found a desert of African-palm plantations and cattle ranches in place of the small farms that once dotted their land. Most of the palm crops are now dead — killed by a mysterious fungal plague — and a number of the businessmen involved in colluding with the paramilitaries are in prison, under investigation, or on the run. However, as the palm trees have withered, the banana companies have advanced. In 2009, Banacol announced plans for a government-backed $6.4 million project planting 2,470 acres of plantain in Curvaradó for sale on international markets.

A legal complaint [archived here] against Chiquita filed before a U.S. federal court in Washington on 22 March 2011 on behalf of victims of the AUC claims that the former Banadex management now runs Banacol, that workers continued under Banadex contracts as late as 2009, and that the farms sold to Banacol — which make up over 70 percent of Banacol’s Colombian land — continue to supply Chiquita. “Banacol has acted as [Chiquita’s] alter ego since 2004,” the complaint concludes (see paragraph 870). The new accusations have arisen in the Curvaradó region of Colombia, where the Rainforest Alliance says it does not certify Banacol farms as environmentally and socially responsible.

While Chiquita’s payments to the AUC ended by 2004, Banacol continued paying security companies that were used to launder payments to the paramilitaries until at least 2007, according to details from a Colombia Prosecutors Office investigation of Chiquita, Banadex, and Banacol, which was leaked to the press in 2009.

In Colombia, it is apparently business as usual for Chiquita Brands International.

References:

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June 11, 1963 (a Tuesday)

Self-immolation of Thich Quang Duc

At midday on this date, Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức took a ride in a car to the corner of Phan Dinh Phung and Le Van Duyet streets (now Nguyen Dinh Chieu and Cach Mang Thang Tam streets) in central Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). Đức emerged from the car along with two other monks. One placed a cushion on the road while the second opened the trunk and took out a five-gallon gasoline can. Đức calmly seated himself in the traditional Buddhist meditative lotus position on the cushion. A colleague emptied the contents of the gasoline container over Đức’s head. Đức rotated a mala (string of wooden prayer beads) and recited the words Nam Mô A Di Đà Phật (“homage to Amitabha Buddha”) before striking a match and dropping it on himself. Flames consumed his robes and flesh, and black oily smoke emanated from his burning body.

Đức’s last words before his self-immolation were documented in a letter he had left:

Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngô Đình Diệm to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organise in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism.

The Most Venerable Thích Quảng Đức, whose lay name was Lam Van Tuc, was born in 1897 in a small village in a province in central Viet Nam.

In August of 1963, Diệm, a Roman Catholic who had been oppressing the Buddhist majority, used regular troops to arrest and imprison more than one thousand Buddhists in Hue and Saigon. Protests spread, and Quảng Đức’s self-immolation was followed by similar acts. Madame Nhu, the president’s sister-in-law, referred to the burnings as “barbecues” and offered to supply matches.

People around the world began to question a regime that would oppress peaceful Buddhists and provoke such shocking sacrifice. Many Americans viewed Thích Quảng Đức’s act as a demonstration that Vietnamese lacked the most cherished of American liberties: freedom of religion. Such was the outrage that officials genuinely feared that it would lead to the end of Diệm’s reign and the American effort to combat communism in Vietnam. The U.S. government found it increasingly difficult to continue its support of the man they had put in power.

The statue of Thich Quang Duc at the corner of Nguyen Dinh Chieu and Cach Mang Thang Tam streets.

The JFK administration demanded that Diệm find a way to end the protests. Diệm refused, outrageously claiming yet again that communist infiltration lay behind the Buddhist protests. The Americans lost patience. On 1 November 1963, the CIA orchestrated a coup against the no-longer-useful Diệm. He was assassinated the following day.

For his extraordinary martyrdom, Thích Quảng Đức was deemed a bodhisattva — a human being who aspires to enlightenment not purely to free themselves from suffering, but to free other sentient beings from suffering as well. And that he did. His heroic act precipitated the end of Diệm’s oppressive reign, and the regimes that followed pledged to accommodate the Buddhists.

Thích Quảng Đức’s heart, which miraculously survived the immolation intact, has become a holy relic.

Subverting the Truth: April 13, 1917 (a Friday)

On this date, Woodrow Wilson, the 28th U.S. president, created the Committee on Public Information (CPI) as an independent agency by Executive Order 2594. The CPI blended advertising techniques with a sophisticated understanding of human psychology, and its efforts represent the first time that a modern government disseminated propaganda on such a large scale. It is fascinating that this phenomenon, often linked with totalitarian regimes, emerged in a democratic state.

'Enlist U.S. Army' is the caption of this World War I propaganda poster for enlistment in the US Army.

‘Enlist U.S. Army’ is the caption of this World War I propaganda poster for enlistment in the US Army.

George Creel, director of the CPI, recruited publicity agent Edward L. Bernays, journalist Walter Lippmann, and others to carry out its mission of reversing negative public sentiment about the Great War, now known as World War I. Bernays was influential in promoting the idea that America’s war efforts were primarily aimed at “bringing democracy to all of Europe”.

The CPI used a number of techniques to dehumanize the enemy and to promote anti-German sentiment in the United States with the goal of encouraging people to support the war “over there”. Atrocities committed by the other side were reported in detail and sometimes with unreliable facts, while questions about the activity of American forces and their allies were suppressed.

The committee’s propaganda and censorship worked beyond all expectations. Mobs lynched German Americans. Nearly 5,000 were jailed for being of German descent. Businesses barred people with German names from working for them. People were coerced into buying war bonds to prove their loyalty. Many people changed their names. For example, Mueller became Miller.

After WW I, Bernays took the techniques he learned in the CPI directly to Madison Avenue and became an outspoken proponent of propaganda as a tool for democratic government. “It was, of course, the astounding success of propaganda during the war that opened the eyes of the intelligent few in all departments of life to the possibilities of regimenting the public mind,” wrote Bernays in Propaganda, published in 1928. “It was only natural, after the war ended, that intelligent persons should ask themselves whether it was not possible to apply a similar technique to the problems of peace.” He also wrote:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.… We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.… In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind. (Propaganda, 1928)

Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. Freud divided the mind into the conscious mind, which consists of all the mental processes of which we are aware, and the unconscious mind, which contains irrational, biologically-based instincts for the primitive urges for sex and aggression. Combining the ideas of Gustave Le Bon (The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, 1895) and Wilfred Trotter (Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, 1916) on crowd psychology with the ideas of his uncle, Bernays was one of the first to attempt to manipulate public opinion by appealing to, and attempting to influence, the unconscious. He felt this manipulation was necessary in society, which he regarded as irrational and dangerous as a result of the “herd instinct”.

Bernays’ basic idea was that human behavior is driven more by emotion than by logic and that by harnessing that emotion at a group level you could get people to do what you wanted them to do. In Propaganda, he wrote, “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it?”

Bernays believed that to maintain order the populace must be kept docile, and in order to be kept docile, people must be kept content, happy. Or at least, be told that they’re happy. The real irony is that in order to convince them of their contentment, Bernays’ method manipulated their mindsets in such a way as to ensure that they could never be contented. He ensured that people would instead be in endless pursuit of happiness. From that point on, no matter how competent a product might be, it could never satisfy people indefinitely. Only their endless search for the elusive one that might satisfy them indefinitely could possibly keep them placid.

The creation of consumerism didn’t mean people were satisfied; instead they were offered satisfaction as a goal to aim for. A goal where the posts can be continually and cunningly moved just beyond reach. In 1929 Charles F. Kettering, director of General Motors, wrote in an article entitled “Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied” that the “key to economic prosperity is the organized creation of dissatisfaction…If everyone were satisfied no one would want to buy the new thing.”
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Edward Bernays: “Torches of Freedom”
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Bernays’ method served a greater purpose than domestic tranquility. The Great War spurred the development of mass production techniques to supply huge quantities of war material. After the war, industry could produce consumer goods in much greater quantities and for less. For example, Henry Ford pioneered the mass production of automobiles — in the 1920s, his assembly lines dramatically lowered the cost of an automobile so that millions could afford them. However, those running the corporations were worried about overproduction — that people might actually stop buying things once they had what they needed. “We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture,” wrote Wall Street banker Paul Mazur (Harvard Business Review, 1927). “People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.” Bernays claimed he was the first to tell car companies they could sell cars as a symbol of male sexuality.

In his work for major corporations, one of Bernays’ most spectacular successes was to help break the taboo against women smoking. George Hill, the President of the American Tobacco corporation, asked Bernays to find a way to break it. A.A. Brille was one of the first psychoanalysts in America. And for a large fee he told Bernays that cigarettes were a symbol of the penis and of male sexual power. Women smoking challenged male sexual identity so much that men were sub-consciously keeping women from smoking. He told Bernays that if he could find a way to connect cigarettes with the idea of challenging male power, then women would smoke because then they would have their own penises.

That gave Bernays the idea to hire beautiful young girls to burst out of several different churches along the route of the 1929 Easter Day Parade in New York City and light up. He carefully instructed them to walk arm in arm at the front of the parade, puffing away. Bernays saw that it was news, not advertising, that would get the message to the people and told the press that there was going to be a protest that day on “lighting the torch of freedom”. Half the city’s reporters and photographers were there when they rounded the corner on main street. It was his phrase that hit the headlines – squarely positioning smoking with female independence and liberty.

From that moment on, smoking was seen as a sign of freedom for women. This was a classic appeal to the emotional rather than the rational. It is quite clear that smoking does not make you free (probably a more appropriate slogan for the washing machine or the pill), but the association made women feel powerful, and it stuck. The numbers of women taking up the habit shot through the roof.

Who knew socks could seem so sexy? Interwoven advertisement, circa 1927, by Joseph Christian Leyendecker.

Who knew socks could seem so sexy? Interwoven advertisement, circa 1927, by Joseph Christian Leyendecker.

After this success, Lehman Brothers and other big New York banks financed the development of department stores, confident that they could use the techniques pioneered by Bernays to persuade people to purchase a range of products that left to themselves they may very well not have bothered with. This period also saw the introduction of the techniques of product placement and psuedo-scientific product endorsement so familiar to us today. Buying things because they say something about us, or make us feel a certain way, was a complete transformation in the 1920s when most selling was done on the basis of information and function. Bernays spent a lifetime helping companies connect with the “irrational emotion” of their customer.

But the peacetime application by the government of what was, after all, a tool of war, began to trouble Americans who suspected that they had been misled. In The New Republic, John Dewey questioned the paternalistic assumptions of those who disguised propaganda as news. “There is uneasiness and solicitude about what men hear and learn,” wrote Dewey, and the “paternalistic care for the source of men’s beliefs, once generated by war, carries over to the troubles of peace.” Dewey argued that the manipulation of information was particularly evident in coverage of post-Revolutionary Russia.

The objective for Bernays was to provide government and media outlets with powerful tools for social persuasion and control. In an article entitled “The Engineering of Consent” (1947) he argued, “The engineering of consent is the very essence of the democratic process, the freedom to persuade and suggest.” But all of this had little, if anything, to do with real democracy. Adolf Hitler learned from the CPI; he wrote in Mein Kampf (1925) admiringly that “the war propaganda of the English and Americans was psychologically correct…There, propaganda was regarded as a weapon of the first order, while in our country it was the last resort of unemployed politicians and a comfortable haven for slackers. And, as was to be expected, its results all in all were zero.” In fact, so impressed was Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels with Bernays’ early works Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) and Propaganda that he relied heavily upon them for his own dubious inspiration in the 1930s. Apparently, that Bernays was a Jew mattered little to Goebbels.

Ironically, Bernays’ propaganda campaign for the United Fruit Company (today’s United Brands) in the 1950s had consequences just as evil and terrifying as if he’d worked directly for the Nazis — it led directly to the CIA-supported overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Guatemala.

The term “banana republic” actually originated in reference to United Fruit’s domination of corrupt governments in Guatemala and other Central American countries. The company brutally exploited virtual slave labor in order to produce cheap bananas for the lucrative U.S. market. When a mildly reformist Guatemala government attempted to reign in the company’s power, Bernays whipped up media and political sentiment against it in the early years of the Cold War.

“Articles began appearing in the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, the Atlantic Monthly, Time, Newsweek, the New Leader, and other publications all discussing the growing influence of Guatemala’s Communists,” wrote Larry Tye in The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of PR (1998). “The fact that liberal journals like the Nation were also coming around was especially satisfying to Bernays, who believed that winning the liberals over was essential. . . . At the same time, plans were under way to mail to American Legion posts and auxiliaries 300,000 copies of a brochure entitled ‘Communism in Guatemala — 22 Facts.'” ____________________________________________________

Edward Bernays: How to Sell a War
____________________________________________________

Bernays’ efforts led directly to a brutal military coup. Tye wrote that Bernays “remained a key source of information for the press, especially the liberal press, right through the takeover. In fact, as the invasion was commencing on June 18 [1954], his personal papers indicate he was giving the ‘first news anyone received on the situation’ to the Associated Press, United Press, the International News Service, and the New York Times, with contacts intensifying over the next several days.”

The result, tragically, was decades of tyranny under a Guatemalan government whose brutality rivaled the Nazis as it condemned hundreds of thousands of people (mostly members of the country’s impoverished Maya Indian majority) to dislocation, torture and death. “The propaganda war Bernays waged in Guatemala set the pattern for future U.S.-led campaigns in Cuba and, much later, Vietnam,” according to Tye. Bernays apparently never regretted his work for United Fruit.

Democratic theory, as interpreted by Jefferson and Paine, was rooted in the Enlightenment belief that free citizens could form respectable opinions about issues of the day and use these opinions to guide their own destiny. In 1820, Jefferson wrote in a letter to William C. Jarvis:

I know of no safe depository of the ultimate power of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise that control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.

Communication between citizens was assumed to be a necessary element of the democratic process. But during World War I, America’s leaders felt that citizens were not making the correct decisions quickly enough, so they flooded the channels of communication with dishonest messages that were designed to stir up emotions and provoke hatred of Germany. The war came to an end, but propaganda did not.

It was the idea of Bernays to sell warfare as the spreading of democracy, an idea that rules the American thought process to this very day. The amazing power of this campaign can be seen a full hundred years later, as the most common reason given by heads of state for military intervention abroad is to “bring democracy”, whether it is Europe, Asia, or the Middle East. The region is irrelevant, the only goal is to bend the will and thoughts of society about the necessity of a particular event. Democracy works so well as a rallying cry because it boosts the mental image of the recipient of the propaganda, giving the illusion that the collective group is already extremely lucky to “have democracy”, and also that those who want to bring democracy elsewhere are performing a noble and needed thing, for the benefit of humanity. Thus, once the propaganda has taken hold in the collective mind, anyone putting forth a different viewpoint, is seen as “against democracy”, or against the essential tenets of the society in which they reside.

Just as troubling, Bernays realized that the same technique could be used for selling products, by appealing to the emotions rather than to the intellect. He helped to shift America from a needs-based economy to a culture of desire. (No, you do not logically need a new car — but just think of how much better you are going to feel when you have one!) In the November 1924 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, journalist Samuel Strauss lamented, “Something new has come to confront American democracy… [T]he American citizen’s first importance to his country is no longer that of citizen but that of consumer.” Rail and airline passengers become “consumers” of the service called “transport”; one attends university classes as a consumer (of the degree, not the knowledge); and a visit to a doctor is for the purpose of consuming medical care.

More recently, soon after the September 11 attacks, members of the Bush administration exhorted Americans to demonstrate their patriotism by maintaining high levels of consumer spending. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt proclaimed that Americans were “not giving up on America, they’re not giving up on our markets.” Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill said, “We’re going to show we have backbone.” President Bush declared that the American economy was “open for business,” and Vice President Cheney urged Americans to “stick their thumb in the eye of the terrorists and…not let what’s happened here in any way throw off their normal level of economic activity.” Interestingly, in his memoir Decision Points (pp 443-4), which was published in 2010, Bush commented, “Later, I would be mocked and criticized for telling Americans to ‘go shopping’ after 9/11. I never actually used that phrase, but that’s beside the point. In the threat-filled months after 9/11, traveling on airplanes, visiting tourist destinations, and, yes, going shopping, were acts of defiance and patriotism.”

Newsweek cover, 23 March 2009.

Newsweek cover, 23 March 2009.

Treating people as consumers and convincing them that this is their existential role has profound political implications. First, it objectifies one’s fellow citizens. He/she is not a person but a provider of a commercial service on demand, such as transportation, a college degree, or medical care. Second, and implied by the first, no social interaction is expected between the “provider” and the “consumer”. Third, since people are buyers, it is in their interest that they buy at the lowest possible price. The consequence of the three is that the transaction, be it for transport, schooling, or medical aid, is an exchange in which the buyer views the seller as a thing that conveys a commodity. Finally, for a consumer, paying taxes to the government is an involuntary reduction in the income available to spend on commodities. The government thereby denies consumers part of what brings them fulfillment — income to spend on commodities — which is why so many people today view the government not as “us” but as “them”. In a nutshell, the governing impulse of the consumer is “I want.”

The word “citizen” has its roots in the word “city” – an inhabitant of a city, a member of a community. As a member of a community, being a citizen means being part of something bigger than oneself by participating in it. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, everything and everyone is interconnected, interdependent. To a citizen, the provider of a commercial service is a fellow worker and participant in civil society. The transaction between the two is an exchange in which the buyer views the seller as a fellow citizen, an equal with basic human rights, among which is being paid decently. It takes no great insight to realize that obtaining commodities as cheaply as possible implies driving down one’s own income. And a citizen is not “buying healthcare”, but is making sure everyone in his/her community is healthy, because if there is sickness, it is bad for everyone, including oneself. It is equally obvious that minimizing taxes implies minimizing those activities and functions, such as public education, that create a society from a collection of isolated individuals. The governing impulse of the citizen is “we need.”

So, the next time you hear a news reporter on television or radio inform you that the cost of healthcare reform is “borne by the taxpayer”, or improved wages for teachers “will increase our taxes”, realize that you are being fed a not-very-subtle political message: you live alone; you need feel no responsibility for other members of society; and collective action for social improvement reduces your happiness. In other words, you are a consumer, not a citizen.

References:

  • Alan Axelrod, Profiles of Folly: History’s Worst Decisions and Why They Went Wrong (New York: Sterling Publishing, 2008).
  • Edward L. Bernays, Crystallizing Public Opinion (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1923).
  • —————–, Propaganda (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1928).
  • —————–, The engineering of consent. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science No. 250, p. 113 (March 1947).
  • The Century of the Self, 2002. Film. Directed by Adam Curtis. England: BBC Four. Transcript here.
  • Sigmund Freud. (1912) A note on the unconscious in psychoanalysis, in The Standard Edition [SE] of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (Vintage, 1999) vol. 12: 260-6.
  • —————–. (1915) The unconscious, in SE (Vintage, 1999) vol. 14: 159-204.
  • —————–. (1916-1917) Introductory lectures on psychoanalysis, in SE (Vintage, 1999) vol. 22: 1-182.
  • Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Charles Jarvis, September 28, 1820. Quoted in “A Short Exercise for the Fourth of July”, Putnam’s Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art, vol. 10, no. 55, pp. 103-4 (July 1857).
  • Stewart Justman. Freud and his nephew. Social Research 61: 457–476 (1994).
  • Charles F. Kettering. Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied. Nation’s Business 17, no. 1: 30–31, 79 (January 1929).
  • Paul Mazur, American Prosperity: Its Causes and Consequences (New York, NY: Viking Press, 1928), pp. 24, 44, 47, 50.
  • John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, Toxic Sludge is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry (Common Courage Press, 2002). [But remember: there are some very important people counting on you, and they really would prefer that you didn’t ever hear about this book, much less buy it.]
  • Samuel Strauss. Things Are in the Saddle. The Atlantic Monthly 134: 577-88 (November 1924).
  • Larry Tye, The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of PR (Crown, 1998).
  • Woodrow Wilson: “Executive Order 2594 – Creating Committee on Public Information,” April 13, 1917. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. Retrieved from http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=75409.

No-Touch Torture: January 24, 1997 (a Friday)

On this date, in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by The Baltimore Sun on 26 May 1994, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) declassified and released a heavily redacted version of its Vietnam-era training manual called “KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation — July 1963,” a comprehensive guide for teaching interrogators how to effectively create “a world of fear, terror, anxiety, [and] dread.” (Note: The word KUBARK was the CIA’s cryptonym for itself.)

The 1963 KUBARK manual was the result of years of research that began after the United States learned that American prisoners of war in Korea had been subjected to “mind-control” techniques by their captors. That history was immortalized in John Frankenheimer’s political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), which features a character who is “brainwashed” to become an assassin for an international communist conspiracy.

27 Apr 1966, Thanh Quit, South Vietnam -- A Vietnamese soldier threatens a Viet Cong prisoner with a knife during an interrogation.

27 Apr 1966, Thanh Quit, South Vietnam — A Vietnamese soldier threatens a Viet Cong prisoner with a knife during an interrogation.

Not to be outdone by a communist regime in the art of brainwashing, on 13 April 1953 CIA director Allen Dulles authorized the MK-ULTRA project, launching a decade of mind-control research. After years of conducting covert experiments, at times on unsuspecting Americans, using hallucinogenic drugs, electric shocks, and sensory deprivation, the agency apparently decided that the best methods for extracting information from detainees come through psychological torture. These methods were incorporated into the 1963 KUBARK manual. Joseph Margulies, a law professor at Northwestern University Law School in Chicago and author of Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power (2006), in an interview on 24 October 2007 said, “The CIA had funneled millions and millions of dollars into research after the Korean War culminating in this KUBARK Manual. And it has been correctly called the Bible of coercive interrogations.” The CIA then field-tested psychological torture on South Vietnamese civilians suspected of being Viet Cong sympathizers during the Vietnam War.

The CIA’s discovery of psychological torture was a counter-intuitive breakthrough — indeed, the first real revolution in this cruel science since the 17th century. Although seemingly less brutal, “no-touch” torture leaves deep psychological scars. The victims often need long treatment to recover from trauma far more crippling than physical pain, and the perpetrators can suffer a dangerous expansion of ego, leading to cruelty and lasting emotional problems.

President Kennedy and President Joao Goulart on a state visit to Washington April 4, 1962, a year before the US supported a coup to overthrow him and began spreading the KUBARK manual across Latin America.

President Kennedy and President Joao Goulart on a state visit to Washington April 4, 1962, a year before the US supported a coup to overthrow him and began spreading the KUBARK manual across Latin America.

The fear of Communist expansion into the Western Hemisphere grew rapidly after Fidel Castro’s 1959 victory in the Cuban Revolution. His victory not only prompted the 1964 U.S.-supported overthrow of democratically-elected Brazilian President Joao Goulart; it also encouraged the CIA to spread KUBARK across the continent to help prop up pro-U.S. governments. After the Brazilian coup, right-wing military leaders across Latin America began seizing control from democratically-elected governments with U.S. encouragement, School of the Americas degrees, and a copy of the CIA’s 1963 KUBARK manual.

Of course, CIA-supported subversive activities in Latin America actually began before the 1959 Cuban Revolution. On 27 June 1954, the democratically-elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán was overthrown by CIA-paid and -trained mercenaries, making way for the U.S. to install a series of military dictatorships that waged a genocidal war against the indigenous Mayan Indians and against political opponents into the 1990s. Arbenz’s offense was to confiscate unused land owned by the United Fruit Company to redistribute under a land reform plan and to pay compensation based on the vastly understated valuation the company had claimed for its tax payments. Arbenz “was not a dictator, he was not a crypto-communist,” said Stephen Schlesinger, an adjunct fellow at the Century Foundation and co-author of Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala (1999). “He was simply trying to create a middle class in a country riven by extremes of wealth and poverty and racism,” Schlesinger said.

Thanks to a mandatory declassification review request filed by MuckRock user Jeffrey Kaye, a less-redacted version of the KUBARK manual was made available by the CIA on 25 February 2014. Revelations from the new release include the CIA’s admission to doctoring detainees’ interrogations tapes, a practice it considered “effective” in making it seem as though the detainee had confessed, and using foreign intelligence services for detention and interrogation purposes. The references to foreign intelligence services mean that rendition is not a product of the post-9/11 world; it is a practice at least 50 years old. Supporting this, CIA ex-Deputy Counsel John Rizzo said in a recent Democracy Now interview that “[r]enditions were not a product of the post-9/11 era…renditions, in and of themselves, are actually a fairly well-established fact in American and world, actually, intelligence organizations.”

Also released on 24 January 1997 to The Baltimore Sun in response to the same FOIA request was the “Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual — 1983.” This CIA training manual details torture methods used against suspected subversives in Central America during the 1980s, refuting claims by the agency that no such methods were taught there.

The “Human Resource Exploitation” manual, which drew heavily on the language of the 1963 KUBARK manual, was altered between 1984 and early 1985 to discourage torture after a furor was raised in Congress and the press about CIA training techniques being used in Central America. Those alterations and new instructions appeared in the documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun, supporting the conclusion that authorities were well aware these abusive practices were illegal and immoral, even as they were being used then and after. A cover sheet placed in the manual in March 1985 cautions: “The use of force, mental torture, threats, insults or exposure to inhumane treatment of any kind as an aid to interrogation is prohibited by law, both international and domestic; it is neither authorized nor condoned,” but with the caveat that forms of torture and coercive techniques “always require prior [headquarters] approval” first.

Despite the revisions to the CIA’s “Human Resource Exploitation” manual in 1985, the practice of torture by that agency continued and, in fact, was expanded after 11 September 2001. The torture of detainees at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba has been well documented and is common knowledge. Even Susan Crawford, the former Bush Administration’s top official for reviewing practices at Guantanamo, publicly admitted in January 2009 that torture happened there. “We tortured [Mohammed al-] Qahtani,” she said. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case [for prosecution].” In his memoir Decision Points (2010), George W. Bush states unequivocally that he authorized the torture, including waterboarding, of individuals held in U.S. custody. And on 24 July 2014, the European Court of Human Rights finally officially confirmed the fact, which the U.S. and European governments have sought to deny for more than a decade, that the CIA operated a secret torture center on Polish soil in the aftermath of the attacks on the U.S. on 9/11. In a historic ruling, the court concluded beyond reasonable doubt that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were held in secret and tortured by the CIA at a military base called Stare Kiejkuty in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. This is the first time that any court anywhere has ruled on the CIA’s secret prisons. Most of the abuses we’ve become far too familiar with through the above revelations — hooding detainees, stress positions, sexual humiliation, exposure to extremes of hot and cold, light and dark, sound and silence — are part of the comprehensive arsenal of techniques first institutionalized in the CIA’s 1963 KUBARK manual.

On 22 January 2009, a newly inaugurated President Obama promised to “return the U.S. to the moral high ground” by signing a series of executive orders. One ordered the closing of Guantanamo and secret CIA prisons; another prohibited torture and “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA. Nevertheless, Obama’s own Justice Department has continued to subject people facing terrorism-related charges in this country to prolonged pretrial solitary confinement and sensory deprivation — conditions that have been condemned by the international community as torture. Waterboarding may have ended, but the U.S. continues to torture terrorism suspects in American prisons.

Alarmingly, a 2011 FBI “primer” on overseas interrogations, which became public on 2 August 2012 as a result of a FOIA action taken by the American Civil Liberties Union, repeatedly and favorably cites and encourages FBI interrogators to read the CIA’s 1963 KUBARK manual. The primer’s title, “Cross Cultural, Rapport-Based Interrogation,” is ironic because it encourages FBI agents to request that detainees in foreign or military custody be put in isolation to prolong the detainee’s fear for interrogation purposes. The encouragement of fear-production through isolation is a disquieting sign that some elements of the CIA’s psychological torture model continue to have currency in the government, despite the scandalous record of U.S. prisoner abuse in the “war on terror” and the Obama administration’s pledge to end torture.

References: