By Matteo Tamburini, WPJC Board Member
In the midst of horrible news from Gaza, the ongoing tensions with North Korea, the rise of neo-fascist and anti-immigrant movements throughout Europe (especially in my other home country, Italy), and the ongoing string of racist incidents, including the epidemic of police officers killing unarmed Black people, in this country, I would like to focus on John Oliver, darling of a certain subset of Progressives. His TV show, “Last Week Tonight,” which often offers insightful analysis on commentary on recent events, had a piece on Venezuela on May 13 (watch below) dedicated to mocking the country's president, Nicolas Maduro, and apparently absolving the United States of any responsibility for the current crisis in Venezuela.
Around 14 minutes into the segment, Oliver says: “America has undoubtedly done some awful things in Central and South America. We backed coup attempts, juntas and atrocities in Chile, Argentina and Guatemala but refreshingly, what is happening in Venezuela is actually not our fault.”
As any even casual observer of history knows, the United States has done a lot more, and much worse throughout its history. Since Mr. Oliver and his famously thorough research team apparently don’t know hardly anything about U.S. involvement in Latin America, I will offer a very incomplete syllabus for further investigation below.
Let’s start from Smedley Darlington Butler (July 30, 1881 – June 21, 1940), a United States Marine Corps major general, who at the time of his death was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history.
He is famously quoted as saying: "I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. "
Let’s follow up on a list of U.S. interventions after World War 2.
Nicaragua: The United States supported the Somoza dictatorship until 1979, then funded the Contras to attack the Sandinista government, along the way selling cocaine in the United States while the CIA and DEA looked the other way. This also conveniently provided President Reagan with a pretext to wage a disastrous “war on drugs” against Black people in the United States. Our support for the Contras was condemned by the International Court of Justice in 1986, and then our government vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions calling for the ICJ decision to be upheld.
Guatemala: After orchestrating the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz (on behalf of the United Fruit Company), the United States then supported a genocidal campaign that claimed the lives of well over 200,000 indigenous people. https://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/migrate/uploads/mos_en.pdf
Bolivia: The United States was the major foreign backer of the dictatorial regime of René Barrientos, who seized power in a 1964 military coup. The CIA and U.S. Special Forces played a key role in suppressing a leftist peasant uprising that followed, including the 1967 murder of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, a key leader in the movement.
El Salvador: The United States funded and supported the slaughter of thousands during the Salvadoran Civil War, including many catholic priests and nuns, most prominent among them the archbishop Oscar Romero (killed in 1980), victims of people trained at the “School of the Americas” (look it up).
Brasil: The United States supported the 1964 coup that overthrew Joao Goulart and led to a 20-year military dictatorship.
Haiti: Don’t get me started. Let’s just leave it at the forcible removal of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. And then read up on how white elites in the United States have always been terrified of a country that arose from a successful revolt of African people who had been enslaved.
Cuba: Our embargo has been denounced at the United Nations General Assembly every year almost unanimously.
Dominican Republic: The United States government supported Rafael Trujillo, whose 31 years in power are considered one of the bloodiest eras ever in the Americas.
Honduras: The Obama administration supported the coup in Honduras that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya in 2009
Venezuela: Perhaps not irrelevant context for the rest of his story, Oliver failed to mention that the United States supported the coup in Venezuela that temporarily overthrew Hugo Chavez in 2002.
Given the United States’ record (of which the list above is a woefully incomplete snapshot, and certainly does not come close to properly accounting for the atrocities and horrors visited on millions of innocent men women and children), and the role that the media have historically played in demonizing foreign leaders when their agendas run afoul of the economic interests of our domestic elites, I would like to suggest that at the very least John Oliver and his researchers owe themselves and their viewers a second history lesson.
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