Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix V Segment 2/33
Previous segment | Next segment | Contents | Overview | Archive

It should not be assumed that these are only the thoughts of the Republican Eisenhower administration. If anything, the Kennedy liberals were even more concerned to ensure that democratic forms remain within appropriate bounds.6

In later years, Don Pepe continued to serve the cause of the United States, as standard bearer of the Free World, while advocating probity in government, class collaboration, and economic development sensitive to the needs of business and foreign investors. In the Kennedy period he enlisted secret funding from the CIA for projects of the "Democratic Left," and dismissed later revelations of CIA funding as "silly and adolescent" while praising the CIA for the "delicate political and cultural tasks" it was performing "thanks to the devotion of the liberals in the organization." He particularly valued the contributions of Jay Lovestone and other U.S. labor bureaucrats, who had compiled an impressive record of undermining the labor movement in Latin America and elsewhere with CIA assistance.7 He supported the Bay of Pigs invasion, anticipating "a quick victory by the democratic forces which have gone into Cuba," and later expressed his regrets for their "lamentable" defeat. He was concerned only that that his enemy Trujillo be deposed first, after which the Dominican Republic could be used as a base against Castro. When the Johnson administration invaded the Dominican Republic to prevent the re-establishment of the constitutional government under the democratic capitalist reformer Juan Bosch, under a series of fabricated pretexts including the usual rhetoric about takeover by Communists, Don Pepe reacted with ambivalence, pleading for understanding of Johnson's actions which, he held, were necessary, to avoid his impeachment.8

As the United States geared up for its attack on popular organizations and social reform in Central America in the 1980s, Costa Rica continued to cooperate, but with insufficient enthusiasm from the Reaganite perspective, particularly under the Arias government. Arias accepted the basic norms, lauding Washington's terror states as "democracies," condemning the Sandinistas for failing to observe the regional standards to which the U.S. clients conform, and assuring the press that "I told Mr. Shultz that the Sandinistas today are bad guys, and you are good guys, that they have unmasked themselves" by the repression at Nandaime.9 But this level of support for U.S.-backed terror did not suffice for the jingoist right, offended by the fact that Arias joined general Latin American opinion in opposing overt U.S. violence in the region. In September 1987, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), he was summoned to the White House to receive a "stern lecture" from Reagan, prepared by Elliott Abrams, warning him not to appeal directly to Congress to terminate contra aid. In previous months, delay of aid to Costa Rica and other pressures had served as a warning of what might be in store. When Arias responded with critical remarks about U.S. policy, COHA reports, "the outraged Reagan was heard to exclaim as Arias took his leave, "Who is that dwarf?" Since then, Arias has "not had the nerve to step over that limit established for him by Washington," risking the loss of the U.S. economic aid that maintains "the illusion of prosperity" that "is critical to preservation of the country's increasingly fragile democracy."10

Meanwhile, José Figueres became a nonperson -- apart from ritual invocation of his name in the course of media denunciations of Nicaragua -- because of his completely unacceptable reactions to the Sandinista revolution and the U.S. terrorist attack against Nicaragua, as discussed earlier. It is recognized that he "is still probably the most popular and powerful individual in the country," but he is "an erratic thinker and personality" -- as shown now by his defense of the Sandinistas and "vociferous" opposition to "U.S. intervention against the Marxist Managua regime."11 It is only reasonable, then, that the American public should be protected from the confusion that might be sown by exposure to the thoughts of the leading figure of capitalist democracy in Central America.

Costa Rica's external debt tripled from 1977 to 1981, and has since almost doubled to over $4 billion, with new loans of $500 million in 1988 and a trade deficit of $200 million a year. Current debt to private banks amounts to $200 million in interest alone, but though payment is largely suspended, the international lending institutions keep the funds flowing. "Costa Rica has lost the ability to determine its own economic future," the San José journal Mesoamerica concluded in mid-1988, reporting that real wages had fallen 42 percent in the preceding five years, as prices increased while subsidies for food and medicine were reduced or eliminated. The infant mortality rate had risen sharply in certain areas, primarily because of the economic crisis and increasing hunger, according to the University of Costa Rica's Institute for Health Research. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) demanded further cuts in social spending, lowering of the minimum wage, and cutting of government employees, "thus jeopardizing what had been one of the most enlightened social service programs in Latin America," Mesoamerica reports. Once self-sufficient in agriculture, Costa Rica is now importing staples as it shifts to largely foreign-controlled exports, including export crops, in line with traditional IMF-World Bank-USAID directives, a familiar recipe for disaster in Third World countries. "Arias's pro-big business economic strategy," COHA observes, may turn large numbers of once self-sufficient farmers to wage laborers on agribusiness plantations while profits are largely expatriated, "a major change of philosophy in a country that has had a strong state-directed welfare orientation."12

There is also growing civil unrest. Landless campesinos led by priests have occupied abandoned land, leading to arrests and forced expulsion. A report of the Human Rights Commission of Costa Rica documents dozens of complaints of illegal expulsion and abuse of authority during the past two years, including several assassinations, implicating the security forces, especially the Rural Guard, in violence against campesinos. Father Elías Arias, a priest imprisoned with 100 squatters, stated that "Costa Rica urgently needs land reform, but the legislators are reluctant to carry out this type of reform which is against their own self-interest. Instead of helping the campesinos, they have been protecting the property of John Hull," the wealthy U.S. landowner and CIA asset who was actively involved in the attack against Nicaragua from Costa Rican bases.13

Through the 1980s, Costa Rica was able to defer these problems thanks to rising U.S. aid, understood to be conditional on its general support for U.S. objectives in the region. It is only the enormous aid flow that has kept "Costa Rica's standard of living from plummeting even more disastrously and its society from collapse," Sanders observes, noting that it is possibly second only to Israel, a unique case in terms of foreign sustenance, in per capita foreign indebtedness. "Only the massive flow of American aid...staves off catastrophe." The economic problems have been enhanced by massive capital flight and self-enrichment by the private sector. There are, he warns, severe dangers of a "nationalistic backlash that can be exploited by troublemakers, particularly by the far left," encouraged by the evil Sandinistas leering across the border. This threat is less ominous than before; the crippling of the Nicaraguan economy and the "political oppression of the Sandinista regime" may have "inoculated the Costa Ricans for the time being against a shift to the left" -- at least, those Costa Ricans who can see what Big Brother has in store for them.14

Leaving nothing to chance, the United States has been supporting "parallel structures in Costa Rica, especially within the security services," COHA alleges, citing U.S.-backed military and paramilitary training programs and frequent reports, one verified personally by a COHA staff member in January 1988, of "U.S.-sponsored clandestine arms deliveries to...private paramilitary groups" associated with right-wing organizations and the Civil Guard, with Washington connections in the background.15

José Figueres observed that "the persecution of the Sandinistas is just one element of this trend" under the Reaganites that he deplored. "Another is the effort to undo Costa Rica's social institutions, to turn our whole economy over to the businesspeople, and to do away with our social insurance, our nationalized bank, our nationalized electric utility -- the few companies we have that are too large to be in private hands. The United States is trying to force us to sell them to so-called private enterprise, which means turning them over to the local oligarchy or to U.S. or European companies. We're fighting back as best we can," with uncertain prospects.16

Go to the next segment.

6 See pp. 67-8 and references of note 58.

7 See Tom Barry and Deb Preusch, AIFLD in Central America (Resource Center, Albuquerque, 1986); Daniel Cantor and Juliet Schor, Tunnel Vision (South End, 1987); Al Weinrub and William Bollinger, The AFL-CIO in Central America (Labor Network on Central America, Oakland, 1987). See also references of Turning the Tide, 273, note 61.

8 Ameringer, Don Pepe.

9 Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, Aug. 5, 1988.

10 COHA "News and Analysis," Aug. 18, 1988.

11 Sanders, Costa Rican Laboratory.

12 LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions; Mesoamerica, July 1988; Central America Report, Nov. 1988; COHA's Washington Report on the Hemisphere, Nov. 23, 1988. See also Donald Dye, In These Times, Nov. 23, 1988. Some of the figures are reported to be only estimates because in the early 1980s external debt was declared a state secret.

13 Linnea Capps, Links, Central America Health Report (NCAHRN), Summer 1988. On Hull, see Leslie Cockburn, Out of Control (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987). Hull was arrested in Costa Rica in January 1989 and held for questioning in connection with his alleged role in narcotics and weapons smuggling; Stephen Kurkjian, Boston Globe, Jan. 14, 1989.

14 Sanders, Costa Rican Laboratory.

15 COHA "News and Analysis," Aug. 18, 1988.

16 Interview, World Policy Journal, Spring 1986.