During my New Orleans childhood, street vendors walking along beside colorful horse-drawn wagons peddled bananas for “ten cents a dozen, two dozen for fifteen cents.” Why so cheap? They paid nothing.
U.S. Marines’ bayonets supported Central American governments that gave a monopoly to United Fruit that transported its products through my hometown harbor. In the Depression, profits could tumble overnight; if the company did fancy the price when the ships arrived, bananas would go into the Mississippi. The vendors had only to climb the levee and scoop whatever washed ashore.
Men, women and children in these so-called “banana republics” lived frequently in terrible poverty under repressive regimes headed by strong men, as they were known, who served at the pleasure of this renowned democracy. If the American “establishment” (government and business) did not like merely the attitude of Latino rulers, the Marines were sent in to enforce change. This is why so many of our southern neighbors refer to the United States as “the colossus of the North,” or worse. When Chile’s leftist regime was bowled over by the dictator Augusto Pinochet, Washington scarcely made its role invisible.
Every administration has followed the hypocritical philosophy. There is even a special word taken from German: “Realpolitik” means something more than the reality of politics; it carries along an explicit corruption of spirits and ideals, as proven in the banana policy. Readers should remember when the Central Intelligence Agency overturned the original Islamic republic in Iran. America’s involvement in toppling Egypt’s King Farouk was whispered, especially in English circles, but never proven, especially when the land’s first president Gamal Abdul Nasser received so much Russian largesse, including the Aswan Dam. Fortune favored Washington more when Anwar Sadat became the big man in Cairo; he was assassinated in 1981.
After the Soviet Union disappeared, President Husni Mabarak has never lacked for gold straight out of Fort Knox; in almost 30 years he has spit on democracy, tortured and crushed political opponents under the knowing eyes of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush and the Oval Office’s current occupant, Obama Hussein Barack. Each similarly named chief executive is now in a shoot-out from which neither can retreat.
The Egyptian insists on muscling in his particular pick to run the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Farouk Hosni not only has a staunch record of opposition against the very idea of Israel, as a Jewish state, his opponents charge he was the mastermind behind Cairo’s debilitating censorship of arts and everything that deviates from his president’s personal inclination. Furthermore, he is very mean as a human being.
Having failed to convince Mr. Mubarak to choose a less controversial choice, the United States, Britain and France decided to become “neutral,” at Washington’s insistence. For the man who has ruled the land of the Nile for almost 20 years, the issue has become a matter of self-dignity. Reportedly he rages while all the world heads try to stay out of sight.
Meanwhile, the U.S.-Afghan situation has become messier and messier. Public opinion surveys reveal Americans are becoming radically alienated from their troops’ role in supporting Hamid Karzai; the allegations of voting fraud on his part, combined with increasing losses and civilian deaths, are rapidly dissipating whatever remained of popular backing for the effort in Afghanistan.
In a broadcast this week, holdover Secretary of Defense Robert Gates vowed “both Afghanistan and Pakistan can count on us for the long term.” That’s not what Barack Obama promised in campaigning for president.