Latin America & Underdevelopment

By Huberman, Leo | Monthly Review, October 2003 | Go to article overview

Latin America & Underdevelopment


Huberman, Leo, Monthly Review


On NBC Television News, last Friday night, pictures were shown of American refugees who had fled from Panama following the rioting there. One woman, relating the frightening experience of her husband, said: "His car was overturned, rocks were thrown at him, and he barely made it into the Canal Zone."

Another woman said, "I wish the American people would take an interest in what is going on there. We just give and give and this is what they do to us."

I, too, wish the American people would take an interest in what is going on in Panama and in the rest of Latin America. If they did so, if they really studied the facts, then they would get out of the habit of swallowing whole the propaganda fed them on the air and in the press, that other nations are always villainous of inferior, while the United States is always moral and noble. If the American people knew their history as it really was, not as it is taught in their schools, then they would immediately be aware of the fact that the formulation by the refugee from Panama was upside down; not "We just give and give, and this is what they do to us," but rather "We just take and take, that is what we do to them."

The story of how we took the Panama Canal Zone proves the point. In 1903, Panama was a province of Colombia. When the Senate of Colombia rejected an agreement giving the United States the right to build a canal, a "revolution," in quotes, was staged by the members of the ruling class of Panama, instigated and guided by the United States. Panama seceded from Colombia, and the moment it did so, the new government was recognized and it gave the United States the right to build the canal. We have this on the best authority--Theodore Roosevelt, who was President of the United States at the time. He described how the revolution started in these words; "I simply lifted my foot." And, he added, "I took the Isthmus, started the Canal, and then left Congress--not to debate the Canal, but to debate me." *

You have seen the newspaper stories, quoting Secretary of State Rusk, designed to make you believe that Fidel Castro and the Communists were partly responsible for the recent rioting in Panama. This has been denied by the spokesmen for the Panama government. The technique of blaming Communists whenever a revolution breaks out anywhere is a familiar one. The charge may of may not be true. But what we know is true is that the government of the United States, in furtherance of its own ends, staged a phoney "revolution" in Panama in 1903, and again in Guatemala in the 1950's, and most recently in Saigon.

I am suggesting that "we just take and take, that is what we do to them."

In an article entitled, "Brazil: Exploitation or Aid," in the Nation of November 16, 1963, Professor Andre Gunder Frank, formerly at Wayne State University in Detroit, and currently visiting professor of economics at the University of Brasilia, cites figures to show how much "we just take and take."

For the years 1947-1960, the total amount of new investment and loans that flowed into Brazil was $1,814,000,000.

The amount that flowed out of Brazil in profits and interest payments was $2,459,000,000. This means that $645,000,000 more was paid out by Brazil than came into Brazil. Add to that figure an estimated additional billion dollars for "services," representing mainly secret remittances abroad, and the total outflow becomes nearly twice as much as the inflow.

Another statistic, this one from the Joint Brazil-U.S. Economic Commission, is even more startling. In the fourteen years from 1939 to 1952, withdrawals to the United States from Latin America came to sixty-one times the amount of long-term investments. You heard that correctly--sixty-one times as much money withdrawn from Latin America than was invested, in those fourteen years.

In the specific case of Brazil, it doesn't matter which years you take, the picture is the same. …

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