Hayley Serpa/Staff Writer
Every year from September 15 to October 15, people in the United States commemorate the contributions Hispanic Americans have made to American society. This federally-recognized celebratory period, dubbed Hispanic Heritage Month, hypocritically stresses the importance and value of diaspora Hispanic communities in the development of the U.S. while oblivious to the violent, turbulent history of American interests and military in Latin America, which has ironically kept the region underdeveloped.
The same people who had helped build the grand American empire watched as the countries of their fathers and mothers were torn apart to appease U.S. economic interests in the subcontinent. The trend we see in Latin American countries, of which there has been a total of 41 direct or indirect U.S. interventions since 1898, can be divided into two types of common modes of intervention used by the U.S.
In one, heads of state with ties to the left, particularly socialists and communists, would be forced out of office through a coup d’etat directed by American forces. The other modus operandi employed by the U.S. is the protection of an American-loving incumbent head of state from being replaced by a nationalist, protectionist government that would prevent further interloping of the U.S. in the national affairs of state. Infamous Latin American dictators supported by Washington officials include Chilean Augusto Pinochet and Cuban Fulgencio Batista.
The political landscape of Latin America was so manipulated by U.S. powers that it led to the creation of another country in the northern part of the region; the republic of Panama. Even though Panama had already seen the beginnings of an independence movement in the early 1800s, Theodore Roosevelt and his government strongly supported the Panamanian Revolution due to the financial importance the Panama Canal held in maritime trade between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The true motive for U.S. encouragement of the eager Panamanian revolutionaries can be seen in the 1903 Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty between the two countries. In this treaty, the United States is granted the right to exclusively build and operate on the Panama Canal, as well as giving them de-facto sovereignty for ten miles around the canal. The independent republic of Panama was a U.S. colony, economically at the will of a foreign power who cared little for its inhabitants.
The Panama Canal Zone was thankfully placed back in local hands in 1999, but the legacy left by this modern American form of imperialism is one of extreme poverty and disproportionate wealth between the urban centers near the Canal and the rural centers of the countryside. The urban bourgeoisie holds most of the country’s wealth, unaware of the poverty that besets most of their fellow citizens.
Today, Panama is the second most unequal country in the Americas. A 2018 study calculated that about 5.2% of Panamanians lived on approximately $3.20 a day. The country is known in Latin America for its poor infrastructure and education.
To use Ronald Reagan’s terms, the “trickle” from the money machine of the Canal has never reached the poor working-class, instead, it just laps mockingly in the outstretched palms of foreign powers and the upper classes.
From 1915 to 1934, the small Latin American country of Haiti would remain under direct U.S. occupation. Yet, the intervening of the U.S. in Haiti’s affairs of state wouldn’t end there. During the ’90s, the U.S. would oust the first-democratically elected Haitian president and with the guidance of Bill Clinton, restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The exodus of Haitians escaping the Aristide government would largely immigrate 600-miles away to Miami.
The tragic earthquake that occurred in 2010 would only increase the divide between “haves” and “have-nots” originally created by the colonial sugar plantation systems. According to a World Bank report, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas, with over six million Haitian citizens living underneath the poverty line. Of these six million individuals, approximately 2.5 million Haitians lived underneath the extreme poverty line. They make about $1.12 a day.
More recently in 2019, Bolivia’s first indigenous president Evo Morales was forced to resign along with his vice-president and is now a political exile in neighboring Argentina. Trump’s administration has supported the coup and current right-wing interim president Jeanine Anez. Morales claims that American commercial interests in the large lithium supply within the country are responsible for his removal as president. He had wanted to nationalize and open contacts with non-American investors but was subsequently stopped by the open-trade system of Anez.
Bolivia, a land so rich in resources, has over 40% of its inhabitants living in extreme poverty. It is the poorest country in South America and the main reason for this is the rampant political instability.
It is no coincidence that most, if not all, countries once or currently victim to the sprawling influence of American dollars are considered “under-developed” countries. The capital created from their nation’s resources, like the lithium in Bolivia’s mountains, is stolen by Western investors, who instead of investing that capital back in the community, take it back to their home of origin. With no capital to fund public infrastructure, education, healthcare, and other important societal functions, how would one ever expect a country to achieve the same level of development as those who steal from them?
While the value of Hispanic Americans to U.S. society must not go unnoticed, the active participation of the United States in creating most of the “under-developed” countries of Latin America must also not go unnoticed. Millions of people suffer and live in poverty, not just in Latin America but also worldwide, because of the actions of a country who once a year, gleefully puts on their “Hispanic Heritage Month” hat, forgetting their own role in the massive underdevelopment and political instability seen in Latin America today.
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