Mass Media (UMass-Boston)
March 10, 1981
Why is the US in El Salvador?
by Michael Letwin
Why is the US government backing a brutal and unpopular regime in El Salvador? Why didn’t it “learn its lesson” in Vietnam? Why is it always on the “wrong side?”
The string of US covert and military interventions in the six short years since the end of the Vietnam war (e.g., Chile 1973, Angola 1975-6, Iran) make it hard to argue that the escalating US intervention is an exception, or an “illogical mistake.”
In fact, one doesn’t have to look far to see that the US government is protecting the economic interests of based multinational corporations who depend on making profits in other countries, particularly in those offering cheap labor, raw materials, and markets for US goods.
In El Salvador alone, US corporations had invested at least $55 million by 1975 (NACLA Reports, March-April 1980). By corporate standards, however, this amount is relatively small, and cannot by itself explain the lengths to which the US government is willing to go to prevent a revolution in El Salvador.
What makes the El Salvadorean revolution so frightening to American corporations and the US government is its potential to encourage revolution in other, equally impoverished and exploited parts of the Caribbean, Central and South America, where by 1975, US corporations had an investment of $22.1 billion, and billions of dollars more in outstanding, high-interest loans (London Financial Times, 6/30/80).
In a broader sense, the “instability” of revolution in this region demonstrates the vulnerability of US control in more far-flung corners of the empire where North American corporations compete with other imperial powers, and where the people of these regions themselves are unwilling to remain victims of US economic exploitation and brutal US backed dictatorships.
This is the background to US intervention in El Salvador. Reagan, looking out for the interests of the US international corporate empire in a time of international economic crisis, is determined to put an end to the growing “instability” which threatens the empire’s profits.
To accomplish this, particularly after the widespread revulsion in this country to the Vietnam war, the US government has had to go to great lengths to win support at home for the renewed use of US military forces abroad.
In the Middle East, this was accomplished by encouraging racism and nationalism every night on the CBS Evening News and ABC’s “Nightline” during the Iran hostage crisis. The result is that there is today a sizable US naval fleet in the region, US military bases are being constructed throughout the area, and the long-planned Rapid Deployment Force has been readied for use.
Now, the Reagan Administration hopes that a campaign of hysteria over supposed Russian/Cuban “aggression” in El Salvador will convince us to support US military intervention there, and a reassertion of US gunboat diplomacy in the Caribbean and Latin America in general, including the use of US troops.
The campaign is designed to convince us that the entire Western Hemisphere, along with the Middle East, is the legitimate empire of the US, just as the Russian rulers claim Afghanistan and Poland.
Corporate America has an interest in defending its empire — we do not. Leaving aside the horrors being committed against the people of El Salvador, courtesy of US arms and “advisers,” there are many reasons why US intervention is directly and completely opposed to the interests of working, poor and third world people in this country:
1. In a Vietnam or El Salvador, black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American poor and working class people will kill and be killed by other poor people.
2. The threatened US action against Cuba raises the menace of a direct superpower nuclear confrontation.
3. Militarism and intervention has a directly negative effect on our lives at home. On a national scale, the 1982 military budget of over $200 billion will be paid for by cutting our services by about $50 billion. Think about that when you can’t come back to school because of the next tuition hike, financial aid or food stamps cut.
In Boston today, 750 MBTA workers are being laid off, with a resulting 25 percent cut in service in order to save $13 million (Boston Globe, 3/4/81). 400 school employees, many of them third world, are losing their jobs to save $3 million (Boston Globe, 3/2/81, 3/8/81).
Contrast these cuts to the $25 million in additional military aid that Reagan has just approved for the El Salvadoran junta to make it more effective in murdering workers and peasants.
4. The racism and nationalism which the government and media whips up to justify its foreign interventions (remember Iran) misdirects the frustration and anger which many working and poor people in this country feel about their lives.
Instead of taking out our frustration against poor people in other countries, we need to break down the racial, sexual and regional barriers which are so effective in keeping us apart from each other and unable to defend ourselves when we are being butchered by the economy, the service cuts and the rise of racism and sexism.
5. A victory for the revolution in El Salvador benefits us here because we share the common enemy of corporate America. The weaker the system of American imperialism abroad, the greater is our opportunity to organize ourselves at home.
A Vietnam in El Salvador isn’t inevitable. The Vietnam War was ended by an alliance between the armed resistance of the people of Vietnam, the eventual refusal of American GIs to fight, and the mass anti-war movement in the US.
Such a movement today, linked with the battle to defend ourselves against our real enemy the system of capitalism responsible for war at home, can prevent US intervention in El Salvador, and allow the people of that country to determine their own fate, as we attempt to determine ours.