As it has done with great success throughout the past century, the U.S. military continues to find ways to use the academy and anthropological concepts to whitewash its imperialist actions in the service of U.S. corporate profits. In Latin America from 1963-1965, Project Camelot set a dark precedent for the use of social science to abet and legitimate counterinsurgency operations including psychological warfare. Now, the U.S. Military’s Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), the Pentagon’s arm in Latin America and responsible for all U.S. bases the region, and Florida International University (FIU) have partnered in the creation of a so-called “Strategic Culture” Initiative, a center that hosts workshops and issues reports on the “strategic culture” of different Latin American countries. At present, reports have been issued from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela.
On its website, the FIU-SOUTHCOM initiative defines strategic culture as “the combination of internal and external influences and experiences – geographic, historical, cultural, economic, political and military – that shape and influence the way a country understands its relationship to the rest of the world, and how a state will behave in the international community.” However, from a look at their reports it is clear that a more accurate definition would be “strategic propaganda for the creation of hegemonic political ideology favorable to U.S. economic and military interests.” Here is an excerpt from the Peru report:
The elements of the new strategic culture, if it continues to emerge, will be to end or reduce the plaintive note of victim-hood in discussion of the nation’s role in world affairs. Ironically, Chile will become the model for the new Peruvian strategic culture – focused on the successes of economic growth, political stability, and an honest effort to incorporate peripheral regions and marginal groups into national life. Peru, more than Chile, can base its national pride on multi-ethnic assimilation. This new national integration, along with the openness to trade and investment will be the principal components of Peru’s new soft power…Peru will join Brazil and Chile as bulwarks of democracy and open economies, set as an example against the archaic rhetoric and self-defeating economic autarchy of the Bolivarian alliance.
Here, Peruvians are portrayed as whiny children who can be properly disciplined through “multi-ethnic assimilation” to follow the correct path toward “democracy and open economies” (ideal models that have proven to be mutually exclusive in the Latin American context) and away from the dreaded ALBA, a regional economic agreement that foregrounds social welfare over trade liberalization in the service of corporate profits.
The use of the term “culture” in “strategic culture” studies is key, as it is the central organizing concept of anthropology. By reframing corporate-military strategy as “culture”, FIU-SOUTHCOM intentionally draws upon the legitimacy and integrity of anthropology and other social sciences to depoliticize and bolster its case for military occupation of the Americas.
FIU-SOUTHCOM claims the partnership provides “the highest quality research-based knowledge to further explicative understanding of the political, strategic, and socio-cultural dimensions of state behavior.” However, it is clear from a quick examination of the qualifications of participants in FIU-SOUTHCOM’s October 7th Honduras Strategic Culture Workshop that high-quality research is far less important to the alliance than creating high-quality anti-democratic propaganda to justify the support of the coup-installed government and increased U.S. military presence and aid. Workshop Participants included:
Dr. José Rene Argueta, whose affiliation is listed as University of Pittsburgh. This is false. Argueta holds a PhD from Pittsburgh (’07) in Political Science, but according to spokespeople at the University of Pittsburgh has no current affiliation with the institution. Nonetheless, he has been using the fraudulent affiliation to legitimize his representing Honduras all over the anti-democratic non-profit-military-industrial-complex, from the FIU conference two weeks ago, to the USAID-sponsored Americas Barometer conference this November, to the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems program.
Dr. Norman A. Bailey, President, Institute for Global Economic Growth, and “Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft” at the Institute for World Politics, “a Graduate School of National Security and International Affairs.” Bailey, the ideologue author of gems like Iranian Penetration into the Western Hemisphere Through Venezuela, lists “Economic Warfare” as his primary area of expertise at the IWP. Bailey has a long career attacking Latin American right to self-determination, starting with his army stint in strategic intelligence and joint operational planning; followed by his time as Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and Senior Director of International Economic Affairs on the staff of the National Security Council in the Reagan White House; many years in the shadier corners of the oil and investment banking industries; and later as Mission Manager for Cuba and Venezuela, directly under Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte. See here and here. At the conference, Bailey was promoting Marco Cáceres’s book The Good Coup.
Coronel José Amilcar Hernández Flores, Honduran Armed Forces (the same military that carried out last year’s coup). Hernández Flores has graduated from School of the Americas (SOA) three times, the first at the height of 1980s death squad activity when SOA was training Battalion 3-16 in the torture techniques still in use today, the second for a course titled “Course in the Maintenance of Democracy” (Source: SOA Watch). This is the record of his attendance, in order of Name, Rank, Course, Date, Country:
***Hernandez Flores Jose A. Tte. Curso de Administración de la Instrucción de Unidades Pequeñas 0-2A 21 July- 2 September 1982 Honduras
***Hernandez Flores Jose Amilcar Tte. Cnel. Curso De Sostenimiento Democratico 6 April- 15 May 1998 Honduras
***Hernandez Flores Jose Amilcar Tte. Cnel. Curso Basico De Computadoras 18 May- 2 June 1998 Honduras
Dr. Ernesto Gálvez Mejia, “Independent Scholar.” Gálvez was an aide in Ricardo Maduro’s government, and is an assistant to the current ambassador in Washington representing the de facto administration of Pepe Lobo. He stated in his workshop presentation that the armed forces of Honduras have the right to attack and repress the resistance movement, because its members (he alleged) are violent and provoke disorder, and that furthermore, the state must hold a monopoly over force, to protect citizens against “extremists” (in this case people who actively oppose the military coup), whom he defined as criminals.
Guillermo Peña Panting, Consejo Hondureño de la Empresa Privada (COHEP). COHEP was one the the primary financiers of the coup, and one of its biggest proponents.
Marifeli Pérez-Stable, until recently vice president for democratic governance and currently a non-resident senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue (a Washington “liberal” think tank that played a key role in legitimizing the coup here) and sociology professor at FIU.
Brian Fonseca, Florida International University, former U.S. Marine and a graduate of National Defense University’s Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies’ Advanced Transnational Security, Stability, and Democracy Program. As the ARC’s About Us page notes, Fonseca oversees the FIU-SOUTHCOM Academic Partnership and Strategic Culture Studies Program at FIU’s Applied Research Center.
Moisés Caballero, co-facilitator with Fonseca, is also former Marine Corps, and has taught “Principles of Banking” at Volunteer State Community College as adjunct faculty. He is listed as “Research Analyst” for his About Us page at the FIU Strategic Culture site, which also notes he is currently working on his MA in Latin American and Caribbean Studies (MALACS) at FIU with a focus in Cuban and Cuban American Studies.
Dr. Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle. The only actual recognized intellectual in the bunch, Pastor Fasquelle is a well-respected historian who has held appointments at Harvard and El Colegio de México and who served twice as Minister of Arts and Culture, most recently for President Zelaya.
Dr. Pastor Fasquelle attended the event as a “member of the Resistance and as a man who was faithful to President Zelaya.” He decided to attend as a way to counteract the discourse of the people who would be there “representing” Honduras, and, indeed, found himself surrounded by persons who had been indirectly and directly responsible for the assassinations of many of his friends, and for his being forced into exile following the coup.
Concerned by what he saw there, and by the fact that his presence was being used to give a veneer of academic legitimacy to the ongoing U.S. militarization of Latin America in general, and Honduras in particular, Dr. Pastor Fasquelle passed along the conference materials to me.
The concept of “culture” is being used to justify the violent actions of the U.S. military throughout the hemisphere. Culture is also used to justify U.S. training of and funding for Latin American military forces that engage in torture, targeted assassinations of dissidents, and carry out coups d’état. But the abuse of the culture concept in the service of empire is neither new, nor unique to the militarized university. In the case of Honduras, groups like the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) have promoted the idea that Honduras suffers from a culture of violence—rather than a neoliberal policy of state violence in which poverty is criminalized and the victims of structural violence are blamed.
This difference is crucial; if violence is cultural, then “security”—in the form of increased U.S. military aid and training—is a logical solution for disciplining an unruly, uncivilized population. However, if violence is the explicit policy of a militarized client state protecting corporate profits from falling into the hands of the Honduran people, then democracy—however the Honduran people should choose to approach it—is the solution. Not coincidentally, WOLA has consistently called for increased police and military aid—mutually exclusive with real democracy—to Honduras.
As it turns out, WOLA has significant ties to FIU-SOUTHCOM. The vice-chair of WOLA’s board, Cristina Eguizábal (who also heads the FIU’s Latin American and Caribbean Center) has authored SOUTHCOM’s country “strategic culture” reports for Nicaragua and El Salvador.
When anthropology’s analysis and cultural capital are appropriated in order to facilitate and legitimize military violence, anthropologists are obligated to strongly and forcefully denounce such actions both in the academy and on the ground. And when WOLA, the nation’s so-called foremost voice for human rights in Latin America, is authoring reports to aid the Southern Command in its bloody counterinsurgency campaigns to undermine democracy and whitewash military coups, it becomes necessary for all U.S. citizens to evaluate the role we have played in allowing U.S. international policy to stray so far from our own democratic control.
Meanwhile, down the street from FIU in Doral, FL, SOUTHCOM is opening its new headquarters at a cost to the U.S. taxpayer of 237 million dollars. FIU graduate Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Honduran coup’s biggest fan in Congress (representing Miami and the Keys), is poised to take over as chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, despite having broken the law in her zeal to legitimize the dictator Roberto Micheletti. And WOLA is receiving its funding from contractors working for the Department of Defense.
Further investigation of the interlocking actors in the non-profit-military-academic-industrial complex is warranted, as is focused research on FIU-SOUTHCOM event participants and “strategic culture” reports, in order to expose the ways that U.S. military pseudo-social science is threatening democracy and self-determination throughout the hemisphere. And just as members of the American Anthropological Association have come together as a discipline to oppose the army’s Human Terrain System in Iraq and Afghanistan, anthropologists and other social scientists are beginning to mobilize to stand up to SOUTHCOM’s latest use of the academy and anthropological concepts in the service of remilitarization that threatens the lives of people we live with, work with, and study throughout the hemisphere.
Adrienne Pine is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at American University and the author of Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras (UC Press 2008). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article first appeared at UpsideDownWorld.