Monday, July 07, 2008

Food as a Weapon

The Other Food Crisis

Few people are conscious of how the US can use food for leverage or a political weapon by controlling the Western Hemisphere’s food production and trade. But is not the use of food as a political and military weapon a form and act of terrorism? Asks Dallas Darling. Now that much of the world is aware of a food shortage and the rise in global food prices, I want to remind the reader about President Ronald Reagan’s covert wars (Low Intensity Conflicts) against Central American reform movements during the 1980’s.

Few people are aware of the Santa Fe Committee’s “New Inter-American Policy for the 80’s” (the US document that guided these wars) which begins with these words, “War not peace is the norm in international affairs.” Even fewer are conscious of the part stating, “Food is a weapon in a world at war,” and how the US can use food for leverage or a political weapon by controlling the Western Hemisphere’s food production and trade.

Since the beginning of time, food has been used as a weapon to either control or starve people into submission. The Americas’ was no different. The early European colonizers burned and destroyed Indigenous crops and other food sources, such as wild animals that were hunted and poached to near extinction levels. During the American Revolution and US Civil War, it was common practice for armies to forage off of farms and the surrounding countryside. The Atlanta Campaign, in which entire warehouses of food, produce, cotton, and other items that sustained civilian populations were burned to the ground, is only one of many examples.

Through treaties (executive orders), the US Government encouraged miners, ranchers and farmers to move West. It also came into contact with the Plains Indians whom resisted the seizure of their lands. The US Government, Indian Bureau and US Army enacted a deliberate and systematic policy destroying great buffalo herds.(1) The nomadic Plains Indians depended on the buffalo for food, shelter, clothing, tools, weapons, and utensils. The buffalo was also a major aspect in their culture and religious ceremonies. By the late 1800’s, almost 30 million buffalo had been killed.

Plains Indians could live on reservations, where they remained dependent on government food subsidies, or starve to death by attempting to escape and live on the plains where there was no food.
To defeat the Philippine Insurrection, US troops burned crops during the 1898 Spanish-American War. In one province alone, a soldier writes “100,000 of 300,000 inhabitants” have been starved to death…”(2) President Howard Taft’s Dollar Diplomacy was a ruse for US monopolies to employ the US Army in taking control of land, resources and exploiting workers throughout Latin America.

Yet, the Quiet Depression of the mid and late 1920’s revealed the failure of privatizing food. While farmers destroyed their crops and livestock in a desperate attempt to raise prices, bread riots and hunger marches were a common occurrence. So were signs reading “Disarm The Rich Farmer And Arm The Worker,” and “Feed The Hungry, Tax The Rich.”
I can still remember visiting Guatemala’s El Quiche province in the 1980’s. Backed by the US Government’s “New Inter-American Policy” (mentioned above), Mayan farmers, along with activist workers, priests and nuns, were grouped with the Guatemalan Guerillas whom were fighting for land and equality.

With US supplied weapons, the Guatemalan Government instituted a scorched earth policy against hundreds of Mayan Villages. Those who fled into the mountains were surrounded by the army and their food supplies systematically cut off. The “Rifles and Beans” campaign, as it was called, drove the remaining starving Indigenous Peoples out of the mountains and into “model villages”. Once inside the model villages, which harkened back to the “strategic hamlets” of Vietnam, the Guatemalans were put to work on government construction projects.
Refugee camps also dotted the Guatemalan hillsides where malnourishment was a common problem. To pay for its enormous debt, the Guatemalan Government encroached on Indigenous lands and established commercial farms and government controlled farming cooperatives.

The Mayans, or “Men of the Maize”, were forced to grow snow peas, raspberries, pineapples, and strawberries, that were exported to wealthy industrial nations like the US At the same time, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank imposed free (sic) capitalist reforms to move Guatemala into a 20th Century “emerging” market.
The Santa Fe Document also claimed Central America was the soft underbelly of the United states in its war against the Soviet Union and “there was no substitute for victory.” The US proved this by bombing Nicaragua’s fishing fleets and funding the Contras as they farms and food supplies.

In the 1990 election, some Nicaraguans said they voted with their stomachs’. The economic blockade around Cuba; severe economic sanctions against Iraq in the 1990’s killing tens of thousands of children; (There is evidence that the US is still using food as a weapon in some parts of Iraq to force certain groups and militias to surrender.) and the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement causing the Mayans in Mexico to revolt, contradicts the image of the United States as benevolent empire.

Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe and the Burmese Military Junta are not the only entities using food as a weapon. So have/are the Neo-Conservatives of the Reagan-Bush II Administrations with their Low Intensity Conflicts, international trade sanctions and barriers, corporate business policies, and obligatory economic debts. As First Lady Laura Bush (and rightly so) calls on the world to do more about the sharp increase in food prices, she may want to learn more about the history of her own country and how it has impacted the supply of food. (This may also help explain why some in the US have a fascination, addiction and a neurotic consumption of food.)

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health…including food.” The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights says, “…the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, shall take, individually and through international co-operation, the measures, including specific programs and improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food…to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need.”

The 1974 World Food Conference General Assembly Resolution 3180 reiterates that, “Every man, woman and child has the inalienable right to be free from hunger and malnutrition in order to develop fully and maintain their physical and mental faculties.”

Here is some food for thought: Should food be considered a natural right? Without food, can there be true democracy and freedom? Is not the use of food as a political and military weapon a form and act of terrorism? And finally, perhaps Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary General, was right when he said in discussing the world‘s food crisis that, “Hunger degrades everything we have been fighting for.” Especially the kind of hunger caused by a lack of food when it is used as a weapon.

Dallas Darling currently teaches US and World History and writes for World News. He was a pastor in rural America for ten years and worked in a Guatemala Refugee Camp, the barrios of Panama, and in Mexico. Dallas was active in the Central American Peace Movement and currently works with Pastors For Peace in delivering humanitarian aid to foreign countries. He has a Masters in Pastoral Theology.
Notes: (1) Nabokov, Joseph. Native American Testimony. New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1991, p. 175. (2) Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present. New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1995, p. 308-309.

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