MY GOODMAN: Today, we bring you world-renowned scholar and linguist Noam
Chomsky, who spoke a few days ago in an event sponsored by Massachusetts
Global Action. The speech was called "What's Next? Creating Another
World in a Time of War, Empire and Devastation." It was held at the
Emmanuel Church in Boston.
Chomsky is a professor of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology. He recently returned from Latin America. He talked about the
recent elections in the region, which have brought leftist governments
to power that are challenging US foreign policy. Chomsky also talked
about Iraq and Iran in the context of Latin America.
In this excerpt, he begins by analyzing the recently released Iraq Study
Group report that was chaired by the former Secretary of State James Baker.
NOAM CHOMSKY: There are efforts to try to extricate the US from the US
power -- doesn’t matter much to the people, but US power -- from the
catastrophes it’s created for itself. The most recent such effort, right
on the front pages now -- so I’ll keep to that one -- is the
Baker-Hamilton report, the Iraq Study Group report, which has some
interesting features. Very interesting.
For example, one of its -- it doesn’t have much in the way of proposals
-- but the thinking is interesting. So here's one paragraph, refers to
recent polls in Iraq. The US government and polling agencies here take
regular polls in Iraq. They care a lot about Iraqi opinion. And this
points out that recent polling indicates that 79% of Iraqis have a
mostly negative view of the influence that the United States has in
their country, and 61% of Iraqis -- includes Kurds -- approve of attacks
on US-led forces. Well, that's clearly a problem. And we have to deal
with that problem by changing tactics, so they'll understand that we
really love them and we’re trying to help them and they'll stop thinking
they ought to attack us and hating us, and so on. OK, that was the
There's something missing. The same polls that they cited have some
other information, for example, that two-thirds of the people of Baghdad
want US troops out immediately, and about over three-quarters of the
whole population, including Kurds, again, wants a firm timetable for
withdrawal within a year or less. Well, that isn’t mentioned, because in
our mission to bring democracy to the world, we don’t care about the
opinions of people. They’re kind of irrelevant, so that isn't mentioned.
And, of course, there's no timetable for withdrawal. That’s one of the
options they rejected.
Also interesting is that the American people are treated the same way. A
majority of people here are in favor of a firm timetable for withdrawal.
But that's irrelevant, too. In fact, back as far as April 2003,
considerable majority of people here in the United States were in favor
of keeping US troops there only if they were under UN supervision. The
UN ought to take responsibility for security, for economic development,
reconstruction, for democratic development, and so on. But that opinion
was, of course, totally ignored and, to my knowledge, not even reported.
Now, that continues, if that attitude continues, the next big problem,
next to Iraq, is Iran. And the Baker-Hamilton Commission, as you know,
gave a recommendation about that. It said the US must somehow engage
Iran, but they said that that’s going to be problematic given the state
of US-Iranian relationships. Well, the US population has an opinion
about that, too. 75% of the population here, including a majority of
Republicans, think that the United States ought to keep to diplomatic
peaceful measures in engagement with Iran, which they approve of, and
not use military threats -- exact opposite of the policy.
The same attitudes are true of the people of the region. They don't like
Iran, and they don’t certainly [inaudible] nuclear-armed Iran, but a
majority of the population of the regional states favors a nuclear-armed
Iran to any form of military intervention, just as people here do. Well,
that's kind of irrelevant, so that’s also not mentioned in the report.
A third interesting fact about the report is that it says the United
States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East -- of course, taken
for granted they must achieve those goals. It doesn't mean the people of
the United States, it means the government and their constituency. The
United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it
deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict. And then goes on to say
that the US must encourage discussions and so on, but restricting and
allowing Palestinians to participate, but only those who accept Israel's
right to exist. OK, those are the only Palestinians who can participate.
What about Israelis who accept Palestine's right to exist? Well, no
point in mentioning them, because there probably aren't any.
And, in fact, there shouldn't be any. No state has a right to exist.
It's obvious. In fact, the whole concept, right to exist, as far as I’m
aware -- somebody should -- it’s a good research project for someone --
to my knowledge, that concept was created in the 1970s when the Arab
States and the PLO accepted, formally accepted -- PLO tacitly, the Arab
States formally, the major ones -- formally accepted Israel's right to
exist within secure and recognized borders, borrowing the wording of the
major UN resolution, UN 242. So it became necessary to raise the barrier
to prevent negotiations diplomacy and to allow expansion instead.
And here comes right to exist, which, of course, nobody is going to
accept. It means accepting not only the fact of the expulsion of
Palestinians, but also its legitimacy. No state in the world is ever
going to accept that, any more than Mexico accepts the -- it recognizes
the United States, but it does not recognize the legitimacy of the US
conquest of half of Mexico -- outlandish.
But even if we reduce it from the crazy notion of right to exist to just
recognizing Palestine, how many -- who -- recognizing Israel, suppose we
limit Palestinians to those who recognize Israel, which Israelis
recognize Palestine? Does the United States recognize Palestine? I mean,
I won’t run through the history here, but for 30 years, the US and
Israel have, with rare exceptions, been unilaterally preventing the
establishment of a broad international consensus on a two-state
settlement. I mean, they're willing now, in the last couple of years,
only the last couple of years, to accept a very truncated Palestine
that’s dismembered, surrounded -- no chance of viable existence. Maybe
they'll recognize that. A couple of Bantustans, but not any viable state.
AMY GOODMAN: We are watching and listening to Noam Chomsky, giving an
address last week in Boston. When we come back, we'll turn to the
segment of his speech where he talks about Latin America, from which he
just returned. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We return now to Noam Chomsky, who spoke a few days ago in
NOAM CHOMSKY: I’ll start with last weekend. Important city in South
America, Cochabamba, with quite a history. There was a meeting last
weekend in Cochabamba in Bolivia of all the South American leaders. It
was a very important meeting. One index of its importance is that it was
unreported, virtually unreported apart from the wire services. So every
editor knew about it. Since I suspect you didn't read that wire service
report, I’ll read you a few things from it to indicate why it was so
In last Saturday, the South American leaders agreed to create a
high-level commission to study the idea of forming a continent-wide
community similar to the European Union. This is the presidents and
envoys of all the nations, and there was the two-day summit of what's
called the South American Community of Nations, hosted by Evo Morales in
Cochabamba, the president of Bolivia. The leaders -- reading just now
--agreed to form a study group to look at the possibility of creating a
continent-wide union and even a South American parliament. The result,
according to the -- I’m reading from the AP report -- the result left
fiery Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, long an agitator for the region,
taking a greater role on the world stage, pleased, but impatient --
normal stance. They went on. It goes on to say that the discussion over
South American unity will continue later this month, when MERCOSUR,
South American trading bloc, has its regular meeting that will include
leaders from Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Paraguay and Uruguay.
There is one -- has been one point of hostility in South America. That's
Peru, Venezuela. But it points out that Chavez and Peruvian President
Alan Garcia took advantage of the summit to bury the hatchet, after
having exchanged insults earlier in the year. And that was the only real
conflict in South America. So that seems to have been smoothed over.
The new Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa proposed a land and river
trade route linking the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest to Ecuador's Pacific
Coast, suggesting that for South America, it could be kind of like an
alternative to the Panama Canal.
Chavez and Morales celebrated a new joint project, the gas separation
plant in Bolivia's rich gas-rich region. It’s a joint venture with
Petrovesa, the Venezuelan oil company, and the Bolivian state energy
company. And it continues. Venezuela, as I’m sure you know, is the only
-- it which points out -- is the only Latin American member of OPEC and
has by far the largest proven oil reserves outside the Middle East, by
some measures maybe even incomparable to Saudi Arabia. Well, that’s very
important in the general global context. I’ll return to a couple of
words about that.
There were also contributions, constructive, interesting contributions
by Lula da Silva, Brazil's president, Bachelet of Chile, and others. All
of this is extremely important.
This is the first time since the Spanish conquests, 500 years, that
there has been real moves towards integration in South America. The
countries have been very separated from one another. And integration is
going to be a prerequisite for authentic independence. I mean, there
have been -- I’m sure you know -- attempts at independence, but they've
been crushed, often very violently, partly because of lack of regional
support, because there was very little regional cooperation, so you can
pick them off one by one.
That’s what happened since the 1960s. The Kennedy administration
orchestrated a coup in Brazil, the first of which happened right after
the assassination was already planned. It was the first of a series of
falling dominoes. Neo-Nazi-style national security states spread across
the hemisphere. Chile was one of them, but only one finally ended up
with reaching Central America, with Reagan's terrorist wars in the
1980s, which devastated Central America, similar things happening in the
Caribbean. But that was sort of a one-by-one operation of destroying one
country after another. And it had the expected domino effect. It’s the
worst plague of repression in the history of Latin America since the
original conquests, which were horrendous. It’s only beginning to be
understood how horrendous they were.
But integration does lay the basis for potential independence, and
that's of extreme significance. The colonial history -- Spain, Europe,
the United States -- not only divided countries from one another, but it
also left a sharp internal division within the countries, every one,
between a very wealthy small elite and a huge mass of impoverished
people. The correlation to race is fairly close. Typically, the rich
elite was white, European, westernized; and the poor mass of the
population was indigenous, Indian, black, intermingled, and so on. It's
a fairly close correlation, and it continues right ‘til the present.
The white, mostly white, elites were not -- who ran the countries --
were not integrated with -- had very few interrelations with the other
countries of the region. They were Western-oriented. You can see that in
all sorts of ways. That's where the capital was exported. That's where
the second homes were, where the children went to the universities,
where their cultural connections were, and so on. And they had very
little responsibility in their own societies. So there’s very sharp
They were also very support-- you can see it, for example, in imports.
Imports are mostly luxury goods, overwhelmingly. Development, such as it
was, was mostly foreign. It was much more open, Latin America, much more
open to foreign investment than, say, East Asia. It’s part of the reason
for their different paths of development in the past -- radically
different paths of development in the last couple of decades.
And, of course, the elite elements were very strongly sympathetic to the
neoliberal programs of the last 25 years, which enriched them --
destroyed the countries, but enriched them. Latin America, more than any
region in the world, outside of southern Africa, adhered rigorously to
the so-called Washington Consensus, what's called outside the United
States the neoliberal programs of roughly the past 25, 30 years. And
everywhere where they were rigorously applied, they led to disaster.
There’s scarcely an exception. Very striking correlation. Sharp
reduction in rates of growth, other macroeconomic indices, all the
social effects that go along with that.
Actually, the comparison to East Asia is very striking. Latin America is
a much -- potentially much richer area. I mean, a century ago, it was
taken for granted that Brazil would be what was called the “Colossus of
the South,” comparable to the Colossus of the North. Haiti, now one of
the poorest countries in the world, was the richest colony in the world,
a source of much of France’s wealth, now devastated, first by France,
then by the United States. And Venezuela -- enormous wealth -- was taken
over by the United States around 1920, right at the beginning of the oil
age, had been a British dependency, but Woodrow Wilson kicked the
British out, recognizing that control of oil was going to be important,
and supported a vicious dictator. And then, more or less, it goes on
until the present. So the resources and the potential were always there.
In contrast, East Asia had almost no resources, but they followed a
different developmental path. In Latin America, imports were luxury
goods for the rich. In East Asia, it's capital goods for development.
They had state-coordinated development programs. They disregarded the
Washington Consensus almost totally. Capital controls, controls on
export of capital, harsh punishments for it, pretty egalitarian
societies, a lot of -- authoritarian, sometimes, pretty harsh -- but
educational programs, health programs, and so on. In fact, they followed
pretty much the developmental paths of the currently wealthy countries,
which are radically different from the rules that are being imposed on
And that goes way back in history. You go back to the 17th century, the
commercial and industrial centers of the world were China and India.
Life expectancy in Japan was greater than in Europe. Europe was kind of
like a barbarian outpost, but it had advantages, mainly in savagery,
conquered the world, imposed something like the neoliberal rules on the
conquered regions, and itself, very high protectionism, a lot of state
intervention and so on. So Europe developed.
The United States, as a typical case, had the highest tariffs in the
world, most protectionist country in the world during the period of its
great development. In fact, as late as 1950, when the United States
literally had half the world's wealth, its tariffs were higher than the
Latin American countries today, which are being ordered to reduce them.
Massive state intervention in the economy. Economists don't talk about
it much, but the current economy in the United States relies very
heavily on the state sector. That's where you get your computers and the
internet and your airplane traffic and transit of goods, container ships
and so on, almost entirely comes out of the state sector, including
pharmaceuticals, management techniques, and so on. I won’t go on into
that, but it’s a strong correlation right through history. Those are the
methods of development.
The neoliberal methods created a third world, and in the past 30 years,
they have led to disasters in Latin America and southern Africa, the
places that most rigorously adhered to them. But whereas there was
growth and development in East Asia, which disregarded them, following
the rules, following pretty much the model of the currently rich countries.
Well, there’s a chance that that will begin to change. There are finally
efforts inside South America -- unfortunately not in Central America,
which has just been pretty much devastated by the terror of the last --
of the ’80s particularly. But in South America, from Venezuela to
Argentina, it’s, I think, the most exciting place in the world. There’s
reactions to this. After 500 years, there’s a beginning of efforts to
overcome these overwhelming problems. The integration that's taking
place, that I just read about, is one example.
There's efforts of the Indian population. The indigenous population is,
for the first time in hundreds of years, taking a -- really beginning in
some of the countries, take a very active role in their own affairs. In
Bolivia, they succeeded in taking over the country, controlling their
resources. Bolivia -- and it’s also leading to significant
democratization, real democracy, in which the population participates.
So it takes a Bolivia -- it’s the poorest country in the hemisphere in
South America -- Haiti is poorer -- it had a real democratic election
last year, of a kind that you can't imagine in the United States, or in
Europe, for that matter. There was mass popular participation, and
people knew what the issues were. The issues were crystal clear and very
important. And people didn't just participate on election day. These are
the things they had been struggling about for years. Actually,
Cochabamba is a symbol of it. I’ll come back to that. So, clear issues,
popular participation, ongoing efforts, elected someone from their own
ranks. I won't bother to compare it to the United States. You can work
it out for yourselves, but that's a real democratic election of the kind
we can't imagine.
In fact, in our elections, the issues are unknown. There’s careful
efforts to make sure that the issues are unknown to the public, for good
reasons. There's a tremendous gap between public opinion and public
policy. So you have to keep away from issues and concentrate on imagery
and delusions and so on. The elections are run by the same industries
that sell toothpaste on television. You don't expect to get information
from a television ad. You don't expect to get information about a
candidate from debates, advertisements and the other paraphernalia that
goes along with what are called elections here.
There's a lot of fuss on the left about election irregularities, like,
you know, the voting machines were tampered with, they didn't count the
votes right, and so on. That’s all accurate and of some importance, but
of far more importance is the fact that elections just don't take place,
not in any meaningful sense of the term “election.” And so, it doesn't
matter all that much, if there was some tampering. I suspect that's why
the population doesn't get much exercised over it. The concern over
stolen elections and vote tampering, and so on, is mostly an elite
affair. Most of the country didn’t seem to care very much. “OK, so the
election was stolen.” I mean, if you’re flipping a coin to select a king
or something, it doesn’t matter much if the coin is biased. That seems
to be the way most people feel about it. And there’s some justification.
In fact, the attitude of the public here towards the political system is
very dramatic. I mean, about a third of the population in the United
States, according to recent polls, believes that the Bush administration
was responsible for 9/11. But they don't think it's a problem, like they
don’t think that’s anything to worry about it. Yeah, of course, they’re
all crooks and gangsters and murderers, tell us something new, you know.
It doesn't have much to do with us. That's a shocking commentary on the
state of American democracy.
There's a lot of talk here about, you know, we have a divided country.
We have to unify. We need a unifier, somebody who will bring it back
together. Red and blue, and so on. That's pretty marginal. It is a
divided country. It's divided between public opinion and public policy.
A very sharp divide. And on issue after issue, the whole political
system is well to the right of the public and public attitudes. And we
know a lot about these, because it’s a very well studied topic in the
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll continue with Professor Noam Chomsky's address after
AMY GOODMAN: We return to the address of Noam Chomsky, professor of
Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, speaking last
Thursday in Boston.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Just to give one last illustration, I was driving home
from work the other day and torturing myself by listening to NPR, and --
I have kind of a masochistic streak I can’t get over. Actually, some day
I’m going to sue them. Sometime -- once they got me so angry that I
started speeding. I lost control of what I was doing, and I was stopped
by a cop, and I was going like 60 miles an hour in a 30 mile zone. Maybe
a basis for a civil suit, if there are any lawyers around here. But they
had a section on Barack Obama, the great new hope. And it was very
exuberant: what a fantastic personality he is and a great candidate,
thousands of people coming out. And it went on for about 15 minutes of
excited rhetoric. There's only one thing missing. They didn’t say a word
about what his policies were on anything. It’s kind of not -- doesn't
matter, you know. He’s a unifier. He looks at you when he talks to you.
He’s a really decent guy. Great background. OK, that's an election.
Bolivia was radically different, and that's a very striking different.
Well, there is -- one of the things that’s happened in Latin America in
the past several decades is there has been a wave of authentic
democratization. Despite US efforts to impede it, it's taken place.
However, an unfortunate side effect of it is that as the wave of
democratization increased, while support for democracy remained strong
in Latin America, support for the elected governments has been
declining, steadily declining.
There’s a reasonable explanation for that that was given by an Argentine
political scientist, Atilio Boron. He pointed out that the wave of
democratization correlated with the neoliberal programs, which are
designed to undermine democracy. I don’t have time to talk about it, but
every element of them is specifically designed to undermine democracy,
to restrict the public arena and participation and so on. So he
concludes -- I think plausibly -- that it's not surprising that while a
desire to have democracies remains very high, support for the elected
government declines, insofar as they follow the programs that are
Now, there are a few exceptions. The leading exception -- again, Latin
American opinion is also pretty carefully polled and studied, so we know
a lot about it -- the leading exception is Venezuela. From 1998 to the
present, support for the elected government has increased sharply, in
pretty dramatic contrast to almost all of Latin America. There are some
increases elsewhere. And, in fact, Venezuela leads the continent in
support for the elected government. That’s probably why it's called
anti-democratic and authoritarian and, you know, dictator, and so on and
The rhetoric here is kind of interesting. There are authoritarian
tendencies, undoubtedly, but depicture of Chavez as a tin-pot dictator
-- has destroyed freedom of press and so on -- that's the standard line
also in the rightwing press in South America, and believed, in fact,
completely inconsistent with the facts.
I mean, take, say, freedom of the press. As you know, there was a coup
in Venezuela in the year 2002, supported by the United States. The
government was overthrown. It was taken over by Pedro Carmona, a rich
businessman, who immediately dissolved parliament, destroyed the supreme
court, got rid of the attorney general's office, the public defender.
Every vestige of democracy was instantly demolished.
US strongly supported it. The Venezuelan private press, the press,
strongly supported it. One of the people who supported the coup was the
opposition candidate in the last election. Just another -- other
supporters of the coup were a group called Sumate, the group that the US
provides aid to for what's called “democracy building.” So the coup was
supported by a substantial part of the elite in the society that was
backed by the United States, destroyed the democratic system.
It was quickly overthrown by a popular uprising. US had to back off. But
what's striking is that the newspapers continue to publish, still
continue to attack the government. Rosales, who supported the coup, ran
in the election. Sumate, which supported the coup, is functioning, the
main recipient of US democracy promotion funds.
Just imagine that that had happened in the United States. Suppose there
was a coup that overthrew the government, supported by the leading
press, you know, by political figures and so on. Would the press
continue to function? I mean, would the supporter of the coup be the
opposition candidate in the next election. I mean, it’s unimaginable.
They’d all be lined up in front of firing squads. But this is the
tin-pot dictator who’s destroying freedom of press, not the first time.
But these are quite important developments.
And what they illustrate is a decline in the -- first of all, a move
towards integration, independence and authentic democracy with mass
popular movements and participation and so on, all extremely important,
but also along with it goes a decline in the methods of domination and
control. I mean, the US has dominated the region for a long time with
two major methods: one of them, violence, and the other, economic
strangulation, economic controls. And both of those methods are
declining in efficacy.
2002 was the last effort of the United States to overthrow a government.
In earlier years, it was routine. And in fact, the governments that the
US is now supporting -- say, Lula -- probably would have been overthrown
40 years ago. There's not that much difference between Lula and Goulart,
the Brazilian president who was overthrown by the Kennedy-instigated
coup. There is a notable decline in the efficacy of violence for control.
And the same is true of economic controls. ve si decline. The main
economic controls in recent years have been the IMF, which is virtually
a branch of the US Treasury Department. But the countries are freeing
themselves of its controls. Argentina basically told the -- Argentina
was the poster boy of the IMF. It was a great success story, except that
it led to a total complete crash, a terrible crash. Argentina did
recover, but by violating IMF rules, refusing to pay its debts, buying
up what remained of the debt and “ridding ourselves of the IMF,” as the
president put it. They were able to do that, partly with the help of
Venezuela, which bought up about a third of the debt, another form of
cooperation. Brazil, in its own way, moved in the same direction,
freeing itself from the IMF.
Bolivia is now doing it. Bolivia had been, again, a rigorous obedient
student of the IMF for about 25 years. It ended up with per capita
income lower than when it started. Well, now they’re getting rid of the
IMF, too, again with Venezuelan support. And as this proceeds through
the -- in fact, the IMF itself is in serious trouble. If you look at the
business pages, you’ll notice that its viability is in question, because
it's not getting the kinds of funds it used to get from the role it
played in what one -- the US executive director of the IMF once called
it the credit community’s enforcer. It's like the Mafia. They’re the
goons who were sent in to get the payments, the default, and so on. But
they're not getting it anymore, and their own funds are running low.
They may not survive.
Well, all of this is just one aspect of the weakening of the economic
controls, alongside the weakening of the controls of violence, and
that's going hand-in-hand with the steps towards integration and
The US has had to have a policy change. There's still a distinction
between the good guys and the bad guys. The good guys happen to be
governments the US probably would have overthrown 40 years ago, like
Lula’s Brazil That’s one of the good guys. Morales and Chavez, they’re
the bad guys. Well, that's the party line. You’ve read it over and over.
In order to maintain it, it's necessary to finesse some of the facts,
like, for example, the fact that when Lula was re-elected in October --
the good guy -- his first act was to fly to Caracas to support Chavez's
electoral campaign -- that’s the bad guy. Now, that wasn’t reported in
the United States, too remote from the party line. Also, Lula dedicated
a Brazilian project in Venezuela, a bridge over the Orinoco River, new
development projects, and so on. That’s all the wrong story.
And as I mentioned, as the AP reported, Venezuela has been in the lead
of trying to move towards regional integration. That's what Chavez's
[Bolivarian] Alternatives for the America is all about -- is supposed to
be about, that involves efforts to develop institutions for an
integrated South America. Petroamerica is kind of an integrated plan for
an integrated energy system of the kind that China is trying to initiate
in Asia, also very worrisome to the United States. Telesur is an effort
to break through the closely guarded Western media monopoly. It’s a big
story in itself. The University of the South, if it takes off, would be
an academic center for the Americas, and so on.
Well, the US is kind of losing control. It's not that US policy is
changing. The policy has to be adjusted. The US has not given up on
means of violence and economic control, but they’re taking new forms. So
the training of Latin American officers has, by the US, has gone way up,
very sharply in the last few years. And they're being trained
differently. The training is being shifted. It's being shifted from the
State Department to the Pentagon. That's of some significance. When
training of Latin American officers is under State Department controls,
there's at least theoretically congressional supervision of human rights
violations and so on. Not very many teeth in it, but at least it's sort
AMY GOODMAN: MIT linguist and political analyst, Noam Chomsky, speaking
in Boston several days ago.