Coup University: SOUTHCOM and FIU Team Up on CounterinsurgencyUpside Down World] Written by Adrienne Pine
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. Jose 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.
Hernandez Flores Jose Amilcar Tte. Cnel. Curso De Sostenimiento Democratico 6 April- 15 May 1998 Honduras
Guillermo Pena Panting, Consejo Hondurefio de la Empresa Privada (COHEP). COHEP was one the the primary financiers of the coup, and one of its biggest proponents.
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’etats. 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 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.