Drugs and Bananas

Things are seldom what they seem in the tumultuous illegal drug world. There’s so much money that nothing stays fixed that long. Take Honduras, a small nation nestled among other small nations in Central America on a direct route for drugs coming from South America to Mexico and then to the final destination: bountiful, drug-consuming America. This requires frequent readjustment for the riches therein.

So America probably shouldn’t have been surprised when one of its favored anti-drug warriors turned out to be the opposite. Even U. S. Presidents Obama and Trump feted Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez with millions in aid as he pledged to use an “iron fist” against the drug traffickers. “The party is over for criminals,” he announced.

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández

Behind the scenes, he was doing something else – helping those same criminals to thrive. Famed drug lord El Chapo, who is now serving a life sentence in the U. S. for his criminal activities, was looking for a drug route through Honduras to expand the reach of his Mexican Sinaloa cartel. Ok, said Hernandez. A million will do it. El Chapo complied and handed a briefcase with a million dollars to the President’s brother. Said a pleased Hernandez: “You can stuff the drugs up the noses of the gringos.” 

Hernandez applied the usual trappings of repression to his country. The media were paid or threatened to be silent as he went about his work. Extradited to the U.S. two years ago, he is now on trial in New York City with the prospect of an El Chapo style conviction.

But Honduras is known for more than drugs. It was the first “Banana Republic,” no offense intended. Keeping a close eye on the nations to its south, the U.S. made many forays into Honduras, but the most successful was privately conducted by Sam Zemurray, who had bananas on his mind and in his vision for Honduras. He cajoled a compliant government into letting him acquire a few thousand acres to grow his favorite crop, and the rest was history: banana sales around the world led to fabulous riches for the fruit companies who added railroads and banks to the landscape. The local population was less richly rewarded.

Keeping Honduras on the map, bananas gave way to guns. Concerned by communist penetration of Central America during the Cold War, the U.S decided to conduct military operations on? – you guessed it – a banana plantation in Honduras. The target was the Soviet-aided Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Writes David Vine in his book Base Nation, “Honduras was like a stationary, unsinkable aircraft carrier strategically anchored at the center of the war-torn region.” Stationed there were U.S.-backed Contras to overthrow the Sandinistas, resulting in a major scandal of the Reagan administration when it was disclosed that proceeds from U.S. arms sales to Iran were diverted to the Contras against a congressional prohibition.

Harvesting bananas in Honduras, 1952 (Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The Cold War is over, but Honduras is still busy with another war against drug traffickers. No rest for the geopolitically useful. The outcome awaits the future. But the present is not so bad. The Honduran economy is growing, and a government crackdown seems to be curbing crime, including the fearsome homicide rate. Honduras has not turned into a drug republic. Long live the Banana Republic.

Who is Putin?

The media is outraged that Tucker Carlson interviewed the enemy Putin and asked softball questions. None of the rough and tumble – “You said that.” ”No, I didn’t.” – that characterizes a real interview. But that was not the point. Carlson wanted the Russian leader to explain himself in ways that would be useful to an American and indeed global audience. With considerable candor that is what he did in over two hours. The gist of it? A plea for better relations with the U.S. Not exactly the voice of an enemy.

He had every reason to be triumphant. He was on the verge of victory in the war with Ukraine despite all the dire predictions of defeat in the American media. Though Russia had been slapped with myriad sanctions, its economy and its military had been strengthened during the war, and it possesses the world’s most advanced nuclear arsenal.

Tucker Carlson interviewing Putin

Putin noted the many Russian grievances against the U.S., above all, ever advancing NATO. The U.S. had pledged not to move the alliance one inch east toward Russia in return for Gorbachev’s allowing the reunification of Germany and thereby ending the Cold War (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” said Reagan). Yet year by year, President by President, NATO absorbed the East European nations formerly ruled by the Soviet Union until it reached the Russian border and then decided to include neighboring Ukraine. A red line had been crossed, and Russia invaded, as it said, to protect itself.

Did this make you bitter? asked Carlson. No, said Putin. It’s just the fact. Nor did he display any bitterness in the course of the interview toward any U.S, policy maker. He noted he had friendly relations with President George Bush, even though he expanded NATO. Intent on post-communist Russia joining the company of civilized nations, he asked President Clinton if it could become a member of NATO. The President thought that was a good idea but after consulting his staff changed his mind.

That’s the problem of dealing with the U.S., said Putin. There are so many levels of government – perhaps in contrast to his own autocratic rule – that it’s hard to know whom to talk to. Indeed, as a former intelligence officer, he should know to be aware of an American deep state where a small group of zealots known as neocons has been plotting his eventual overthrow.

The mindset of the elite, rather than particular personalities, is the key to behavior, said Putin. When Carlson asked him why he didn’t make a fuss in the press when it was disclosed that the U.S. had sabotaged the Nord Stream pipeline bringing natural gas from Russia to Germany, he replied there was no point. The press is in the hands of the western elite which would have ignored or downplayed the story.

Much of the western media, ever mindful of Hitler and Munich – one piece of history they have learned – say Putin’s next target is Poland with which he has had some difficulties. They cite his leadership in a growing bloc of nations called BRCCS that are forming an economic and political alliance in opposition to what they see as U.S. global hegemony. But Putin insisted with some emotion that Russia belongs to the West. It’s now the strongest economy in Europe with no desire of conquering it as in Stalinist times. Russia is big enough – the world’s largest nation. Who needs anything more?

Putin has not mollified his critics by his treatment of his main adversary in Russia, Alexai Navalny, who recently died in prison in the Arctic. He is now waging a determined, destructive war in Ukraine. But some perspective is in order. In the early 1930’s Stalin, driven by communism, starved millions in Ukraine to death as part of his rural collectivist program. The media that now condemns Putin went along with Soviet propaganda and denied there was a famine. Had Stalin been in charge the Ukraine war would have been over in a few weeks and the devastated country would resemble a larger version of today’s Gaza.

Unlike Stalin, Putin is impelled by no murderous ideology. He’s strictly a nationalist, Russia first, last and always. While autocratic he’s not dogmatic and therefore open to negotiation, minus the thought of conquering him or Russia.

Taylor of Troy

Is this the face that launched a thousand ships

And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.

Such were the immortal words of Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe as he recalled the epic Trojan war from the mist of fact and fantasy. It was a case of human beauty exerting its power for a doubtful end. Is there an equivalent beauty today that might launch ships in an opposite direction toward peace? An obvious contender is at hand: Taylor Swift, songwriter, singer, dancer, with a flair for improvisation and a following of 272 million combining concerts with social media. A recent NBC poll shows that she has a more favorable rating than just about anybody else in the public eye including all the current U.S. Presidential candidates.

For that reason she is currently embroiled in politics, especially among these less popular Presidential candidates. Since she tilts liberal, Democrats are urging her to come out in support of President Biden, while fearful Republicans are trying to prevent that from happening. Her impact is weighty indeed. Time reports that the tumult of 72,000 fans at a sold-out show in Seattle registered the equivalent of a 2.3 magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale. The economic impact is similar. Spending associated with her recent U.S. tour approximates five billion dollars. According to one admirer, “If Taylor Swift were an economy, she’d be bigger than fifty countries.” Seeing the gold that glitters in Taylor, the president of Chile, the mayor of Budapest and the Canadian prime minister have all invited her tour to their countries.

So far, despite the prompting, Taylor has not yet commented on the election. Hurry up, says Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsome, who would like be President someday himself. Your contribution would be “profoundly powerful.”  But she has hesitated, no launching of ships or making waves.  There’s no hurry at all, say wary Republicans who note that she posted a message on Instagram urging fans to register to vote on a particular website. They did, increasing registration by 35% over last year.

Taylor Swift at the 2019 American Music Awards

On Fox TV Jesse Watters said Taylor has been used in a Pentagon psyop to steer information in the right direction. “We are going to shake it off,” replied the Pentagon, referring to the popular Taylor song “Shake it off.” Sean Hannity of Fox takes comfort in the fact that she has criticized the business practices of far-left financier George Soros. Not to worry, advises close Trump ally Stephen Miller. The vast Taylor fandom is not “organic,” meaning it has been contrived by outsiders and not by the singer alone who is no superwoman.  

But as they say, image is reality and what an image. Is it ready for an antiwar campaign? So far Taylor has had nothing to say about the current incredibly destructive Israeli-Gaza war, but what if she used her immense soft power to urge a permanent ceasefire and her followers went along? The world would have to listen, politicians in particular. Songs of love betrayed by cruelty can shift to songs of humanity betrayed by war with the singer still conveying the simple joys and sorrows of everyday life, her soulfulness of song. Let all future wars beware her voice. Helen of Troy becomes Taylor of Nashville, the woman who launched a thousand ships of peace.