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.

The Rule of the Drug Cartels

The Mexican drug cartels can read the signs. Come on in. The weather is fine. They oblige and are now rapidly adding to the forces already here across an open border which is controlled by the cartels. It’s almost as if it’s their border, all 2,000 miles of it. Undermanned with no responding strategy, U.S guards hardly get in the way. Drugs and people flow freely in.

The last time I looked illegal migrants in El paso and across the river in Juarez were almost all vigorous males, not the least hesitant about entering the U.S. Robust and amiable, they patiently awaited the cartel command as to when and where to cross. They obviously don’t qualify for asylum and aren’t looking for jobs. These are assured on the vast drug cartel distribution network spanning the U. S. or among the tens of thousands of illegal armed marijuana farms proliferating in the American west – slices of Mexico recovered from what was lost to the U.S. in the 1840s war The cartels have their own notion of empire.

Almost all U.S. attention is focused on the hordes of illegal migrants now entering the country. While they are difficult and overwhelming some cites, they are rarely killing people. Drugs are, especially deadly fentanyl, which is combined with more everyday drugs, an unsuspected killer. This is tolerated because of the polarization in the U.S. between those who take the drugs and those who promote them, wealthy, well placed individuals and organizations who enjoy the profits and are indifferent to the victims. Perhaps this is the greatest inequality of all.

Much encouraged, the drug cartels are moving south as well as north. Ecuador is their present destination for a southern takeover. They demonstrate this by breaking into a tv studio in the port city of Guayaquil, brandishing their guns, threatening the staff and announcing who is boss in Ecuador until they are hauled off by late arriving police. Riots in prisons with kidnapping of guards have further signaled the arrival of the cartels – vast drug traffic along with a surge in murders and other violence to keep people in line.

Screen grab of live video of gunmen taking over television studio in Guayaquil (TC Television network)

And this in Ecuador of all places, one of the most peaceful countries in Latin America. If only it were not next to Colombia, a top producer of cocaine. Colombia had the traffic all to itself until a U.S. sponsored crackdown put it out of business. Then, as author Eduardo Gamarra explains, it’s a balloon effect. Squeeze in one place, the bulge appears elsewhere. Ecuador is now living with this deplorable bulge.

President of Ecuador Daniel Noboa (Fernando Sandoval / Asamblea Nacional, 23 November, 2023)

Newly elected Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa has promised to react with an “iron fist” by imposing a state of emergency and using the military to bring the cartels under control. In this he is following the example of the Central American nation, El Salvador, where President Nayib Bukele has adopted harsh security measures and jailed close to 100,000 people to restore peace. Also under cartel control is Honduras, which like Mexico, is a virtual narco state. The cartels are the state. Other Latin American nations face a similar threat. The iron fist reaction is not kind to customary civil liberties, but the people are desperate for relief from this especially violent rule.

The Carlson Conundrum

The usual choice for a Vice President is a conventional politician sufficiently obscure not to overshadow the Presidential candidate. All the more surprising, then, that a hugely popular and highly controversial TV commentator, Tucker Carlson, is under serious consideration for the running mate of former President Trump who has a commanding lead in the polls. Does this make sense?

Not to the many critics of Trump who view Carlson as almost as objectionable. Here are two combative, combustible personalities with no respect for convention or normal rules of order, double trouble for the electoral system. But that’s just the point, insists Revolver News, which has close ties to Trump. Carlson reinforces Trump’s populist instincts and as Vice President would assure his legacy after his final four years in office. The conventional politician, shifting with the wind to suit his ambition, could not be counted on.

Tucker Carlson

That legacy doesn’t appeal to critics, even frightens them as an antidemocratic trend to something much worse. Words like fascism arise. Scare words, scoff Trump or Carlson who say they want to revive an imperiled democracy. At issue, in particular, is the formulation of U.S. foreign policy dominated by the neocons since the turning point of 9/11. Going their own way under both Democratic and Republican administrations, they have promoted a series of wars and other military interventions that have turned out badly and made a mess of the Middle East and surrounding areas. Israel would supposedly benefit, though it is now in greater danger than ever and the Arab world is enflamed.

This war making is an example of the Deep State in action that escapes the notice of the public. Timely intervention is needed. In fact, a Carlson on hand could prevent such a lapse as the neocon-driven assassination of top Iranian general Soleimani. Aside from the fact that assassination is a cowardly form of warfare that seldom achieves what it intends, Soleimani was just the kind of adroit international operator with whom a Trump could do business.

Critics pounce on Trump’s seeming indifference to overseas conflicts and his talk of scuttling NATO, which was set up to deter an aggressive Stalin who no longer exists. Isolationism, they claim. But the military doesn’t have to be called on to solve everything. There are other ways to deal with competitive or adversarial nations. The U.S. can try its hand once again at diplomacy and skillful use of its prestige and economic maneuver to accomplish its ends. In his own way ambitious, anti-West President Xi of China is doing exactly that. His moves across the global chessboard may be challenging and unsettling, but they avoid the catastrophe of war.

Standing in the way of the development of a coherent foreign policy is the enormous roadblock of money. Lavishly pouring out of various lobbies, its many millions promote policies that can be irrelevant or injurious to the body politic, a society of greater economic inequality than ever before. The top one percent thrives at the expense of the remaining ninety-nine per cent. Reform is stymied because the politicians in charge are beholden to this money to win elections and keep their jobs.

That being the case, let’s speculate. It would be truly democratic as well as populist to submit any proposed war or serious military intervention to the vote of the entire American public, a national referendum. The outcome from a commonsensible population would be far better than the money-driven policies of a compromised leadership. Probably all the recent useless wars, including the one fizzling to an inglorious end in Ukraine today, would have been voted down. It’s not exactly what the Founding Fathers, far-seeing as they were, had in mind. But who could have predicted this tyranny of money?

The Dresden Model

Israeli generals say they are doing no more in Gaza than U.S. bombers did to German cities like Dresden in World War II. But that was not the finest hour of the allies. With the war almost over three waves of British and U.S. bombers obliterated one of the most esteemed ancient cites in Europe that had little, if anything, to do with the Nazi war effort and had no military value whatsoever. It was an act of vengeance mindless of humanity.

So, Israelis are saying perhaps more than they intend. Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, U.S. military historian Robert Pape says the Israeli assault on Gaza is “one of the most heavy bombing campaigns in history, a massive collective punishment against civilians.” In densely packed Gaza, 17,000 people, including large numbers of children, have been killed to date with more to come since there’s no letup in the bombing. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says it will continue until all Hamas is destroyed, a formidable task that may be limited by the extent of Israeli casualties of which we are unaware so far.

In a hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis veteran British surgeon Tom Potokar is doing his best to cope with the unending stream of wounded and dying, half of them children, that are brought to his care. Having worked in conflicts in Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen, he says this is the worst yet. So many casualties in so short a time.

Dr. Tom Potokar (The International Committee of the Red Cross)

The Independent reports that he is presently treating a burns patient whose wounds are septic since the dressing had not been changed for days. On the next bed lies a three-year old boy whose legs had been amputated the night before after an air strike. An eight-year-old boy’s brain is exposed since bombing damaged his skull. An eye has been removed from a teenage girl because every bone in her face has been smashed. Another badly burned child is screaming for his mother he doesn’t know is dead. There are not enough pain killers to relieve his suffering.

Israel is completely dependent on weaponry from the U.S. to continue the war. These include precision guided small diameter 250lb bombs and earth-shaking 2000lb bombs that seem to turn the ground liquid as they flatten everything below. It’s said the U.S. could stop the war on a dime if it cut off the weapon supply. But the Biden Administration has backed the Israelis to the hilt while urging more caution in bombing. One angry phone call from U.S. President Ronald Reagan halted Israel’s 1982 assault on Lebanon.

Palestinian children wounded in Israeli strikes at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. (Ali Mahmoud/The AP)

The present conflict has given rise to unusual antisemitism around the world, including American college campuses. It has been denounced and college presidents have been rebuked or removed for apparent nonchalance about it. But the best way to stop antisemitism is to stop the slaughter in Gaza.

The Price of War

It’s estimated that half a million Iraqi children died from starvation and disease as a result of U.S. sanctions after the ‘91 Gulf War. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, then in office, was asked if that price was worth it to try to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. She replied famously or infamously, yes, it was worth the price. Children are expendable for the loftier aim – however misguided – of war.

The same question might be put to supporters of the current war in Gaza where the deaths of Gazans are at 15,000 and counting as Israeli forces move south after destroying the north. To what purpose? Partly revenge after the brutal October seven attack by Hamas, but also, as declared by many, to create a greater Israel with the expulsion of Palestinians. Out of sight, out of mind.

Palestinians search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on houses in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, October 31, 2023.
(Anas al-Shareef | Reuters)

But not really. After the days of carnage so visible on tv the regional Arab world will be united in horror. The division between Arab countries hostile to Israel and those willing to reach an accommodation will be sealed, not to mention the Gazan refugees burning for revenge. As for the rest of the world, the attitude of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is indicative. He resists U.S. efforts to make him less supportive of Hamas and less critical of Israel. He could well set an example Inasmuch as Hamas is a rallying cry as well as an armed marauder. One way or another it’s going to be around postwar.

Israel itself is hardly united on this war if unanimously appalled by Hamas. With his reputation as a peacemaker, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told CNN that it was current prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu who initially built up Hamas as a foil to the Palestinian Authority, thereby dividing his enemies. Today he faces a monster of his own creation. Let the more pacific minded Israelis prevail.

In the fever of war its outcome is largely ignored. The conclusion of World War II is still being reexamined up to the present day. Understandably, Americans were filled with hatred of Nazis even to the point of letting their prisoners of war starve to death after they had surrendered. But then, quite suddenly, the U.S was confronted with an equal, if not more formidable foe in Stalinist Russia, which seized eastern Europe and was ready to move on the West. The Germans were quickly revived as allies in the struggle ahead. Why had we been so solicitous of the Stalinists in the war?

Ehud Barak at Pentagon (photo by Robert D. Ward)

Conservatives want to conserve family, tradition, pride of nation. But what about conserving lives on whom all these other values depend? First things first: lives. Conservative commentators on tv, clamoring for scalps, should be required to take a course in military history – say reading Julius Caesar who won wars with calculation not hate – before lecturing us on the air.

If the Gaza war is allowed to continue, the price will not be worth it. Sorry, Madam Albright.