The Bloody and Toxic Legacy of Bananas and Why I Don’t Eat Them Any More

Banana Land: Blood, Bullets and Poison

Directed by Jason Glaser and Diego Lopez (2014)

Film Review

Thanks to a shrewd production and marketing strategy by United Fruit Company (now renamed Chiquita), the banana is the most consumed fruit in the US. United Fruit was founded in 1899 with the deliberate goal of making bananas the cheapest fruit available. To meet this objective, the company controls every aspect of production and supply. In addition to murdering union leaders and propping up puppet dictators, they also control shipping ports and media coverage involving their product.* They and Dole, the other major banana exporter, also routinely expose plantation workers to dangerous pesticides that have been banned in the US and EU.

On December 6, 1968, Colombia banana workers went on strike demanding improved working conditions (an 8 hour day, a 6 day week and payment in cash instead of script). With the support of the US State Department, Colombian troops massacred thousands of strikers.

In coming years the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia, a government-linked paramilitary force, continued to drive peasants from their lands and murder and disappear labor leaders and activists who threatened Chiquita’s interests. For many years, the AUC relied on Colombian cartels for most of their funding. During the 1990s, Chiquita began paying the AUC directly to terrorize rural communities. The documentary features heart wrenching testimony from a mother whose husband and son were murdered by AUC members, who subsequently gang raped her 11-year-old daughter.

Surprisingly the 2001 Patriot Act, which made it illegal for Americans to fund terrorist groups, designated the AUC as a terrorist organization. Chiquita continued to fund them until they were indicted by the Obama Justice Department. Chiquita officials and board members were allowed to plead anonymously and pay a $20 million fine over five years.

The last half of the documentary concerns Nicaraguan and Ecuadoran workers’ ongoing battle against DDT, DPCP and other dangerous pesticides banned in the US and EU. These poisons are responsible for a horrifying epidemic of sterility, birth defects, cancer and liver disease among plantation workers.

As of 2017, Danish inspectors were still finding traces of dangerous pesticides in bananas imported from Denmark. See Danwatch English


*For example it’s a myth bananas can’t be kept in the refrigerator – if you refrigerate them, they last longer and you won’t buy as many.

 

 

The 1972 US Coup Against Australia

Hot Money and the Politics of Debt

RT Naylor

McGill-Queens University Press (2004)

Book Review

Hot Money is about the trillions of dollars of global financial activity that is never recorded in official economic statistics. Corporate money laundering of illegal narcotics profits is the form of “hot money” that gets the most publicity. However according to Naylor, it accounts for a relatively small proportion of “hot money” percolating through offshore banks and dummy corporations.

Most “hot money” starts out as funds generated via “legitimate” business which rich elites sebd offshore to avoid taxes or in anticipation of economic calamity or regime change. All the world’s most ruthless dictators stashed funds in Swiss banks or similar financial havens prior to being deposed.

A sizeable chunk of hot money is generated from other illegal enterprises, such as gun running, illegal arms deals, prostitution, phony charities and religious groups (eg Reverend Moon’s Unification Church and L Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology) and government agencies (eg CIA) who use “hot money” to finance coups and insurgencies.

For me, the high point of Hot Money  is the excellent history Naylor provides of the CIA role in the world heroin and cocaine trade, especially their move to make Afghanistan the major global supplier of heroin.

Nalylor also provides a detailed history about the role of the Vatican Bank as a “hot money” center, the rise and fall of Propaganda Due (P2), a secret collaboration between the CIA, Mafia and right wing Masonic lodges that infiltrated all aspects of Italian public life in the 1970s; the role of Nazi war criminals Klaus Barbie and Josef Mengele in setting up Latin American death squads and cocaine networks; the rise and fall of the two biggest CIA banks, Australia’s Nugan Hand Bank and the Bank of Commerce and Credit International;  and the importance of “hot money” in the Iran Contra scandal, in which the Reagan administration illegally sold weapons to Iran to finance the Contra war against Nicaragua.

The most shocking chapter describes the role of the Nugan Hand Bank in funding a bloodless coup US Naval Intelligence carried out against Australia in 1972 – to remove a prime minister whose political views were inconsistent with US interests. Most Americans are totally unaware of this heinous attack against a close US ally. I’ve only learned of it since moving to New Zealand (Australia is New Zealand’s closest neighbor).

CIA Cocaine Trafficking, Bill Clinton and the Mena Airport

The Mena Connection

Directed by Terry Reed (1985)

Film Review

The Mena Connection establishes unequivocally that both Vice-president George H. W. Bush and Governor Bill Clinton had direct involvement in the CIA’s cocaine smuggling operation at Arkansas’ Mena Airport during the 1980s. Aircraft loaded with illegal weapons for the Contras in Honduras returned to Mena with tons of Columbia cocaine used to finance the operation. Reprising documentary evidence Reed presents in his 1994 bestselling book, Compromised: Clinton, Bush and the CIA , the film also establishes that Clinton also deliberately obstructed investigations into Mena by local and federal prosecutors and the IRS.

Half the documentary is devoted to exposes a local Arkansas TV reporter and a WMAQ (Chicago) reporter did on cocaine smuggling at Mena during the congressional investigation into Iran Contra.* The other half consists of lengthy interviews with whistleblower Terry Reed and his wife Janis.

An experienced Vietnam War pilot, in 1983 Oliver North recruited Reed to participate in The Enterprise, a CIA operation to assemble and deliver untraceable weapons to Contra rebels fighting to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. Reed also trained Contra pilots in “night flying” – landing without runway lights – on a remote mountainous airstrip eleven miles from Mena.

According to Reed, the CIA shut down the Mena operation shortly Iran Contra scandal broke in 1986, shortly after movingthe guns-for-cocaine operation to Mexico. Soon after Reed moved his family to Guadalajara, his CIA control order him to participate in the cocaine smuggling side of the operation. Things got nasty when he refused to comply and submitted his resignation. The Department of Justice attempted to frame him and his wife for drug smuggling.

They spent the next two years fighting the conviction. Following their 1991 acquittal, Reed filed suit against Arkansas law enforcement and Clinton administration officials who had framed him. Both Reed and Arkansas Congressman Bill Alexander, whose efforts to obtain a General Accounting Office investigation into Mena were blocked by the CIA, believed the lawsuit would lead to Clinton’s impeachment.

In a roundabout way it did. Owing to CIA interference, it proved impossible to impeach Clinton for cocaine smuggling or money laundering. Ultimately the only charge Congress could make stick was lying under oath about a sexual affair with a White House intern.


*The Iran Contra Affair was a political scandal in which senior Reagan administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to Iran (an enemy state) to secure funding for CIA-sponsored Contras in Nicaragua.

The Origins of American Empire – What They Didn’t Teach You in School

Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States – Prequel A

Directed by Oliver Stone (2014)

Film Review

Owing to the series’ great success, Oliver Stone has produced two prequels to his  Untold History of the United States. The first traces the origins of America’s present empire-building spree at the end of the 19th Century.

Stone credits Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward (1861-69) for the launch of America’s imperialist ambitions. Following the US conquest of half of Mexico in 1848, Seward sought to expand US empire even further by conquering Alaska, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Midway.The US would eventually succeed in annexing all of these territories, except for Canada, Haiti and the Dominican Republic – although they only formally possessed the northern section of Columbia, which they renamed Panama.

Then, as now, the US undertook these military adventures at the behest of Rockefeller, JP Morgan, William Randolph Hearst and other Wall Street robber barons. After the severe depression of 1893 (which caused 20% unemployment), they were convinced the only way to prevent further economic instability was to conquer foreign countries for their resources, cheap labor and markets for surplus US products.

During this period, US troops also invaded Cuba, the Philippines, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and China for the benefit of Standard Oil, United Fruit and other US corporations. Stone quotes extensively from General Smedley Butler’s War is a Racket. Butler participated in nearly all of these invasions.

Stone goes on to trace the British, French, US and czarist designs on Middle Eastern oil that were the true basis for World War I and the invasion of Russia by British, French, US and Japanese troops following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. I was unaware the US refused to recognize the Soviet Union until 1933, when Roosevelt took office.

My favorite parts of this film concern the brave rebels who opposed this US imperialist aggression despite a brutal federal crackdown on all protest activity: Mark Twain and other in the Anti-Imperialist League, Eugene Debs, Bill Haywood and International Workers of the World, Emma Goldman and Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones).

CIA Drug Trafficking on Prime Time TV

Kill the Messenger: Montel Williams with Mike Levine & Gary Webb

(1996)

Film Review

This film is a historic 1996 talk show featuring late San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb, DEA whistleblower Michael Levine and Lance Cole, special council for the Kerry Committee (the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations), and Black Congressional Caucus member Charles Rangel. For balance, a CIA troll from the right wing lobby group Accuracy in the Media also appears.

The show first aired months after Webb’s “Dark Alliance” expose first appeared in the Mercury News. This series was based on extensive documentary evidence that CIA operatives who armed and trained the Contras who tried to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government smuggled tons of cocaine into US for inner cities.

The show begins with a recorded interview with Freeway Ricky Ross (from prison) revealing that he sourced the cocaine he distributed to inner city gangs from CIA operative Oscar Blandon.

Six years later Webb would mysteriously “suicide” by shooting himself twice* in the face with a shotgun (see Webb Murdered?).

His life is recounted in the 2014 film Shoot the Messenger.


*Twice?????

How to Make Money Selling Drugs

drugs4

How to Make Money Selling Drugs

Directed by Matthew Cooke (2013)

Film Review

How to Make Money Selling Drugs is a biting satire on the ludicrous “War on Drugs” and its perverse effect of increasing American drug use.

Mimicking an investment informercial, the mockumentary guides viewers on how to move up the ranks from gang-backed street peddler, to private retailer, to distributor, to domestic and/or international smuggler, to drug cartel king pin.

It also offers expert advice on how to beat a case, how to conceal drugs in a vehicle and how to get crooked cops to work for your franchise. It also profiles an ex-cop who can get you off if the police plant narcotics in your car.

My favorite part of the film is a cameo by Freeway Ricky Ross, who late San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Web made world famous for his role in distributing cocaine the CIA smuggled into the US to fund their illegal war against Nicaragua.

The video can’t be embedded (for copyright reasons), but you can watch it for the next few weeks at the Maori TV website: How to Make Money Selling Drugs

 

Untold History of the US: Rise of the New Right

Part 8 of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States covers the Ford, Carter and Reagan presidencies.

The Ford Presidency

Gerard Ford, appointed to the vice presidency after corruption charges forced the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew, assumed the presidency (with Nelson Rockefeller as vice president) when Nixon resigned in 1974. Ford’s most notable foreign policy was to end the détente* negotiations Nixon initiated with the Soviets to minimize the risk of nuclear war.

The Carter Presidency

Peanut farmer and former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter narrowly defeated Ford in 1976 on a platform that promised to end the arms race, reinstate détente negotiations and end US military intervention in third world countries.

According to Stone, Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (also Obama’s long time member) destroyed Carter’s presidency by forcing Carter (who had no foreign policy experience) to renege on his election promises. Under pressure from Brzezinski, Carter refused to return the Shah to Iran for trial following the 1978 Iranian revolution,** as well as restoring military aid to El Salvador’s right wing dictatorship in 1980 and secretly funding and training a jihadist Muslim insurgency to oppose the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The Reagan Presidency

Like Carter, former California governor Ronald Reagan also had no foreign policy experience and allowed anti-communist CIA and Pentagon hawks to fill this vacuum. Under Reagan, CIA director William Casey stripped the CIA of any officials who resisted his policy of falsely blaming the Soviets for CIA-inspired terrorist activities. Casey also started the illegal Contra army that tried to overthrow Nicaragua’s democratically elected government, in addition to funding and training death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala to assassination union officials, intellectuals and human rights advocates. Casey and National Security Council member Oliver North also initiated the illegal arms deal with Iran that financed the Contras after Congress discontinued their funding.

In 1985 President Mikhail Gorbachev approached Reagan about negotiating a bilateral disarmament package that would phase out all nuclear weapons by 2000. Initially receptive, Reagan rejected Gorbachev’s condition that the US keep their Strategic Defense (Star Wars) Initiative in the lab. Reagan also refused Gorbachev’s proposal to participate in a joint peacekeeping force in Afghanistan following Soviet troop withdrawal.

Reagan left office in 1988 in disgrace over the Irangate scandal. He was also responsible for doubling the national debt, thanks to a massive increase in military expenditures coupled with sizeable tax cuts. In 1985, the US switched from being a creditor nation to being the biggest debtor nation.


*Détente is defined as the easing of hostility or strained relations between countries.

**This decision would cost Carter the 1980 presidential race when Iranian militants took 52 US Embassy employees hostage in 1979.

Part 8: Reagan, Gorbachev & Third World: Rise Of The Right