Guess Who Came to Dinner?
(Note: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a 60’s era film about inter-racial marriage, historically illegal in most of the US and still outlawed in one out of three states, when the film was released.)
It can be argued that musicians, athletes and actors such as Sidney Poitier helped, over the course of decades, to pave the way for the eventual acceptance of an African American as elected president of the United States. Nonetheless, when Air Force One touched down on the tarmac in San Jose, with Barack Obama aboard, the ensuing show was following a very different kind of script from this romantic comedy of almost 50 years ago.
Residents of San Jose were treated to a non-stop re-run of Blackhawk Down, as the skies were subject to constant aerial surveillance, ostensibly to insure the security of the POTUS. It is up for speculation as to whether the whole spectacle was choreographed to subliminally remind the assembled presidents of Central America, not to mention the population at large, as to just who runs the show in this part of the world. Not that it is really needed, of course, as the historian Samuel Huntington put it bluntly:
“The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.”
Conveniently swept under the red carpet, dutifully rolled out for the guest of honor, was the whole history of US military intervention in Central America. As if adding insult to irony, Obama landed in an airport named for Juan Santamaría, the kid who died fighting against foreign intervention. Meanwhile, back in Guatemala, the trial against former president Rios Montt for genocide against the indigenous Mayan population was headed towards a guilty verdict. Obviously, during Obama’s visit, no one dared to ask his opinion of a dictator who enjoyed the support of former president Reagan in the 1980’s,”a man of great personal integrity and commitment,” in the words of the former film star himself.
It goes without saying that kings, emperors and elected presidents of de-facto modern day empires don’t visit the nether regions of their realm to dispense apologies. They focus on the positive, the upside of subservience and collaboration with the broader strategic goal of imperial survival. In this part of the world, business and political elites have generally seen the light, the more unruly elements having been dispensed with by means of a variety of techniques outlined in the book “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” by former “consultant”, John Perkins.
Central Americans now get to see the milder, ‘General Audience’ version of Full Spectrum Dominance, the script penned in the Pentagon that underlies US strategic thinking. The drones, depleted uranium-tipped bullets and bunker buster bombs, the pyrotechnics of PG action films, are currently confined to other areas, not surprisingly, in and around the strategically vital, petroleum and resource rich areas of Africa and Asia. As mentioned above, “seeing the light” for those at the top of the socio-economic pyramid, carries with it the implicit notion of lining their pockets as part of the deal.
As in many other countries, those at the top of the food chain in Costa Rica are true believers in the gospel of globalization. The swords have been beaten into stock shares in the corporate Goliaths that now spearhead a softer—but at times equally lethal—projection of force and conquest of territory. The wholesale poisoning of rural populations and water supplies in Central America by the banana and pineapple multinationals, or the latest collapse of a multi-story garment industry sweatshop in Bangladesh serve as reminders that “the cult of money”, as Pope Francis recently pointed out, has replaced the golden calf of Biblical lore, as the false god that is the de facto icon of global worship. Humans provide the props, and Mother Nature the scenic backdrop for the latest screenplay that is the current global blockbuster.
“The Cult of Money” is increasingly the name of the game in US politics. Perhaps coincidentally, one of the first to recognize Obama’s potential as a leading man on the political stage was none other than Jeffrey Katzenberg, the DreamWorks Animation studio mogul who gave the junior senator his imprimatur—and a cool $1 million plus—to get him started in his first run for office. Bearing in mind that it takes billions to get elected, the following factoid should come as no surprise. Upon his return from Costa Rica, President Obama nominated billionaire Hyatt Hotels heiress Penny Pritzker for Commerce Secretary. Ms. Pritzker as it turns out is one of Barack’s ‘homies’ from the upper echelon hoods of his native Chicago, and has been handy to have on board for help with the tedium—not to mention the occasional heavy lifting—involved in financing two successful presidential campaigns.
Pardon the repetition, but emperors don’t apologize to the inhabitants of their realm. Like the kings of yore, they answer to a higher power. For the moment, Obama plays a leading role in the larger script that has concentrated wealth in increasingly fewer hands in the US. And those hands are throwing ever-larger amounts of money into the political circus, to ensure outcomes that favor their personal, political or corporate agendas. The ‘higher powers’ that Obama has to heed would seem to include, in addition to those mentioned above, all the Monsanto, Goldman Sachs and other corporate minions who have been installed in the current administration as part of the increasing phenomenon of ‘regulatory capture.’ For those of us with roots in the countryside, it’s known as the fox guarding the chicken coop.
At the meeting here in Central America, local leaders were hoping to glean at least a few crumbs off the table of an empire that finds itself overcommitted abroad and faced with a budgeting conundrum at home. The best they could obtain were some vague promises to help with supplies of natural gas from the much-ballyhooed boom in shale gas production back in the lower 48. Apart from the thousands of column inches in newspapers and hundreds of hours of video to be edited down to a few juicy ‘sound bites’ and ‘photo-ops’, little of substance remained to affect the everyday lives of centroamericanos as Air Force One lifted off the runway and winged its way home to Washington.
Yes, Obama ‘came to dinner’ and his Costa Rican hosts honored local traditions with a menu that featured the traditional dish pejibaye. Sadly, the menu at the presidential banquet was perhaps the only significant acknowledgement of regional realities. What the Central American business and political elite really needs to add to their diet is a healthy portion of huevos criollos. C’mon guys, let’s turn off the main feature and get the local show on the road.
Tom Peifer is an ecological land use consultant with 18 years experience in Guanacaste. 2658-8018. email@example.com
El Centro Verde is dedicated to researching and promoting sustainable land use, permaculture and environmentally sound development. www.elcentroverde.org/