Agrarian Policy of the United States of America Towards Latin America

Agrarian Policy of the United States of America Towards Latin America

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By James Petras

Since the end of World War II, US policy toward Latin America has changed dramatically. Essentially we can divide it into three different periods based on the different political-economic interests within the United States, the socio-political alliances with Latin American elites and the particular relationship with the global interest of the United States.


Since the end of World War II, US policy toward Latin America has changed dramatically. Essentially, we can divide it into three different periods based on the different political-economic interests within the United States, the socio-political alliances with Latin American elites, and the particular relationship with the global interest of the United States:

(1) Extractive Phase: dictatorships, direct investments and landlordism: 1945-59;
(2) Reform, democracy and the progressive bourgeoisie: the alliance for progress: 1960-1973;
(3) Modernization from above and from the outside: 1974-2000

This article supports several theses:

(1) American agrarian policy has no permanent allies, only permanent interests. Alliances shift from traditional latifundia owners to agrarian reformers and even bequeath to commercial agribusiness exporters depending on changes in political and social power within Latin America.

(2) The policy of the United States always supported a selective free trade policy towards Latin America. Beginning with the Caribbean and Central America in the 1940s and 1950s and spreading south after the mid-1970s, Washington attempted to capture food markets and link Latin agriculture to US agricultural equipment and chemical manufacturing companies. .

(3) Free trade policy in the United States was blocked in the 1960s and early 1970s by nationalist and left-wing regimes in South America and Mexico, for extended periods, particularly after the Cuban Revolution, and was forced to adopt a policy to accommodate the Agrarian Reform as a strategy to avoid the Socialist Revolution.

(4) Washington contributed to the defeat of rural popular movements in the 1960s and early 1970s and the installation of authoritarian regimes, which reversed the reforms but did not restore the pre-reform latifundia. In Index Seminar XVIII Seminar XVIII, James Petras, p. Instead, Washington favored a capital-intensive modernization of agriculture that marginalized traditional landowners and peasants in favor of large-scale commercial farms, subcontracted farmers, and market-integrated medium-sized farmers.

(5) Free market agricultural policy is guided by Washington's search for new outlets within Latin America for investors, a trade surplus in its quest to reduce its global trade deficits, and the promotion of the specialization of Latin agriculture to provide with cheap food imports to keep local inflation low and provide local workers with low-priced food.

(6) "The opening" of Latin American agriculture since the 80's is part of a "neo-liberal strategy" that affects all sectors of the Latin American economy. Sociopolitical forces within Latin America promote deregulation, export specialization, privatization, and the reduction of social spending; they are the same forces that are channeling credits, loans, and technical assistance to large-scale agribusiness exporters. The alliance between Washington and the free traders of Latin America is polarizing and concentrating wealth and land in a minority of transnational capitalists. In the countryside, there are the export sectors and in the cities, the financial and manufacturing groups tied to the international circuits.

(7) The free trade policy of the United States is sparking large-scale and long-term rural protest movements, resistance, and social mobilization throughout Latin America. As rural movements gain traction, they are building alliances with urban movements and radical political parties, both of which defy US agricultural policies are not only damaging local food supplies and undermining small-scale producers, but also they are igniting the most significant sociopolitical opposition to the neoliberal model.

Extractive phase: 1945-59.

Just after World War II, American investors concentrated their investments in mining and agriculture. The areas of greatest interest were the Caribbean and Central America. Washington allied itself with the classes that owned large lands and established authoritarian regimes: Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Batista in Cuba, Somoza in Nicaragua, Pérez Jiménez in Venezuela, Duvalier in Haiti, Dictators offered free entry to markets and regulations liberals for investment. Indeed, these were the times of early liberalization 'where US investors were concentrating on extracting profits from export enclaves in mines and plantations. Investment patterns in the United States began to change in the early 1950's (Seminar XVIII, James Petras, p. 3) particularly in South America and Mexico, when large-scale manufacturers began to invest to overcome established tariff barriers. through import substitution policies. The extractive economic policy linked to the alliance, with political dictators and traditional landowners, provoked popular rebellions particularly in Guatemala and Bolivia in the early 1950s. Washington's response varied in each case.

In Guatemala, the democratically elected Arbenz regime passed legislation that legalized unions and expropriated uncultivated land owned by the Unite Fruit Company. The United States organized a boycott and later successfully overthrew the government through a CIA-led coup. In Bolivia, the United States accepted a land reform and expropriated the Bolivian landowners and allied with middle-class nationalists to prevent a miner-led socialist revolution. The different responses demonstrate both the rigidity and flexibility of Washington on issues of agrarian change. Rigidity when land reforms affect America's business interests, flexibility when they don't. It is equally important to note that Washington's imperial power was not unlimited. Even in the 1950s, radical challenges from below emerged and were successful on occasion.

The Cuban Revolution: its significance for the agrarian policy of the United States: 1959-62.

The Cuban Revolution had a great impact on United States policy toward Latin American agriculture. Prior to the revolution, Washington never questioned its alliances with traditional landowners because they were the most favorable class for the "open free trade economy." Most of the United States agricultural experiment stations and technical assistance missions, especially the Rockefeller program in the development of new hybrid seeds, were geared towards programming large-scale export farming.

The Cuban Revolution, in the course of its first three years, expropriated most of the large-scale plantations owned by the United States and Cubans, sugar factories, and cattle ranches. He converted many state farms and cooperatives and distributed land to smallholders.

The first and second agrarian reforms created a rural base of political support for the socialization of the rest of the economy, thus making Cuba the first socialist country in the hemisphere. When the United States cut Cuba's sugar quota, the Castro regime developed commercial ties with the former Soviet Union, China and maintained its ties with Canada and Western Europe. As a result of the Cuban Revolution, the authors of United States policy began "to rethink politics" in Latin America with two purposes in mind:

(1) how to limit the appeal of the Cuban Revolution in Latin America;
(2) how to prevent the social struggles for agrarian reform from uniting with the workers' movements in the cities and thereby producing a social revolution. (Seminar XVIII, James Petras, p. 4)

President Kennedy proposed the Alliance for Progress which combined land reform and the promotion of an alliance between Latino industry and North American multinational corporations. Along with social reform, Kennedy fought for free and scheduled counterinsurgency elections: elections to win over the Latino middle class and military repression to stop the political advance of radicalized peasants, workers, and students. Political conditions on the American continent were ripe for social revolutions: large-scale peasant movements were active in Peru, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and other countries. Rural guerrillas emerged in Venezuela, Guatemala, Peru, and Colombia; urban mass movements in the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina were on the rise. These movements rejected the "free market" and the open-door policies of the United States-Latin America alliance. Washington made economic aid conditional on legislation promoting agrarian reform, hoping that pressure on the Latino regimes would form a new reformist alliance between peasants and the middle class to lessen radicalization in the countryside. The agrarian reform legislation was formally approved, but was not implemented and was filled with administrative obstacles. Middle-class electoral regimes were unable or unwilling to put landlords at risk, as many of them had economic, political, and family ties to rural elites and were fearful of peasant radicalism. Furthermore, the military repressed peasant militants and intervened to minimize agrarian changes that endangered the landed elite.

The United States adopted a contradictory policy of support to the agrarian reform, and the military counter-reform. The result of the Alliance for Progress was a deepening of radicalization. By the end of 1963 politicians in Washington were debating whether to end their support for land reform and move toward a more politically acceptable "elite modernization strategy." The resolution in part came with the US-backed military coup in Brazil in 1964. This was the beginning of the end of Washington's flirtations with land reform policy. The Brazilian military destroyed peasant movements and embarked on a large-scale, long-term commitment to an export-led agriculture strategy, financed by the World Bank and USAID and supported by the public and private agricultural agencies of the States. United. While Washington viewed the Brazilian strategy as a model of "modernization from above and from without" for Latin America, it had to accommodate other realities in other parts of Latin America. In Chile and Peru, reformist regimes (Christian Democrats and the left in Chile, military nationalists in Peru), instituted large-scale redistributive policies, ending the latifundia and establishing new rural cooperatives.

Without any social alternative in it (Seminar XVIII, James Petras, p. 5) then, Washington did not resist the changes, particularly since North American investments were concentrated in non-agricultural sectors. Washington, in the context of limited political leverage, sought reform to avoid revolution, as free market policy was not a viable alternative. Washington without much ceremony abandoned its previous alliances between Chilean and Peruvian landowners to open its arms to the new middle-class reformists, for the time being. In the early 1970s, the crisis and confrontations deepened in Latin America: social reforms were reaching unacceptable levels for the local capitalist class and its allies in Washington. Starting in South America the military coups backed by the United States in Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Ecuador. Washington decided to end its support for the policy of reform and negotiation. He decided to make a radical change in his general strategy towards Latin America with a new group of economic elites and a new group of decision-makers.

Modernization "from above and without": 1974-2000.

If the Cuban revolution marked the turn toward US agrarian policy 'reform', the Chilean counter-reform of 1973 signaled a decisive shift in US policy toward neoliberalism, the unfettered establishment of a free trade policy, and the ancestry of agribusiness. From the mid-1970s onwards, the conceptual framework, the vocabulary of agrarian-political economics, changed dramatically, reflecting changes in power. Terms like "agrarian reform", "cooperative agriculture", "redistributive policy" and others associated with the ascendancy of massive peasant movements of the previous decade disappeared. Instead agrarian experts, and politicians in Washington and Latin America spoke the language of "modernization," "market forces," "export strategies," and "efficiency," reflecting the ideology and power of corporate agriculture. Of course the real issue was not productivity versus social reform as some advocates of corporate policy argued. The real issue was political: social relations, land tenure and the market strategies that would be established. Development strategies are not driven by "technology", but by land tenure patterns. Social organization determines the types of technology developed and applied. The new era of the Counter Reformation was not about a restoration of previous forms of latifundio-based agriculture, rather it moved towards the "corporatization of agriculture."

Multinational corporations and the US government no longer found use in the intensive labor and extensive farmland of the past. Not only because of their inefficiency, but because they were so lacking in forward and backward ties within the agribusiness matrix. 6) Washington was interested in reversing reformed peasant-based agriculture and integrating the new capitalist agriculture into the international market using expensive inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, seeds, farm machinery) and in providing cheap agricultural goods for North American processors and exporters. Brazil was the vanguard of the new US-Latin America strategy (partly because it began almost a decade before the rest of Latin America). Brazilian military dictators promoted specialization in the large-scale cultivation of products for export (soybeans, coffee, orange juice, etc.). The United States was deeply involved in the sale of imports and particularly in the export trade.

Meanwhile, the military repression of peasant movements and the elimination of the agrarian reform led to a pronounced decline in the percentage of the population living in the countryside and massive emigration to the rural areas.
favelas or lost cities of large cities. A large gap developed, a gulf between the export-oriented corporate sectors and displaced or bankrupt peasant producers, some of whom migrated to the big cities of the southeast or to the Amazon to create areas of survival. Chile under Pinochet followed the "Brazilian experience." The regime promoted the restoration of expropriated land with a concerted effort to foster new agricultural businesses and fruit exports among new investors. The neo-liberal regime did not recreate the old latifundio system. What followed the dismantling of the agrarian reform sector was the forced growth of highly export-intensive agriculture linked to world markets. Pinochet's strategy of "modernization from above and abroad" combined fruit exports to the US. run by a new elite of Chilean corporate producers. The peasants emigrated to the cities or became temporary farm workers, working in the fields or living in packing companies (packing proses).

In the early 1990s, a lucrative new international division of labor evolved, in which giant US conglomerates "hired" Latino farms and agro-corporate producers to produce specific crops to suit North American markets and provide seasonal crops. for example winter vegetables and fruits. The quality controls specified by the US Department of Agriculture were primarily concerned with appearance, size, and color with less concern for pesticides or other chemical content. The Political-Military Contact for the Ascendancy of Agro-businesses. The U.S. they began to become involved through a CIA-Pentagon-State Department relationship in collaboration with the military and economic elites of Latin America when establishing the neo-liberal regimes. Subsequently, the Department of the Treasury, Commerce, and Agriculture intervened to provide a multiple strategy for penetrating and promoting US interests in agribusiness. 7)

The Treasury provided the loans and its representatives in the World Bank financed the large agro-exporters, the irrigation projects, roads and transportation networks that linked the new agro-exporters to external markets, while isolating the small producers. from local markets. The Commerce Department promoted "open markets" for North American grain exports, gaining important market segments and converting some countries that previously had agricultural grain surpluses into food deficit countries. Liberal financial terms made by the US Export-Import Bank made it cheap for Latino importers to buy North American grains in order to ruin small and medium-sized local producers. The Department of Agriculture worked with the larger North American complexes Cargill, Archer Daniels, and others to promote North American control over marketing, as well as with North American chemical companies such as Monsanto, Dow Chemical, and so on. The US agency AID contracted with a number of North American universities to promote chemical-based agriculture linked to large-scale export-oriented units, thus creating a "knowledge industry" linked to multinational corporate production.

"Technical knowledge" was anchored in a particular form of corporate agriculture. What was assumed about production methods, markets, forms of production and populations, was based on beliefs derived from corporate strategies. Despite their commitments to multinationals, many of the American agricultural experts declared their "ideological neutrality." Only a minority of agrarian experts in the US sought to develop a "science for the people", creating appropriate technologies to provide nutritious and cheap food for local populations within the framework of equitable land tenure relationships. The integrated relationship between political, military, and agricultural agencies in the US government promoted by neo-liberal regimes, and "open agriculture" in Latin America, bore fruit. Latino consumption patterns changed, while North American processed food outlets expanded. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes replaced tortillas, Coca-Cola replaced fruit juices; McDonald’s replaced the snacks. Diet deficits grew, while consumption of imperialist products increased. Large-scale US investors took advantage of debt crises, deft-swaps, devaluations, and low land values ​​to buy valuable farmland.

At present, the North American speculator George Soros is the largest cattle exporter in Argentina. The pattern that is replicated in Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil, with other large European and Japanese North American investors. The main agrochemical and seed exporting companies have financed agricultural experimentation that has generated new seeds that are more "productive", but more expensive in terms of inputs. Thus, small producers are displaced, reducing species diversity and increasing vulnerability to new pests that create immunity to current chemicals in a cycle that never ends. 8) Equally important is the new agro-export strategy, which leads to the influence of overseas financing and in particular the role of international banks in "oiling the wheels of trade." In times of rising commodity prices this is not a problem; however sudden downward movements in prices and higher payments to banks lead to financial crises even for "corporate agrosectors". The net effect of the new "modernization" strategy is therefore not confined to the high exploitation, displacement and impoverishment of the poorest peasants, but to the bankruptcy and indebtedness of medium and even large farmers, as is the case of corn and wheat growers in southern Brazil, Mexico and other countries.

In the global perspective, Washington benefits from the emigration of peasants to the cities through the growth of a surplus labor population available for cheap work within the United States. and in the frontier industries. "Modernization from above" creates a mass of surplus workforce for light manufacturing, maquiladora plants that have become large "export platforms". The surplus of rural labor has served to put great downward pressure on the wage of the workforce, not only in Latin America but also in the United States, where threats of "leaving the country" discipline workers in the US a to keep wage demands low. The modernization strategy from above, promoted by the U.S. it has resulted in a highly polarized class society and uneven growth. A new class of billionaire Latin American "farmers" linked to US agribusiness companies rule over an increasingly poor peasant population, mid-sized farmers in bankruptcy or near bankruptcy, and farmers highly dependent on contracts. The result has been a spectacular success for US policymakers: they have consolidated a decisive economic position in Latin American agriculture, a position that influences Latin American policymakers and plays an important role in training complicit Latin American agronomists. Yet success in establishing North American hegemony has created contradictions and overt opposition.

(1) The impoverishment of traditional grain producers through unfair competition has motivated the production of drugs, cocaine, marijuana, etc., which has had negative repercussions on North American society.

(2) Large-scale social movements, such as the MST in Brazil, the Zapatistas in Mexico, the cocaleros in Bolivia, the peasant movements of Ecuador, the guerrilla and peasant movements in Colombia, the peasant movements in Guatemala, El Salvador, etc. , have played an important role in creating
political opposition poles not only towards agribusiness policies, but towards neo-liberal regimes. 9)

(3) The internationalization of production has raised prices but has left local consumers without food subsidies at a time when wages have declined and social benefits have been cut, creating an explosive urban population.

(4) The internationalization of investments creates greater vulnerability, as demand and prices fluctuate and investment sites change according to corporate preferences. The phenomenon of ups and downs of the speculative economy is deeply embedded in the new agricultural economy.

(5) Environmental damage accumulates, since agribusiness makes intensive use of chemicals, and this has raised a significant popular and professional environmental movement. The union between social justice issues and environmental groups creates the basis for a national political opposition that unites the peasants and the middle class.

(6) A new generation of agronomists with a critical perspective towards the "strategy of modernization from above" has emerged and is technically prepared as well as socially united with popular movements, to develop a new framework in agriculture which puts food issues and local land tenure in it, within the debates on production and technologies. Facing long-term and large-scale opposition between politicized and increasingly sophisticated rural movements, the agribusiness elite has turned to finance projects, which distract from the fundamental challenges of land tenure, ownership, financing and marketing. To undermine the opposition, they have designed "poverty programs" that provide temporary subsistence to peasants who are driven away from their land by market forces to prevent their social mobilization. The World Bank provides "self-help" and "microenterprise" funds in the interstices of the economy to direct the attention of impoverished peasants downward and inward. The Inter-American Development Bank supports local projects that impact limited populations in the short term without jeopardizing the power of elites over the agricultural macro-economy. Financial institutions support with funds certain NGOs oriented towards the private sector to undermine public programs and funds for peasants and small farmers. Microenterprises have little long-term, large-scale impact. Most microprojects cover few people, frequently fail but have a short-term political impact by getting the vote for neoliberals, a minority of progressive NGOs are allying with progressive and revolutionary peasant movements oriented towards social transformation. In the context of social movements, small local projects have joined social transformations, creating new models of democratic collective production. 10)


It is one of the greatest ironies of our time that the weakest link in the new global empire is precisely the rural areas. The capitalist transformation of agriculture has set in motion a new generation of peasants oriented to create movements linked to urban centers and international organizations such as "Via Campesina". The very success of neo-liberalism in concentrating wealth is leading to the accumulation of new forces at an alternative pole: landless rural people, peasants, progressive agronomists, urban workers, bankrupt farmers and professionals in the middle class. In the new millennium it is possible to see a new model of agriculture "from below and within", which is based on the technical skills of trained agronomists linked to the demands of social justice and participatory democracy of rural producers. The ruling class of the Americans is not omnipotent. Agricultural policies are not sent directly from the imperial center and are automatically implemented in Latin America. The establishment of North American free market policies reflect power relations. When Latin American regimes are controlled by politicians linked to export elites, Washington has great influence. Policies favorable to Washington are established. When nationalist or socialist regimes are in power, Washington is forced to face or adapt to the changes made in Latin America. Crucial to the execution of Washington policy is the union with the collaborating classes and policy makers in Latin America. Cuando están en el poder, Washington muestra una política de cooperación. Cuando emergen regímenes que tienen en la mente la reforma agraria y que persiguen estrategias alternativas, Washington intenta minarlos con presión económica y derrocarlos vía fuerza militar. El punto teórico es que las alternativas para las políticas de libre mercado surgieron en los 60’s y a principios de los 70’s, precedidos por una década de movilización social. Hoy podemos tomar las lecciones del pasado. Contra aquellos académicos que argumentan que la "globalización" o el imperialismo son inevitables, apuntamos al pasado reciente, cuando los movimientos políticos retaron y forzaron a los E.U. a modificar su agenda agrícola. Podemos apuntar al paralelismo entre los movimientos masivos crecientes en el campo en la actualidad y aquellos que surgieron en los 50’s, actividades que precedieron transformaciones políticas de los 60’s y de principios de los 70’s. La pregunta decisiva es si una estrategia alternativa puede ser desarrollada y un liderazgo político puede emerger, el cual unifica las luchas sociales a una estrategia política nacional, que vea hacia la profundización y a la extensión de los mercados locales, como ocurrió entre 1940-1980. La historia nos enseña a no ser esclavos de los amos del momento: dentro de cada movimiento rural se crean y se llevan a cabo las esperanzas y realidades de las nuevas sociedades

Video: US Interventions in Latin America Continue and Intensify (July 2022).


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