Open Letter to South American Brothers



  Dear Sisters and Brothers of South America,
I am writing to you as a citizen of the Empire who like you is trying to survive in a world not of our making, not of our heart. I, and many like me in the United States, now find themselves--in our own country--aliens in a foreign land.
I am one American among many whose heart transcends the national boundaries of the United States, and whose soul sees God at work everywhere, in everyone, in languages and liturgies not my own.
I am one of those whose mind reels at the sight of a globe made obscenely rich for some and sinfully poor for others. I shrink at the thought of whole segments of the globe being gobbled up by the greed of international corporations aided and abetted by the power of the governments behind them. I join small group after small group who spend themselves to stop the US juggernaut and live with the frustration of our failure.
I suffer for those in my own country whose very livelihoods are being ruthlessly ‘outsourced’ so that US corporations can make obscene profits in obscene ways, can pilfer profits from the pockets of people who have worked hard all their lives only to be abandoned in the end by their own people.
Most of all, I weep for the fact that so many good people here in the land of well-meaning but sleeping giants see none of that at all.
The people of the United States are good, hardworking and generous people, who since WWII have been taught to define themselves in messianic proportions. What we have not been taught is to be self-critical. Having bested raging disregard for humanity in Germany, having blocked the absorption of Europe into a Germanic Empire, the intended assimilation of Asia into a Japanese one and the hope of collapsing Africa into an Italian one, we came to consider our own virtue as frozen in time. We failed to realize that the power we wrested from the powers of evil in Europe could in the end intoxicate our own sense of self, confuse our own goodness and blind us as a people to the evil latent in our own success.
When a people is imbued with the notion that they are unassailably great and good, self-criticism is out of the question. As a result, the distance between our assumptions about the nature of our system and the reality of our lives can be light years away from reality.
In the United States, Americans live on certain unquestionable absolutes. They believe with the naivete of children that Americans have never–would never--hurt anyone–despite our own history of segregation and Western territorial expansion that destroyed the Indian culture, wrested its lands and demoralized its peoples.
They are firm in their certainty that Americans have made the world better for everyone–despite our history of economic exploitation of global resources, and our “outsourcing” of menial jobs to women and small children around the world at slave wages.
They are sure that the American press is the only free press in the world–despite the fact that it took years for us to be told as a people that the government lied to us to get us into Vietnam, that, at very best, the dropping of the second atomic bomb at Nagasaki was purely experimental, and that, as anyone with common sense would know, given the failure of UN inspectors to find anything of major military threat in Iraq, intelligence that is ten years old is not ‘intelligence’ at all. It is at best an excuse to do what you have all ready decided to do, with or without the intelligence it would take to even begin to justify such an invasion of a sovereign nation.And now we are even being told that the reason people are resisting our incursion into Iraq is because “they”–whoever “they” happen to be that day--are ‘evil,’ ‘barbarians,’ and ‘haters of freedom.’
It is a sad and sorry state to be in when you are a citizen of what has been thought to be one of the truest democracies in the world.
We have been suckled on answers that have nothing to do with the real questions because all too many of the real questions exist outside this country. Questions are not our charism because we are still running on old answers:
The real question is: Why are masses of people around the world who work for the very corporations that once made US citizens rich, poor to the point of destitution. The old answer we have given ourselves for generations is that unlike us and our immigrant ancestors, they do not work as hard as we do.
We fail to realize that even in this country the kinds of jobs that made our largely illiterate and uneducated forebears financially stable–mining, small farms, street sweeping, track laying and large scale assembly lines–do not exist in this new generation. The tracks are laid, the mines are closed, the farms have been swallowed up in agri-business, machines sweep the streets and do the dishes now, not people. Even assembly lines have given way to mechanized manufacturing. A technological world finds itself on the brink of creating a permanent underclass and the answer we give poor people is to tear down the welfare system and tell them that they must find a job in economies that don’t have any for them.
The question is: Why is half the world starving when as a nation we have the money and the means to banish hunger from the face of the earth? The answer we argue is that the United States gives more money in foreign aid than any other nation on earth.
Yet, of the 22 major donor nations of the world, the US ranks 22 out of 22 in per capita foreign aid–and most of that military, not agricultural–though citizens of the US staunchly, stubbornly, believe that we lead the list! The point is that we have not begun to give what people really need now.
The question is: Why are indigenous lands being devoured by corporations everywhere and poor people left to drift across the globe with the seasons, sleeping in fields, looking for latrines, bent over in the hot sun picking produce that whites will not pick. And in a nation which without them would itself lack basic civic services, why is that government providing them no medical insurance, no legal protections from abuse, no civil rights ? Isn’t this modern slavery? Isn’t this economic colonialism? And if so, Why don’t the freest people in the world see it? The answer we give ourselves is that those people have never bothered to develop their resources.
We forget that this country alone owns, hoards or consumes 2/3 of the resources of the world, resources that otherwise would be used for the development of other nations besides our own.
The real question is: What responsibilities do the elites of the world have to the people of the world upon whom their riches depend? The old answer is far too commonly an appeal to rugged individualism–if other people really wanted to get rich, they could--or to a tired echo of the Protestant work ethic–God blesses the good--or to an arrogant reliance on distorted stereotypes of the ignorant foreigner.
“We have managed,” I pointed out in a public lecture one day, “to export our industries but we haven’t figured out yet, it seems, how to export our salary levels, our pension plans, our paid vacations or our medical insurance.” A businessman in the back of the hall was outraged at the very thought of my criticizing US business practices around the world. “Well, they are certainly better off with our jobs than without them, aren’t they?” he argued back. “Let me get this straight,” I said. “Aren’t you saying that they are better off with our injustice than without it?” And his answer to me was that we can’t do more because “Higher wages wouldn’t be right for ‘those’ people in ‘that’ culture.” As if housing and clothes and shoes for a baby can possibly be improper to anybody’s culture.
The question is: How is that a country that claims to operate under the Rule of Law refuses with impunity to honor international law, makes the abuse of prisoners a military tactic, teaches torture to other nations at its vaunted School of the Americas,–renamed “The Western Hemisphere Institute of Security Operations” to sterilize its intent-- and then defies the international community by refusing to recognize the right of an International Military Tribunal to prosecute North Americans, too, for war crimes.
And the answer is that we are rich enough, big enough and powerful enough to ignore international law. The answer is that we call other people ‘evil.’ We label the unarmed resistance of poor nations ‘terrorism’ because it targets civilians . Then, at the same time, we fund state terrorism–with all its ‘shock and awe’–that both kills civilians and damages the infrastructure, government, and culture of a people for generations to come.
We must stop stirring up a hatred of poor people’s guerrilla fighters and start asking ourselves why it is that children danced in the streets of Pakistan when the Twin Towers fell in New York City.
We must build a world based on equity, not on our new Foreign Legions.
We must together build a world so just that frustration is no excuse for terrorism. We must begin to admit that though there is no justification for terrorism, there is too often a serious explanation for it. Just war is only for nations of equal might. Terrorism is what you get when the strong wreak crass and continual injustice on the weak.
Most of all, we must remember that of the 24 nations bombed by the United States after 1946, not one of them developed and maintained a democratic system as a result of it. We are a globe-full of differences, a holy Tower of Babel meant by God to be conscience and companion, support and sign of truth to one another. Only mutual respect of those differences will ever bring peace, bring justice, bring world community. If there is such a thing as a “just war” with today’s globe destroying armaments, it would only be for nations of equal might.
So what is the answer to this rise of the new imperialism and the threat of the new Empire? You are. I am. Governments everywhere are in collusion or in fear. The rich in mine are manipulating, buying off, pressuring the rich in yours. It is, then, you and I who must stand together.
This is an empire that is not without heart. It is an empire without insight. The people themselves will listen if you and I will only cry out to them.
This is not an empire without conscience. It is an empire without real global information. The people need to know what is being done in our name and they must hear it from us every day, in every way possible. We must not be afraid to speak out. We must only be afraid of becoming what we hate.
This is not an empire without soul. It is an empire without the hint of an idea that its ideals–personal freedom, economic independence, religious toleration–may be holy but the present implementation of the ideas that drive them are narcissistic. The people of the United States must be brought to see that what is good for us is not necessarily good for the rest of the world. What we want–strawberries in wintertime and cheap shoes all the time--is not necessarily ours to have unless we are willing to pay to others to supply those things what we are willing to pay ourselves. What we desire we do not have the right to get--without counting the cost to others.
We must bind together, you and I, to stand up, to speak out, to say our truth, to cite our experience, to demand our due. We must say no to this Emperor, yes, but most of all, we must make our appeal to the people of the United States whose own lives are at risk because of a government whose God is oil, whose shrine is money, and whose Creed is the civil religion of the United States.
Finally, you and I must not abandon one another. We must not allow them to make us enemies. Together with Jesus we must walk the road to Jerusalem, unbinding the dead with hope, making the blind to see, freeing women to proclaim the resurrection, curing those men who have been paralyzed by the system and so “have not stood up straight their entire lives.”
That is our agenda for 2005. That is the only answer to the New Imperialism: we must not, under any circumstances–for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of the world--agree to salute this emperor, any emperor, whose reign defies the Reign of God.


Eire, Estados Unidos

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