[I wrote it Thursday morning and gave it earlier today- Friday. It doesn't really have a title, but if it did, I guess it would be something along the lines of Violence in the Circulation of Capital between Honduran and the U.S. The best thing about it, clearly, is the flowchart.]
Marx's work on the circulation of capital describes how commodities become capital, then through the acquisition of additional resources, are transformed back into commodities, which are then transformed into more capital, etc. In the short time I have lived in Washington, DC (since the week before the June 28th 2009 U.S.-supported coup in Honduras), I have come to understand a little more clearly the role of different kinds of violence—structural, symbolic, political in particular—in this circulation. Yesterday morning over breakfast, when I decided to rewrite my paper, I drew a small flow chart (click for slightly larger version):
There are many places this scheme could originate. Here, I focus on the circulation of capital between Honduras and the U.S. and start with one of the core tenets of neoliberal economic policy facilitating the concentration of wealth: regressive taxation. This exercise in uncovering the mechanisms behind Marxian circulation provides something of a snapshot of how we participate in violence done to Hondurans and to ourselves at multiple levels—as taxpayers, as scholars, through symbolic violence, and elsewhere. To give a few examples:
Our regressive taxes go toward direct aid. In Honduras, this aid can take the form of the whitewashing Truth Commission set up by the State Department, led by Eduardo Stein and rejected by all major human rights organizations--it embargoes much of its data for 10 years, starts from a position of accepting impunity for crimes committed during the coup, and refuses to recognize that a coup took place. A very high-level U.S. Senate aide bragged to me a few months ago, "I got Eddy a million dollars and said, 'let’s make this thing work'" and then swore me to silence. The truth commission is a performance of democracy intended to effect the acceptance of Honduras’s ongoing coup government by the community of nations despite the unified stance of the massive Honduran resistance movement against recognition of the government they themselves do not recognize. It is thus a mechanism to squelch democratic practices in Honduras by supporting the coup, carried out to protect the interests of the small Honduran oligarchy who financed it and paid for lobbyists in Washington like the Clinton’s best friend Lanny Davis, and which has used its monopoly on the Honduran mainstream media to promote the idea first, that what happened was not a coup, and then, that it may have been a coup, but it was a golpe a mucha honra a Good Coup, and that the real threats to Honduran democracy come not from coups, but from the resistance movement, redefined as gangs and terrorists, a narrative reinforced by the death porn on the front pages of the newspapers every day. Protecting the coup and ongoing extreme state violence carried out to ward off the threat of participatory democracy and the redistribution of ill-gotten wealth that this might imply, also protects U.S. economic and military interests in Honduras, thereby fortifying the control that corporations hold over our own government, preventing democracy from taking hold here, and effecting policies like…
Our regressive taxes, which through USAID, are spent on things like the recent Conference on Honduras…
…a large gathering of mostly U.S.-based evangelical non-profits led by Marco Cáceres, a military and aerospace contractor with openly messianic delusions, who recently published a book:
The conference, which in previous years has been sponsored by the U.S. military, was opened last month by U.S. ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens and closed by the de facto president of Honduras Porfirio Lobo Sosa, and featured several other speakers from USAID, the State Department, and the U.S. military Southern Command, or SOUTHCOM, in Honduras. Here are some images from one of the previous conferences:
Its purpose? Whitewashing through the promotion of a Social Darwinist narrative painting Honduran culture as one of violence and lack, the complicity of all the actors present at the conference (the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, the U.S. military, the State Department, the Honduran elites present) in the usurpation of Honduras’s fragile electoral democracy. This usurpation of course empowered them all, transformed as it was into a greater concentration of capital among Honduran and U.S. corporate actors, preventing democracy (electoral or otherwise) from taking hold in the U.S., and pushing for a deepening of neoliberal reforms like corporate deregulation and more…
Regressive taxes, spent by USAID on technically-oriented "democracy promotion" programs grounded in the theory that Honduras’s lack of democracy is cultural and emic, rather than based, for example, in the U.S. State Department’s active support of a military coup carried out by a School of the Americas-trained general. Much of the funding goes directly to the Honduran de facto government that has refused to investigate the now hundreds of assassinations carried out by its own military, police and paramilitaries, like the assassinations of five small farmers by private security forces last week under the employ of oligarch and modern-day robber baron Miguel Facussé. Instead, such deaths are blamed on the victims themselves, as in this case, which provoked the State Department and Lobo government to call for a further increase in militarization of the region; or on the bogeyman of “common crime”.
Honduran State actors, in lockstep with the U.S. State Department, rely on a narrative of a culture of criminality to promote Plan Mérida- a plan for a vast infusion of police and military aid launched by John Negroponte in 2008 when he served as Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere—the same John Negroponte who in the 1980s oversaw the training of the infamous Battalion 3-16 death squad and covered up its activities in the State Department country human rights report. Plan Mérida builds on the logic of Zero Tolerance policies, which following Nancy Scheper-Hughes I have described elsewhere as effecting an “invisible genocide” in Honduras and which were introduced by consultant Rudolph Giuliani to Central America to criminalize poverty in order to increase investment, based on the bad science of “broken windows theory.” In other cases, USAID money goes to Honduran and international NGOs, which bear no accountability to the Hondurans for whose democracy they supposedly advocate, nor to the U.S.-based taxpayers who fund them. As such, they help prevent democracy from taking hold in either country, increase the concentration of capital, giving corporate actors to greater control the U.S. political system to promote things like…
More regressive taxes, which along with direct aid, are funneled indirectly to anti-democratic projects in places like Honduras through GONGOs, Government-organized NGOs like Freedom House, whose board members include Diana Villers de Negroponte, who as a fellow at the Brookings Institution has written lengthy reports on the Central American gang menace to justify Plan Mérida and whose husband is John D. Negroponte. In addition to creating its annual “freedom index” for the U.S. Government that last year listed Honduras, a coup-installed military dictatorship, as being freer than Venezuela and Nicaragua, Freedom House, which receives most of its funding from the U.S. State Department has long been engaged in actively coopting resistance movements through funding them to engage in culturalist reformist activities. The narratives GONGOs produce of violence as being a product of culture from below rather than power-culture-violence from above justifies both their existence as non-grassroots-affiliated policy advocates and the policies they promote, like more military aid, more policing. (symbolic violence, also fundamental to this picture, is off their radar) Like GONGOs, most NGOs also are funded indirectly by regressive taxes, in that their funding comes from unpaid corporate taxes laundered as philanthropy. Powerful NGOs like the Washington Office on Latin America, long the monopoly voice in Washington for human rights issues in Latin America, have carried out the agenda of the State Department, in open collaboration, legitimating a narrative about human rights violations as being diffuse and cultural, not political. Its "non-governmental" status enables WOLA associates to do things like testify before Congress as "experts" calling for increased spending on police and military aid to Honduras, when the police and military that carried out the coup and defend it through massacres and targeted assassinations. WOLA is funded by the Ford Foundation, by McLarty & associates, formerly Kissinger, McLarty and Associates whose vice-chairman is John D. Negroponte; by lobbyists for defense contractors; by maquiladora executives; and others. WOLA has been actively pressuring Honduran resistance members to accept Freedom House money under the condition that they depoliticize human rights as culture. The actions of NGOs and GONGOs lead to increased U.S. military training and aid to Honduras, which strengthens the power of the de facto government against the participatory and redistributive impulses of the resistance movement to the coup, which transforms itself into capital for Honduran and U.S. corporations, leading to…
A regressive model of taxation, where massive amounts of money spent on the military are indeed spreading our model of democracy all over the world and in particular to Latin America through SOUTHCOM which oversees our military bases throughout the region and training of Latin American militaries through institutions like the infamous School of the Americas, where Honduran military officials were permitted to complete their courses after June 28th, 2009. SOUTHCOM is just about to move in to its new $237 million facilities, funded with regressive U.S. taxes:
Sartre defines the intellectual as a radicalized companion of the masses, as opposed to the more prevalent "technician of practical knowledge.” When the wealthy and corporations are not taxed, and the resultant insufficient national budget is allocated to the military rather than education, only students with economic capital (or insurmountable debt) are rewarded with the diminishing cultural and symbolic capital of a university education. Faculty, even while we complain about it, embody as dispositions and desires the benchmarks of the industrial restructuring model taking over our schools that measure our performance on service industry standards for merit pay—said benchmarks are not calibrated to measure radicalized companionship of the multitude. As such, we remain technicians of practical knowledge. Our allegiance lies with our jobs, not than with the multitude. It’s time to get our priorities straight.
Last month, at the LASA meetings, over a bottle of really good mescal, Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, historian and former Honduran minister of culture under President Zelaya, handed me a small pile of documents from a workshop he had just attended at Florida International University in partnership with SOUTHCOM, funded by my regressive tax dollars. The FIU-SOUTHCOM website states: "Utilizing the notion of Strategic Culture, SOUTHCOM has commissioned FIU to conduct country studies in order to explain how states comprehend, interpret, and implement national security policy vis-à-vis the international system.” Among the "academics" present at the Honduran strategic culture workshop, I found there was a person claiming a false affiliation, experts in political destabilization, representatives of a business group that financed the Honduran coup, and a three-time graduate of the School of the Americas. The 13 already-published reports consistently describe countries as having “cultures” of victimhood, violence, and lack, reframing local exercises in democratic practice as dangerous and misguided to justify increased U.S. military occupation and using anthropology, as SOUTHCOM did in its 1962-65 Project Camelot, to create counterinsurgency plans.
In the largely spontaneous and massive resistance movement that arose in response to the Honduran coup, we can see what Foucault described in an interview as the possibility of “desubjectivation”—a recognition, albeit partial, of long-invisible structures of violence and people’s own participation in them. “The masks have come off,” Honduran resistance members say. Whereas so many Hondurans previously embodied symbolically violent Zero Tolerance understandings of themselves as the source of danger, that picture has now been complicated by a widespread recognition of the far more powerful violence of U.S. and Honduran capital, and the U.S. and Honduran militaries and other security forces defending it.
So yesterday morning, when I decided to rewrite this paper, I had a look at the session abstract. It states “…Finally, the participants will discuss their research in terms of their performative powers to produce a moral economy of violence research that links law and aesthetics that are inevitably influenced by writings of so-called objective scientists.”
What should we as academics and violence researchers perform? Certainly not the harmony ideology of “sanity” that was so nauseatingly performed by hundreds of thousands of people in Washington a few weeks ago, nor an aestheticization of violence. In my case, given the knowledge that I am complicit in the deaths of my friends through my participation in the circulation of symbolic, cultural and economic capital through the U.S. State, I have taken a cue from my Honduran colleagues and friends in “performing” outrage- by loudly denouncing the SOUTHCOM program throughout the hemisphere in collaboration with Latin American Anthropologists and anti-militarization movements; by regularly appearing on Honduran resistance radio to lay out and analyze the latest schemes of the shadier actors in Washington, and by generally attempting to transform anthropological analysis into militant action at every opportunity. Actions like this invariably get labeled by the beneficiaries of capital circulation as outside the anthropologist’s sphere of competence, radical, un-objective, and most commonly in my case, "not nice." But if we are to act as intellectuals, we study the violence of states and capital not just to understand it, we study it to stop it. That means risking our cultural and economic capital and questioning our participation in its circulation. And that means risking our jobs, and that’s okay.