During the 80s when I was in the military, I was deployed to Honduras twice as part of Reagan’s war on Nicaragua. The missions were both the same — practice deployment, provide some security for engineers who were building roads and airstrips, train the Hondurans a little, and basically show a US military presence.
The first trip sucked. The people in Honduras there were basically poor subsistence farmers. They owned little plots of land and grew the ”Aztec trilogy” — corn, beans, and squash — in enough quantity to feed themselves and sell a little at the local market. Worse — remember, I was a gung-ho, thoroughly-indoctrinated GI at the time — beer was scarce and all the farmers’ daughters were Catholic. So we weren’t able to do much drinking and whoring. All in all, a thoroughly shitty deployment.
A year later I was sent back — and what a difference a year made! I remember in particular one little town that I had also visited the first year. The second year the town had a cement block building! It was the combination town hall, police station, etc., all wrapped up into one.
But even more shocking was the terrain and the local population. During that year US ”foreign aid”[sic] started flowing big-time. All of the campesino’s (the family farmers) land was bought up and was organized into huge plantations. The plantations grew broccoli and strawberries to be exported to the US market.
For the now-unemployed family farmers, this was a social disaster. First, any one of them would sell you their daughter for the night, for the week, for however long you were willing to pay. That surprised me. Even more surprising was the way the farmers worked.
The former family farmers were forced to compete for jobs on the plantations. But there were jobs available only basically at two times of the year — planting season and harvest season. For the rest of the time the farmers were unemployed.
So, how did the people who imposed this system handle the situation? Alcohol was a key. Drunken farmers were all over the place and beer was cheap. I never saw obvious drunkeness in my first deployment. But in my then-warped view, the second deployment was much better — plenty of warm beer and warm farmers’ daughters.
The most shocking thing I saw was the role of US foreign aid. After all, those formerly independent farmers were now unemployed and half-starving most of the year. So the US gov’t came to the rescue! The US Agency for Int’l Development distributed huge sacks of wheat — complete with the American flag on each bag of wheat.
There was only one problem though.
Those people of rural Honduras didn’t grow wheat and were unfamiliar with it. They didn’t know how to cook with wheat. Again, the US gov’t came to the rescue! They distributed — I’m not kidding — these Spanish-language booklets of recipes and instructions on how to cook wheat.
I was dumbfounded. They took an honorable people who were poor — but surviving fine — and turned them into semi-employed beggars. The US got cheap broccoli and strawberries and some members of the Honduran oligarchy no doubt made out like bandits. But to me, it was a simple case of imperialism and capitalism ruining a viable culture and social structure.
(Draw your own parallels to the death of family farms in the US mid-west.)