Refusal to Connect the Dots: Analysing Rory Carroll's Portrayal of Latin America

Josh Watts, 11 May 2012 | 1 Comment

Categories: Latin America | The Guardian | Cuba | Politics |

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Between 2006 and his recent relocation to the United States, Rory Carroll reported from Caracas, Venezuela as The Guardian's South America correspondent. The selectivity and omissions characteristic of Carroll's work prompted Samuel Grove in Red Pepper to deconstruct in detail the bias of Carroll's reporting on Venezuela, which, he commented, 'borders on the farcical'.

An example can be found in Carroll's February 2012 report of Latin America confronting its 'bloody history' with 'a series of prosecutions and apologies that shine a light on decades-old atrocities'. Speaking specifically of Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala, he notes complicity of foreign powers only by means of 'a US-backed campaign against guerrillas that unleashed army massacres and scorched-earth policies against indigenous communities' in Guatemala, during the reign of General Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-3), who is now facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Carroll fails to mention the CIA-engineered coup of 1954, that prompted what Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano has described as ‘a series of ferocious dictatorships’ and an ‘orgy of violence’ wherein ‘the doors of the doomed were marked with black crosses’ and corpses turned up with ‘featureless faces too disfigured by torture to identify’1, and from which Montt’s rule followed. Contrary to what the report implies, the United States played decisive roles in all of the countries reported by Carroll to be facing their ‘bloody histor[ies]’, but such inconvenient facts escape the former South America correspondent. Further selectivity appears as Carroll frankly mentions that a United Nations Truth Commission confirmed that genocide took place during Montt’s rule, but neglects to inform the reader of the Commission’s further conclusion that US military assistance ‘had significant bearing on human rights violations during the armed confrontation’.

In another instance, Carroll was accused of manipulating an interview with linguist and intellectual Noam Chomsky, so as to present Chomsky to be ‘denounc[ing his] old friend Hugo Chavez for [an] “assault” on democracy’ - a conclusion branded ‘deceptive’ and ‘extreme[ly] dishonest’ by Chomsky himself.

A third example is an opinion piece by Carroll, marking the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Cuban revolution, in which he asks ‘Who Needs Che?’, and discussing Latin Americans’ ‘relief that the revolution stayed on its Caribbean island’ (though this relief is not actually attributed to any citizens of Latin America). This key article from 2009 illuminates Carroll’s tendency to limit extensively the role played by the United States in Latin American politics.

Carroll’s analysis begins with the comment that there are ‘No wistful imaginings of what Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru would look like today had the dominos toppled’. The reason for the ‘relief’ that the revolution was not exported, Carroll tells us, is ‘simple: people assume it would have been a debacle’. These people, he explains, ‘look at the penury Cubans have endured over the last five decades’ and ‘conclude, thanks, but no thanks’ (with regard to region-wide revolution). Though Carroll acknowledges the US embargo as ‘a longstanding, vindictive and demented policy which has pummelled Cuba’s economy’, he makes no link between the embargo and the penury of the Cuban people. Likewise, ‘Cuba’s calamitous living standards and totalitarian controls’ are anything but a consequence of its struggle against the ‘US empire’, which has, as Carroll informs readers, ‘bullied and corrupted the region for over a century’. How instructive it is that Carroll considers these facts, but does not join the dots.

We may wish to recall the terrorism openly carried out against Cuba over the last five decades: illegal sanctions and blockades; sabotage; propaganda campaigns; attacks by proxy forces (exiles trained in Florida and Guatemala); biological warfare; countless assassination attempts against its head of state; and outright invasion.2 The United States’ right to wage such war is so obvious, it seems, that it does not warrant thought. Historian William Blum has noted that which is ‘Equally obvious’: ‘the right of the United States to maintain a military base on Cuban soil - Guantanamo Naval Base by name, a vestige of colonialism staring down the throats of the Cuban people, which the US to this day, refuses to vacate’, the existence of which Carroll is apparently unaware.3

Carroll ponders: ‘Say the continent did bathe in blood and suffering, and at the end of it bested Washington and its proxies, then what?’ Such a statement implies that without Castro and Guevara ‘export[ing] their experiment’ the continent did not ‘bathe in blood and suffering’; a positively outrageous observation. Presumably readers are supposed to disregard the some 20,000 Marine-strong invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965, in violation of the Charter of the Organisation of American States;4 the Uruguayans burnt at the stake5; the thousands disappeared throughout Argentina, by means of ‘a fleet of greenish gray [Ford] Falcons’6; the year-old baby whose fingernails were pulled out with flat-nosed pliers in Chile after his mother did not break under torture; and ‘The discovery of mass graves of peoples previously believed to have “disappeared”’7; the longstanding support for the Somoza dynasty in Nicaragua and subsequent assembly of the Contra terrorist force, who engaged in the ‘assassination, torture, rape, kidnapping and mutilation of civilians’8 (with ‘the declared aim of destabilising the elected Sandinista government’)9; the advice on torture offered by American Dan Mitrione in Uruguay, whose ‘violent techniques of torture and repression’ (according to one senior Uruguayan police official) were taught in the basement beneath his home and duly exported throughout the region10; the horrors forced upon the Guatemalan population since the coup of 1954 (mentioned previously) which ‘revealed both the power of United States economic interests in the Central American Republics and United States hegemony in Latin America’ and brought Guatemala ‘back into line with United States policy’11. The list goes on. In light of such atrocities, Carroll’s asking ‘Who today can seriously wish [Che] had succeeded [in challenging the US empire?]’ is farcical, to say the least.

Let us consider the historic influence of Washington throughout Latin America. Russell Crandall, former Principal Director for the Western Hemisphere at the US Department of Defense (2009) in Foreign Affairs12 boasts of the US ‘[long being] Latin America’s master’ and of how ‘In the jungles and mountains of Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, American soldiers and diplomats used persuasion, coercion, and force to advance U.S. political and economic interests’ for much of the twentieth century. Crandall’s observations recount the role of the US Marines in the 1920s and 1930s, whose actions were perhaps best described by a State Department memorandum of 1927, which explained: ‘We do control the destinies of Central America and we do so for the simple reason that national interest absolutely dictates such a course . . . governments which we support stay in power, while those we do not recognize and support fail’13. Historian Greg Grandin, who served on the United Nations Truth Commission investigating the Guatemalan Civil War, has noted that:

By 1930, Washington had sent gunboats into Latin American ports over six thousand times, invaded Cuba, Mexico (again), Guatemala, and Honduras, fought protracted guerrilla wars in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Haiti, annexed Puerto Rico, and taken a piece of Colombia to create both the Panamanian nation and the Panama Canal.14

Continuing this trend, in a study of the Inter-American System, Gordon Connell-Smith observed that: ‘While paying lip service to the encouragement of representative democracy in Latin America, the United States has a strong interest in just the reverse’. Indeed, the National Security Adviser on Latin America and the Caribbean under Carter, Robert Pastor, explained that ‘the United States did not want to control Nicaragua [following the 1979 Sandinista revolution] or the other nations in the region, but it also did not want to allow developments to get out of control. It wanted Nicaraguans to act independently, except when doing so would affect U.S. interests adversely’ (his emphasis)15. Thus security may be sought by way of what Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman recognised in 1979 as ‘a deliberate policy of the military juntas’ across the Third World ‘with the purpose of removing any source of social criticism or leadership base for the general population’, including the ‘destr[uction of] all forms of institutional protection for the masses, such as unions, peasant leagues and cooperatives, and political groupings, making them incapable of defending themselves against the larger interests served by the state’16. Human rights specialist Lars Schoultz strengthens this point with his claim that the support lent authoritarian regimes is intended ‘to destroy permanently a perceived threat to the existing structure of socio-economic privilege, by eliminating the political participation of the numerical majority, principally the working or popular classes’.

US support, for the record, is extensive. In a study of the US arms trade, Michael T. Klare notes that ‘the United States stands at the supply end of a pipeline of repressive technology’ (his emphasis), concluding that ‘the United States, its government and its arms industry, is deeply involved in the delivery of repressive technology and techniques to foreign governments, including some of the world’s most notorious dictatorships’, which ‘has been used by these governments to murder, maim, or otherwise oppress civilian dissidents in violation of national and international law’17. Klare’s conclusion is in accord with the comments above, all of which are crystallised by the words of General Robert Porter, who told Congress in 1963 that United States aid and training programs in the Third World were ‘an insurance policy protecting our vast foreign investments’.18

Carroll is seemingly incapable of recognising this environment of aid with intent, and, consequently, equally unable to foresee the predictable fever of social upheaval and revolution such conditions give root to. Thus within this realm of logical deficit, there is understandably no correlation between the policy described by the aforementioned, particularly the arms trade explored by Klare, and the US-supported ‘murderous rightwing dictatorships’ that Carroll is willing to acknowledge. And so, he writes, despite ‘genuine pride in the revolution’s accomplishments’, it is ‘No wonder the revolution’s anniversary has left South America largely indifferent’.

Jenny Pearce, in contrast, has noted that ‘the reasons for [the Cuban revolution’s] success are not difficult to find. Cuban society and the Cuban economy were dominated by American big business and its Cuban henchmen. It was a centre of corruption of all kinds and had become known as the “whore house of the Caribbean”’. From 1917 to 1923 for example, US Marines were stationed in Cuba, suppressing strikes and protecting US property. The revolution itself furthermore ‘made the United States resolutely determined to prevent “another Cuba”’19 - as its policy towards Nicaragua demonstrated.

Such conditions - rampant throughout the region (which Grandin describes as a ‘laboratory of counterinsurgency’)20 - escape Carroll and his discussion of the ‘overwhelming[ly] popular’ (Pearce)21 Cuban revolution of 1959, resulting in a hugely skewed interpretation of events before and after the revolution in Cuba and its neighbouring states. For a regional correspondent (or any journalist, for that matter) to omit such factors (and with such consistency) - either through ignorance or ideological intent22 - verges on extraordinary. Whilst emotive language is used in describing the role of the United States, the significance of the actions taken by the US is scarcely noted. Given the extensive evidence – and its suppression - of such atrocities, Carroll’s interpretation of the Cuban revolution cannot be viewed as anything other than overt complicity in confining the terrible fate of hundreds of thousands to the memory hole, thereby preserving the image of the United States as a benign force in the world, and denying justice to its many mutilated, murdered, and meticulously forgotten victims.


1. Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, trans. by Cedric Belfrage, c.1973 (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2009) pp. 114-5.

2. Fabian Escalante, The Cuba Project: CIA Covert Operations 1959-62 (Melbourne and New York: Ocean Press, 2004); Jenny Pearce, Under the Eagle: U.S. Intervention in Central America and the Caribbean (London: Latin America Bureau, 1981), pp. 31-8; Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman in Pearce, Under the Eagle, p. 37; William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military & CIA Interventions since World War II (London: Zed Books, 2003), pp.184-193.

3. Blum, Killing Hope, p. 185.

4. Blum, Killing Hope, p. 181; Pearce, Under the Eagle, pp. 61-6.

5. Penny Lernoux, Cry of the People: The Struggle for Human Rights in Latin America-The Catholic Church in Conflict with U.S. Policy (Middlesex: Penguin, 1982), p. 9.

6. Edward S. Herman, The Real Terror Network: Terrorism in Fact and Propaganda (Boston: South End Press, 1982), pp. 7-8; Greg Grandin, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism, c.2006 (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2010), p. 14.

7. Herman, The Real Terror Network, pp. 4, 7.

8. Reed Brody, Contra Terror in Nicaragua: Report of a Fact-Finding Mission: September 1984-January 1985 (Boston: South End Press, 1985), p.19.

9. Dianna Melrose, Nicaragua: The Threat of a Good Example? (Oxford: Oxfam, 1985), p. 1.

10. Cited in Alfred W. McCoy, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2006), pp. 71-3; see specifically chapter 3 for discussion with regards to torture across Latin America generally. See also Michael Otterman, American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib and Beyond (London: Pluto Press, 2007), pp. 73-87.

11. Gordon Connell-Smith, Pattern of the Post-War World (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1957), p. 262.

12. ‘The Post-American Hemisphere’ by Russell Crandall in Foreign Affairs, May/June 2011 (90:3) pp. 83-95.

13. Cited in Pearce, Under the Eagle, p. 19.

14. Greg Grandin, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism, c.2006 (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2010), p. 3.

15. Cited in Noam Chomsky, World Orders, Old and New (London: Pluto Press, 1997), p. 77.

16. Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, The Political Economy of Human Rights: Volume 1 (Nottingham: Spokesman, 1979), pp. 10-11.

17. Michael T. Klare, Supplying Repression: U.S. Support for Authoritarian Regimes Abroad (Washington: Institute for Policy Studies, 1977), pp. 10, 53.

18. Cited in Edward S. Herman and Gerry O’Sullivan, The “Terrorism” Industry: The Experts and Institutions that Shape our View of Terror (New York: Pantheon, 1989), p. 16.

19. Pearce, Under the Eagle, pp. 31, 19, 33.

20. Grandin, Empire’s Workshop, p. 4.

21. Pearce, Under the Eagle, p. 32.

22. See for example, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, c.1988 (London: Vintage, 2004); Edward S. Herman, The Real Terror Network: Terrorism in Fact and Propaganda (Boston: South End Press, 1982); Edward S. Herman and Gerry O’Sullivan, The “Terrorism” Industry: The Experts and Institutions that Shape our View of Terror (New York: Pantheon, 1989). On the ideological constraints of reporting on Nicaragua specifically, and the role of the media in a democratic society, see Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies (London: Pluto Press, 1988). On the role played by the media in Britain, see Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World (London: Vintage, 2003), pp. 274-87. On the effect of advertising on the British press, and its development, see ‘Advertising and the Press’ by James Curran, in James Curran (ed.) The British Press: A Manifesto (London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1978).

Categories in which this article appears: Latin America | The Guardian | Cuba | Politics |

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Comments (1)

1. Helen Yaffe21 July 2012 21:49

Josh - thanks for writing this. Carroll's articles in the Guardian have been insidious and disgraceful and it is an important part of our solidarity work to expose his lies and distortions and political agenda behind them. Twice I managed to get a response published in the Guardian to particularly pernicious reports by Carroll about developments in Cuba. My comment pieces appear here:
They both have links to the original articles by Carroll.

Helen Yaffe (author of Che Guevara: the economics of revolution -

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