This month's books include an analysis of the part played by the US in creating the crisis in Central America and the Caribbean - and a cookbook to encourage the would-be self-reliant.
Editor: Anuradha Vittachi
Under the Eagle
by Jenny Pearce
Latin America Bureau, 1 Amwell St., London EC1R 1UL, UK.
(Pbk) UK: £2.50/Europe with p & p £3.25/US $7.50
The nearest thing we’ve had to a nuclear explosion in Europe was at a recent press conference in Brussels, held for the American Secretary of State, Alexander Haig. A reporter suggested to him that the US might be applying double standards in opposing the military takeover in Poland when they supported similar regimes in Turkey and Latin America.
The jaw clenched. The blood pumped through the swollen jugular. He really did look as though he was going to burst. In the end all we got was an indignant splutter and the suggestion that the people really to blame for the world’s problems were the ones who asked questions like that.
Such questioners tend to have read books like Under the Eagle. America’s involvement in Central America and the Caribbean over the last century and a half is one long story of applying whatever standards came to hand at the time: ‘double’ would be a considerable underestimate.
President Monroe started it all with the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ hack in 1823 which said that any interference by a European power in South America would be treated in the same way as aggression towards the United States herself. To be protected from the rapacious Europeans was of some benefit to the nascent republics and no doubt they were grateful. But who was going to protect them from the protector?
For the United States had not only the force of arms. Even in those days she had developed that potent combination of self-righteousness and greed that today enables her to light candles for Poland with one hand while selling grain to the Soviet Union with the other.
In Central America the stories and justifications have changed with the times. President Taft back in 1917 did not yet have the Russian or Cuban bogeymen to justify US intervention. But then he did not seem to feel the need of it.
‘The day is not far distant when three stars and stripes at three equidistant points will mark our territory, one at the North Pole, another at the Panama Canal and another at the South Pole. The whole hemisphere will he ours in fact as. By virtue of our superiority of race, it is already ours morally.’
This is a little more flamboyant than the acceptable rhetoric of today’s presidential press conferences. But such vanity is no longer necessary now that many of those battles have already been fought and won. President Taft’s flags are planted more or less where he wanted them.
Just how those flags were planted and continue to be planted is told with marvellous clarity in this book by Jenny Pearce. A popular history of the battering that Central America and the Caribbean have taken from their neighbour to the north is long overdue. And it turns out to be highly readable not just because it is well written but because she allows many other people to join in and tell the story with her.
General Smedley D. Butler of the US Marine Corps headed much of America’s military intervention in the region at the beginning of this century. His contribution now is as irresistible as it was then:
‘During that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business. . . Thus I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests back in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Batik to collect revenues in ... I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brother in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American Sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras "right" for American fruit companies in 1903.'
General Smedley at least knew how many standards (double? Triple?) he was applying. One can hope that when the time comes for ex-general Haig to put down his memoirs he will feel that the time has come to be frank about the US involvement today in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. If he needs any reminders he could do a lot worse than read this book.
Appropriate Technology Sourcebook Vol. II
by Ken Darrow, Kent Keller, Rick Pam
Appropriate Technology Project Volunteeres in Asia, Box 4543, Stanford, California 04305, USA
US: $6.50 (for local Third World groups, $3.25) + $1.50 surface mail. $11.50 clothbound library edition
The Appropriate Technology Sourcebook Vol. II is for people getting their hands dirty in Third World villages. Over 400 pages of concise reviews of practical books on very small scale technology: how to build a hand-powered cement mixer, look after water buffaloes, use medicinal plants instead of imported drugs. Vol. I is currently in use in over 100 countries the good work and adds new topics, including forestry, non-formal education and how to set up a co-operative.
For conscience stricken cooks
Diet for a Small Island (pbk) £4.50/$12.00
Living Better on Less (pbk) £2.50/$8.00
Living on a Little Land (pbk)£2.50/$8.00
by Patrick and Shirley Rivers
Turnstone Press, Denington Estate. Wellingborough. Northants, UK
‘If sugar gives me energy, why is it bad for me?’ demanded my 8-year old. Now I know. In Patrick and Shirley Rivers’ Diet for a Small Island, the island in question is Britain, but the good sense it contains about nutrition will be welcome to anyone who wants to know, as precisely as in a chemistry class, why locally-grown ‘natural’ foods are better for the individual’s health than the pre-packed luxuries multiplying on supermarket shelves. These luxuries are often imported from countries whose own people go hungry. So being self-reliant in food is not only better for the personal and national purse say the Rivers' it’s also better for the poor world’s economy and ecology.
The Rivers’ style is as fresh and crisp as the foods they recommend. And in case you’re too rushed to translate nutritional theory into hot dinners, they’ve taken care of that too: half the book consists of recipes.
The Rivers' live deep in the countryside, among hushed woods: they warm their water with solar panels and keep three generations of nanny-goats. If that’s the lifestyle you’re after, try their earlier books for inspiration. In Living Better on Less and Living on a Little Land, they share the story of their own conversion from London rat-race through hard slog to rural idyll.
Not everyone could or would wish to — live in such sylvan bliss. But if you’ve longed for a smidgeon of the natural life or feel guilty about wasting Third World grain resources each time you bite into a quick-thawed hamburger, the ‘small island diet’ is a good start.