MANAGUA -- Viewing the Iraq war from Latin America, one finds little hesitancy here about focusing on the economic motives of the intervention. In contrast, back home, many Americans seem embarrassed even to ask whether oil could be a significant factor in this war.
Latin Americans remember well the CIA intervention in Guatemala in 1954 to oust a government for nationalizing some lands of the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita). In 1965 President Johnson sent thousands of troops into the Dominican Republic to prevent the return of the elected president, Juan Bosch, whose leftward leanings alarmed U.S. investors. The Nixon administration supported the brutal military coup in Chile in 1973 to overthrow the socialist Salvador Allende and thus protect U.S. mining interests.
During the 1980s Washington did everything short of invading Central America to undermine socialist movements that had come to power in Nicaragua and were growing in El Salvador and Guatemala.
Currently, the Bush administration has allocated $40 million of its huge military aid package to Colombia for the specific purpose of protecting a U.S. company's oil pipeline against guerrilla sabotage.
And if one were to look to the Middle East, Iran is a telling case in point: In 1953 the CIA helped to overthrow the Mossadegh government after it nationalized the Anglo-Iran Oil Company, owned by western corporations. In 1972 the Baath Party government of Iraq nationalized the Iraq Petroleum Company, also owned by western oil giants. Studying world history helps us to suspect that the current military intervention in Iraq, dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom, is powered by the long-standing U.S. policy of enhancing the freedom of large U.S.-based multinational corporations and banks to do unrestricted business at will.
Slogans such as ''How many lives per gallon?'' and ''War is good for Big Business; invest your son,'' seen on placards in contemporary demonstrations, may come across to many Americans as offensive, flippant or senseless. But people in Europe and south of the United States are not taken aback, perceiving a cold and unfortunate logic in such sayings.
The instances of U.S. intervention cited above show not only that ''freedom'' in U.S. foreign-policy parlance means ''corporate license.'' History also demonstrates that military practice does not minimize the damage done to civilians, as if it were minor or ''collateral.'' For many decades, to keep the hemisphere safe for American corporate interests, U.S. administrations supported reigns of terror from Chile to Guatemala.
Supporters of the Bush administration's war should ask whether they want to ''invest'' their sons and daughters in military ventures for corporate ends abroad -- and whether they are willing to assume the risks of soldiers within American borders in this era of ''preemptive'' aggression and probable terrorist reprisal.
Joseph E. Mulligan, Jesuit priest from Detroit, works with Christian-based communities in Nicaragua. He and another American Jesuit are on a liquids-only fast since the first week of Lent for peace in Iraq.
© 2003 Miami Herald