On March 20, David Rockefeller died at the age of 101. As the obituaries for one of the world’s richest men gush over his philanthropy, it needs to be pointed out that he was a major player in several Latin American coups, supported extremely corrupt military dictatorships, post-dictatorship neoliberal policies that greatly exacerbated income stratification and poverty and that his dark legacy will continue to influence the region long after his death.
The Rockefeller Foundation first arrived in Brazil during World War I and was embedded within the so-called “public health movement” amongst Brazilian elites. At that time, Brazilian eugenics was synonymous with public health and emphasized “hygienization”, expressed in the maxim “to sanitize is to eugenize”. With Rockefeller assistance, the creation of the Eugenic Society of São Paulo in 1918 represented the institutionalization of eugenics in Brazil. Amongst elites, eugenics was associated with evolution, progress and civilization, even treated by some as a ‘new religion’. In “War against the weak” Edwin Black explains that the purpose of the Rockefeller Foundation was to finance programs aimed at “the extermination of those considered degenerate”. In Brazil this meant the poor, the ignorant, those of mixed race and African descent.
In her thesis on David’s older brother Nelson Rockefeller, historian Elisabeth Cobbs argues that U.S. Foreign policy in Brazil was not only realized by official relations between governments and diplomats, but also by the private sector, including philanthropic organisations. Nelson had been a regular visitor to Brazil since the 1930s, and in 1941 was named by President Roosevelt as coordinator of the Office of Interamerican Affairs (CIAA), which ran intelligence and propaganda operations against the Axis Powers in Latin America.
Following the end of the War, Nelson headed the American International Association for Economic and Social Development in Brazil of AIA. The AIA was a “Capitalist Missionary” philanthropic NGO known in Brazil for its programmes for modernization of agriculture to North American models and standards (including the introduction of pesticides, herbicides and hybrid seeds), sanitation, and literacy. AIA would eventually birth two more agencies, IBEC (International Basic Economy Company) and the IRI Research Institute. As coordinator of the CIAA, Nelson acquired invaluable information about Latin America’s untapped natural resources, especially mineral reserves, information that he would go on to use following the war. IBEC became a key component in the post-World War Two opening of the Amazon rainforest to commercial exploitation, “a process that eventually led to military dictatorships, genocide of native peoples, loss of biological diversity and unprecedented misery for the majority of Brazilians“. (more...)