UH Hilo researcher studies the dark side of U.S. involvement in Latin America: Coups, greed, genocide

Spanish professor Faith Mishina is doing research and educating her students on events in Latin America about which a great deal of Americans know nothing about, despite being held responsible.

By Kara Nelson.

Faith Mishima
Faith Mishima. Photo by Kara Nelson.

Don’t let the title “associate professor of Spanish” fool you into thinking Faith Mishina teaches only Spanish language at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. A self-proclaimed lover of languages, cultures, literatures and linguistics, her interests are in fact far broader in scope. Think military coups in Latin America, the CIA, torture policy, corporate greed, genocide; and on the flip side, human rights, indigenous rights, activism — investigated through a cultural lens not often brought to the discussion.

The truth behind military coups and financial controls in Latin America, scripted by wealthy U.S. businessmen, is explored by Mishina in two papers published in January:

In “Ominus Strings,” Mishina analyzes the direct U.S. involvement in Chile in the 1960’s and 70’s, arguing that the objective to bring down “communism” was simply a narrative fed to the U.S. public to disguise a push for corporate profits. In “Crumbling of Imperial Peace,” she continues along the same vein, exploring financial controls in Latin America that have devalued the sense of national sovereignty and increased the great inequality of income between the few elites and the poorer majority.

Before discussing her research with UH Hilo Stories, Mishina asks that readers “understand several a prioris.”

“One cannot teach a language successfully without coloring it with cultural implications,” she says. “Typically in the U.S., we leave the cultural analysis out of the picture. Iraq is an excellent example of that deficit. Culture is a very influential dimension.”

Next, Mishina gives context to her research pursuits by noting frequent questions she receives from her students: How have we, the U.S., affected Latin Americans? How do Latins see us in the U.S.? What is happening in Latin America today?

Further, she makes note that in the past, she did literary analysis of García Márquez’s political novels. But the tenure and promotion committee asked her to expand her research horizons.

“That is like asking a Shakespeare scholar to write about something else!” she says. “It is true García Márquez is complex and exceedingly metaphoric, thus, difficult to understand. (But) I changed my research focus in response to the committee and also to my students’ questions.”

Cultural perspectives and illuminating the truth

“Latin American citizens believe that U.S. citizens do not have any idea how much and how negatively the U.S. has affected their lives,” says Mishina. “I write as a U.S. citizen who attends international conferences with people from all around the world. I am greeted with surprise and strong interest when I am presenting the Latin American perspective and the U.S. government declassified files on violent events that U.S. corporations provoked in Latin countries.”

Because the events are controversial, Mishina packs her investigations with facts from both sides.

“I am trying to educate an American public on events for which some of the world holds them responsible and about which a great deal of Americans know nothing,” she says.  “It helps me answer my students’ questions succinctly. In fact, this field of study has spawn a class called Critical Analysis, which presents the Latin perspective through film and documentaries.”

The issues Mishina covers are complex, rich in the analysis of culture perspectives.

“When Latin American governments wish to enact social reforms or to change standards of miserable poverty for a significant majority in their countries, such as in Guatemala or Chile, wealthy U.S. businessmen have scripted military coups to prevent these reforms and to protect their corporate profits in those countries,” she explains. “They brought out the label ‘communism’ to secure their on-going profits.”

In Guatemala, a 36-year war (1960-1996) resulted from the military coup brought about by the U.S. Two hundred thousand people were “disappeared,” most of whom were indigenous. After painstaking research, the Guatemalan Truth Commission points out that only seven percent of those killed were communists. Today Guatemalans talk about it as a genocide against the indigenous peoples.

Mishina points out that the rise of the many military dictatorships in Latin America was a deliberate CIA objective: “Operation Condor, Operation (PB)Success, ad infinitum.”

“The U.S. financially supported and armed the murderers,” says Mishina. “Our CIA taught these military leaders how to torture. The Kubark is the CIA manual on torture techniques. We were supremely indifferent to the fate of those who were captured, tortured and disappeared.”

But, she says, “my students know nothing about this.”

In contrast, Latin American students are steeped in this recent history. In Latin America today two generations have been and are demanding justice in the courts for disappeared relatives and family. Students the age of Mishina’s students are getting justice for their dead parents, grandparents or missing relatives.

“The demand for justice, for human rights has been a very large movement in Latin America since the turn of the century,” Mishina explains. “It has been a centerpiece of interest on their news and in their courts for 15 years. It has eclipsed many other academic subjects. (This answers) my students’ third question.”

Today’s conflict: Multinational corporations vs. indigenous peoples

Mishina says U.S. corporations have been given huge tracts of land by the very small percentage of Latin American wealthy elites. These lands are mostly in Indigenous territories—oil in the Amazon and mining in the Andes. Chevron-Texaco dumped toxic wastes for two decades in an area the size of Rhode Island, making the land unsustainable for numerous indigenous tribes. In 2011, when Chevron-Texaco lost their suit with the indigenous groups, Chevron-Texaco refused to pay the fine. Chevron- Texaco baldly stated that the court’s decision was “unenforceable.”

“One of my research articles delineates significant lawsuits against U.S. and Canadian multinational corporations who have decimated indigenous territories,” says Mishina. “Latin American indigenous groups have not gotten justice because our corporations appear to be above the law. Our big corporations have more money than most governments.”

There is a vibrant rise of indigenous politics in response to the rise of U.S. corporate involvement in Latin America. Mishina says this is amazing as the indigenous voice was mostly silent for 500 years.

“The trauma of globalization has paralleled the trauma of the Conquista in some of their accounts,” she says. “There is a rising movement to redefine their citizenship, to protect their lands and to stop foreign corporate dispossession of their lands, their water and their resources.”

Mishina says the U.S. has been seen as an empire to much of the world. Using movies and documentaries to teach her students a Latin perspective on world events, she usually points to similar situations in Africa, India, or Indonesia to show that the problems are global.

“In my students’ terms, I point to the movie, Hunger Games, where the First World is seen as supremely frivolous, self-occupied and indifferent to the suffering in the other 13 territories,” she says. “However, the First World of Hunger Games has imposed itself tremendously on the other territories. It has made them play the First World’s game. Do the citizens of that First World even care? Do they know the realities of the other territories? No.”

Mishina concludes that today, the empire is no longer the U.S. government but all the multinational corporations “whose shells and dummy companies hide themselves from taxes that support education, infrastructure and public social securities.”

“Today our government is bought out by the wealthy Koch brothers, or big oil, who plan to spend 900 million to win the 2016 election,” she says. “Our senators and congressmen are bought out by corporate lobbyists. Legislators’ bills are written by corporate lobbyists and for the advantage of the corporation they represent.”

Further, she says, what happened in Latin America is just beginning to happen in the U.S. “Our multinationals bought out the small percentage of the Latin American elite for years so they could have access to almost free resources, make millions and pay no taxes.”

Putting her work into context here at UH Hilo, Mishina points out that the university is the most diverse university in the U.S. according to recent statistics.

“I am looking at the Pacific Basin, and one whole side from Mexico to La Tierra del Fuego is Latin American,” she explains. “We have a strong indigenous culture here in Hawai‘i that has suffered dispossession at the hands of U.S. corporate shenanigans to control Hawai‘i and thus, increase their profits and power.”


The talented professor is fluent in Spanish, French, English, and Japanese, which are among the ten languages she’s studied over the course of her life.

Mishina received her bachelor of arts in French and bachelor of arts in Spanish from UH Mānoa with teaching accreditation in Spanish and French, and her master of arts in Spanish and master of arts in French from Middlebury Language Schools. She also earned teaching accreditation in English and linguistics from Memphis State University.

She received her doctor of philosophy in modern languages, with Spanish as the primary language and French as the secondary language, at the Spanish and French Schools of Middlebury Language Schools.

She was the 2013 recipient of the UH Frances Davis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.


About the author of this story: Kara Nelson is a senior at UH Hilo double majoring in English and communication. She is an intern in the Office of the Chancellor and a writer for UH Hilo Stories.