Harvest of Empire: Film Review

Cogent doc makes the persuasive argument for the role that U.S. military and corporate interests have played in the influx of immigration from Latin American countries.

The documentary chronicles the role played by U.S. intervention in the immigration influx from Latin American countries.

With the immigration debate currently consuming much of the current political climate, there’s no better time for the release of Harvest of Empire. Peter Getzels and Eduardo Lopez’s documentary adapted from the book of the same name by journalist Juan Gonzalez makes the devastating case that intervention by both the U.S. government and multi-national corporations has either directly or indirectly been partly responsible for much of the mass influx of immigrants from Latin American countries over the last couple of centuries.  

In individual sections devoted to each locale, the film methodically explains and dissects the roles played by U.S. military and economic interests in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Puerto Rico and Cuba. These brief history lessons -- featuring a mixture of archival footage, facts and figures, and talking heads ranging from the well-known (best-selling author Junot Diaz, Jesse Jackson, Geraldo Rivera, Nobel Prize-winner Rigoberta Menchu) to academics and ordinary citizens — are presented with an uncommon cogency.

Much of what’s presented is familiar, such as the recap of the Iran-Contra scandal in which the U.S. government provided surreptitious support to the anti-Sandinista Nicaraguan rebels. But much of the rest will be eye-opening to many viewers, such as the covert intelligence operations that helped foster oppressive regimes in the Dominican Republic and Guatemala.

The current anti-immigrant climate -- about which one commentator makes the point that those descendants of immigrants who arrived long ago are all too quick to criticize our more recent arrivals — is on ample display here, thanks to the commentary seen in clips from various cable television news and talk shows in which the language is far from civil.

Directors: Peter Getzels, Eduardo Lopez
Producers: Wendy Thompson-Marquez, Eduardo Lopez
Director of photography: James M. Felter
Editors: Catherine Shields, James M. Felter