Under the Shadow is a forthcoming podcast series hosted by multimedia journalist and producer Michael Fox, which delves into the history of rebellions and interventions by the United States in Latin America. Green Left’s Federico Fuentes spoke to Fox, who is currently fundraising to cover the project's costs, about the first season — soon-to-be released on Spotify and Apple podcasts — that takes listeners on a trip through revolutionary wars and US-backed counterinsurgency in Central America in the 1980s.
Could you tell about your new podcast series?
Under the Shadow is an investigative narrative podcast series in which I go to key places where momentous things happened in the past — both good and bad. The idea with the series is to see what’s left of those places, what lingers of those moments and what they can tell us about today.
We think about Central America in terms of immigration, poverty, inequality, gangs and violence. But you can’t understand what is happening today without understanding the past, and in particular the role of the US in Central America.
For the past 20 years, I’ve had one foot in the US and one foot abroad. Most of my reporting is for a US audience, trying to raise awareness about the realities of US policies abroad. Through Under the Shadow, my aim is to look at the shadow the US has cast over Central America.
This shadow has hung over Latin America for the past 200 years. In fact, December 2 marks the 200 year anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine, in which the US declared that Latin America was its backyard, where it could do as it pleased. In the series, I set the scene in the first episode — which will be launched on the anniversary — by talking about [US President James] Monroe and the Monroe Doctrine.
From there I go to the present before walking back in time to look at various US interventions, with the first season focusing on Central America.
What gave you the idea for the podcast series?
This was something that I've wanted to work on for a very long time. I first got the idea roughly a decade ago, when I started thinking about going to places where powerful things had happened in order to see what remains of those moments in history.
I was alive during the 1980s, but so many people were not. So I thought: how do I make something come to life to help people better understand the past? How do I tell a really powerful story in the present?
When I was mapping out the different places I wanted to cover — Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama — I realised that one of the major themes running through all of them was the role of the US.
I was originally thinking of looking at the revolutionary history of the 1980s. And I do that through this podcast — but by linking it to a deep focus on the role of the United States and what that has meant for the region.
Throughout the series, I talk about my own experiences while making the connections between the different countries and US foreign policies to understand that this is a much larger issue. Because it doesn’t matter if it happened in Guatemala or El Salvador or Nicaragua — at the end of the day, the US shadow looms large.
My goal with this podcast is to really shed light on this fact in a creative and storytelling way that people are going to want to listen to, but also come out of it with an understanding that this is not all just in the past, but lingers on and has implications for the region today.
Could you give us an example of the kind of stories listeners will hear?
In the series, I go to the town of Tiquisate, in Guatemala. In the 1930s and ‘40s, it was home to one of the main United Fruit Company banana plantations in Guatemala.
United Fruit was this huge conglomerate — they called it the “Octopus” because its tentacles spread across Central America. They basically ran countries such as Guatemala and, according to some reports, controlled roughly 40% of the land in the country.
When a democratic movement took hold in Guatemala in the 1940s, it was in part due to organising that occurred in this town. Then, when the 1954 coup happened against President Jacobo Arbenz — pushed by United Fruit and backed by the CIA — they rounded up over 1000 workers in the area around Tiquisate, brought them to a plantation and shot them.
I tell the history of United Fruit by telling the history of Tiquisate, where you still have United Fruit homes today with people living in them and where, as I walked through the town, locals pointed out where the old railroad tracks used to take bananas over to the Caribbean side.
In other episodes I visit memorials for the dead and the disappeared in Guatemala and El Salvador and look at CIA operations in Nicaragua and the US invasion of Panama. I also go back and trace the footsteps of William Walker, the US filibuster who invaded Nicaragua, killed the president, and proclaimed himself head of state in the mid-1850s — an insane story.
Why did you decide to make it a podcast series rather than a documentary?
Podcasting is like a time machine. With television or videos, you are still watching something on a screen. That is what’s so powerful about audio: you can close your eyes, sit back and literally transport yourself into the past.
In this podcast series, I hope to bring you with me, take you across Central America to these different places, walk you into the past using archive footage and interviews to really transport you into these times and places in ways that we don’t usually have an opportunity to.
For me, this series is a way of telling a story that people have been talking about for a very long time but in a new, engaging way, where you’ll be able to sit down and listen to 20‒30 minute episodes when you're driving home or making dinner, and where it’s powerful and engaging enough that you’re going to want to listen to the next episode.
My goal is that when you’re done listening to the podcast, you will walk away with a deeper sense and understanding not just of what’s on the surface, but what’s deep underneath.
Seeing the reality on the ground and going to these places where history happened has been really powerful. It’s been an honour and a privilege to be able to work on this and I am super excited to be at the stage of finishing my interviews and reporting, putting the episodes together and getting it out to the world.
It’s very exciting and I would love any support from anyone if they have the means.
[You can find more information about the podcast series and lend your support at kickstarter.com.]