UN Raporteur Accuses Israel of “Ethnic Cleansing” March 24, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Genocide, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: apartheid, ben gurion, cesar chelala, colonialism, ethnic cleansing, holocuast survivor, irgun, israel, Palestine, palestine settlements, palestinian bedouins, plan dalet, Richard Falk, roger hollander, suzanne weiss, un rapporteur
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Richard Falk, United Nations rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories accused Israel last week of “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians. Speaking at a press conference, he said that Israeli policies bore “unacceptable characteristics of colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.”
“Every increment of enlarging the settlements or every incident of house demolition is a way of worsening the situation confronting the Palestinian people and reducing what prospects they might have as the outcome of supposed peace negotiations,” he added. Falk is an American who is Jewish, is an international law expert and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University in the US.
According to Falk, more than 11,000 Palestinians had lost their right to live in Jerusalem since 1966 due to Israel imposing residence laws favoring Jews. At the same time, the Israeli government was revoking Palestinian residence permits. “The 11,000 is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said, “because many more are faced with possible challenges to their residence rights.”
Falk’s comments lend support to similar statements done in the past regarding Israeli actions towards the Palestinians. In 2006, Ilan Pappé, an Israeli historian and social activist who is a professor with the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, wrote a book called “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.”
In that book, Pappé states that the 1948 Palestinian exodus was a planned cleansing of Palestine that was carried out by the Zionist movement leaders, mainly David Ben-Gurion and his associates. The process was carried out through the systematic expulsion of Arabs from about 500 villages, complemented by terrorist attacks executed mainly by members of the Irgun and the Haganah troops acting against the civilian population.
Pappé based his assumptions on the Plan Dalet and on village files as a proof of the planned expulsions. Although the purpose of the plan has been amply debated, it seems that the plan was a set of guidelines whose purpose was to take control of the territory of the Jewish state and to defend its borders and its people, including the Jewish population outside its borders as a precaution against an expected invasion by Arab armies.
Predictably, the book caused an uproar. Benny Morris, an Israeli professor of History in the Middle East Studies department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, wrote, “At best, Ilan Pappé must be one of the world’s sloppiest historians: at worst, one of the most dishonest. In truth, he probably merits a place somewhere between the two.”
Morris himself stated, however, “In retrospect, it is clear that what occurred in 1948 in Palestine was a variety of ethnic cleansing of Arab areas by Jews. It is impossible to say how many of the 700,000 or so Palestinians who became refugees in 1948 were physically expelled, as distinct from simply fleeing a combat zone.”
Not everybody was equally critical of Pappé, though. Stephen Howe, professor of the history of colonialism at Bristol University, said that Pappé’s book was an often compelling mixture of historical argument and politico-moral tract. According to Howe, although Pappé’s book might not be the last word on the events of 1948, it still is “a major intervention in an argument that will, and must, continue.”
And it does continue. In November 2013, more than 50 public figures in Britain wrote a letter opposing an Israeli plan to forcibly remove up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their historic desert land –an act that critics considered ethnic cleansing. The eviction and destruction of approximately 35 villages in the Negev desert, claims the letter, “will mean the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes and land, and systematic discrimination and separation.”
Writing in Save Canada Post in 2010, Suzanne Weiss, a Holocaust survivor stated, “I am a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust, the Nazis’ mass murder of Europe’s Jews. The tragic experience of my family and community under Hitler makes me alert to the suffering of other peoples denied their human rights today — including the Palestinians. True, Hitler’s Holocaust was unique. The Palestinians are victims of ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Hitler started with that, but went on to extermination. In my family’s city in Poland, Piotrkow, 99 per cent of the Jews perished. Yet for me, the Israeli government’s actions toward the Palestinians awaken horrific memories of my family’s experiences under Hitlerism: the inhuman walls, the checkpoints, the daily humiliations, killings, diseases, the systematic deprivation. There’s no escaping the fact that Israel has occupied the entire country of Palestine, and taken most of the land, while the Palestinians have been expelled, walled off, and deprived of human rights and human dignity.”
Richard Falk will address the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, March 24.
Making People Invisible: Then They Came For the Bedouin October 16, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Genocide, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: abby zimet, bedouin, israel, israel settlements, israeli military, jewish settlements, Palestinians, prawer plan, roger hollander, west bank
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Last month, for the fourth time, Israel destroyed the Bedouin community of Khirbet al-Makhul in the occupied West Bank’s Jordan Valley, razing houses and displacing 120 people under a newly-approved Prawer Plan (or the “Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev”) that will forcibly remove up to 40,000 Arab Bedouin farmers, shepherds and citizens of Israel from their ancestral homes and place them in Israeli-authorized, hardscrabble urban townships – echoes of South Africa – to make room for Jewish settlements, development and agriculture. One of many, often-multiple demolitions, the Israeli courts said the Khirbet al-Makhul homes were illegal because they lacked mandatory construction permits, which are almost impossible to obtain. When a group of European diplomats tried to deliver tents and other aid to families who remained on the land, they too were forcibly removed and the site was declared a closed military zone. A handful of Bedouin have remained on the land to tend to the animals, sleeping under the stars and surrounded by an Israeli military base, a Jewish-only Israeli settlement and a live-fire Israeli military training area. Part of an implacable continuum, the Bedouin displacement mirrors Israel’s other, decades-long hardships and displacements – the exiling of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, the destruction of hundreds of their villages, the uprooting of an estimated 800,000 of their olive trees, or the equivalent of 33 NYC Central Parks. Last week, the World Bank issued a report that found, entirely unsurprisingly, that the Palestinian economy is struggling under Israeli strictures that only worsen. Thus, does Israel’s “democracy” proceed apace.
From an earlier village demolition: “The chickens and the doves were buried under the ruins. The fields turned desolate before our very eyes, and children walked down the road sobbing.”
Tags: christopher columbus, conquest, Domination, elliot sperber, freedom, greek myth, history, holy trinty, jesus, justice, mythology, roger hollander, roman empire, roman law, roman republic, terrorism, terrorist profilitn, u.s. constitution, war
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Roger’s note: Although somewhat abstract and speculative, not to mention Manichean, I found this article to be quite interesting. With respect to the notion of freedom/justice, my understanding is that Marx found in Hegel’s idealistic philosophy the highest ideal of freedom and with his look at the actual relations between capital and living human labor in his time of the Industrial Revolution, he brought the idealism down from the sky and into the real world, showing that freedom is the capacity to be the sole owner of your own human creativity.
OpEdNews Op Eds 10/13/2013 at 08:00:01,
published originally on CounterPunch
Officially celebrated in the US on the second Monday of October, Columbus first made landfall in the Americas, in what is now the Bahamas, on October 12, 1492. And though, in his eyes, he did stumble onto the shores of a new world, what is more important for the present inquiry is the fact that Columbus immediately imposed the Order of the old world upon the one he invaded. The law of force (articulated in the European legal tradition’s Doctrine of Conquest, which grants invaders legal title to the lands they conquer) was subsequently imposed throughout the Americas and beyond. Though this doctrine was formally abolished by the UN in 1974, insofar as it continues to determine the distribution of the planet’s resources, the right of conquest in many respects continues to determine the course of our lives. And while it is crucial to remember the atrocities that Columbus and his successors committed throughout the world during the so-called Age of Discovery, it is equally important to recognize the fact that, though its forms may have changed, the underlying Order that Columbus initiated (with all of its violent implications) continues to operate in politics, economics, and law – that is, systemically – throughout the world today.
It is said that events occur in groups of three. With this in mind, it is interesting to consider the fact that Christopher Columbus was born in the year 1451 – in the year of the death of the Ottoman Sultan Murad II, and the ascension of the sultan’s son and heir, Mehmed II. In the following year, 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued his notorious Dum Diversas, the papal decree declaring war against all of the world’s non-Christians. Thirdly, one year later, in 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, delivering the terminal blow to the 1500-year-old Eastern Roman Empire.
Among the results of their military triumph in Constantinople, the Ottoman Turks made significant geopolitical inroads into Christian Europe. Importantly, this included wresting control of the invaluable overland trade routes to India, China, and the other lands to the east from the Europeans. The subsequent influx of Byzantine refugees into Christian Italy, with their classical texts in tow, contributed to the flourishing of learning and secularism that marked the Italian Renaissance. And it is likely that this proliferation of classic Greek and Roman texts, many of which treated the sphericity of the world as an ancient and uncontentious theory, contributed to Columbus’ adoption of this topographical notion. Among its other consequences, the Turk’s capture of Constantinople led the banking centers of Europe to shift from the markets of the eastern Mediterranean to the ports of the west, whose sea-routes now allowed traders easier access to the Indies. And it was from just such a port along the Spanish coast that the Christian from the Italian city of Genoa would embark in search of a western sea-route to Asia, spreading – whether willfully or not is unimportant - Christian and Roman political, economic, and theological institutions (the old world) to the Americas.
While they were to some degree mediated by Christian influences, Roman forms of power and institutions of governance were to take firm root in the so-called new world. As the historian Gordon S. Wood informs us, the founders of the United States themselves consciously modeled not only their political, but also their social projects on Classical Roman forms. Today, few places evince this more strikingly than what is arguably the most politically powerful city in the Americas – a city that, not coincidentally, couples the name of George Washington, that admirer of Roman thought and virtue, with Columbus’. Beyond the classical appearance of Washington, D.C.’s buildings and monuments, the political institutions they house are also heavily indebted to Roman models. To cite probably the most obvious example, the main legislative body of the US, the senate – Latin for council of elders (and etymologically related, incidentally, to the word ‘senile’) – is derived from the Roman institution of the same name.
Regarding governmental, administrative, and economic forms of power persisting from Rome to the present, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben observes in his treatise on political power, The Kingdom and the Glory, that the constitutional separation of powers schema of the US Constitution, among others modeled on Montesquieu’s tripartite division, can be traced directly to the Christian Trinity and the administrative apparatus of the Church. To be sure, it is not difficult to see the father – god, the creator of law – as an analogue of the legislative branch. Moreover, the son, Jesus, often referred to as the one who judges, may be seen to correspond to the institution of the judiciary. Lastly, the Holy Spirit – defined by the Fourth Lateral Council of 1215 as that “who proceeds” – corresponds to the executive branch. Insofar as the transitive verb ‘to execute’ means to carry out fully, the executive branch of government conforms to this notion of one “who proceeds” quite closely.
Yet while the correspondence between the separation of powers and the Trinity is very close, today’s constitutional schema and the theological and ideological justifications that accompany it can be traced to structures of power that significantly predate the Trinity. Beyond the mixed constitution Aristotle described in his Politics, there is a Hellenic progenitor to the Trinity – itself an echo of paleolithic religious structures – that predates the Trinity by many centuries. And not only does the structure of the Greek Moirai, or Fates, predate the Trinity, it also matches the US Constitution’s separation of power schema with uncanny preciseness.
Like the Trinity and the three branches of government, the Fates (the three daughters of Necessity) are one power that has three distinct aspects. Corresponding to the legislature, Clotho, the spinner, spins the thread of life. Corresponding to the judiciary, Lachesis, the measurer, measures this thread. And Atropos, the cutter, cuts the thread of life. Curiously, in describing his job as “the decider” – which literally means ‘to cut’ – George W. Bush confirms this correspondence between the executive and Atropos.
Among other things, it is important to point out that in Greek myth the Fates were more powerful than all of the gods – even Zeus, who alone was more powerful than all of the other gods combined, could do nothing but adhere to the dictates of the Fates. As such, it seems appropriate that Law should mirror their form. Yet the general rule of the Fates’ supremacy had one exception. Asklepios, the son of the god Apollo, and a powerful healer (who, in addition to other feats, could raise the dead), was through his healing power able to overrule the Fates’ Order – demonstrating that what appeared to be a necessary power was, in fact, not necessary at all. Threatened by his incursion into their monopoly over divine power, the Fates soon determined that Zeus would destroy Asklepios with a bolt of lightning. Shortly after his death, Asklepios was resurrected as a god and raised into the heavens. It does not take a terribly keen eye to see in this a likeness to another son of a god who raised the dead, healed the sick and the lame, was killed for threatening power, and was resurrected as a god himself. In fact, in many respects Asklepios is a prototype of Jesus of Nazareth – at least one aspect of Jesus. For while Jesus is represented as both a healer and a shepherd (the latter role, as Michel Foucault informs us in his elaboration of the notion of pastoral power, is a dominating, oppressive force), Asklepios is only a healer. And just as the healer Asklepios is able to overrule the Fates (as justice, or the spirit of the law, is said to prevail over its dead letter), Jesus (in his role as healer and champion of the poor and oppressed) stands opposed to not only his shepherdly role, but the pastoral, dominating power that manifests in the Trinity and the institution of the Church as well.
In light of the above it is revealing that, in his oft-quoted diary entry of 1498, Columbus wrote: “let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.” That is, it is the pastoral power of the administrative body of the church – the power of law, of violence, sanctioned by the papal decrees of 1452 and 1493 – that Columbus is referring to and conspiring with, and decidedly not with the healer. Indeed, the enslavement, murder, and other atrocities committed by Columbus over the course of his conquest may be viewed as the very opposite of healing.
This tension between Jesus the healer and Jesus the shepherd/the Trinity (which matches the opposition between Asklepios and the Fates, and between the spirit and the letter of the law) makes another important appearance in the Americas. Three centuries after Columbus’ voyage this same dynamic appears in the US Constitution. As with the Fates, a dominating power is “separated” into three parts – into the legislative, judicial, and executive branches. And just as the Fates are not only opposed, but neutralized, by Asklepios, it is important to recognize that the Constitution’s Power is at once opposed and legitimated by a notion of justice that (in addition to the “general welfare” of the people) is intimately related to the concept of health. To be sure, it is no small coincidence that Asklepios’ daughter – the Greek goddess of healing – was known to the Romans as Salus; and Salus, the Roman goddess of health, in turn pops up in the ancient Roman legal maxim salus populi suprema lex esto. Translated as the health of the people is the supreme law, the maxim has been interpreted to hold that laws and practices that are hostile to the health of the people (however defined) are devoid of legitimacy altogether.
Absorbed into ancient Roman Law as a constitutional metanorm, the maxim spread throughout the legal systems of Europe, and across the globe. And though it has been subjected to diametrical interpretations (for health is often conflated with not only mere strength and power, but with an obsession with purity which leads to oppression and, ironically, dis-ease), and has bolstered the regimes of tyrants, it is vital to note that the maxim has been employed just as frequently in efforts to liberate people from the domination of tyrants. For instance, while common lands were being privatized in England during the enclosure period, the Levellers employed the maxim to justify their efforts to wrest land from dominating powers and distribute land in an egalitarian manner. Though authoritarian thinkers like Thomas Hobbes would use the maxim to justify absolutism and domination, it was the emancipatory, “Asklepian” interpretation of the maxim that would become most influential in the British colonies. It was just this interpretation that the North American colonists repeated in their efforts to legitimize their struggles for liberation from the British Crown. The health of the people is the supreme law, they argued; and because domination by the British Empire (not to mention any other form of domination) is hostile to people’s health, this rule lacks legitimacy and must be dissolved.
While the emancipatory spirit animating the employment of the maxim may have been frustrated by the re-emergence of dominating power (one that manifested in the US Constitution, with its enshrinement of slavery, among other economic institutions), just as the figure of Asklepios would counter the dominating power of the Fates, the maxim salus populi suprema lex esto would continue (in limited ways) to be employed to combat harms perpetrated against the health of the people - condemning noxious industrial enterprises, for example, and nullifying debts, among other things. Though shrouded in myth, this is not purely happenstance. An important equivalence exists between actual justice and actual health. In many respects the conditions necessary for health — the freedom from conditions of disease and domination, and the freedom to access all the resources health requires — are indistinct from the concrete conditions of justice. One may even argue that the maxim provides a basis for positive rights to housing, health care, and other elements of health. For if the health of the people is the supreme law, that which is hostile to the health of the people is against the law. As such, conditions that are hostile to health must be corrected – corrected by supplying those conditions necessary for the actual health and well being of the people of the world – such as housing, nutritious food, a healthy environment, etc. This ought to be the top social and economic priority of any society that claims to respect justice. And because we redirect our society to the extent that we reinterpret it, such a reinterpretation of the maxim – among other things – is crucial today.
In a world in which harms are systematically reproduced (from wars, global warming, and the ongoing catastrophe at Fukushima, to the more mundane epidemics of poverty, occupational disease, and police brutality), and the political-economy of domination – of which Columbus was as much an effect as a cause – continues to plague the health of the people of the world, it is important to recognize that embedded within the power-structure that Columbus conveyed to the Americas is the germ of its destruction. Implicit in the dominating power of the Fates (law as mere Order) is the liberating power of Asklepios (law as Justice), and the potentially emancipatory constitutional metanorm that the actual health of the people should be the supreme law.
Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and contributor to hygiecracy.blogspot.com. He lives in New York City.
Tags: central america, genocide, guatemala history, guatemala massacre, honduras coup, ira glass, jacabo arbenz, keane bhatt, micheletti, peabody awards, perez molina, porforio lobo, rios-montt, roger hollander, ronald reagan, soa, this american life, zelaya
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consisting of “television critics, industry practitioners and experts in culture and the arts,” had selected a particular This American Life episode—“What Happened at Dos Erres”—as one of the winners of its 72nd annual awards on the basis of “only one criterion: excellence.”Celebrating 2012’s best examples of broadcast journalism, the George Foster Peabody Awards attracted the likes of D.L. Hughley, Amy Poehler and Bryant Gumbel to the Waldorf-Astoria’s four-story grand ballroom in New York this past May. In a gaudy ceremony hosted by CBS star-anchor Scott Pelley, National Public Radio’s This American Life received the industry’s oldest and perhaps most prestigious accolade. The 16-member Peabody Board,
This American Life’s host Ira Glass had once conceived of the weekly show, which reaches 1.8 million listeners each episode, as an experiment to do “the most idealistic, wide-eyed things that can do…to provide a perspective on this country that you couldn’t get elsewhere.” As is typical for the program, Glass weaved personal narratives and anecdotes together with broader context in “What Happened at Dos Erres,” which focused on a 1982 massacre of 250 Guatemalan civilians at the hands of their government’s elite military commandos—the Kaibiles.
But in his hour-long treatment of a savage period of Guatemalan history, Glass and his producers edited out essential lines of inquiry and concealed a key aspect of the bloodshed and its import for U.S. listeners: Washington’s continuous support of Guatemalan security forces—including the Kaibiles at Dos Erres—as they killed tens of thousands of largely indigenous civilians in 1982 alone. Moreover, by distorting the historical record, Glass performed an impressive feat of propaganda—he sensitively related Guatemalan victims’ harrowing personal stories while implying that the only fault of the United States was that it had simply not done enough to help them.
Ironically, “What Happened at Dos Erres” accomplished Glass’s longstanding goal of providing a perspective on the United States “that you couldn’t get elsewhere.” One would be hard-pressed to encounter another contemporary mainstream account of that period so thoroughly sanitized of Washington’s involvement in crimes against humanity.
During his brief 17-month rule from 1982-83, Guatemalan military dictator Efraín Rios Montt escalated to its grim apogee the state terror regularly employed during a decades-long attack on leftist insurgents, suspected sympathizers, and Mayan communities. This American Life correctly described the directives of the Army High Command’s scorched-earth campaign, in which soldiers burned farmland and homes, slaughtered animals, raped and mutilated women and children, and exterminated entire communities like the hamlet of Dos Erres. Glass concluded that state-led massacres “happened in over 600 villages” and added that an overall accounting of the larger conflict by “a truth commission found that the number of Guatemalans killed or disappeared by their own government was over 180,000.”
Glass did not mention, however, that the very same UN-sponsored truth commission also concluded in its 1999 report that the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some state operations” involved in atrocities like Dos Erres. (Both The Washington Post and PBS reported this particular finding at the time.)
Notwithstanding This American Life’s omission, the extent of U.S. criminality in Guatemala is astonishing, as is the abundance of publicly available evidence of it. Beginning with a Central Intelligence Agency-organized coup that overthrew Guatemala’s reformist democrat, President Jacobo Arbenz, in 1954, the United States played a dominant and closely documented role in the horrors that ripped the country apart over 40 years, throughout a long chain of dictatorships.
Between 1956-61, for example, the United States trained over 600 Guatemalan military officers either on U.S. soil or within the U.S.-controlled Panama Canal Zone. By 1963, U.S. advisors were providing expertise in domestic surveillance and crowd control, while Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Edwin Martin, in an internal document, lauded the “encouraging progress toward [the] establishment of an effective counter-subversive intelligence apparatus.”
With the help of security adviser John Longan of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Public Safety, that apparatus developed into Operación Limpieza. New York University historian and Guatemala expert Greg Grandin describes the program, created in 1966, as a consolidation of “the operations of the police and military” that allowed them to “gather, analyze, and act on intelligence in a coordinated and rapid manner” with the aid of “state-of-the-art telecommunications and surveillance equipment.” Among its first successes were the tortures and murders of dozens of leftist leaders over a three-day period in March 1966—Operación Limpieza quickly became, according to Grandin, the “cornerstone” of Guatemala’s state repression.
In September of that year, the U.S. embassy hailed Operación Limpieza’s head, Colonel Rafael Arriaga Bosque, as one of Guatemala’s “most effective and enlightened leaders”; by October 1966, he would help carry out the country’s first scorched-earth campaign, massacring eight thousand. U.S. planners were fully aware of the consequences of their ongoing assistance: in a 1968 State Department memo, Longan frankly conceded that Guatemalan security forces “will be continued to be used, as in the past, not so much as protectors of the nation against communist enslavement, but as the oligarchy’s oppressors of legitimate social change.”
Successive U.S. presidents avoided publicly labeling Guatemala a gross violator of human rights for fear that “it would be too difficult to clear a country of such a label once given,” thereby jeopardizing the resumption of military aid, according to State Department officials cited in a 1986 U.S. General Accounting Office report. Nevertheless, under Jimmy Carter’s presidency in 1977, Congress enacted a ban on military assistance to Guatemala. The legislation allowed for a loophole, however: it “did not prevent government arms deliveries previously under contract or commercial export of munitions,” the GAO found.
“While the Carter Administration at least implicitly recognized that Guatemala was a gross human rights violator,” wrote Tanya Broder and Bernard D. Lambek in the Yale Journal of International Law in 1988, “President Reagan’s desire to supply the Guatemalan military [with arms and training]” dealt a coup de grâce to any efficacy of Congressional prohibitions.
By 1982, U.S.-allied proxies such as Israel and Taiwan were tasked with arming Guatemala’s counterinsurgency forces, successfully circumventing U.S. restrictions. The CIA under Reagan also provided regular payments to top Guatemalan military leaders, and the administration illegally deployed advisers to teach Guatemalan cadets “anything our Army has,” according to Green Beret Jesse Garcia, who had arrived in the country months before the Dos Erres massacre. As reported by investigative journalist Allan Nairn, this included “ambushes, surveillance, combat arms, artillery, armor, patrolling, demolition and helicopter assault tactics.” Quoting Garcia, Nairn wrote that the United States provided expertise in “how to destroy towns.”*
On the evening of December 4, 1982, just two days before the Guatemalan Kaibil commandos would initiate their Dos Erres operation, Reagan addressed reporters at an Air Force base in Honduras regarding a “useful exchange of ideas” he had just had with Rios Montt. “I know that President Rios Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment. I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice,” he declared. “The United States is committed to support his efforts to restore democracy,” he said in reference to the coup perpetrator, and “my administration will do all it can to support his progressive efforts.”
In a question-and-answer period, Reagan also dismissed accusations of human rights violations committed by Rios Montt and his military: “Frankly I’m inclined to believe they’ve been getting a bum rap,” he protested. It has long since been clear that with these kinds of comments, the Reagan administration was deliberately obscuring Guatemala’s record of atrocities.
After all, following his 1980 election, two retired military leaders involved in his campaign reportedly told the Guatemalan military that “Mr. Reagan recognizes that a good deal of dirty work has to be done.” According to national-security documents unearthed by investigative journalist Robert Parry at the Reagan Library, the United States knew of Guatemala’s longstanding efforts to annihilate leftists’ “civilian support mechanisms.” And nine days before Reagan downplayed allegations of Rios Montt’s criminality for journalists, a State Department report noted, “our Embassy recently informed us of a new, apparently well-founded allegation of a large-scale killing of Indian men, women and children in a remote area by the Guatemalan Army.”
Given Reagan and Rios Montt’s close collaboration, along with a Guatemalan judge’s finding of “sufficient evidence tying Rios Montt to the Las Dos Erres massacre,” it seemed obvious that This American Life would touch upon Reagan’s culpability in the course of an hour-long episode dedicated to the atrocity. Indeed, Glass appeared to indicate a willingness to do so, when early in the program he boasted:
OK, before we dive into this story, just a quick history review. Now, I myself was the kind of insufferable, politically correct person who was obsessed with Latin America back in the 1980s. I called Nicaragua “Neek-ar-ah-wah,” and actually went to Nicaragua for a month during the fifth anniversary of the Sandinista revolution. I traveled in Guatemala during the civil war. You, however, might be what we call a normal person and didn’t do any of that.
Yet Glass’s history review for “normal people” completely excluded U.S. involvement in violations of international humanitarian law, despite the on-air appearance of researcher Kate Doyle of the National Security Archives, who specializes in declassified U.S. documents. He introduced her early in the episode and focused on an inane line of questioning regarding her personal “list of the ranking of most f’ed up countries” in Central America. As she related to me by phone, the program scrapped much of the rest of her in-studio discussion, in which she highlighted Washington’s participation in atrocities.
In its zeal to avoid all mention of active U.S. assistance in Dos Erres, This American Life also excluded content from its own media partner, ProPublica, which published a written article that coincided with the radio program. ProPublica’s account highlighted the case of Kaibil sergeant Pedro Pimentel, sentenced in 2012 to 6,060 years in prison for his role in the atrocities. Directly after the operation, he was spirited away by helicopter from Dos Erres to the School of the Americas, the U.S. military’s infamous training center for Latin American security forces, where he went on to serve as an instructor. (The School of the Americas had trained Rios Montt in 1950, and would in 1985 train Guatemala’s current president Otto Pérez Molina, who, as a Kaibil field commander, likely committed atrocities himself.)
When asked about such omissions by email, Glass replied, “I certainly know that history,” and admitted that he had talked “to Kate Doyle about U.S. participation in Guatemala.” Nonetheless, he and his co-producers “decided not to get into that in the program simply because we felt like we were throwing a lot of facts and history at our listeners and were worried about how much people could absorb.” He added, “It was a judgment call. And maybe we made the wrong call.”
Retrospection aside, his answer was disingenuous. While it was true that the words “Reagan,” “Jacobo Arbenz,” “School of the Americas” or “CIA” were never uttered in the hour-long broadcast, Glass and his co-producers did not simply omit context. They went one step further, by affirmatively—and falsely—framing the U.S. government as a negligent bystander whose only sin was a reluctance to speak out.
He claimed in the episode, for example, that “Embassy officials heard lots of reports about the Army massacring whole villages throughout Guatemala, which they dismissed,” until, “at the urging of the State Department back in Washington,” they went to “see for themselves if the stories were true.” This American Life’s harshest indictment is that, despite years of repeated massacres after Dos Erres, “the U.S. knew about it but stood by.”
If Glass worried about inundating listeners with too many facts, I asked in a follow-up email, “why did you introduce the factual claim that ‘the U.S. knew about [the ongoing killings] but stood by?’” And how could this characterization possibly be reconciled with his previous email’s description of “U.S. participation” in war crimes?
Glass did not respond.
In October 2011, Barack Obama echoed Reagan’s soaring, mendacious, 30-year-old script for his Central American ally. Having invited Honduran President Porfirio Lobo to the White House, Obama thanked him for his “strong commitment to democracy and leadership.” Lobo’s “restoration of democratic practices and a commitment to reconciliation,” said Obama, gave him “great hope.” It would have been impolite, of course, to publicly acknowledge that Lobo had presided over state security forces, trained and financed with millions of U.S.-taxpayer dollars annually, that had killed and continue to kill Honduran civilians as a matter of routine.
Given This American Life’s conformity to official U.S. doctrine regarding Guatemala, it was to be expected that a subsequent half-hour segment on Honduras titled “Some Like It Dot,” which aired in early 2013, would in no way upset the official narrative set by President Obama. The episode predictably excluded crucial, if inconvenient, political context as it centered on the attempt to develop “charter cities” in Honduras—swaths of land to be ceded to international investors and developed into autonomous cities, with their own police forces, taxes, labor codes, trade rules, and legal systems.
Although the show dutifully included a warning by Princeton economist Angus Deaton, who described charter cities as a “reintroduction of colonialism,” This American Life nonetheless enthusiastically portrayed the messianic vision of University of Chicago-trained economist Paul Romer as an exciting solution to Honduran “corruption and chaos and violence.”
That very “corruption and chaos and violence,” This American Life failed to inform its listeners, exploded as a result of a 2009 coup d’etat against the country’s left-leaning, democratically elected leader, President Manuel Zelaya. Strong circumstantial evidence implicates the United States in his ouster. The early-morning plane that spirited the pajama-attired president and his family to Costa Rica, for example, stopped to refuel at the U.S. military base of Palmerola. U.S. officials also acknowledged that they were in discussions with the Honduran military (many of whose leaders were trained at the School of the Americas) up until the very day it deposed Zelaya.
What is known beyond any doubt is Washington’s vigorous efforts in 2009 to bolster the coup government of Roberto Micheletti, and to legitimize the repressive sham elections held under that regime. With the dubious transfer of power from Micheletti to Porfirio Lobo in 2010, the ultimate success of Zelaya’s removal was guaranteed. Unsurprisingly, neither the coup, its consequences, nor Washington’s involvement appeared in This American Life’s episode.
Other than Romer, the episode’s main protagonist was Lobo’s chief of staff, Octavio Sánchez. Besides being the leading Honduran advocate for charter cities, Sánchez was one of the most strident champions of the coup. Writing in The Christian Science Monitor just days after the elected president was removed from the country at gunpoint, Sánchez characterized the event as “nothing short of the triumph of the rule of law,” and urged readers not to “believe the coup myth.” This American Life could not be bothered to point out this fact, or Sánchez’s profound cynicism, preferring instead to describe him as the country’s idealistic “national dreamer.”
In his defense, Ira Glass wrote by email: “What interested our…reporters in that story was the relationship between Octavio Sanchez and Paul Romer, and what it said about the ability of outsiders to come into a country with a development scheme like Romer was suggesting.” Though he claimed his reporters “were well aware of the broader politics of Honduras,” This American Life wanted nothing to do with it. “I think another reporter could make a totally interesting and valid story going into more of the politics you’re talking about, but that simply wasn’t the focus of what we were doing.”
By coding the crux of the debate around charter cities as extraneous “politics,” Glass was able to evade it. But the fact remains: the imposition of “development schemes” by “outsiders” on Honduras would be considered impossible if the overthrow of its democratically elected leader and the resulting decimation of its sovereignty had not occurred.
In response to Glass’s attempt to narrowly circumscribe “the focus of what we were doing,” I raised another question: if Octavio Sánchez’s vigorous coup defense was too far afield from This American Life’s preferred subject matter, was it relevant to the show’s narrative that the most prominent Honduran opponent of charter cities, Antonio Trejo, was murdered in a death-squad-style assassination in September 2012?
Yet again, Glass remained silent.
In the 1980s, when U.S. officials were most viciously engaged in Central America’s political violence, they could rely on media outlets as their reliable partners. Journalist Allan Nairn noted in a 1999 interview with Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting that during the period of Guatemalan genocide, “the big corporate press in the U.S. was not covering the U.S. role at all”—it was “barely covering the fact that the mass killings were taking place.” So in addition to condemning the U.S. government, he concluded that “the press also has blood on its hands.”
This American Life’s “What Happened at Dos Erres” mimicked some of the most propagandistic media behaviors of the 1980s. Its producers prohibited even a single sentence from reaching millions of U.S. listeners regarding the murderous policies of their own elected officials, executed with their tax dollars and in their name. It also bolstered the specious intellectual framework for greater U.S. intervention throughout the world on “humanitarian” grounds, by inventing the historical figment that the United States “stood by” in the face of Guatemalan violence. Months later, with remarkable continuity, This American Life concealed for U.S. listeners their relationship to the seemingly far-flung and senseless violence of Honduras.
This American Life’s journalistic misconduct is manifold: First, Ira Glass unreservedly acknowledged that both he and his co-producers were fully aware of the politics of both Guatemala and Honduras. Second, he clearly stated that they deliberately chose to omit them for their U.S. audience (and in the case of Guatemala, they disseminated a pure fabrication). Third, their motivation for suppressing the U.S. government’s hand in the barbarity of the two countries stems from either a disdain for their listeners—Glass condescendingly “worried about how much [history and facts] people could absorb”—or from their willingness to perpetuate Washington’s flattering self-image.
Whatever This American Life’s rationale may be, its two episodes on Central America prove that Glass’s earlier aspiration to do “the most idealistic, wide-eyed things that journalism can do” has been extinguished. Given the generalized dishonesty of the U.S. media and intellectual class, it’s no surprise that Peabody’s “experts in culture and the arts” rewarded the show for its excellence. But this accolade should not distract anyone from the reality that This American Life’s compelling storytelling can in no way be confused with ethical journalism.
Update (7/29): I spoke with the media watch group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting on its weekly radio program CounterSpin about This American Life‘s coverage of Central America. My segment can be listened to here. Our conversation touched upon the excellent work of Kevin Young in the latest NACLA Report on the Americas. His piece, “Washing U.S. Hands of the Dirty Wars: News Coverage Erases Washington’s Role in State Terror,” contextualizes the broader trends of the establishment media: The New York Times, The Washington Post, and National Public Radio reported on U.S. support for Latin American dictatorships in only 6% of their coverage from 2008-2013.
Iraq Invades the United States And Other Headlines from an Upside Down History of the U.S. Military and the World July 23, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Genocide, Imperialism, Latin America.
Tags: bay of pigs, bin Laden, drone missiles, eduardo galeano, geronimo, hiroshima, history, imperialism, Iraq invasion, Latin America, military suicide, pancho villa, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism, war on drugs, wmds
Roger’s note: The Uruguayan journalist and author, Eduardo Galeano, writes with razor-sharp irony. He is perhaps the most important living Latin American oppositionist commentator, and his “Open Veins of Latin America,” is a classic, and the first book one should read to learn about that continent’s tragic history of being exploited. Chavez handed a copy to Obama when they met at an international conference shortly after Obama’s first election victory. There is no reason to believe that Obama bothered to read it.
And Other Headlines from an Upside Down History of the U.S. Military and the World
[The following passages are excerpted from Eduardo Galeano’s new book, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History (Nation Books).]
The Day Mexico Invaded the United States
On this early morning in 1916, Pancho Villa crossed the border with his horsemen, set fire to the city of Columbus, killed several soldiers, nabbed a few horses and guns, and the following day was back in Mexico to tell the tale.
This lightning incursion is the only invasion the United States has suffered since its wars to break free from England.
In contrast, the United States has invaded practically every country in the entire world.
Since 1947 its Department of War has been called the Department of Defense, and its war budget the defense budget.
The names are an enigma as indecipherable as the Holy Trinity.
In 1945, while this day was dawning, Hiroshima lost its life. The atomic bomb’s first appearance incinerated this city and its people in an instant.
The few survivors, mutilated sleepwalkers, wandered among the smoking ruins. The burns on their naked bodies carried the stamp of the clothing they were wearing when the explosion hit. On what remained of the walls, the atom bomb’s flash left silhouettes of what had been: a woman with her arms raised, a man, a tethered horse.
Three days later, President Harry Truman spoke about the bomb over the radio.
He said: “We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.”
It was among the largest military expeditions ever launched in the history of the Caribbean. And it was the greatest blunder.
The dispossessed and evicted owners of Cuba declared from Miami that they were ready to die fighting for devolution, against revolution.
The US government believed them, and their intelligence services once again proved themselves unworthy of the name.
On April 20, 1961, three days after disembarking at the Bay of Pigs, armed to the teeth and backed by warships and planes, these courageous heroes surrendered.
The World Upside Down
On March 20 in the year 2003, Iraq’s air force bombed the United States.
On the heels of the bombs, Iraqi troops invaded U.S. soil.
There was collateral damage. Many civilians, most of them women and children, were killed or maimed. No one knows how many, because tradition dictates tabulating the losses suffered by invading troops and prohibits counting victims among the invaded population.
The war was inevitable. The security of Iraq and of all humanity was threatened by the weapons of mass destruction stockpiled in United States arsenals.
There was no basis, however, to the insidious rumors suggesting that Iraq intended to keep all the oil in Alaska.
Around this time in 2010 it came out that more and more US soldiers were committing suicide. It was nearly as common as death in combat.
The Pentagon promised to hire more mental health specialists, already the fastest-growing job classification in the armed forces.
The world is becoming an immense military base, and that base is becoming a mental hospital the size of the world. Inside the nuthouse, which ones are crazy? The soldiers killing themselves or the wars that oblige them to kill?
Geronimo led the Apache resistance in the nineteenth century.
This chief of the invaded earned himself a nasty reputation for driving the invaders crazy with his bravery and brilliance, and in the century that followed he became the baddest bad guy in the West on screen.
Keeping to that tradition, “Operation Geronimo” was the name chosen by the U.S. government for the execution of Osama bin Laden, who was shot and disappeared on this day in 2011.
But what did Geronimo have to do with bin Laden, the delirious caliph cooked up in the image laboratories of the U.S. military? Was Geronimo even remotely like this professional fearmonger who would announce his intention to eat every child raw whenever a U.S. president needed to justify a new war?
The name was not an innocent choice: the U.S. military always considered the Indian warriors who defended their lands and dignity against foreign conquest to be terrorists.
Robots with Wings
Good news. On this day in the year 2011 the world’s military brass announced that drones could continue killing people.
These pilotless planes, crewed by no one, flown by remote control, are in good health: the virus that attacked them was only a passing bother.
As of now, drones have dropped their rain of bombs on defenseless victims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and Palestine, and their services are expected in other countries.
In the Age of the Almighty Computer, drones are the perfect warriors. They kill without remorse, obey without kidding around, and they never reveal the names of their masters.
War Against Drugs
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan took up the spear that Richard Nixon had raised a few years previous, and the war against drugs received a multimillion-dollar boost.
From that point on, profits escalated for drug traffickers and the big money-laundering banks; more powerful drugs came to kill twice as many people as before; every week a new jail opens in the United States, since the country with the most drug addicts always has room for a few addicts more; Afghanistan, a country invaded and occupied by the United States, became the principal supplier of nearly all the world’s heroin; and the war against drugs, which turned Colombia into one big U.S. military base, is turning Mexico into a demented slaughterhouse.
This post is excerpted from Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History Copyright © 2013 by Eduardo Galeano; translation copyright © 2013 by Mark Fried. Published by Nation Books, A member of the Perseus Group, New York, NY. Originally published in Spanish in 2012 by Siglo XXI Editores, Argentina, and Ediciones Chanchito, Uruguay. By permission of Susan Bergholz Literary Services, New York City, and Lamy, N.M. All rights reserved.
Eduardo Galeano is one of Latin America’s most distinguished writers. He is the author of Open Veins of Latin America, the Memory of Fire Trilogy, Mirrors, and many other works. His newest book, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History (Nation Books) has just been published in English. He is the recipient of many international prizes, including the first Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom, the American Book Award, and the Casa de las Américas Prize
The US Remains Guilty in Guatemala June 6, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Foreign Policy, Genocide, Guatemala, History, Human Rights, Latin America, Nicaragua.
Tags: cia, genocide, guatemala, guatemala civil war, guatemala coup, guatemala genocide, history, human rights, Latin America, nicaragua, nicaragua contras, Noam Chomsky, rios-montt, robert parry, roger hollander, ronald reagan
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Roger’s note: although I recently posted on this subject when the court found Rios Montt guilty of genocide, given the appeal court reversal and the background Chomsky outlines of the historic US intervention of atrocity to destroy genuine social justice, it bears reiteration.
On Mother’s Day, May 12, The Boston Globe featured a photo of a young woman with her toddler son sleeping in her arms.
The woman, of Mayan Indian heritage, had crossed the U.S. border seven times while pregnant, only to be caught and shipped back across the border on six of those attempts. She braved many miles, enduring blisteringly hot days and freezing nights, with no water or shelter, amid roaming gunmen.
The last time she crossed, seven months pregnant, she was rescued by immigration solidarity activists who helped her to find her way to Boston.
Most of the border crossers are from Central America. Many say they would rather be home, if the possibility of decent survival hadn’t been destroyed. Mayans such as this young mother are still fleeing from the wreckage of the genocidal assault on the indigenous population of the Guatemalan highlands 30 years ago.
The main perpetrator, Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, the former dictator who ruled Guatemala during two of the bloodiest years of the country’s decades-long civil war, was convicted in a Guatemalan court of genocide and crimes against humanity, on May 10.
Then, 10 days later, the case was overturned under suspicious circumstances. It is unclear whether the trial will continue.
Rios Montt’s forces killed tens of thousands of Guatemalans, mostly Mayans, in the year 1982 alone.
As that bloody year ended, President Reagan assured the nation that the killer was a “man of great personal integrity and commitment,” who was getting a “rap” from human-rights organizations and who “wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.”
Therefore, the president continued, “My administration will do all it can to support his progressive efforts.”
Ample evidence of Rios Montt’s “progressive efforts” was available to Washington, not only from rights organizations, but also from U.S. intelligence.
But truth was unwelcome. It interfered with the objectives set by Reagan’s national security team in 1981. As reported by the journalist Robert Parry, working from a document he discovered in the Reagan Library, the team’s goal was to supply military aid to the right-wing regime in Guatemala in order to exterminate not only “Marxist guerrillas‚” but also their “civilian support mechanisms‚”which means, effectively, genocide.
The task was carried out with dedication. Reagan sent “nonlethal” equipment to the killers, including Bell helicopters that were immediately armed and sent on their missions of death and destruction.
But the most effective method was to enlist a network of client states to take over the task, including Taiwan and South Korea, still under U.S.-backed dictatorships, as well as apartheid South Africa and the Argentine and Chilean dictatorships.
At the forefront was Israel, which became the major arms supplier to Guatemala. It provided instructors for the killers and participated in counterinsurgency operations.
The background bears restating. In 1954, a CIA-run military coup ended a 10-year democratic interlude in Guatemala “the years of spring,” as they are known there and restored a savage elite to power.
In the 1990s, international organizations conducting inquiries into the fighting reported that since 1954 some 200,000 people had been killed in Guatemala, 80 percent of whom were indigenous. The killers were mostly from the Guatemalan security forces and closely linked paramilitaries.
The atrocities were carried out with vigorous U.S. support and participation. Among the standard Cold War pretexts was that Guatemala was a Russian “beachhead” in Latin America.
The real reasons, amply documented, were also standard: concern for the interests of U.S. investors and fear that a democratic experiment empowering the harshly repressed peasant majority ‚”might be a virus‚”that would “spread contagion,” in Henry Kissinger’s thoughtful phrase, referring to Salvador Allende’s democratic socialist Chile.
Reagan’s murderous assault on Central America was not limited to Guatemala, of course. In most of the region the agencies of terror were government security forces that had been armed and trained by Washington.
One country was different: Nicaragua. It had an army to defend its population. Reagan therefore had to organize right-wing guerilla forces to wage the fight.
In 1986, the World Court, in Nicaragua v. United States, condemned the U.S. for “unlawful use of force‚” in Nicaragua and ordered the payment of reparations. The United States’ response to the court’s decree was to escalate the proxy war.
The U.S. Southern Command ordered the guerillas to attack virtually defenseless civilian targets, not to “duke it out” with the Nicaraguan army, according to Southcom’s Gen. John Gavin testimony to Congress in 1987.
Rights organizations (the same ones that were giving a bad rap to genocidaire Rios Montt) had condemned the war in Nicaragua all along but vehemently protested Southcom’s “soft-target” tactics.
The American commentator Michael Kinsley reprimanded the rights organizations for departing from good form. He explained that a “sensible policy” must “meet the test of cost-benefit analysis,” evaluating
“the amount of blood and misery that will be poured in, and the likelihood that democracy will emerge at the other end.”
Naturally, we Americans have the right to conduct the analysis, thanks, presumably, to our inherent nobility and stellar record ever since the days when the continent was cleared of the native scourge.
The nature of the “democracy that will emerge” was hardly obscure. It is accurately described by the leading scholar of “democracy promotion,” Thomas Carothers, who worked on such projects in the Reagan State Department.
Carothers concludes, regretfully, that U.S. influence was inversely proportional to democratic progress in Latin America, because Washington would only tolerate “limited, top-down forms of democratic change that did not risk upsetting the traditional structures of power with which the United States has long been allied (in) quite undemocratic societies.”
There has been no change since.
In 1999, President Clinton apologized for American crimes in Guatemala but no action was taken.
There are countries that rise to a higher level than idle apology without action. Guatemala, despite its continuing travails, has carried out the unprecedented act of bringing a former head of state to trial for his crimes, something we might remember on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Also perhaps unprecedented is an article in The New York Times by Elisabeth Malkin, headlined “Trial on Guatemalan Civil War Carnage Leaves Out U.S. Role.”Even acknowledgment of one’s own crimes is very rare.”
Rare to nonexistent are actions that could alleviate some of the crimes’ horrendous consequences – for example, for the United States to pay the reparations to Nicaragua ordered by the World Court.
The absence of such actions provides one measure of the chasm that separates us from where a civilized society ought to be.
© 2012 The New York Times Company Truthout has licensed this content. It may not be reproduced by any other source and is not covered by our Creative Commons license.
Tags: alice walker, alicia keys, apartheid, boycott israel, brand israel, Civil Rights, gaza, history, israel apartheid, Palestine, roger hollander
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Dear Alicia Keys,
I have learned today that you are due to perform in Israel very soon. We have never met, though I believe we are mutually respectful of each other’s path and work. It would grieve me to know you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists. You were not born when we, your elders who love you, boycotted institutions in the US South to end an American apartheid less lethal than Israel’s against the Palestinian people. Google Montgomery Bus Boycott, if you don’t know about this civil rights history already. We changed our country fundamentally, and the various boycotts of Israeli institutions and products will do the same there. It is our only nonviolent option and, as we learned from our own struggle in America, nonviolence is the only path to a peaceful future.
If you go to my website and blog alicewalkersgarden.com you can quickly find many articles I have written over the years that explain why a cultural boycott of Israel and Israeli institutions (not individuals) is the only option left to artists who cannot bear the unconscionable harm Israel inflicts every day on the people of Palestine, whose major “crime” is that they exist in their own land, land that Israel wants to control as its own. Under a campaign named ‘Brand Israel’, Israeli officials have stated specifically their intent to downplay the Palestinian conflict by using culture and arts to showcase Israel as a modern, welcoming place.
This is actually a wonderful opportunity for you to learn about something sorrowful, and amazing: that our government (Obama in particular) supports a system that is cruel, unjust, and unbelievably evil. You can spend months, and years, as I have, pondering this situation. Layer upon layer of lies, misinformation, fear, cowardice and complicity. Greed. It is a vast eye-opener into the causes of much of the affliction in our suffering world.
I have kept you in my awareness as someone of conscience and caring, especially about the children of the world. Please, if you can manage it, go to visit the children in Gaza, and sing to them of our mutual love of all children, and of their right not to be harmed simply because they exist.
With love, younger sister, beloved daughter and friend,
Ronald Reagan: Accessory to Genocide May 12, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Foreign Policy, Genocide, Guatemala, History, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: central america, cia, death squads, foreign policy, genocide, guatemala, guatemala genocide, human rights, Latin America, mayan indians, rios-montt, robert parry, roger hollander, ronald reagan
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More than any recent U.S. president, Ronald Reagan has been lavished with honors, including his name attached to Washington’s National Airport. But the conviction of Reagan’s old ally, ex-Guatemalan dictator Rios Montt, for genocide means “Ronnie” must face history’s judgment as an accessory to the crime
The conviction of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide against Mayan villagers in the 1980s has a special meaning for Americans who idolize Ronald Reagan. It means that their hero was an accessory to one of the most grievous crimes that can be committed against humanity.
The courage of the Guatemalan people and the integrity of their legal system to exact some accountability on a still-influential political figure also put U.S. democracy to shame. For decades now, Americans have tolerated human rights crimes by U.S. presidents who face little or no accountability. Usually, the history isn’t even compiled honestly.
By contrast, a Guatemalan court on Friday found Rios Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced the 86-year-old ex-dictator to 80 years in prison. After the ruling, when Rios Montt rose and tried to walk out of the courtroom, Judge Yasmin Barrios shouted at him to stay put and then had security officers take him into custody.
Yet, while Guatemalans demonstrate the strength to face a dark chapter of their history, the American people remain mostly oblivious to Reagan’s central role in tens of thousands of political murders across Central America in the 1980s, including some 100,000 dead in Guatemala slaughtered by Rios Montt and other military dictators.
Indeed, Ronald Reagan – by aiding, abetting, encouraging and covering up widespread human rights crimes in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua as well as Guatemala – bears greater responsibility for Central America’s horrors than does Rios Montt in his bloody 17-month rule. Reagan supported Guatemala’s brutal repression both before and after Rios Montt held power, as well as during.
Despite that history, more honors have been bestowed on Reagan than any recent president. Americans have allowed the naming of scores of government facilities in Reagan’s honor, including Washington National Airport where Reagan’s name elbowed aside that of George Washington, who led the War of Independence, oversaw the drafting of the U.S. Constitution and served as the nation’s first president.
So, as America’s former reputation as a beacon for human rights becomes a bad joke to the rest of the world, it is unthinkable within the U.S. political/media structure that Reagan would get posthumously criticized for the barbarity that he promoted. No one of importance would dare suggest that his name be stripped from National Airport and his statue removed from near the airport entrance.
But the evidence is overwhelming that the 40th president of the United States was guilty as an accessory to genocide and a wide range of other war crimes, including torture, rape, terrorism and narcotics trafficking. [See Robert Parry's Lost History.]
Green Light to Genocide
Regarding Guatemala, the documentary evidence is clear that Reagan and his top aides gave a green light to the extermination campaign against the Mayan Ixil population in the highlands even before Rios Montt came to power. Despite receiving U.S. intelligence reports revealing these atrocities, the Reagan administration also pressed ahead in an extraordinary effort to arrange military equipment, including helicopters, to make the slaughter more efficient.
“In the tortured logic of military planning documents conceived under Mr. Ríos Montt’s 17-month rule during 1982 and 1983, the entire Mayan Ixil population was a military target, children included,” the New York Times reported from Rios Montt’s trial last month. “Officers wrote that the leftist guerrillas fighting the government had succeeded in indoctrinating the impoverished Ixils and reached ‘100 percent support.’”
So, everyone was targeted in these scorched-earth campaigns that eradicated more than 600 Indian villages in the Guatemalan highlands. But documents from this period indicate that these counterinsurgency strategies predated Rios Montt. And, they received the blessing of the Reagan administration shortly after Reagan took power in 1981.
A document that I discovered in the archives of the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, revealed that Reagan and his national security team in 1981 agreed to supply military aid to Guatemala’s dictators so they could pursue the goal of exterminating not only “Marxist guerrillas” but people associated with their “civilian support mechanisms.”
This supportive attitude took shape in spring 1981 as President Reagan sought to relax human-rights restrictions on military aid to Guatemala that had been imposed by President Jimmy Carter and the Democratic-controlled Congress in the late 1970s. As part of that easing, Reagan’s State Department “advised our Central American embassies that it has been studying ways to restore a closer, cooperative relationship with Guatemala,” said a White House “Situation Room Checklist” dated April 8, 1981.
The document added: “State believes a number of changes have occurred which could make Guatemalan leaders more receptive to a new U.S. initiative: the Guatemalans view the new administration as more sympathetic to their problems [and] they are less suspect of the U.S. role in El Salvador,” where the Reagan administration was expanding military aid to another right-wing regime infamous for slaughtering its political opponents, including Catholic clergy.
“State has concluded that any attempt to reestablish a dialogue [with Guatemala] would require some initial, condition-free demonstration of our goodwill. However, this could not include military sales which would provoke serious U.S. public and congressional criticism. State will undertake a series of confidence building measures, free of preconditions, which minimize potential conflict with existing legislation.”
In other words, the Reagan administration was hoping that the U.S. government could get back in the good graces of the Guatemalan dictators, not that the dictators should change their ways to qualify for U.S. government help.
Soliciting the Generals
The “checklist” added that the State Department “has also decided that the administration should engage the Guatemalan government at the highest level in a dialogue on our bilateral relations and the initiatives we can take together to improve them. Secretary [of State Alexander] Haig has designated [retired] General Vernon Walters as his personal emissary to initiate this process with President [Fernando Romeo] Lucas [Garcia].
“If Lucas is prepared to give assurances that he will take steps to halt government involvement in the indiscriminate killing of political opponents and to foster a climate conducive to a viable electoral process, the U.S. will be prepared to approve some military sales immediately.”
But the operative word in that paragraph was “indiscriminate.” The Reagan administration expressed no problem with killing civilians if they were considered supporters of the guerrillas who had been fighting against the country’s ruling oligarchs and generals since the 1950s when the CIA organized the overthrow of Guatemala’s reformist President Jacobo Arbenz.
The distinction was spelled out in “Talking Points” for Walters to deliver in a face-to-face meeting with General Lucas. As edited inside the White House in April 1981, the “Talking Points” read: “The President and Secretary Haig have designated me [Walters] as [their] personal emissary to discuss bilateral relations on an urgent basis.
“Both the President and the Secretary recognize that your country is engaged in a war with Marxist guerrillas. We are deeply concerned about externally supported Marxist subversion in Guatemala and other countries in the region. As you are aware, we have already taken steps to assist Honduras and El Salvador resist this aggression.
“The Secretary has sent me here to see if we can work out a way to provide material assistance to your government. … We have minimized negative public statements by US officials on the situation in Guatemala. … We have arranged for the Commerce Department to take steps that will permit the sale of $3 million worth of military trucks and Jeeps to the Guatemalan army. …
“With your concurrence, we propose to provide you and any officers you might designate an intelligence briefing on regional developments from our perspective. Our desire, however, is to go substantially beyond the steps I have just outlined. We wish to reestablish our traditional military supply and training relationship as soon as possible.
“As we are both aware, this has not yet been feasible because of our internal political and legal constraints relating to the use by some elements of your security forces of deliberate and indiscriminate killing of persons not involved with the guerrilla forces or their civilian support mechanisms. I am not referring here to the regrettable but inevitable death of innocents though error in combat situations, but to what appears to us a calculated use of terror to immobilize non politicized people or potential opponents. …
“If you could give me your assurance that you will take steps to halt official involvement in the killing of persons not involved with the guerrilla forces or their civilian support mechanism … we would be in a much stronger position to defend successfully with the Congress a decision to begin to resume our military supply relationship with your government.”
In other words, though the “talking points” were framed as an appeal to reduce the “indiscriminate” slaughter of “non politicized people,” they embraced scorched-earth tactics against people involved with the guerrillas and “their civilian support mechanisms.” The way that played out in Guatemala – as in nearby El Salvador – was the massacring of peasants in regions considered sympathetic to leftist insurgents.
Reporting the Truth
U.S. intelligence officers in the region also kept the Reagan administration abreast of the expanding slaughter. For instance, according to one “secret” cable from April 1981 — and declassified in the 1990s — the CIA was confirming Guatemalan government massacres even as Reagan was moving to loosen the military aid ban.
On April 17, 1981, a CIA cable described an army massacre at Cocob, near Nebaj in the Ixil Indian territory, because the population was believed to support leftist guerrillas. A CIA source reported that “the social population appeared to fully support the guerrillas” and “the soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved.”
The CIA cable added that “the Guatemalan authorities admitted that ‘many civilians’ were killed in Cocob, many of whom undoubtedly were non-combatants.” [Many of the Guatemalan documents declassified in the 1990s can be found at the National Security Archive’s Web site.]
Despite these atrocities, Reagan dispatched Walters in May 1981 to tell the Guatemalan leaders that the new U.S. administration wanted to lift the human rights embargoes on military equipment that Carter and Congress had imposed.
According to a State Department cable on Oct. 5, 1981, when Guatemalan leaders met again with Walters, they left no doubt about their plans. The cable said Gen. Lucas “made clear that his government will continue as before — that the repression will continue. He reiterated his belief that the repression is working and that the guerrilla threat will be successfully routed.”
Human rights groups saw the same picture, albeit from a less sympathetic angle. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission released a report on Oct. 15, 1981, blaming the Guatemalan government for “thousands of illegal executions.” [Washington Post, Oct. 16, 1981]
But the Reagan administration was set on whitewashing the horrific scene. A State Department “white paper,” released in December 1981, blamed the violence on leftist “extremist groups” and their “terrorist methods” prompted and supported by Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
What the documents from the Reagan Library make clear is that the administration was not simply struggling ineffectively to rein in these massacres – as the U.S. press corps typically reported – but was fully onboard with the slaughter of people who were part of the guerrillas’ “civilian support mechanisms.”
U.S. intelligence agencies continued to pick up evidence of these government-sponsored massacres. One CIA report in February 1982 described an army sweep through the so-called Ixil Triangle in central El Quiche province.
“The commanding officers of the units involved have been instructed to destroy all towns and villages which are cooperating with the Guerrilla Army of the Poor [the EGP] and eliminate all sources of resistance,” the report said. “Since the operation began, several villages have been burned to the ground, and a large number of guerrillas and collaborators have been killed.”
The CIA report explained the army’s modus operandi: “When an army patrol meets resistance and takes fire from a town or village, it is assumed that the entire town is hostile and it is subsequently destroyed.” When the army encountered an empty village, it was “assumed to have been supporting the EGP, and it is destroyed. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of refugees in the hills with no homes to return to. …
“The army high command is highly pleased with the initial results of the sweep operation, and believes that it will be successful in destroying the major EGP support area and will be able to drive the EGP out of the Ixil Triangle. … The well documented belief by the army that the entire Ixil Indian population is pro-EGP has created a situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike.”
The reality was so grotesque that it prompted protests even from some staunch anticommunists inside the Reagan administration. On Feb. 2, 1982, Richard Childress, one of Reagan’s national security aides, wrote a “secret” memo to his colleagues summing up this reality on the ground:
“As we move ahead on our approach to Latin America, we need to consciously address the unique problems posed by Guatemala. Possessed of some of the worst human rights records in the region, … it presents a policy dilemma for us. The abysmal human rights record makes it, in its present form, unworthy of USG [U.S. government] support. …
“Beset by a continuous insurgency for at least 15 years, the current leadership is completely committed to a ruthless and unyielding program of suppression. Hardly a soldier could be found that has not killed a ‘guerrilla.’”
Rios Montt’s Arrival
But Reagan was unmoved. He continued to insist on expanding U.S. support for these brutal campaigns, while his administration sought to cover up the facts and deflect criticism. Reagan’s team insisted that Gen. Efrain Rios Montt’s overthrow of Gen. Lucas in March 1982 represented a sunny new day in Guatemala.
An avowed fundamentalist Christian, Rios Montt impressed Official Washington where the Reagan administration immediately revved up its propaganda machinery to hype the new dictator’s “born-again” status as proof of his deep respect for human life. Reagan hailed Rios Montt as “a man of great personal integrity.”
By July 1982, however, Rios Montt had begun a new scorched-earth campaign called his “rifles and beans” policy. The slogan meant that pacified Indians would get “beans,” while all others could expect to be the target of army “rifles.” In October, Rios Montt secretly gave carte blanche to the feared “Archivos” intelligence unit to expand “death squad” operations in the cities. Based at the Presidential Palace, the “Archivos” masterminded many of Guatemala’s most notorious assassinations.
The U.S. embassy was soon hearing more accounts of the army conducting Indian massacres, but ideologically driven U.S. diplomats fed the Reagan administration the propaganda spin that would be best for their careers. On Oct. 22, 1982, embassy staff dismissed the massacre reports as a communist-inspired “disinformation campaign.”
Reagan personally joined this P.R. spin seeking to discredit human rights investigators and others who were reporting accurately about massacres that the administration knew were true. On Dec. 4, 1982, after meeting with Rios Montt, Reagan hailed the general as “totally dedicated to democracy” and added that Rios Montt’s government had been “getting a bum rap” on human rights. Reagan discounted the mounting reports of hundreds of Mayan villages being eradicated.
In February 1983, however, a secret CIA cable noted a rise in “suspect right-wing violence” with kidnappings of students and teachers. Bodies of victims were appearing in ditches and gullies. CIA sources traced these political murders to Rios Montt’s order to the “Archivos” in October to “apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they saw fit.”
Despite these facts on the ground, the annual State Department human rights survey praised the supposedly improved human rights situation in Guatemala. “The overall conduct of the armed forces had improved by late in the year” 1982, the report stated.
A different picture — far closer to the secret information held by the U.S. government — was coming from independent human rights investigators. On March 17, 1983, Americas Watch condemned the Guatemalan army for human rights atrocities against the Indian population.
New York attorney Stephen L. Kass said these findings included proof that the government carried out “virtually indiscriminate murder of men, women and children of any farm regarded by the army as possibly supportive of guerrilla insurgents.”
Rural women suspected of guerrilla sympathies were raped before execution, Kass said, adding that children were “thrown into burning homes. They are thrown in the air and speared with bayonets. We heard many, many stories of children being picked up by the ankles and swung against poles so their heads are destroyed.” [AP, March 17, 1983]
Publicly, senior Reagan officials continued to put on a happy face. In June 1983, special envoy Richard B. Stone praised “positive changes” in Rios Montt’s government, and Rios Montt pressed the United States for 10 UH-1H helicopters and six naval patrol boats, all the better to hunt guerrillas and their sympathizers.
Since Guatemala lacked the U.S. Foreign Military Sales credits or the cash to buy the helicopters, Reagan’s national security team looked for unconventional ways to arrange the delivery of the equipment that would give the Guatemalan army greater access to mountainous areas where guerrillas and their civilian supporters were hiding.
On Aug. 1, 1983, National Security Council aides Oliver North and Alfonso Sapia-Bosch reported to National Security Advisor William P. Clark that his deputy Robert “Bud” McFarlane was planning to exploit his Israeli channels to secure the helicopters for Guatemala. [For more on McFarlanes's Israeli channels, see Consortiumnews.com's "How Neocons Messed Up the Mideast."]
“With regard to the loan of ten helicopters, it is [our] understanding that Bud will take this up with the Israelis,” wrote North and Sapia-Bosch. “There are expectations that they would be forthcoming. Another possibility is to have an exercise with the Guatemalans. We would then use US mechanics and Guatemalan parts to bring their helicopters up to snuff.”
What it meant to provide these upgrades to the Guatemalan killing machine was clarified during the trial of Rios Montt with much of the testimony coming from survivors who, as children, escaped to mountain forests as their families and other Mayan villagers were butchered.
As the New York Times reported, “Pedro Chávez Brito told the court that he was only six or seven years old when soldiers killed his mother. He hid in the chicken coop with his older sister, her newborn and his younger brother, but soldiers found them and dragged them out, forcing them back into their house and setting it on fire.
“Mr. Chávez says he was the only one to escape. ‘I got under a tree trunk and I was like an animal,’ Mr. Chávez told the court. ‘After eight days I went to live in the mountains. In the mountain we ate only roots and grass.’”
The Times reported that “prosecution witnesses said the military considered Ixil civilians, including children, as legitimate targets. … Jacinto Lupamac Gómez said he was eight when soldiers killed his parents and older siblings and hustled him and his two younger brothers into a helicopter. Like some of the children whose lives were spared, they were adopted by Spanish-speaking families and forgot how to speak Ixil.”
Elena de Paz Santiago, now 42, “testified that she was 12 when she and her mother were taken by soldiers to an army base and raped. The soldiers let her go, but she never saw her mother again,” the Times reported.
Even by Guatemalan standards, Rios Montt’s vengeful Christian fundamentalism had hurtled out of control. On Aug. 8, 1983, another coup overthrew Rios Montt and brought Gen. Oscar Mejia Victores to power.
Despite the power shift, Guatemalan security forces continued to murder with impunity, finally going so far that even the U.S. Embassy objected. When three Guatemalans working for the U.S. Agency for International Development were slain in November 1983, U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin suspected that “Archivos” hit squads were sending a message to the United States to back off even mild pressure for human rights.
In late November, in a brief show of displeasure, the administration postponed the sale of $2 million in helicopter spare parts. The next month, however, Reagan sent the spare parts anyway. In 1984, Reagan succeeded, too, in pressuring Congress to approve $300,000 in military training for the Guatemalan army.
By mid-1984, Chapin, who had grown bitter about the army’s stubborn brutality, was gone, replaced by a far-right political appointee named Alberto Piedra, who favored increased military assistance to Guatemala. In January 1985, Americas Watch issued a report observing that Reagan’s State Department “is apparently more concerned with improving Guatemala’s image than in improving its human rights.”
Reagan’s Dark Side
Despite his outwardly congenial style, Reagan – as revealed in the documentary record – was a cold and ruthless anticommunist who endorsed whatever “death squad” strategies were deployed against leftists in Central America. As Walters’s “Talking Points” demonstrate, Reagan and his team accepted the idea of liquidating not only armed guerrillas but civilians who were judged sympathetic to left-wing causes – people who were deemed part of the guerrillas’ “civilian support mechanisms.”
Across Central America in the 1980s, the death toll was staggering — an estimated 70,000 or more political killings in El Salvador, possibly 20,000 slain from the Contra war in Nicaragua, about 200 political “disappearances” in Honduras and some 100,000 people eliminated during the resurgence of political violence in Guatemala. The one consistent element in these slaughters was the overarching Cold War rationalization emanating from Ronald Reagan’s White House.
It was not until 1999, a decade after Ronald Reagan left office, that the shocking scope of the atrocities in Guatemala was comprehensively detailed by a truth commission that drew heavily on U.S. government documents declassified by President Bill Clinton. On Feb. 25, 1999, the Historical Clarification Commission estimated that the 34-year civil war had claimed the lives of some 200,000 people with the most savage bloodletting occurring in the 1980s. The panel estimated that the army was responsible for 93 percent of the killings and leftist guerrillas for three percent. Four percent were listed as unresolved.
The report documented that in the 1980s, the army committed 626 massacres against Mayan villages. “The massacres that eliminated entire Mayan villages … are neither perfidious allegations nor figments of the imagination, but an authentic chapter in Guatemala’s history,” the commission concluded. The army “completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their livestock and crops,” the report said. In the northern highlands, the report termed the slaughter “genocide.” [Washington Post, Feb. 26, 1999]
Besides carrying out murder and “disappearances,” the army routinely engaged in torture and rape. “The rape of women, during torture or before being murdered, was a common practice” by the military and paramilitary forces, the report found. The report added that the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some [of these] state operations.” The report concluded that the U.S. government also gave money and training to a Guatemalan military that committed “acts of genocide” against the Mayans. [NYT, Feb. 26, 1999]
During a visit to Central America, on March 10, 1999, President Clinton apologized for the past U.S. support of right-wing regimes in Guatemala dating back to 1954. “For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake,” Clinton said.
Despite the damning documentary evidence and now the shocking judgment of genocide against Rios Montt, there has been no interest in Washington to hold any U.S. official accountable, not even a thought that the cornucopia of honors bestowed on Ronald Reagan should cease or be rescinded.
It remains unlikely that the genocide conviction of Rios Montt will change the warm and fuzzy glow that surrounds Ronald Reagan in the eyes of many Americans. The story of the Guatemalan butchery and the Reagan administration’s complicity has long since been relegated to the great American memory hole.
But Americans of conscience will have to reconcile what it means when a country sees nothing wrong in honoring a man who made genocide happen.
US Complicity in Guatemalan Genocide May 12, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Foreign Policy, Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: genocide, guatemala, guatemala genocide, Latin America, mayan indians, perez molina, rios-montt, roger hollander, ronald reagan, School of the Americas, soa, soa watch
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Roger’s note: these are excerpts from the SOA (School of the Americas) Watch newsletter:
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards Justice.
SOA Watch celebrates the guilty verdict against the former Guatemalan dictator and School of the Americas Graduate Efraín Ríos Montt, who was sentenced to 80 years in prison. We celebrate and stand in solidarity with the Ixil Mayans, the survivors of the genocide and crimes against humanity committed under his dictatorship (1982-1983).
SOA Watch renews the demand that justice also visit those who trained, equipped, and facilitated his genocidal regime. School of the Americas graduates formed the backbone of the presidential cabinets under the dictatorships of both Montt and his predecessor, Romeo Lucas García. They were also deeply involved in the Guatemalan Intelligence Agency (D-2), in the formation of the notorious civil defense patrols, and in planning and executing “Operation Sofia”. This military maneuver wiped out some 600 Mayan villages, part of a broader campaign “of genocide against groups of Mayan people,” as concluded by the 1999 UN-backed truth commission. Montt is the first ex-president to be found guilty of genocide by a Latin American court—it indicates that the tide is turning against impunity in the region, however, we must also hold those in the United States accountable, who trained and equipped the right-wing military dictatorships and made the genocide possible.
After a meeting with Ríos Montt in Honduras during the US-backed Dirty Wars in Central America, then-president Ronald Reagan stated that Ríos Montt was “a man of great personal integrity . . . totally dedicated to democracy”. The next day, December 6, 1982, the Kaibiles, the Guatemalan special forces which have extensive ties to the SOA, entered the village of Las Dos Erres, systematically raped the women, and killed 162 inhabitants, 67 of them children. Current President of Guatemala Otto Peréz Molina, also a graduate of the SOA, spent much of his time in military service as a member of the Kaibiles. This military unit was developed by the Guatemalan government in 1974, and its initial leader was a fellow SOA graduate by the name Pablo Nuila Hub. Also during the military career of Molina, he served as Montt’s Ixil field commander, under the alias Major Tito Arias. For a more detailed SOA Watch report about the Kaibiles, click here.It was the current administration of Peréz Molina who, fearing Molina’s complicity in much of the evidence brought forth in the trial against Montt, who stood to benefit from the temporary suspension of the trial. Thankfully justice prevailed and the trial resumed.
Remember this lady? May 11, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Europe, Genocide, History, Race, War.
Tags: historym, holocaust, irena sendler, nazis, nobel peace, roger hollander, second world war, warsaw ghetto, world war II
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Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she had smuggled out,