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WHAT ‘DEMOCRACY’ REALLY MEANS IN U.S. AND NEW YORK TIMES JARGON: LATIN AMERICA EDITION October 19, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Democracy, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Latin America, Media, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: I read the New York Times (it is the most right wing site I go to online; and, when asked how I keep up with the “other side,” I reply that one absorbs it by osmosis), there is often good reporting and feature articles; but on U.S. foreign policy, the Times is as Neanderthal as Bush/Obama/Clintons.

 

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BY GLENN GREENWALD

One of the most accidentally revealing media accounts highlighting the real meaning of “democracy” in U.S. discourse is a still-remarkable 2002 New York Times Editorial on the U.S.-backed military coup in Venezuela, which temporarily removed that country’s democratically elected (and very popular) president, Hugo Chávez. Rather than describe that coup as what it was by definition – a direct attack on democracy by a foreign power and domestic military which disliked the popularly elected president – the Times, in the most Orwellian fashion imaginable, literally celebrated the coup as a victory for democracy:

With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona.

Thankfully, said the NYT, democracy in Venezuela was no longer in danger . . . because the democratically-elected leader was forcibly removed by the military and replaced by an unelected, pro-U.S. “business leader.” The Champions of Democracy at the NYT then demanded a ruler more to their liking: “Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate to clean up the mess, encourage entrepreneurial freedom and slim down and professionalize the bureaucracy.”

More amazingly still, the Times editors told their readers that Chávez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” even though it was quickly and predictably revealed that neocon officials in the Bush administration played a central role. Eleven years later, upon Chávez’s death, the Times editors admitted that “the Bush administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it unwisely blessed a failed 2002 military coup attempt against Mr. Chávez” [the paper forgot to mention that it, too, blessed (and misled its readers about) that coup]. The editors then also acknowledged the rather significant facts that Chávez’s “redistributionist policies brought better living conditions to millions of poor Venezuelans” and “there is no denying his popularity among Venezuela’s impoverished majority.”

If you think The New York Times editorial page has learned any lessons from that debacle, you’d be mistaken. Today they published an editorialexpressing grave concern about the state of democracy in Latin America generally and Bolivia specifically. The proximate cause of this concern? The overwhelming election victory of Bolivian President Evo Morales (pictured above), who, as The Guardian put it, “is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.”

The Times editors nonetheless see Morales’ election to a third term not as a vindication of democracy but as a threat to it, linking his election victory to the way in which “the strength of democratic values in the region has been undermined in past years by coups and electoral irregularities.” Even as they admit that “it is easy to see why many Bolivians would want to see Mr. Morales, the country’s first president with indigenous roots, remain at the helm” – because “during his tenure, the economy of the country, one of the least developed in the hemisphere, grew at a healthy rate, the level of inequality shrank and the number of people living in poverty dropped significantly” – they nonetheless chide Bolivia’s neighbors for endorsing his ongoing rule: “it is troubling that the stronger democracies in Latin America seem happy to condone it.”

The Editors depict their concern as grounded in the lengthy tenure of Morales as well as the democratically elected leaders of Ecuador and Venezuela: “perhaps the most disquieting trend is that protégés of Mr. Chávez seem inclined to emulate his reluctance to cede power.” But the real reason the NYT so vehemently dislikes these elected leaders and ironically views them as threats to “democracy” becomes crystal clear toward the end of the editorial (emphasis added):

This regional dynamic has been dismal for Washington’s influence in the region. In Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, the new generation of caudillos [sic] have staked out anti-American policies and limited the scope of engagement on developmentmilitary cooperation and drug enforcement efforts. This has damaged the prospects for trade and security cooperation.

You can’t get much more blatant than that. The democratically elected leaders of these sovereign countries fail to submit to U.S. dictates, impede American imperialism, and subvert U.S. industry’s neoliberal designs on the region’s resources. Therefore, despite how popular they are with their own citizens and how much they’ve improved the lives of millions of their nations’ long-oppressed and impoverished minorities, they are depicted as grave threats to “democracy.”

It is, of course, true that democratically elected leaders are capable of authoritarian measures. It is, for instance, democratically elected U.S. leaders who imprison people without charges for years, build secret domestic spying systems, and even assert the power to assassinate their own citizens without due process. Elections are no guarantee against tyranny. There are legitimate criticisms to be made of each of these leaders with regard to domestic measures and civic freedoms, as there is for virtually every government on the planet.

But the very idea that the U.S. government and its media allies are motivated by those flaws is nothing short of laughable. Many of the U.S. government’s closest allies are the world’s worst regimes, beginning with the uniquely oppressive Saudi kingdom (which just yesterday sentenced a popular Shiite dissident to death) and the brutal military coup regime in Egypt, which, as my colleague Murtaza Hussain reports today, gets more popular in Washington as it becomes even more oppressive. And, of course, the U.S. supports Israel in every way imaginable even as its Secretary of State expressly recognizes the “apartheid” nature of its policy path.

Just as the NYT did with the Venezuelan coup regime of 2002, the U.S. government hails the Egyptian coup regime as saviors of democracy. That’s because “democracy” in U.S. discourse means: “serving U.S. interests” and “obeying U.S. dictates,” regardless how how the leaders gain and maintain power. Conversely, “tyranny” means “opposing the U.S. agenda” and “refusing U.S. commands,” no matter how fair and free the elections are that empower the government. The most tyrannical regimes are celebrated as long as they remain subservient, while the most popular and democratic governments are condemned as despots to the extent that they exercise independence.

To see how true that is, just imagine the orgies of denunciation that would rain down if a U.S. adversary (say, Iran, or Venezuela) rather than a key U.S. ally like Saudi Arabia had just sentenced a popular dissident to death. Instead, the NYT just weeks ago uncritically quotes an Emirates ambassador lauding Saudi Arabia as one of the region’s “moderate” allies because of its service to the U.S. bombing campaign in Syria. Meanwhile, the very popular, democratically elected leader of Bolivia is a grave menace to democratic values – because he’s “dismal for Washington’s influence in the region.”

Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Hard choices: Hillary Clinton admits role in Honduran coup aftermath October 9, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Guatemala, Hillary Clinton, History, Honduras, Imperialism, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: With respect to U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America, there is virtually no distinction between Democratic and Republican presidencies.  Hillary Clinton as Obama’s Secretary of State, for example, was no less hawkish in is asserting the interests of U.S. corporations and military than John Foster Dulles or Henry Kissinger.  The role of Lanny Davis in serving the perpetrators of the military coup against President Zelaya, Clinton family friend and legal counsel is striking.  I follow up the Clinton article with a fascinating study of the manipulation of public opinion (what Noam Chomsky refers to as “manufacturing consent) in the overthrowing of democratically elected governments in Latin America, with, in the case of Guatemala in 1954, the direct participation of the infamous “father of public relations,” Edward Bernays.

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Hillary Clinton with Pepe Lobo, the newly “elected” president of Honduras, who has recently come to power in an election rejected and considered illegitimate and fraudulent by virtually every government around the world that is not a virtual puppet of the US.  This photo by itself is capable of generating resentment towards the United States throughout the entire Latin American world, not to mention the vast Latino population in the States.

September 29, 2014 6:00AM ET
Clinton’s embrace of far-right narrative on Latin America is part of electoral strategy
In a recent op-ed in The Washington Post, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a review of Henry Kissinger’s latest book, “World Order,” to lay out her vision for “sustaining America’s leadership in the world.” In the midst of numerous global crises, she called for return to a foreign policy with purpose, strategy and pragmatism. She also highlighted some of these policy choices in her memoir “Hard Choices” and how they contributed to the challenges that Barack Obama’s administration now faces.

The chapter on Latin America, particularly the section on Honduras, a major source of the child migrants currently pouring into the United States, has gone largely unnoticed. In letters to Clinton and her successor, John Kerry, more than 100 members of Congress have repeatedly warned about the deteriorating security situation in Honduras, especially since the 2009 military coup that ousted the country’s democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. As Honduran scholar Dana Frank points out in Foreign Affairs, the U.S.-backed post-coup government “rewarded coup loyalists with top ministries,” opening the door for further “violence and anarchy.”

The homicide rate in Honduras, already the highest in the world, increased by 50 percent from 2008 to 2011; political repression, the murder of opposition political candidates, peasant organizers and LGBT activists increased and continue to this day. Femicides skyrocketed. The violence and insecurity were exacerbated by a generalized institutional collapse. Drug-related violence has worsened amid allegations of rampant corruption in Honduras’ police and government. While the gangs are responsible for much of the violence, Honduran security forces have engaged in a wave of killings and other human rights crimes with impunity.

Despite this, however, both under Clinton and Kerry, the State Department’s response to the violence and military and police impunity has largely been silence, along with continued U.S. aid to Honduran security forces. In “Hard Choices,” Clinton describes her role in the aftermath of the coup that brought about this dire situation. Her firsthand account is significant both for the confession of an important truth and for a crucial false testimony.

First, the confession: Clinton admits that she used the power of her office to make sure that Zelaya would not return to office. “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico,” Clinton writes. “We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”

This may not come as a surprise to those who followed the post-coup drama closely. (See my commentary from 2009 on Washington’s role in helping the coup succeed here, here and here.) But the official storyline, which was dutifully accepted by most in the media, was that the Obama administration actually opposed the coup and wanted Zelaya to return to office.

Clinton’s position on Latin America in her bid for the presidency is another example of how the far right exerts disproportionate influence on US foreign policy in the hemisphere.

The question of Zelaya was anything but moot. Latin American leaders, the United Nations General Assembly and other international bodies vehemently demanded his immediate return to office. Clinton’s defiant and anti-democratic stance spurred a downward slide in U.S. relations with several Latin American countries, which has continued. It eroded the warm welcome and benefit of the doubt that even the leftist governments in region offered to the newly installed Obama administration a few months earlier.

Clinton’s false testimony is even more revealing. She reports that Zelaya was arrested amid “fears that he was preparing to circumvent the constitution and extend his term in office.” This is simply not true. As Clinton must know, when Zelaya was kidnapped by the military and flown out of the country in his pajamas on June 28, 2009, he was trying to put a consultative, nonbinding poll on the ballot to ask voters whether they wanted to have a real referendum on reforming the constitution during the scheduled election in November. It is important to note that Zelaya was not eligible to run in that election. Even if he had gotten everything he wanted, it was impossible for Zelaya to extend his term in office. But this did not stop the extreme right in Honduras and the United States from using false charges of tampering with the constitution to justify the coup.

In addition to her bold confession and Clinton’s embrace of the far-right narrative in the Honduran episode, the Latin America chapter is considerably to the right of even her own record on the region as secretary of state. This appears to be a political calculation. There is little risk of losing votes for admitting her role in making most of the hemisphere’s governments disgusted with the United States. On the other side of the equation, there are influential interest groups and significant campaign money to be raised from the right-wing Latin American lobby, including Floridian Cuban-Americans and their political fundraisers.

Like the 54-year-old failed embargo against Cuba, Clinton’s position on Latin America in her bid for the presidency is another example of how the far right exerts disproportionate influence on U.S. foreign policy in the hemisphere.

Mark Weisbrot is a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is also the president of Just Foreign Policy.

 

By Brendan Fischer on December 27, 2010

(Part two of a two-part series)

bananasIn the first part of this series, the Center for Media and Democracy reported how the 2009 coup d’etat that toppled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was successfully maintained not through the use of force, but through the power of lobbying and spin. That tale, whose details were revealed through Wikileaks‘ publication of diplomatic cables and research into lobbying activities, had some echoes of the role PR played in an earlier “regime change” in the region. Here is the story of how the Chiquita banana company successfully used PR spin to help topple Guatemala’s left-leaning government in 1954, and how they may have done it again in Honduras, 2009.

The term “banana republic” was coined at the turn of the 20th Century in reference to the economic and political domination of weak or corrupt governments in Central America by the United Fruit Company, the corporation now known as Chiquita. (This article will refer to the company formerly known as United Fruit as “Chiquita”). Throughout much of its modern history, Honduras has been the quintessential “banana republic,” a poor country ruled by a small group of wealthy elites, with national politics controlled by multinational business interests, particularly Chiquita. In fact, Chiquita has historically been known as “El Pulpo” (“The Octopus”) in Honduras, as the company’s tentacles had such a firm grip on Honduran national politics.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chiquita maintained its grasp on Central American politics with a range of illegitimate tools, including the use of mercenary force and bribes. Since the birth of modern public relations in the mid-20th century, though, Chiquita has successfully fought many of its battles for political control with the power of spin. Recent revelations suggest they have done the same in the case of Honduras in 2009.

Edward L. Bernays, Chiquita, and the CIA-backed Guatemalan Coup

Chiquita’s most famous act of interference with Central American politics is its role in toppling Guatemala’s left-leaning government in 1954. For the first half of the 20th century, Chiquita poured investment capital into Guatemala, buying the country’s productive land and controlling shares in its railroad, electric utility, and telegraph industries; as a result, the Guatemalan government was subservient to Chiquita’s interests, exempting the company from internal taxation and guaranteeing workers earned no more than fifty cents per day. At the time of the 1944 Guatemalan revolution, Chiquita was the country’s number one landowner, employer, and exporter.

In 1950, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was elected with 65% of the vote, and Chiquita perceived his agrarian land reforms as a threat to their corporate interests. Chiquita, with the help of the father of modern public relations, Edward L. Bernays, waged a propaganda war and managed to convince the American public and politicians that Arbenz was secretly a dangerous communist who could not be allowed to remain in power. With McCarthy-era hysteria in full swing, President Eisenhower secretly ordered the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to overthrow the democratically elected Arbenz in a 1954 covert operation. The CIA armed and trained an ad-hoc “Liberation Army” under the command of an exiled Guatemalan army officer, and used them in conjunction with a diplomatic, economic, and propaganda campaign. At the time, the American public was told that Guatemala was undergoing a “revolution;” the CIA’s involvement was long suspected and fully revealed when the agency released thousands of documents in 1997. The overthrow precipitated a 40-year civil war that killed over 200,000 people, and “disappeared” another 100,000.

Edward Bernays

Edward Bernays

In the Bernays biography The Father of Spin, Larry Tye writes that Bernays began working as Chiquita’s public relations counsel in the early 1940s, peddling bananas by claiming they cured celiac disease and were “good for the national defense” (the company had lent its ships to the U.S. military in WWII). As the Guatemalan government became concerned with the needs of its impoverished majority, Bernays began a PR blitz to spin the left-leaning government as covertly Communist. He urged Chiquita to find a top Latin American politician to condemn Guatemala’s actions, and hire a top attorney to outline the reasons for outlawing the land reforms. Bernays planted stories in major newspapers and magazines on the “growing influence of Guatemala’s Communists,” prodded the New York Times to assign reporters who were sympathetic to his cause, and even managed to obtain coverage in liberal journals like The Nation. In 1952, Bernays brought a group of journalists to the region at Chiquita’s expense to “gather information,” but with everything the press saw and heard carefully staged and regulated by their host. When articles supportive of Chiquita’s claims were printed, Bernays would offer to help distribute reprints of the article to top government officials and other writers, and to help get a Congressperson to reprint the article in the Congressional record. Bernays also set up a network of “intelligence agents” to “undertake a private intelligence survey” of the “political and ideological situation” in Guatemala, and fed reports from these phony agents to the press as warnings from an “authoritative source” or an “unnamed intelligence official.” Throughout the conflict, Bernays remained a key source of information for the press. As the invasion began, he gave major U.S. news outlets the first reports on the situation.One of Bernays’ fellow PR men quoted in The Father of Spin notes that Chiquita’s executives were initially unsupportive of Bernays’ PR efforts, but not because they were uncomfortable with media manipulation; instead, “they wanted to do business the old way, to foment a revolution and get Arbenz the hell out of there.” Bernays managed to convince Chiquita executives to take his more subtle and clever approach.

In addition to Bernays’ carefully planned PR campaign, many indicators suggest Chiquita played a more direct role in convincing the U.S. to overthrow Arbenz. The company had very close ties to the CIA– former Chiquita executive General Walter Bedell Smith, who was later named to the board of directors, was a former Director of Central Intelligence, and the Dulles brothers (Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and then-current Director of Central Intelligence Allen Welsh Dulles) had provided legal services to the company through their association with the New York-based law firm Sullivan & Cromwell. Notorious spymaster E. Howard Hunt, who headed the CIA’s Guatemalan operation (and was later jailed for his role in the Watergate break-in) insisted in later years that lobbying by Chiquita persuaded the Eisenhower Administration to get involved in Guatemala.

Bernays’ carefully planned campaign successfully created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion in the U.S. about the Guatemalan government, compelling a U.S. intervention that advanced Chiquita’s interests and was internationally condemned. In turn, the overthrow fueled an atmosphere of fear and suspicion in Latin America about U.S. intentions in the region, and Che Guevara’s wife Hilda Gadea later wrote “it was Guatemala which finally convinced [Guevara] of the necessity for armed struggle and for taking the initiative against imperialism.” The U.S.-led regime change precipitated four decades of military rule and hundreds of thousands of deaths in Guatemala.

Chiquita’s Role in Honduras, 2009?

Manuel Zelaya (Source: Wikipedia)

Manuel Zelaya (Source: Wikipedia)

When the Honduran military deposed President Manual Zelaya on June 28, 2009, many took it as an unfriendly reminder of the banana republic era. Chiquita remains a major presence in Honduras, and at the time, some questioned whether the fruit company played a role in backing the 2009 coup, as it did in 1954 in neighboring Guatemala. As the coup crisis progressed, though, Chiquita’s name was hardly mentioned.Elite business interests, including Chiquita as well as the Honduran manufacturing sector, were disturbed by Zelaya raising the minimum wage by sixty percent, so nobody was surprised that the country’s business council CEAL (the Honduran equivalent to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) wanted to spin the coup as constitutional, and to paint Zelaya as a Hugo Chavez-aligned would-be-dictator.

To push this message, CEAL hired Lanny Davis (and his associate, Eileen M. O’Connor) from the lobbying firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP. Their efforts were aided by the Honduran government hiring Bennett Ratcliff and the lobbying firm Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates. Davis was a longtime political insider described by the infamous G. Gordon Liddy as one who “can defend the indefensible.” (Davis has most recently been in the headlines for serving as spinmeister for Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to relinquish power after losing elections in November and has since been committing what the United Nations calls “massive violations” of human rights.) According to Robert White, former U.S. ambassador and current president of the DC-based Center for International Policy, “If you want to understand who the real power behind the [Honduran] coup is, you need to find out who’s paying Lanny Davis.”

While Chiquita was a member of CEAL, its role in supporting the post-coup PR blitz was never analyzed or discussed. The coup that ousted Zelaya clearly helped Chiquita’s interests, but considering the company’s history of interference in Latin American politics, it understandably kept a low profile during the crisis. Through its membership in CEAL, Chiquita’s name never came up, and powerful lobbyists successfully attracted attention elsewhere.

The PR Machine At Work

The 2009 PR blitz was right out of Bernays’ 1954 playbook. Davis worked with a former Honduran foreign minister and Supreme Court Justice Guillermo Pérez-Cadalso to prep him for testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Davis also testified personally.

Right-wing Honduran legal “experts” made creative legal arguments about the legality of Zelaya’s removal, which were then cited by an official government report. Honduras’ lobbying firm appeared to help organize trips to the country for sympathetic legislators, briefed reporters on their interpretation of events, and placed op-eds in newspapers and magazines; Davis appeared personally on talk shows and drafted his own op-eds alleging the coup’s constitutionality.

It is unclear how much money Chiquita provided to the Honduran equivalent of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, CEAL, during the PR offensive supporting the coup. The company understandably wanted to maintain a public distance from the events in Honduras. While Lanny Davis carried out his PR blitz on behalf of CEAL and the coup, Chiquita also maintained its own lobbyists from McDermott, Will & Emory, paying the firm $140,000 in 2009. Chiquita has had a long relationship with McDermott, working with the lobbying firm since at least 1999. Because Chiquita is incorporated in the U.S., lobbying activities directly on its behalf are not reported. Throughout the course of the coup crisis, Chiquita and CEAL maintained separate lobbying firms and the banana company successfully managed to avoid accusations of meddling in Honduran politics.

By the fall of 2009, though, the Honduran coup had slipped from American headlines. So few noticed when Davis and O’Connor left Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe to join Chiquita’s firm, McDermott, Will & Emory; CEAL also brought their business to McDermott.

With American news media focusing attention elsewhere, perhaps Chiquita no longer felt it necessary to maintain the appearance of separation from the coup supporters. The coup regime and its backers had successfully spun America into believing the coup was a constitutional response to an illegal power grab by a pro-Chavez president. Most who were following the story, including policymakers, had accepted Zelaya’s removal as legal, and the “banana republic” allegations had faded from the limelight. However, with increasing political violence, oppression, and human rights violations at the hands of the right-wing post-coup government, and Chiquita’s apparent connection to the coup supporters, perhaps Honduras really has become a banana republic once again.

 

Brendan Fischer

Brendan Fischer is CMD’s General Counsel. He graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School.

- See more at: http://www.prwatch.org/news/2010/12/9834/banana-republic-once-again#sthash.YDLc9p4f.dpufThe views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America’s editorial policy.

Please vote for YASunidos October 7, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Latin America.
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YASunidos is an Ecuadorian youth movement which collected 750 000 signatures to prevent oil drilling in Yasuní national park in Ecuador.
They have been nominated for “The Human Rights Tulip” award, a prize worth €100 000.
This money could be used perfectly to further expand and deepen their campaign to save the Yasuní national park and protect the rights of the indigenous people whose existence is threatened by the oil exploitation.
Yasuní is a worldwide symbol – if we achieve to stop the oil exploitation in the Ecuadorian amazon, we are one step further towards saving the amazon, saving our climate, and creating a post-oil society in Ecuador and beyond.
Please vote and share this!
http://www.humanrightstulip.nl/candidates-and-voting/yasunidos

The Fight to Keep Toxic Mining—and the World Bank—Out of El Salvador September 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Environment, Latin America, Water.
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Roger’s note: Free trade agreements between North American industrialized nations and third world Latin American nations are inherently unequal and designed to promote and protect mega-corporate interests.  Specifically, they enshrine in law the right to capital investment regardless of damaging effects to workers and to the environment.  Corporate and military interests on both sides of the “partnership” use their clout over (ownership of?) the respective governments to enter into these legally binding agreements.  The NAFTA agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico has had the effect of destroying small corn farming in Mexico,which is in part responsible for the massive migration of Mexicans to the U.S.  Cf. my 2003 article in the L.A. Times:  http://articles.latimes.com/2003/nov/20/opinion/oe-hollander20

 

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Hundreds of protesters recently gathered at the World Bank to shame a gold mining firm’s shakedown of one of Central America’s poorest countries.

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Complete with a giant inflatable fat cat, protesters rally outside the World Bank in support of El Salvador’s right to ban toxic mining along its principal watershed. (Photo: Ron Carver / Institute for Policy Studies)

For miners, investors, and artisans, few things are more precious than gold. But for human life itself, nothing is more precious than water.

Just ask the people of El Salvador.

Nearly 30 years ago, the Wisconsin-based Commerce Group Corp purchased a gold mine near the San Sebastian River in El Salvador and contaminated the water. Now, according to Lita Trejo, a native Salvadoran and school worker in Washington, DC, the once clear river is orange. The people who drink from the arsenic-polluted river, she says, are suffering from kidney failure and other diseases.

On September 15, Trejo and more than 200 protestors—including Salvadoran immigrants, Catholic priests, trade unionists, and environmentalists—gathered in front of the World Bank to support El Salvador’s right to keep its largest river from suffering the same fate as the San Sebastian River. The event was co-sponsored by a raft of organizations, including the Institute for Policy Studies, Oxfam America, the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, and the Council of Canadians, among others. Over the past few weeks, similar protests have taken place in El Salvador, Canada, and Australia.

Mining for gold is not nearly so neat and clean as the harmless panning many Americans learned about as kids. Speakers pointed out that gold mining firms use the toxic chemical cyanide to separate gold from the surrounding rock, which then leaches into the water and the soil. And they use large quantities of water in the mining process—a major problem for El Salvador in particular, which has been described as “the most water-stressed country in Central America.” Confronted by a massive anti-mining movement in the country, three successive Salvadoran administrations have refused to approve new gold mining operations.

That’s where the story should end. But it’s far from over.

An Australian-Canadian mining company, OceanaGold, is suing the Salvadoran government for refusing to grant it a gold-mining permit to its subsidiary, Pacific Rim. Manuel Pérez-Rocha, a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies, explained the situation: “Oceana Gold is demanding more than $300 million from El Salvador. They are saying, ‘If you do not let us operate in your country the way we want, you must pay us for the profits that you prevented us from making.’”

That sounds absurd, but it’s true: The company is claiming that under the Central American Free Trade Agreement, it has the right to sue the Salvadoran government for passing a law that threatens its bottom line.

El Salvador is now defending its decision to prevent Oceana Gold/Pacific Rim from operating the “El Dorado” mine near the Lempa River before the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, a little-known World Bank-based tribunal.

As several protesters pointed out, El Salvador’s decision is grounded in its need to protect its limited water supply. More than 90 percent of the surface water supply in El Salvador is already contaminated, and more than 50 percent of the country’s 6.3 million people depend on the Lempa River watershed for their water.

Francisco Ramirez, a Salvadoran who grew up in Cabañas, the region where the El Dorado mine would operate, spoke from experience about this reality. “If you look at the contaminated rivers in El Salvador, there are no fish left in the water. Not even toads, which are usually resistant to certain levels of contamination, can survive. We do not want that contamination to spread,” Ramirez proclaimed.

Ana Machado, a Salvadoran member of the immigrant rights group Casa de Maryland, another co-sponsor of the event, added: “The Lempa River is the main drinking source and an important source of livelihood for a majority of people in my country, including my family. They fish there. They clean their clothes there. If the company contaminates the river, Salvadoran life as we know it will end.”

Another Salvadorian immigrant and organizer with Casa de Virginia, Lindolfo Carballo, linked this lawsuit to larger struggles over sovereignty and immigrant rights. “This country created institutions to legally rob its Southern neighbor,” he said, referring to the “free-trade” provisions that permit corporations to sue governments over public safety regulations they don’t like. “And after they rob us of our natural resources, after they contaminate our water and land, they tell us that we are undocumented, that we are ‘illegals,’ and that we have no right to be in this country. They have no right to throw us out of the United States if they are robbing us of the resources we need to survive in our own country,” he alleged.

John Cavanagh, Director of the Institute for Policy Studies, explained the goal of the protest: “We are saying to OceanaGold: ‘Drop the suit. Go home.’ To the World Bank, we say: ‘Evict this unjust tribunal. It deepens poverty and stomps on democracy and basic rights.’” Cavanagh pledged to continue pressing the company to back down, promising that protesters would return to the World Bank in larger numbers when the tribunal makes its ruling in 2015.

Diana Anahi Torres-Valverde is the New Mexico Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studiesin Washington, DC.

More Arrests in Chile, But Still No Justice in the U.S. September 19, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Chile, Criminal Justice, Latin America.
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September 18th is Chile’s  Independence Day, but for many the month of September is more about the heavy memories of the Chilean coup that happened 41 years ago on September 11th, 1973 and its continued legacy. As you may know, one of the most prominent victims of the military regime is the folk singer and activist Víctor Jara.

Last week, three more soldiers accused of his murder were arrested in Chile and more details about his assassination and murderers have beenrevealed (this article is in Spanish!). Pedro Barrientos, the SOA grad who was last known to reside in Florida and has been accused of pulling the trigger, was not on the list of new arrestees, because so far the U.S. government has not acted on the extradition request issued by the Chilean Supreme Court in 2013. When our allies in Chile are making strides toward justice and accountability, we must not remain on the sidelines.

Take action and demand Barrientos’s extradition to stand trial in Chile HERE!

As you know, our Justice for Víctor Campaign has been central to our work over the last year. In 2013, an SOA Watch delegation held asomber vigil at the gates of a U.S.-funded urban warfare training center and outside the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chile on 9/11. In April, we held a Víctor Jara Memorial Forum as part of our 2014 Spring Days of Action to share the undying spirit of Jara’s music. Thanks to you and thousands of SOA Watch activists around the globe, we’ve kept the pressure on the US Department of Justice to do the right thing by extraditing Barrientos to face justice in Chile.

Now, as we oppose yet more war and intervention by the U.S. throughout the world, we must hold the killers of yesteryear to account by demanding justice for Víctor and all the other victims of the Chilean coup! Only when the current power elite see their henchmen publicly disgraced will they think twice about repeating the sins of the past.

Lend your voice to the surging international chorus demanding an end to impunity and calling out: “Justice for Víctor!”

In solidarity as we remember the Chilean 9/11,
The SOA Watch Team

Tell Majority Leader Harry Reid – Respect Venezuela’s Sovereignty, Reject Sanctions Bill September 17, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Latin America, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: please sign the petition.

 

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As an SOA Watch supporter who has previously taken online action defending Venezuela’s sovereignty, it should be no surprise to you that Venezuela is once again under attack by the powerful far-right Cuban-American lobby and its allies. Senators Marco Rubio, Robert Menendez, John McCain, and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are desperately attempting to ram through a bill that would impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials based on exaggerated claims of human rights abuses that do not match up with the facts on the ground.

Please click here to urge Sen. Reid to respect Venezuela’s sovereignty, and oppose the right-wing’s factually-challenged and destructive sanctions bill

The sanctions bill is seen by the rest of Latin America as politically-motivated and a continuation of the typical intervention by the U.S. in the internal affairs of a democratic Latin American country. Earlier this month, Sen. Rubio sent Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid a letter calling on him to bypass Sen. Mary Landrieu’s committee and bring the sanctions bill to a vote. This after hypocritically attacking Sen. Landrieu in a Louisiana newspaper for holding up the vote due to concerns about the sanctions bill. Please take a moment to urge Senator Reid to continue supporting diplomacy, resist the far-right fear-mongering, and not bring up the Cold War era sanctions bill for a vote.

We should also take this opportunity to push him to deepen his opposition to the bill, which is currently based on protecting Senator Landrieu’s reelection bid and the Democratic Senate majority in November, to include support for U.S.-Venezuela dialogue, diplomacy, and respect for Latin American sovereignty.

Sen. Reid’s actions as Majority Leader are vital to ensuring respect for democracy in Venezuela and throughout Latin America. Your voice and the voice of your community are essential and can make the difference for setting the tone for U.S.-Latin American relations for decades to come. Urge Sen. Harry Reid (through his Foreign Policy Aide, Jessica Lewis) to do the right thing. It only takes 1 minute, please take action today and share this link widely!

In Solidarity,

Owen, Arturo, and the SOA Watch Legislative Working Group

P.S. In addition to taking online action, a follow-up call to Sen. Reid’s DC office will drive our message home. Call (202) 224-3542 and ask to speak with Jessica Lewis, his Foreign Policy Aide. Tell Ms. Lewis you oppose the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 because you support diplomacy with Venezuela’s democratically elected government, and want to see the U.S. respect the sovereignty of Latin American nations.

 

Your Tax Dollars at Work … to Oppress and Kill Our Neighbors to the South September 16, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: Here is a letter from SOA Watch, the courageous that works day and night to shut down the infamous and murderous School of the Americas (renamed WHINSEC) now at Fort Benning,  Georgia that for decades has indoctrinated and trained military personnel to do the dirty work of oppression and assassination for Latin American dictators and alleged democracies.  The focus of this letter are the atrocities that are taking place on a daily basis perpetrated by the U.S. supported puppet government in Honduras under the leadership of SOA graduates.  Honduras, since the US supported military coup against the elected Zelaya government, has become one of the most violent nations on the face of the earth; and this has created the exodus that is putting so much pressure on the U.S. border.

 

September 13, 2014

My name is Brigitte Gynther and I am the new SOAW Latin America Liaison.  I look forward to getting to know many of you and working together to close the SOA/WHINSEC and demand justice for the murders, repression, disappearances, and so many other crimes carried out by SOA/WHINSEC graduates — both in the past and today.  My first experience with the SOAW movement was traveling down to the gates of Ft. Benning as a student twelve years ago.  Later, I moved to the Florida farmworker town of Immokalee and spent 8 years organizing with religious communities and others to advance the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Campaign for Fair Food.  We frequently attended the SOAW Vigil, but little did I imagine that I would later end up spending two years as an SOAW activante in Honduras, documenting the tremendous human rights abuses unleashed upon the country as the result of the 2009 SOA-graduate led coup. 

In fact, I just came back from part of a delegation to Honduras in which SOA graduate Col. German Alfaro — notorious for criminalizing human rights defenders and social movement leaders — attacked the delegation in the media as part of a strategy aimed at silencing those who speak out.  The delegation had traveled to the Lower Aguan Valley to learn about the very real assassinations and human rights violations suffered by the campesino communities.  When the delegation visited the community of La Panama and took testimonies from victims about a violent eviction by the Honduran military involving tear gas, live bullets, one death, two serious injuries, and the beatings of several people, Col. Alfaro lashed out in the press, accusing the delegation of “encouraging campesinos to launch attacks” and said they were investigating the group for “being in a practically restricted area of the country.”  This follows similiar accusations made by Col. Alfaro against Annie Bird of Rights Action – who has extensively documented extrajudicial killings and abuses in the Aguan Valley – and accusations against local human rights defenders and small farmers.  It is part of a dangerous strategy aimed at hiding the reality in the Aguan by intimidating, discrediting, and defaming human rights workers who expose what is going on. Click here to call on the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa to condemn the attacks on national and international human rights observers and journalists who document murders and human rights violations in the Bajo Aguan.  

Just two weeks after the delegation visited the Aguan, the Human Rights Observatory there reported that military forces under the command of another SOA graduate, Col. Rene Jovel Martinez, purposefully destroyed 52 acres of corn that campesinos had cultivated, some of which was almost ready to harvest. This leaves those families without the corn harvest they need to eat for the coming year.  

The delegation finished in Honduras’ capital, where — after telling us about massacre after massacre and murder after murder —  one of the people we met with asked us simply, “Who would want to stay in this country?”  It is a telling question.  Indeed, day after day, people flee the violence in Honduras, heading north to the US.  This exodus is the direct result of the military coup and repression by the US-trained and funded military to impose policies that benefit the ultra-wealthy and multinational corporations at the expense of the majority of the population, corrupting the judicial system to ensure impunity for murders. Governed by the rule of the powerful instead of the rule of law, murders and violence have spiraled out of control.  The US continues funding and training the corrupt Honduran regime, creating more migration. This is why, on November 22nd, the Saturday of the SOAW Vigil Weekend, we will be gathering outside the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia.  Many of those fleeing the violence, repression, and economic devastation of Honduras are now incarcerated at the Stewart Detention Center by the largest private prison corporation in the US.

We will gather at the Stewart Detention Center to protest not only the mistreatment, jailing, and deportations, but also the US policies and military funding that cause so many people to have to leave their homes and migrate to the US in the first place.  We will call on the US to respond to increasing migration not by increasing military aid and funding to corrupt and repressive governments, but by changing US polices — such as free trade agreements — that cause migration.  We will demand the US to stop training so many Latin American military officers at WHINSEC to protect US corporate interests over human rights, resulting in military officers who go on to murder, threaten, and burn corn harvests of poor campesinos.

I hope to meet you at the gates of Ft. Benning and the Stewart Detention Center this November 21-23We will be joined at the Vigil this year by some of the amazing participants from SOAW’s Youth Encuentro this summer, where young leaders on the front lines of struggles across the hemisphere came together to build the SOAW movement.  Together we will remember those who have been massacred, murdered, and disappeared at the hands of SOA graduates and those who are suffering that reality right now.  We will also speak out for the thousands of innocent civilians, children and adults, who flee the reality imposed by SOA graduates and find themselves jailed in the U.S., with our taxpayer money, for extended periods of time for no other crime than doing what many of us would probably do if we found ourselves in their shoes.  

Victor Jara’s Long Arc September 12, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Chile, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: The other 9/11.  Another case of U.S. imperial, militaristic, CIA lead murderous intervention in Latin America, a tradition that goes back to the Monroe Doctrine and continues today most blatantly in Venezuela, Colombia and Honduras (with the wilful support of Obama and the enthusiastic support of Hillary Clinton).

 

Today is the 41st anniversary of Chile’s 9/11, when Pinochet and his CIA-backed military junta overthrew Salvador Allende, Latin America’s first democratically elected Socialist leader, and began a 17-year reign of terror. Marking “a milestone” in the tragic story of their most famous and beloved victim, Chilean officials last week announced the arrest of three more former army officers in the murder of poet and songwriter Victor Jara, who was arrested soon after the coup with over 5,000 others and held, beaten and tortured for days; had his hands broken; and valiantly tried to sing the iconic Allende hymn “Venceremos” before being cut down by 44 Fascist bullets on September 16. Thanks in part to his indefatigable widow Joan’s decades-long fight for justice for Jara, the three officers join eight others charged in 2012. Another 700 military officials still await trial; the Jara family have also filed a civil lawsuit against another former officer now living in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, given newly revealed documents showing that President Reagan considered making Pinochet “a guest of our government” with an offer of political asylum, there’s been no move toward extradiction. In Chile, meanwhile, Jara remains a much-mourned hero and powerful symbol of freedom. Thousands attended a moving 2009 funeral for him when he was publicly re-buried, and the stadium where he died, now a sports venue and Chile’s largest homeless shelter, bears his name. A plaque there marks his death and that of so many others with a few wrenching, hopeful lines from the last thing he wrote. More in tribute here and here.

How hard it is to sing
when I must sing of horror.
Horror which I am living,
horror which I am dying.
To see myself among so much
and so many moments of infinity
in which silence and screams
are the end of my song.
What I see, I have never seen
What I have felt and what I feel
Will give birth to the moment…

 

How We Scapegoat Children From Gaza to the US-Mexico Borderlands August 9, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Children, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: “Suffer little children …”  Matthew 19:14 KJV

 

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Palestinian children break world record for Kite Flying. (United Nations / Under Creative Commons)

A week ago was when I first saw the picture that appeared in the The Telegraph of children in the Gaza Strip trying to break the Guinness world record for kite-flying. The kites floating mid-air off the Mediterranean shore were a sight to behold. I was taken with the photo and the happiness of the Gazan children on the beach, considering that all the news had been about the sustained Israeli bombardment of that besieged Palestinian territory. At first glance, it seemed like a triumph of the human spirit, or at least of the joy of childhood in the face of war. But then I realized that the picture had been taken at a previous time.

Again, I looked at the photo of all the children grouped on the beach, with the breaking, blue waves in the distance. Flying kites was still quite a feat with an unseen Israeli naval blockade six miles out to sea. However, with the sustained attack on the Gaza Strip, which has been going on since July 7, I realized that it was possible—if not probable—that some of these children were dead.

This U.S.-funded Israeli attack (on a 72-hour ceasefire since Tuesday, August 5) was a rallying point for several Los Angeles-based organizations to organize a march on July 25to protest the visit of President Barack Obama, who was on a trip to raise money for the Democratic Party and its upcoming election campaigns. But there was another reason for the protest. As that march moved forward down the L.A. streets in the mid-day heat, it was visually dominated by people holding flowing flags from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. The defense of Palestinian and immigrant children converged, as a response to the similar strategies of dehumanization used to justify violence against them.

The focus of the march was children: Not only the close to 400 Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of July, but also the 60,000 unaccompanied kids who have arrived at the U.S. southern border from Central American countries, often fleeing desperate circumstances, since October 1. And in doing so, these Latin American youngsters have entered into the jaws of the largest border, detention, and deportation regime that we have ever experienced in the United States. This summer official disdain and violence against children—or certain “types” of children—has been on pure, raw display across the globe.

As people marched, these two apparently separate issues joined together in a chant “Emigrantes, Palestinos, Estamos Unidos.” (“Migrants, Palestinians, We Are United”—it rhymes better in Spanish). The demands were not only that the United States stop its $3 billion annual military aid to Israel, but also that it put to a halt its deportation machine, especially with calls to expel many of these Central American children back to situations of certain violence.

Of course, there are huge differences between what is happening in Israel-Palestine and the exodus of children from Central America.

On that same Gazan beach where the children so ecstatically flew their kites, for example, on July 16 an Israeli missile killed four Palestinian children, between the ages of seven and 11, who had been playing on the shore. On July 28, another Israeli rocket obliterated a playground near a hospital in a Gaza refugee camp, killing eight children. “The children were playing and were happy, enjoying Eid, and they got hit. Some lost their heads, others their legs and hands,” an eyewitness told Russia Today. Israel’s military offensive has taken more than 1,900 Palestinian lives. In the last month, 419 Palestinian children have been killed in missile strikes hitting schools, mosques, and hospitals. 64 Israeli soldiers have been killed, mainly in gun battles in Gaza. No Israeli children have been reported dead thus far, though three of its citizens have perished.

For the children of Gaza, there is no place to run to when the Israeli Defense Forces bombs them. “The offensive has had a catastrophic and tragic impact on children,” said Pernille Ironside, head of the UNICEF field office in Gaza, who also mentioned that 2,502 youngsters have also been wounded.

In contrast many of the children from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are able to run from their own war: A vast, complicated situation that, like in Israel-Palestine, is impacted and fomented by U.S. political, economic, and military policies in the region, both in a historical and contemporary sense.

U.S. media outlets have regularly described the Central American children as a “flood,” “tsunami” or “tidal wave” as if they were some sort of natural disaster. Others use the term “surge” as if the young ones were an advancing military “invasion,” one worthy of deploying the military to protect the “homeland.” This sort of language set the stage for the likes of Fox News host Sean Hannity to sit with Texas Governor Rick Perry, with a camera-friendly machine gun placed between them, as if the kids really did represent the “asymmetric warfare” against the United States as claimed by the ex-Border Patrol agent Zack Taylor.

“If asymmetrical warfare is going to be successful, the first thing that has to be done is to compromise America’s defenses against invasion,” said Taylor.

Taylor’s idea that Border Patrol “babysitting” has taken “the resources that are protecting America at the border, off of the border,” has been repeated across the media landscape and throughout officialdom ad nauseum. Along with this comes the incessant mantra of a “porous” border that, as Taylor describes, gives people “that are trying to get their infrastructure, their personnel, their drugs, their dirty bombs, their biological weapons, their chemical weapons into the United States without being noticed” a free pass. That is why civilian militia groups are roaming the borderlands again. This is one of the main reasons that Perry sent 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the international divide. Current media and official framing of the border crisis may also explain why the Obama administration (and U.S. Congress) will likely ramp up the border enforcement apparatus even more, and expel the children at a rapid rate from the country.

In other words both the Central American and Palestinian children have been transformed rhetorically into a full-fledged national security threat. This sort of wholesale dehumanization can be found again when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Hamas wants topile up “telegenically dead Palestinians” for their cause.

Predating the Israeli attack on Gaza Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked stated on her Facebook page that “Palestinian people have declared war on us, and we must respond with war.” In her vividly written post she suggested that the destruction should include “[Palestine's] elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.” And at the end she said that women whose families play any part in Palestinian resistance give birth to “little snakes.” It is no wonder Israeli soldiers have no problem posing for photosas they hold a detained Palestinian boy in a chokehold.

Similar were anti-immigrant protestors in Murrieta, California who called the Central American children “wet dogs.” Like in Israel-Palestine, there is example after example of how such words can go from a xenophobic sign in a protest, to the very way agents of the U.S. Border Patrol treat the Central American children in short-term detention. An ACLU report compiled the testimonies of many children, almost all whom complained of freezing conditions in the cells.

B.O., a 14-year-old boy, said he was never able to sleep because Homeland Security agents didn’t turn out the glaring lights. G.G. complained of agents feeding her moldy bread. When her stomach became upset and she asked for medicine Border Patrol told her “it’s not a hospital.” When she vomited, the Homeland Security agents accused her of being pregnant, and called her a “dirty liar.”

K.M. was a 15-year-old girl who said that agents woke her every 30 minutes in the “hielera” (the Spanish word for ice box), the freezing cell where she tried to sleep. She claimed that officials regularly called her and other children “sluts,”  “parasites,” and “dogs.”

R.D., a 17-year-old girl, slashed her hand while climbing the fence to get into the United States. She said that in Border Patrol custody an agent squeezed her wound with immense pressure causing her great pain.“It’s good that you are hurt,” the agent told her, “you deserve to be hurt for coming to the US illegally.”

The protestors in Los Angeles were putting this world in dispute, at least in part created by billions of dollars that U.S. taxpayers were giving to Israel and the U.S. border/immigration enforcement apparatus, that dehumanizes children with the same cold efficiency that it deports, or even kills them. Obama, representing the U.S. administration “has the opportunity to help and he’s decided to expedite policies that basically send children to certain deaths,” said Kelly Flores, a teacher at the demonstration. “These are children. It’s our duty to oppose inhumane policies.”

And the Gaza kids did indeed shatter the Guinness world record with their kite-flying in 2011. There, on that joyful day on the beach, indeed was a much better example of what it means to be a child.

Todd Miller has researched and written about U.S.-Mexican border issues for more than 10 years. He has worked on both sides of the border for BorderLinks in Tucson, Arizona, and Witness for Peace in Oaxaca, Mexico. He now writes on border and immigration issues for NACLA Report on the Americas and its blog “Border Wars,” among other places. He is at work on his first book, Border Patrol Nation, for the Open Media Series of City Lights Books.

Then and Now: US Policy Towards Central American Fuels Child Refugee Crisis August 6, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Guatemala, Immigration, Imperialism, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: This article speaks of the US support for Guatemalan genocide.  We should not forget that the US government in Central America trained death squads in El Salvador (in support of a repressive ultra right government) and Nicaragua (in support of the fascist Contras) and enabled the 2009 coup in Honduras that replaced a democratically elected mildly progressive government with one that has turned the country into one of the most violent and corrupt nations on the face of the earth.  Your American tax dollar at work.

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 border

Decades of failed US policies in Central America have a direct link to the dire conditions that cause young children to abandon their homes and flee north. (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

For once the Republicans got it right. But not in the way they think. Indeed, President Obama carries the representative blame for the debacle (including reports of sadistic abuseby U.S. Border Patrol) of largely Central American migrant children long overwhelming shelters at the border. But the guilt is much broader, ranging from successive administrations all the way down to us, as American taxpayers.

Decades of U.S. policy in Guatemala alone have turned the country into a land of wreck and ruin. This is the ultimate reason migrants have been crossing into the United States in increasing numbers in recent months. Harsh immigration enforcement policies, such as the ones the Obama administration has been championing, add insult to injury as the U.S. punishes migrants when they arrive when it should be paying people like those of Guatemala massive reparations.

“They owe it to us.”

It is indisputable that the U.S. shares significant responsibility for the genocide of tens of thousands of Guatemalans—mainly indigenous Mayans who comprised a majority of the (at least) 150,000 killed in the 1980s alone. A 1999 UN Truth Commission blamed Guatemalan state forces for 93 percent of the atrocities. That same year, former President Bill Clinton admitted the wrongness of U.S. support support for Guatemalan state violence.

U.S. culpability for Guatemala’s plight endures to this day. The problem is—then and now—the United States is in denial as a nation over what to do about its complicity.

Just ask Clinton. The day of his apology in Guatemala City, he looked genocide survivors in the face, voiced regret for the U.S. enabling their suffering, and then rejected their impassioned pleas for U.S. immigration reform because, he said, “we must enforce our laws.” Today, many continue to call on the U.S. for reform measures like temporary protected status. And still, U.S. officials meet them with silence or dismissal.

Some Guatemalans, particularly the young generation living unauthorized in the U.S., know who’s responsible for the origins of their current troubles and aren’t confused by what to do about it. Erika Perez, an indigenous Mayan student in New England, told me: “My role in the U.S. is to tell [fellow Guatemalans], ‘Take advantage of all the opportunities around us.'” After all, “They owe it to us.”

Perez says the Guatemalan economy for most of the population hasn’t recovered from the genocidal wreckage of the 1980s and continues to be subjugated by U.S.-led neoliberal economic reforms like NAFTA and CAFTA. The desperate situation keeps sending Guatemalans like her migrating as a necessary means of decent survival.

Erika crossed the Arizona/Mexico desert, the deadliest area for migrants along the border, when she was eighteen in 2002. An indigenous Mayan who then spoke Spanish but no English, she faced sexual violence and dehydration along the way—but survived. So many other Guatemalans, a majority of them from the Mayan highland areas hit hardest by the genocide, remain missing while trying to cross the same part of border, according to data acquired from the Pima County medical examiner’s Missing Migrants Project (now theColibrí Center for Human Rights).

Escaping a “Silent Holocaust”

“Opportunity,” the young Antonio Albizures-Lopez recalls, was the purpose of his family’s unauthorized migration to the United States, as well as “to escape the violence that was influenced directly by U.S. intervention”—including the murders of four of Antonio’s aunts. Albizures-Lopez grew up in Providence, RI since he was 1 year old in 1992, shortly after his mother crossed the Rio Grande River with Antonio strapped to her back.

International legal experts describe the social climate in the U.S. at the time of the genocide as a “Silent Holocaust”. In Antonio’s case, the term couldn’t be more appropriate. He was born in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, where one of the military bases set up with U.S. support “maintained its own crematorium and ‘processed’ abductees by chopping off limbs, singeing flesh and administering electric shocks,” according to veteran journalist Allan Nairn who interviewed a former agent of the G-2 secret intelligence service—the notorious Guatemalan agency long on the payroll of the U.S. State Department.

Meaningful forms of justice and accountability would have a long reach. They would provide restitution following the stories of Guatemalan youth like Antonio and Erika, two of many who are carrying the burden of genocide from their parents’ generation. True accountability would also address, among other cases, the 16,472 DREAM-ers who have listed Guatemala as their country of origin when they registered for President Obama’s 2012 deferred action program (DACA). Justice and accountability would lead to fundamental changes in U.S. policies toward the Guatemalan state.

Instead, Washington offers programs such as the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), a $496 million endeavor since 2008 to train and assist local security forces to counter, among other perceived threats, “border security deficiencies.” Along with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the US Southern and Northern Commands, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Bureau for Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have all expanded activities in the regionunder the auspices of the war on drugs, gangs, and other criminal activity.

The U.S. formally cut off military aid to Guatemala in 1977, though U.S. funding flowed atnormal levels through the early 1980s and Guatemala enjoyed enormous military support, by proxy, through U.S. client states such as Israel, Taiwan, and South Africa.

All in all, U.S. militarization in Guatemala has altered only in wording, shifting predominantly from anti-communist to currently anti-drug and counter-terror rhetoric. The policy trend continues through the present day, spanning across the Guatemalan boundary with Mexico as the “new southern border” of the United States, in the words of Chief Diplomatic Officer for DHS Alan Bersin.

The official U.S. position on supporting Guatemalan military activities is that it “was wrong” in the past, and is no longer permissible to support Guatemalan militarization except in relation to “homeland security.” In other words, Washington exercises the “doublethink” practice of “holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them,” to quote George Orwell.

Some Guatemalans won’t wait for U.S. immigration reform

Meanwhile, as we’ve seen here lately in Arizona, Guatemalans are still fleeing a constant renewal of U.S.-caused duress. Reviewing the most visible case, the plight of migrant children at the border has relentlessly gripped the nation. “Many of the parents of these children are in the United States,” explained Guatemalan ambassador to the U.S., Julio Ligorria, “and the children go to find them.” The children also are reportedly suffering the same sorts of Border Patrol abuses long familiar to their parents’ generation, whose mistreatment often goes unnoticed.

So what next? Recognizing guilt is a crucial first step. Even more important is what comes after that recognition. Relevant here, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described the function of a “guilt complex” in the American conscience regarding past and ongoing abuses. In a 1957 interview with NBC, King remarked: “Psychologists would say that a guilt complex can lead to two reactions. One is acceptance and the desire to change. The other reaction is to indulge in more of the very thing that you have the sense of guilt about.”

Recognition of U.S. guilt over the Guatemalan genocide should translate into concrete forms of remedial action which, to the degree possible, corresponds with the scope of the crime.

But Guatemalans like Erika aren’t waiting. She’s teaching Guatemalans in her community crucial skills like English, advocating to cancel deportation orders against fellow migrants, putting herself through college. She says her philosophy of “empowering people in my community is: ‘Don’t be afraid anymore.'”

 

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