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Obama in El Salvador March 29, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, El Salvador, Honduras, Latin America.
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(Roger’s note:  The role that Obama and his hawkish Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, have played to legitimize the coup inspired regime of Porfirio Lobo in Honduras, renders his visit to the tomb of Archbishop Romero an act of sublime hypocrisy.  Be it a Democrat or Republican in the White House, the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex dictate policy in Latin America; a new and improved Monroe Doctrine whereby the only consideration for support or non-support of a government is the degree of its friendliness toward corporate and militarized imperial America).

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Written by Belén Fernández   
Wednesday, 23 March 2011 12:18
Demonstrator in San Salvador (Photo: Efe) 

Source: PULSE

As part of his visit to El Salvador yesterday, the last stop on a Latin American excursion occurring despite events in Japan and Libya, Barack Obama visited the tomb of Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero, assassinated on March 24, 1980. 

Observers have noted that the current bombing of Libya began on the same date as the start of the Iraq war eight years ago. Coincidentally, Obama’s appearance in El Salvador occurs exactly nine years after George W. Bush’s. As the BBC’s Tom Gibb wrote at the time:

“There is a tremendous irony that President George W Bush has chosen to visit El Salvador on the anniversary of the murder of the country’s Archbishop, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, 22 years ago.

A campaigner against the Salvadorean army’s death squad war, Monsignor Romero was shot through the heart while saying Mass, shortly after appealing to the US not to send military aid to El Salvador.

The appeal fell on deaf ears and for the next 12 years, the US became involved in its largest counter-insurgency war against left-wing guerrillas since Vietnam.…

To defeat the rebels, the US equipped and trained an army which kidnapped and disappeared more than 30,000 people, and carried out large-scale massacres of thousands of old people women and children.”

Regarding yesterday’s visit by Obama, SOA Watch writes:

“Oscar Romero’s assassins were members of Salvadoran death squads, including two graduates of the School of the Americas. The 1993 United Nations Truth Commission report on El Salvador identified SOA graduate Major Roberto D’Aubuisson as the man who ordered the assassination. While we welcome President Obama’s interest in visiting Archbishop Romero’s tomb, a more fitting tribute to Romero’s legacy would be the closure of the school that trained his murderers. President Obama’s gesture rings hollow in the face of the continued U.S. support for repressive regimes such as Honduras that further U.S. interests and in the face of the continued funding for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation [current incarnation of the School of the Americas], the U.S. military training facility that has left a trail of blood and suffering throughout the Americas.”

Honduras, which also boasts a concentration of SOA alumni—including General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, perpetrator of the 2009 coup against President Mel Zelaya—just last week witnessed the killing of 59-year-old assistant principal Ilse Velásquez, who was run over after being hit by a tear gas canister fired by the police at a peaceful protest in Tegucigalpa.

Her brother Manfredo Velásquez was disappeared in the 1980s during Honduras’ service as preferred U.S. military base. As Stephen Kinzer writes in The New York Review of Books:

“American military engineers built bases, airstrips, and supply depots at key spots around the country. American troops poured in for saber-rattling maneuvers whose main purpose was to intimidate the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. American intelligence agents trained Hondurans in techniques of surveillance and interrogation. Between 1980 and 1984, United States military aid to Honduras increased from $4 million to $77 million.”

Kinzer goes on to note the thoughts of Honduran SOA trainee General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez on how to properly deal with Marxist subversives, “their sympathizers, and outspoken leaders of labor, peasant, and student organizations”:

“American documents show that General Álvarez, who was chief of the Honduran security police and then the country’s top military commander, favored the simple expedient of murder. Among the special units he created to carry out this policy was Battalion 3-16 (or 316), which has become the most infamous military unit in Honduran history. According to a heavily edited version of a CIA report that was released in 1998, Brigade 3-16 emerged as an independent entity ‘based on recommendations from the “Strategic Military Seminar” between the Honduran and the US military.’* Some of its members were flown to the United States for training by CIA specialists.”

Especially given the resurgence of right-wing death squads and paramilitaries in Honduras in the aftermath of the 2009 coup, Central American citizens may be forgiven for being less than enthused by Obama’s promise yesterday to provide more training for security forces in the region.

*“The 316th MI Battalion,” secret CIA cable dated February 18, 1995, declassified October 22, 1998, as Document H4-4, approved for release September 1998.

U.S. continues to train Honduran soldiers July 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Latin America.
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 Written by James Hodge and Linda Cooper, National Catholic Reporter   

 

 http://www.soaw.org/presente/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=225&Itemid=74#rials

July 16, 2009

Military coup that ousted president, didn’t stop U.S. engagement in Honduras

U.S. Training of Honduran ForcesA controversial facility at Ft. Benning, Ga. — formerly known as the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas — is still training Honduran officers despite claims by the Obama administration that it cut military ties to Honduras after its president was overthrown June 28, NCR has learned.

A day after an SOA-trained army general ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya at gunpoint, President Barack Obama stated that “the coup was not legal” and that Zelaya remained “the democratically elected president.”

The Foreign Operations Appropriations Act requires that U.S. military aid and training be suspended when a country undergoes a military coup, and the Obama administration has indicated those steps have been taken.

However, Lee Rials, public affairs officer for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, the successor of SOA, confirmed Monday that Honduran officers are still being trained at the school.

“Yes, they’re in class now.” Rials said

Asked about the Obama administration’s suspension of aid and training to Honduras, Rials said, “Well, all I know is they’re here, and they’re in class.”

The decision to continue training the Hondurans is “purely government policy,” he said, adding that it’s possible that other U.S. military schools are training them too. “We’re not the only place.”

Rials did not know exactly how many Hondurans were currently enrolled, but he said at least two officers are currently in the school’s Command and General Staff course, its premier year-long program.

“I don’t know the exact number because we’ve had some classes just completed and some more starting,” he said. “There’s no more plans for anybody to come. Everything that was in place already is still in place. Nobody’s directed that they go home or that anything cease.”

The school trained 431 Honduran officers from 2001 to 2008, and some 88 were projected for this year, said Rials, who couldn’t provide their names.

Since 2005, the Department of Defense has barred the release of their names after it was revealed that the school had enrolled well-known human rights abusers.

The general who overthrew Zelaya — Romeo Orlando Vásquez Velásquez — is a two-time graduate of SOA, which critics have nicknamed the “School of Coups” because it trained so many coup leaders, including two other Honduran graduates, General Juan Melgar Castro and General Policarpo Paz Garcia.

Vasquez is not the only SOA graduate linked to the current coup or employed by the de facto government. Others are:

  • Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, the head of the Honduran air force, who arranged to have Zelaya flown into exile in Costa Rica;
  • Gen. Nelson Willy Mejia Mejia, the newly appointed director of immigration, who is not only an SOA graduate, but a former SOA instructor. One year after he was awarded the U.S. Meritorious Service Medal, he faced charges in connection with the infamous death squad, Battalion 3-16, for which he was an intelligence officer.
  • Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza Membreño, the Honduran army’s top lawyer who admitted that flying Zelaya into exile was a crime, telling the Miama Herald that ”In the moment that we took him out of the country, in the way that he was taken out, there is a crime,” but it will be justified.
  • Lt. Col. Ramiro Archaga Paz,the army’s director of public relations, who has denied harassment of protesters and maintained that the army is not involved in internal security.
  • Col. Jorge Rodas Gamero, a two-time SOA graduate, who is the minister of security, a post he also held in Zelaya’s government.

The ongoing training of Hondurans at Ft. Benning is not the only evidence of unbroken U.S.-Honduran military ties since the coup.

Another piece was discovered by Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois, the founder of SOA Watch, while on fact-finding mission to Honduras last week.

Bourgeois — accompanied by two lawyers, Kent Spriggs and Dan Kovalik — visited the Soto Cano/Palmerola Air Base northwest of Tegucigalpa, where the U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Task Force-Bravo is stationed.

“Helicopters were flying all around, and we spoke with the U.S. official on duty, a Sgt. Reyes” about the U.S.-Honduran relationship, Bourgeois said. “We asked him if anything had changed since the coup and he said no, nothing.”

The group later met with U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens, who claimed that he had no knowledge of ongoing U.S. military activity with the Hondurans, Bourgeois said. The ambassador also said that he himself has had no contact with the de facto government.

That has apparently changed. Christopher Webster, the director of the State Department’s Office of Central American Affairs, said Monday that Llorens has in fact been in touch with the current coup government, according to Eric LeCompte, the national organizer for SOA Watch.

LeCompte met with Webster Monday along with other representatives of human rights groups and three Hondurans — Marvin Ponce Sauceda, a member of the Honduran National Congress, Jari Dixon Herrera Hernández, a lawyer with the Honduran attorney general’s office, and Dr. Juan Almendares Bonilla, director of the Center for the Prevention, Rehabilitation and Treatment of Victims of Torture.

Webster told the group that Llorens and the State Department are engaging the coup government to the extent necessary to bring about a solution to the crisis.

Webster “told us that military aid had been cut off, and that the return of Zelaya as president is non-negotiable although the conditions under which he returns are negotiable,” LeCompte said.

Herrera Hernández, the lawyer with the Honduran attorney general’s office, told Webster that the coup government has disseminated misinformation by claiming the coup was legal because the court had issued an arrest warrant for Zelaya for pushing ahead with a non-binding referendum on whether to change the Honduran constitution.

However, the order to arrest Zelaya came a day after the coup, he said. And contrary to coup propaganda, Zelaya never sought to extend his term in office, and even if the survey had been held, changing the constitution would have required action by the legislature, he said.

Whatever legal argument the coup leaders had against Zelaya, it fell apart when they flew him into exile rather than prosecuting him, the attorney said. The legal system has broken down, he added, for if this can happen to the president, who can’t it happen to?

Linda Cooper and James Hodge are the authors of Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas.

Colombia: Secret Documents Show US Aware of Army Killings in 1990s January 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Written by Constanza Vieira   

www.upsidedownworld.org

 

Thursday, 15 January 2009

 

(IPS) – Declassified U.S. documents show that the CIA and former U.S. ambassadors were fully aware, as far back as 1990, that the military in Colombia — the third largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel and Egypt — were committing extrajudicial killings as part of “death squad tactics.”

They also knew that senior Colombian officers encouraged a “body count” mentality to demonstrate progress in the fight against left-wing guerrillas. In an undetermined number of cases, the bodies presented as casualties in the counterinsurgency war were actually civilians who had nothing to do with the country’s decades-old armed conflict.

Since at least 1990, U.S. diplomats were reporting a connection between the Colombian security forces and far-right drug-running paramilitary groups, according to the Washington-based National Security Archive (NSA).

In the meantime, the U.S. State Department continued to regularly certify Colombia’s human rights record and to heavily finance its “war on drugs.”

The declassified documents were published Jan. 7 by the NSA, a non-governmental research and archival institution located at the George Washington University that collects, archives and publishes declassified U.S. government documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.

NSA’s Colombia Project identifies and secures the release of documents from secret government archives on U.S. policy in Colombia regarding issues like security assistance, human rights, impunity and counternarcotics programmes.

“These records shed light on a policy — recently examined in a still-undisclosed Colombian Army report — that influenced the behaviour of Colombian military officers for years, leading to extrajudicial executions and collaboration with paramilitary drug traffickers,” says the NSA report released last week.

The secret army report mentioned by the NSA led in late 2008 to the dismissal of 30 army officers and the resignation of Gen. Mario Montoya, the Colombian army chief who long “promoted the idea of using body counts to measure progress against the guerrillas,” writes the author of the NSA report, Michael Evans.

In one of the declassified documents obtained by the NSA, then U.S. Ambassador Myles Frechette complained in 1994 about the “body count mentalities” among Colombian army officers seeking to climb through the ranks.

“Field officers who cannot show track records of aggressive anti-guerrilla activity (wherein the majority of the military’s human rights abuses occur) disadvantage themselves at promotion time,” said Frechette.

Evans, director of the NSA Colombia Project, states in his report that “the documents raise important questions about the historical and legal responsibilities the Army has to come clean about what appears to be a longstanding, institutional incentive to commit murder.”

“But the manner in which the investigation was conducted — in absolute secrecy and with little or no legal consequences for those implicated — raises a number of important questions,” says Evans, who asks “when, if ever, will the Colombian Army divulge the contents of its internal report?”

The question of extrajudicial killings by the army made the international headlines and drew the attention of the United Nations after a scandal broke out in the Colombian media in September 2008 over the bodies of young men reported by the armed forces as dead guerrillas or paramilitaries.

It turned out that the men had gone missing from their homes in slum neighbourhoods on the southside of Bogotá and that their corpses had turned up two or three days later in morgues hundreds of kilometres away.

Since then, scores of cases of “body count” killings by the army, also known as “false positives,” have emerged.

Although the government expressed shock and indignation, evidence soon began to emerge of a pattern that dated back years.

As defence minister under current President Álvaro Uribe, Camilo Ospina, who is now Colombia’s ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS), signed a 15-page secret ministerial directive in 2005 that provided for rewards for the capture or killing of leaders of illegal armed groups, for military information and war materiel, and for successful counterdrug actions.

According to the W Radio station, which reported on the secret directive in late October, it could have encouraged extrajudicial killings under a new system, which may include “a mafia of bounty-hunters allied with members of the military.”

But in the view of Iván Cepeda, spokesman for the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE), “this is not about an infiltration of organised crime in the armed forces, nor about people who have broken the law. As the NSA report shows, this is an institutional practice that has been followed for decades.”

The Defence Ministry directive encouraged the phenomenon by creating a system of incentives that rewards “results” in the form of battlefield casualties, “discounting accepted methods and controls and the observance of human rights and international humanitarian law,” he said.

Cepeda also maintained that the activities of far-right death squads and the army’s “body count” killings were connected, and that the military used the paramilitaries to show results.

“The paramilitaries delivered to the army the bodies of people who were supposed members of the guerrillas but who were actually people selectively killed by those (paramilitary) groups,” he told IPS.

When the killings became more and more widespread, the armed forces themselves asked the paramilitaries to hide the remains, to keep the country’s homicide rate from soaring any further, paramilitaries who took part in a demobilisation process negotiated with the right-wing Uribe administration have confessed.

The declassified documents demonstrate “that the U.S. military as well as U.S. diplomats and governments have taken a complacent stance towards this kind of practice,” said Cepeda.

The declassified records are in line with the results of “Colombia nunca más” (Colombia never again), a monumental effort to document human rights abuses carried out by 17 organisations since 1995.

“’Colombia nunca más’ has created a databank on 45,000 (human rights) violations, including around 25,000 extrajudicial executions and 10,000 forced disappearances, committed between 1966 and 1998,” said Cepeda. Colombia’s two insurgent groups emerged in 1964 and the paramilitaries in 1982, although the latter launched a lethal offensive beginning in 1997.

Cepeda told IPS that in the next few months, MOVICE would begin to organise the families of victims of extrajudicial killings, which would culminate in a national meeting to discuss “what routes of documenting the truth and obtaining justice can be followed in an organised manner by the families of the victims of this practice.”

The earliest of the declassified documents obtained by the NSA is a 1990 cable signed by then U.S. Ambassador Thomas McNamara, addressed to the State Department and copied to the Defence Department, the U.S. army Southern Command, and the U.S. embassies in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.

The cable, whose subject line reads “human rights in Colombia — widespread allegations of abuses by the army,” cites reports that an army major “personally directed the torture of 11 detainees and their subsequent execution…carried out by cutting of the limbs and heads of the still living victims with a chain saw.”

Referring to the connection between army officers and the paramilitaries, the ambassador stated that many “officers continue to discount virtually all allegations of military abuses as part of a leftist inspired plot to discredit the military as an institution.”

In addition, the cable mentions “strong evidence linking members of the army and police to a number of disappearances and murders which took place earlier this year in Trujillo, Valle de Cauca department.”

McNamara also mentioned “an apparent June 7 incident of extra-judicial executions.”

“The military reported to the press that, on that date, it killed 9 guerrillas in combat in El Ramal, Santander department. The investigation by Instruccion Criminal and the Procuraduria (legal authorities) strongly suggests, however, that the nine were executed by the army and then dressed in military fatigues. A military judge who arrived on the scene apparently realised that there were no bullet holes in the military uniforms to match the wounds in the victims’ bodies, and ordered the uniforms burned,” said the ambassador.

As sources told the ambassador, “all of the victims were part of the same family, and one of them, said by the army to have been a guerrilla, was 87 years old.”

Bush Tarnishes Medal of Freedom by Bestowing It on Uribe January 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, George W. Bush, Latin America.
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uribe-y-bushPresident George W. Bush places the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. (Photo: AFP)

www.truthout.org, January 15, 2009

 Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive

 

  Bush keeps outdoing himself on his way out the door.

    On Tuesday, he gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Alvaro Uribe, the head of Colombia.

    Uribe has had close ties with rightwing paramilitary squads. And his government is a notorious human rights abuser.

    “In recent years there has been a substantial rise in the number of extrajudicial killings of civilians attributed to the Colombian Army,” says Human Rights Watch.

    “Army members apparently take civilians from their homes or workplaces, kill them, and then dress them up to claim they were combatants killed in action.”

    Colombia also has the dubious distinction of leading the world in the murders of trade unionists. More than 2,600 labor leaders have been slain down there in the last couple of decades, and more than 400 while Uribe has been president, according to Human Rights Watch.

    Virtually none of the murderers have been brought to justice.

    Bush’s support for Colombia is typical of U.S. foreign policy. Bill Clinton before him lavished aid on the Colombian government, despite knowledge of that government’s bloody hands.

    “The CIA and senior U.S. diplomats were aware as early as 1994 that U.S.-backed Colombian security forces engaged in ‘death squad tactics,’ cooperated with drug-running paramilitary groups, and encouraged a ‘body count syndrome,’ ” said the National Security Archive, which recently posted documents backing up this point.

    “Personally, I have a hard time figuring out who is more audacious, President Bush for giving the human rights award, or President Uribe for receiving it,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

    This is the same medal that Bill Clinton awarded to Nelson Mandela. (Bush previously gave the medal to former CIA director George Tenet and Paul Bremer, the bungling viceroy of Iraq.)

    When he gave Uribe the award, Bush said, “President Uribe has reawakened the hopes of his countrymen and shown a model of leadership to a watching world. . . . The future will always be bright in a country that produces such men as President Alvaro Uribe.”

    One last Orwellian award, courtesy of our shameless President.

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