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School of Assassins Faces Protest, Congressional De-Funding November 21, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Latin America.
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SOA-protest

The US Army School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia is a notorious training operation for Latin American officers and soldiers. It’s associated with some of the worst dictatorships and human rights violators in the hemisphere. For over 20 years, the grassroots School of Americas Watch (SOA Watch) has grown into one of the most dynamic, multi-generational, cross-continental movements against militarism in the Americas.

This weekend, November 22-24, will see thousands gather for a massive rally at Ft. Benning in the ongoing campaign to shut down the school. Vans from colleges and universities will make the trek with students who’ve studied the grim history of U.S.-sponsored military coups and U.S.-friendly dictators, many of whom got their inspiration and training at the SOA (now renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC).

Among the more infamous SOA graduates are Gen. Jose Rios Montt, who was convicted May 10th of committing genocide between March 1982 and August 1983 during his Guatemalan military dictatorship; death squad leader Otto Perez Molina who under Rios Montt directed massacres of Maya people, and who recently maneuvered Guatemala’s high court to reverse Rios Montt’s conviction; Gen. Manual Noreiga of Panama, who moved from dictatorship via SOA to the BOP (Federal Bureau of Prisons that is) on drug charges; Roberto D’Abuisson, leader of El Salvador’s death squads in the 1980s; and Gen. Hugo Banzar Suarez of Bolivia who seized power in 1971 and who jailed, disappeared and assassinated suspected political opponents for eight years. SOA graduates led military coups in Venezuela in 2002 and the 2009 coup in Honduras.

For more background, “Somos Una America” — a new documentary that focuses on the campaign against the Pentagon mindset that promotes U.S. domination and ‘military solutions’ in the Western Hemisphere — is available online for free (visit: soaw.org/somos).

This past April, the SOA Watch campaign won a long-sought court victory over the U.S. government’s refusal to release the names of the trainers at the SOA/WHINSEC. Federal Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton in Calif. ruled that the Pentagon has no grounds for refusing to release these names. President Obama has OKed the Justice Department’s appeal of this ruling, protecting the Pentagon’s effort to keep the information secret. As SOA Watch points out, this is because instructors there have coached “torturers, death squads and military dictators throughout the Americas.” The president’s decision to appeal puts the lie to his claim that his administration would be the most transparent in history. And you thought after his persecution of whistle blowers Julian Assange, Pfc. Manning and Edward Snowden that Obama could not get more cynical.

Teaching Torture the World Over

The SOA burst into the news in 1996, when the Pentagon released copies of its torture training manuals. The Sept. 21, 1996 Washington Post, in “U.S. Instructed Latins on Executions, Torture; Manuals Used 1982-91, Pentagon Reveals” by Dana Priest, notes that the manuals promote the use of “fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum.” By 1996, 60,000 military and police officers had been through SOA training.

The torture manuals were distributed to thousands of military officers from eleven South and Central American countries, although the actions advocated in them violated U.S. Army law at the time. The Pentagon ordered the manuals destroyed, but only a few thousand were ever recovered. They have doubtlessly been reproduced and employed by militaries and counterinsurgency forces the world over. U.S. military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan appear to be direct beneficiaries, considering the torture regimes conducted at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq (2004) and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Afghanistan has become a torture regime too — first under U.S. forces and now by their Afghan trainees (See “U.S. Practiced Torture After 9/11, Nonpartisan Review Concludes,” NY Times, Apr. 16, 2013, and “Government Panel in Afghanistan Confirms Widespread Torture of Detainees,” Jan. 21, 2013).

Demands to abolish the SOA/WHINSEC now come from across the political spectrum. From the point of view of the victims, more than 300 human rights defenders have employed nonviolent direct action at the base, and as a result have collectively spent over 100 years in prison and served additional years probation. (Disclaimer: I did 6 months in the Duluth prison camp for trespassing at SOA back in 2006. My cellie R.J., who was doing eight years, put me straight when he announced, “I see him doing his exercises, his yoga. He’s just here for an oil change.”) From officialdom, the Latin American Military Training Review Act of 2013, H.R. 2989, would suspend operations at the school. It also mandates an investigation into SOA’s connection with abuses of human rights. It’s got 40 co-sponsors but needs more.

If you’re not heading down to the Georgia for the rally, at least push your Congressional Rep’s to join the shutdown effort.

John LaForge

John LaForge is on the Nukewatch staff and edits its Quarterly.

Ronald Reagan: Accessory to Genocide May 12, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Foreign Policy, Genocide, Guatemala, History, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: Rightly so the entire world is aghast with disgust over the kidnapping and rape of the three teen aged young women in Cleveland.  Rightly so, the media is giving major coverage to these acts of barbarism.  Unrightly so, the media will virtually ignore the role of presidents like Ronald Reagan in in the wholesale massacre of women and children.  This article focuses on Reagan (in our day Bush and Obama share similar guilt), again rightly so.  You probably can go back to every US president since McKinley and find evidence of similar criminality.  There is something fundamentally wrong with the corporate controlled media.  There is something fundamentally wrong with the United States government.  Genuine democracy, which presupposes an informed public, would not permit such atrocity.

More than any recent U.S. president, Ronald Reagan has been lavished with honors, including his name attached to Washington’s National Airport. But the conviction of Reagan’s old ally, ex-Guatemalan dictator Rios Montt, for genocide means “Ronnie” must face history’s judgment as an accessory to the crime

The conviction of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide against Mayan villagers in the 1980s has a special meaning for Americans who idolize Ronald Reagan. It means that their hero was an accessory to one of the most grievous crimes that can be committed against humanity.

The courage of the Guatemalan people and the integrity of their legal system to exact some accountability on a still-influential political figure also put U.S. democracy to shame. For decades now, Americans have tolerated human rights crimes by U.S. presidents who face little or no accountability. Usually, the history isn’t even compiled honestly.

Ronald Reagan: Accessory to GenocideBy contrast, a Guatemalan court on Friday found  Rios Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced the 86-year-old ex-dictator to 80 years in prison. After the ruling, when Rios Montt rose and tried to walk out of the courtroom, Judge Yasmin Barrios shouted at him to stay put and then had security officers take him into custody.

Yet, while Guatemalans demonstrate the strength to face a dark chapter of their history, the American people remain mostly oblivious to Reagan’s central role in tens of thousands of political murders across Central America in the 1980s, including some 100,000 dead in Guatemala slaughtered by Rios Montt and other military dictators.

Indeed, Ronald Reagan – by aiding, abetting, encouraging and covering up widespread human rights crimes in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua as well as Guatemala – bears greater responsibility for Central America’s horrors than does Rios Montt in his bloody 17-month rule. Reagan supported Guatemala’s brutal repression both before and after Rios Montt held power, as well as during.

Despite that history, more honors have been bestowed on Reagan than any recent president. Americans have allowed the naming of scores of government facilities in Reagan’s honor, including Washington National Airport where Reagan’s name elbowed aside that of George Washington, who led the War of Independence, oversaw the drafting of the U.S. Constitution and served as the nation’s first president.

So, as America’s former reputation as a beacon for human rights becomes a bad joke to the rest of the world, it is unthinkable within the U.S. political/media structure that Reagan would get posthumously criticized for the barbarity that he promoted. No one of importance would dare suggest that his name be stripped from National Airport and his statue removed from near the airport entrance.

But the evidence is overwhelming that the 40th president of the United States was guilty as an accessory to genocide and a wide range of other war crimes, including torture, rape, terrorism and narcotics trafficking. [See Robert Parry's Lost History.]

Green Light to Genocide

Regarding Guatemala, the documentary evidence is clear that Reagan and his top aides gave a green light to the extermination campaign against the Mayan Ixil population in the highlands even before Rios Montt came to power. Despite receiving U.S. intelligence reports revealing these atrocities, the Reagan administration also pressed ahead in an extraordinary effort to arrange military equipment, including helicopters, to make the slaughter more efficient.

Rios Montt alongside supporter Ronald Reagan. (Photo: Upside Down World)

“In the tortured logic of military planning documents conceived under Mr. Ríos Montt’s 17-month rule during 1982 and 1983, the entire Mayan Ixil population was a military target, children included,” the New York Times reported from Rios Montt’s trial last month. “Officers wrote that the leftist guerrillas fighting the government had succeeded in indoctrinating the impoverished Ixils and reached ‘100 percent support.’”

So, everyone was targeted in these scorched-earth campaigns that eradicated more than 600 Indian villages in the Guatemalan highlands. But documents from this period indicate that these counterinsurgency strategies predated Rios Montt. And, they received the blessing of the Reagan administration shortly after Reagan took power in 1981.

A document that I discovered in the archives of the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, revealed that Reagan and his national security team in 1981 agreed to supply military aid to Guatemala’s dictators so they could pursue the goal of exterminating not only “Marxist guerrillas” but people associated with their “civilian support mechanisms.”

This supportive attitude took shape in spring 1981 as President Reagan sought to relax human-rights restrictions on military aid to Guatemala that had been imposed by President Jimmy Carter and the Democratic-controlled Congress in the late 1970s. As part of that easing, Reagan’s State Department “advised our Central American embassies that it has been studying ways to restore a closer, cooperative relationship with Guatemala,” said a White House “Situation Room Checklist” dated April 8, 1981.

The document added: “State believes a number of changes have occurred which could make Guatemalan leaders more receptive to a new U.S. initiative: the Guatemalans view the new administration as more sympathetic to their problems [and] they are less suspect of the U.S. role in El Salvador,” where the Reagan administration was expanding military aid to another right-wing regime infamous for slaughtering its political opponents, including Catholic clergy.

“State has concluded that any attempt to reestablish a dialogue [with Guatemala] would require some initial, condition-free demonstration of our goodwill. However, this could not include military sales which would provoke serious U.S. public and congressional criticism. State will undertake a series of confidence building measures, free of preconditions, which minimize potential conflict with existing legislation.”

In other words, the Reagan administration was hoping that the U.S. government could get back in the good graces of the Guatemalan dictators, not that the dictators should change their ways to qualify for U.S. government help.

Soliciting the Generals

The “checklist” added that the State Department “has also decided that the administration should engage the Guatemalan government at the highest level in a dialogue on our bilateral relations and the initiatives we can take together to improve them. Secretary [of State Alexander] Haig has designated [retired] General Vernon Walters as his personal emissary to initiate this process with President [Fernando Romeo] Lucas [Garcia].

“If Lucas is prepared to give assurances that he will take steps to halt government involvement in the indiscriminate killing of political opponents and to foster a climate conducive to a viable electoral process, the U.S. will be prepared to approve some military sales immediately.”

But the operative word in that paragraph was “indiscriminate.” The Reagan administration expressed no problem with killing civilians if they were considered supporters of the guerrillas who had been fighting against the country’s ruling oligarchs and generals since the 1950s when the CIA organized the overthrow of Guatemala’s reformist President Jacobo Arbenz.

The distinction was spelled out in “Talking Points” for Walters to deliver in a face-to-face meeting with General Lucas. As edited inside the White House in April 1981, the “Talking Points” read: “The President and Secretary Haig have designated me [Walters] as [their] personal emissary to discuss bilateral relations on an urgent basis.

“Both the President and the Secretary recognize that your country is engaged in a war with Marxist guerrillas. We are deeply concerned about externally supported Marxist subversion in Guatemala and other countries in the region. As you are aware, we have already taken steps to assist Honduras and El Salvador resist this aggression.

“The Secretary has sent me here to see if we can work out a way to provide material assistance to your government. … We have minimized negative public statements by US officials on the situation in Guatemala. … We have arranged for the Commerce Department to take steps that will permit the sale of $3 million worth of military trucks and Jeeps to the Guatemalan army. …

“With your concurrence, we propose to provide you and any officers you might designate an intelligence briefing on regional developments from our perspective. Our desire, however, is to go substantially beyond the steps I have just outlined. We wish to reestablish our traditional military supply and training relationship as soon as possible.

“As we are both aware, this has not yet been feasible because of our internal political and legal constraints relating to the use by some elements of your security forces of deliberate and indiscriminate killing of persons not involved with the guerrilla forces or their civilian support mechanisms. I am not referring here to the regrettable but inevitable death of innocents though error in combat situations, but to what appears to us a calculated use of terror to immobilize non politicized people or potential opponents. …

“If you could give me your assurance that you will take steps to halt official involvement in the killing of persons not involved with the guerrilla forces or their civilian support mechanism … we would be in a much stronger position to defend successfully with the Congress a decision to begin to resume our military supply relationship with your government.”

In other words, though the “talking points” were framed as an appeal to reduce the “indiscriminate” slaughter of “non politicized people,” they embraced scorched-earth tactics against people involved with the guerrillas and “their civilian support mechanisms.” The way that played out in Guatemala – as in nearby El Salvador – was the massacring of peasants in regions considered sympathetic to leftist insurgents.

Reporting the Truth

U.S. intelligence officers in the region also kept the Reagan administration abreast of the expanding slaughter. For instance, according to one “secret” cable from April 1981 — and declassified in the 1990s — the CIA was confirming Guatemalan government massacres even as Reagan was moving to loosen the military aid ban.

On April 17, 1981, a CIA cable described an army massacre at Cocob, near Nebaj in the Ixil Indian territory, because the population was believed to support leftist guerrillas. A CIA source reported that “the social population appeared to fully support the guerrillas” and “the soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved.”

The CIA cable added that “the Guatemalan authorities admitted that ‘many civilians’ were killed in Cocob, many of whom undoubtedly were non-combatants.” [Many of the Guatemalan documents declassified in the 1990s can be found at the National Security Archive’s Web site.]

Despite these atrocities, Reagan dispatched Walters in May 1981 to tell the Guatemalan leaders that the new U.S. administration wanted to lift the human rights embargoes on military equipment that Carter and Congress had imposed.

According to a State Department cable on Oct. 5, 1981, when Guatemalan leaders met again with Walters, they left no doubt about their plans. The cable said Gen. Lucas “made clear that his government will continue as before — that the repression will continue. He reiterated his belief that the repression is working and that the guerrilla threat will be successfully routed.”

Human rights groups saw the same picture, albeit from a less sympathetic angle. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission released a report on Oct. 15, 1981, blaming the Guatemalan government for “thousands of illegal executions.” [Washington Post, Oct. 16, 1981]

But the Reagan administration was set on whitewashing the horrific scene. A State Department “white paper,” released in December 1981, blamed the violence on leftist “extremist groups” and their “terrorist methods” prompted and supported by Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

Fully Onboard

What the documents from the Reagan Library make clear is that the administration was not simply struggling ineffectively to rein in these massacres – as the U.S. press corps typically reported – but was fully onboard with the slaughter of people who were part of the guerrillas’ “civilian support mechanisms.”

U.S. intelligence agencies continued to pick up evidence of these government-sponsored massacres. One CIA report in February 1982 described an army sweep through the so-called Ixil Triangle in central El Quiche province.

“The commanding officers of the units involved have been instructed to destroy all towns and villages which are cooperating with the Guerrilla Army of the Poor [the EGP] and eliminate all sources of resistance,” the report said. “Since the operation began, several villages have been burned to the ground, and a large number of guerrillas and collaborators have been killed.”

The CIA report explained the army’s modus operandi: “When an army patrol meets resistance and takes fire from a town or village, it is assumed that the entire town is hostile and it is subsequently destroyed.” When the army encountered an empty village, it was “assumed to have been supporting the EGP, and it is destroyed. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of refugees in the hills with no homes to return to. …

“The army high command is highly pleased with the initial results of the sweep operation, and believes that it will be successful in destroying the major EGP support area and will be able to drive the EGP out of the Ixil Triangle. … The well documented belief by the army that the entire Ixil Indian population is pro-EGP has created a situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike.”

The reality was so grotesque that it prompted protests even from some staunch anticommunists inside the Reagan administration. On Feb. 2, 1982, Richard Childress, one of Reagan’s national security aides, wrote a “secret” memo to his colleagues summing up this reality on the ground:

“As we move ahead on our approach to Latin America, we need to consciously address the unique problems posed by Guatemala. Possessed of some of the worst human rights records in the region, … it presents a policy dilemma for us. The abysmal human rights record makes it, in its present form, unworthy of USG [U.S. government] support. …

“Beset by a continuous insurgency for at least 15 years, the current leadership is completely committed to a ruthless and unyielding program of suppression. Hardly a soldier could be found that has not killed a ‘guerrilla.’”

Rios Montt’s Arrival

But Reagan was unmoved. He continued to insist on expanding U.S. support for these brutal campaigns, while his administration sought to cover up the facts and deflect criticism. Reagan’s team insisted  that Gen. Efrain Rios Montt’s overthrow of Gen. Lucas in March 1982 represented a sunny new day in Guatemala.

An avowed fundamentalist Christian, Rios Montt impressed Official Washington where the Reagan administration immediately revved up its propaganda machinery to hype the new dictator’s “born-again” status as proof of his deep respect for human life. Reagan hailed Rios Montt as “a man of great personal integrity.”

By July 1982, however, Rios Montt had begun a new scorched-earth campaign called his “rifles and beans” policy. The slogan meant that pacified Indians would get “beans,” while all others could expect to be the target of army “rifles.” In October, Rios Montt secretly gave carte blanche to the feared “Archivos” intelligence unit to expand “death squad” operations in the cities. Based at the Presidential Palace, the “Archivos” masterminded many of Guatemala’s most notorious assassinations.

The U.S. embassy was soon hearing more accounts of the army conducting Indian massacres, but ideologically driven U.S. diplomats fed the Reagan administration the propaganda spin that would be best for their careers. On Oct. 22, 1982, embassy staff dismissed the massacre reports as a communist-inspired “disinformation campaign.”

Reagan personally joined this P.R. spin seeking to discredit human rights investigators and others who were reporting accurately about massacres that the administration knew were true. On Dec. 4, 1982, after meeting with Rios Montt, Reagan hailed the general as “totally dedicated to democracy” and added that Rios Montt’s government had been “getting a bum rap” on human rights. Reagan discounted the mounting reports of hundreds of Mayan villages being eradicated.

In February 1983, however, a secret CIA cable noted a rise in “suspect right-wing violence” with kidnappings of students and teachers. Bodies of victims were appearing in ditches and gullies. CIA sources traced these political murders to Rios Montt’s order to the “Archivos” in October to “apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they saw fit.”

Despite these facts on the ground, the annual State Department human rights survey praised the supposedly improved human rights situation in Guatemala. “The overall conduct of the armed forces had improved by late in the year” 1982, the report stated.

Indiscriminate Murder

A different picture — far closer to the secret information held by the U.S. government — was coming from independent human rights investigators. On March 17, 1983, Americas Watch condemned the Guatemalan army for human rights atrocities against the Indian population.

New York attorney Stephen L. Kass said these findings included proof that the government carried out “virtually indiscriminate murder of men, women and children of any farm regarded by the army as possibly supportive of guerrilla insurgents.”

Rural women suspected of guerrilla sympathies were raped before execution, Kass said, adding that children were “thrown into burning homes. They are thrown in the air and speared with bayonets. We heard many, many stories of children being picked up by the ankles and swung against poles so their heads are destroyed.” [AP, March 17, 1983]

Publicly, senior Reagan officials continued to put on a happy face. In June 1983, special envoy Richard B. Stone praised “positive changes” in Rios Montt’s government, and Rios Montt pressed the United States for 10 UH-1H helicopters and six naval patrol boats, all the better to hunt guerrillas and their sympathizers.

Since Guatemala lacked the U.S. Foreign Military Sales credits or the cash to buy the helicopters, Reagan’s national security team looked for unconventional ways to arrange the delivery of the equipment that would give the Guatemalan army greater access to mountainous areas where guerrillas and their civilian supporters were hiding.

On Aug. 1, 1983, National Security Council aides Oliver North and Alfonso Sapia-Bosch reported to National Security Advisor William P. Clark that his deputy Robert “Bud” McFarlane was planning to exploit his Israeli channels to secure the helicopters for Guatemala. [For more on McFarlanes's Israeli channels, see Consortiumnews.com's "How Neocons Messed Up the Mideast."]

“With regard to the loan of ten helicopters, it is [our] understanding that Bud will take this up with the Israelis,” wrote North and Sapia-Bosch. “There are expectations that they would be forthcoming. Another possibility is to have an exercise with the Guatemalans. We would then use US mechanics and Guatemalan parts to bring their helicopters up to snuff.”

Hunting Children

What it meant to provide these upgrades to the Guatemalan killing machine was clarified during the trial of Rios Montt with much of the testimony coming from survivors who, as children, escaped to mountain forests as their families and other Mayan villagers were butchered.

As the New York Times reported, “Pedro Chávez Brito told the court that he was only six or seven years old when soldiers killed his mother. He hid in the chicken coop with his older sister, her newborn and his younger brother, but soldiers found them and dragged them out, forcing them back into their house and setting it on fire.

“Mr. Chávez says he was the only one to escape. ‘I got under a tree trunk and I was like an animal,’ Mr. Chávez told the court. ‘After eight days I went to live in the mountains. In the mountain we ate only roots and grass.’”

The Times reported that “prosecution witnesses said the military considered Ixil civilians, including children, as legitimate targets. … Jacinto Lupamac Gómez said he was eight when soldiers killed his parents and older siblings and hustled him and his two younger brothers into a helicopter. Like some of the children whose lives were spared, they were adopted by Spanish-speaking families and forgot how to speak Ixil.”

Elena de Paz Santiago, now 42, “testified that she was 12 when she and her mother were taken by soldiers to an army base and raped. The soldiers let her go, but she never saw her mother again,” the Times reported.

Even by Guatemalan standards, Rios Montt’s vengeful Christian fundamentalism had hurtled out of control. On Aug. 8, 1983, another coup overthrew Rios Montt and brought Gen. Oscar Mejia Victores to power.

Despite the power shift, Guatemalan security forces continued to murder with impunity, finally going so far that even the U.S. Embassy objected. When three Guatemalans working for the U.S. Agency for International Development were slain in November 1983, U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin suspected that “Archivos” hit squads were sending a message to the United States to back off even mild pressure for human rights.

In late November, in a brief show of displeasure, the administration postponed the sale of $2 million in helicopter spare parts. The next month, however, Reagan sent the spare parts anyway. In 1984, Reagan succeeded, too, in pressuring Congress to approve $300,000 in military training for the Guatemalan army.

By mid-1984, Chapin, who had grown bitter about the army’s stubborn brutality, was gone, replaced by a far-right political appointee named Alberto Piedra, who favored increased military assistance to Guatemala. In January 1985, Americas Watch issued a report observing that Reagan’s State Department “is apparently more concerned with improving Guatemala’s image than in improving its human rights.”

Reagan’s Dark Side

Despite his outwardly congenial style, Reagan – as revealed in the documentary record – was a cold and ruthless anticommunist who endorsed whatever “death squad” strategies were deployed against leftists in Central America. As Walters’s “Talking Points” demonstrate, Reagan and his team accepted the idea of liquidating not only armed guerrillas but civilians who were judged sympathetic to left-wing causes – people who were deemed part of the guerrillas’ “civilian support mechanisms.”

Across Central America in the 1980s, the death toll was staggering — an estimated 70,000 or more political killings in El Salvador, possibly 20,000 slain from the Contra war in Nicaragua, about 200 political “disappearances” in Honduras and some 100,000 people eliminated during the resurgence of political violence in Guatemala. The one consistent element in these slaughters was the overarching Cold War rationalization emanating from Ronald Reagan’s White House.

It was not until 1999, a decade after Ronald Reagan left office, that the shocking scope of the atrocities in Guatemala was comprehensively detailed by a truth commission that drew heavily on U.S. government documents declassified by President Bill Clinton. On Feb. 25, 1999, the Historical Clarification Commission estimated that the 34-year civil war had claimed the lives of some 200,000 people with the most savage bloodletting occurring in the 1980s. The panel estimated that the army was responsible for 93 percent of the killings and leftist guerrillas for three percent. Four percent were listed as unresolved.

The report documented that in the 1980s, the army committed 626 massacres against Mayan villages. “The massacres that eliminated entire Mayan villages … are neither perfidious allegations nor figments of the imagination, but an authentic chapter in Guatemala’s history,” the commission concluded. The army “completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their livestock and crops,” the report said. In the northern highlands, the report termed the slaughter “genocide.” [Washington Post, Feb. 26, 1999]

Besides carrying out murder and “disappearances,” the army routinely engaged in torture and rape. “The rape of women, during torture or before being murdered, was a common practice” by the military and paramilitary forces, the report found. The report added that the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some [of these] state operations.” The report concluded that the U.S. government also gave money and training to a Guatemalan military that committed “acts of genocide” against the Mayans. [NYT, Feb. 26, 1999]

During a visit to Central America, on March 10, 1999, President Clinton apologized for the past U.S. support of right-wing regimes in Guatemala dating back to 1954. “For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake,” Clinton said.

Despite the damning documentary evidence and now the shocking judgment of genocide against Rios Montt, there has been no interest in Washington to hold any U.S. official accountable, not even a thought that the cornucopia of honors bestowed on Ronald Reagan should cease or be rescinded.

It remains unlikely that the genocide conviction of Rios Montt will change the warm and fuzzy glow that surrounds Ronald Reagan in the eyes of many Americans. The story of the Guatemalan butchery and the Reagan administration’s complicity has long since been relegated to the great American memory hole.

But Americans of conscience will have to reconcile what it means when a country sees nothing wrong in honoring a man who made genocide happen.

Robert Parry

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’.

Tales of Reagan’s Guatemala Genocide April 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Genocide, Guatemala, History, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: As we speak the CIA is busy at work in Venezuela to destabilize the newly elected Maduro regime, using American resources and tax dollars in an attempt to promote civil unrest and to re-introduce a right wing pro-American anti-worker government.  The CIA cut its teeth in Guatemala in the early 1950s, where it overthrew the reformist Arbenz government and provoked years of civil war and government atrocities.

Exclusive: Guatemala is finally putting ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt on trial for genocide in the extermination of hundreds of Mayan villages in the 1980s, but Ronald Reagan remains an American icon despite new evidence of his complicity in this historic crime, reports Robert Parry.

 

By Robert Parry

The first month of the genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt has elicited chilling testimony from Mayan survivors who – as children – watched their families slaughtered by a right-wing military that was supported and supplied by U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

As the New York Times reportedon Monday, “In the tortured logic of military planning documents conceived under Mr. Ríos Montt’s 17-month rule during 1982 and 1983, the entire Mayan Ixil population was a military target, children included. Officers wrote that the leftist guerrillas fighting the government had succeeded in indoctrinating the impoverished Ixils and reached ‘100 percent support.’”

President Ronald Reagan meeting with Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt.

So, everyone was targeted in these scorched-earth campaigns that eradicated more than 600 Indian villages in the Guatemalan highlands. But this genocide was not simply the result of a twisted anticommunist ideology that dominated the Guatemalan military and political elites. This genocide also was endorsed by the Reagan administration.

A document that I discovered recently in the archives of the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, revealed that Reagan and his national security team in 1981 agreed to supply military aid to the brutal right-wing regime in Guatemala to pursue the goal of exterminating not only “Marxist guerrillas” but people associated with their “civilian support mechanisms.”

This supportive attitude toward the Guatemalan regime’s brutality took shape in spring 1981 as President Reagan sought to ease human-rights restrictions on military aid to Guatemala that had been imposed by President Jimmy Carter and the Democratic-controlled Congress in the late 1970s.

As part of that relaxation effort, Reagan’s State Department “advised our Central American embassies that it has been studying ways to restore a closer, cooperative relationship with Guatemala,” according to a White House “Situation Room Checklist” dated April 8, 1981. The document added:

“State believes a number of changes have occurred which could make Guatemalan leaders more receptive to a new U.S. initiative: the Guatemalans view the new administration as more sympathetic to their problems [and] they are less suspect of the U.S. role in El Salvador,” where the Reagan administration was expanding support for another right-wing regime infamous for slaughtering its political opponents, including Catholic clergy.

“State has concluded that any attempt to reestablish a dialogue [with Guatemala] would require some initial, condition-free demonstration of our goodwill. However, this could not include military sales which would provoke serious U.S. public and congressional criticism. State will undertake a series of confidence building measures, free of preconditions, which minimize potential conflict with existing legislation.”

The “checklist” added that the State Department “has also decided that the administration should engage the Guatemalan government at the highest level in a dialogue on our bilateral relations and the initiatives we can take together to improve them. Secretary [of State Alexander] Haig has designated [retired] General Vernon Walters as his personal emissary to initiate this process with President [Fernando Romeo] Lucas [Garcia].

“If Lucas is prepared to give assurances that he will take steps to halt government involvement in the indiscriminate killing of political opponents and to foster a climate conducive to a viable electoral process, the U.S. will be prepared to approve some military sales immediately.”

But the operative word in that paragraph was “indiscriminate.” The Reagan administration expressed no problem with killing civilians if they were considered supporters of the guerrillas who had been fighting against the country’s ruling oligarchs and generals since the 1950s when the CIA organized the overthrow of Guatemala’s reformist President Jacobo Arbenz.

Sympathy for the Generals

The distinction was spelled out in “Talking Points” for Walters to deliver in a face-to-face meeting with General Lucas. As edited inside the White House in April 1981, the “Talking Points” read: “The President and Secretary Haig have designated me [Walters] as [their] personal emissary to discuss bilateral relations on an urgent basis.

“Both the President and the Secretary recognize that your country is engaged in a war with Marxist guerrillas. We are deeply concerned about externally supported Marxist subversion in Guatemala and other countries in the region. As you are aware, we have already taken steps to assist Honduras and El Salvador resist this aggression.

“The Secretary has sent me here to see if we can work out a way to provide material assistance to your government. … We have minimized negative public statements by US officials on the situation in Guatemala. … We have arranged for the Commerce Department to take steps that will permit the sale of $3 million worth of military trucks and Jeeps to the Guatemalan army. …

“With your concurrence, we propose to provide you and any officers you might designate an intelligence briefing on regional developments from our perspective. Our desire, however, is to go substantially beyond the steps I have just outlined. We wish to reestablish our traditional military supply and training relationship as soon as possible.

“As we are both aware, this has not yet been feasible because of our internal political and legal constraints relating to the use by some elements of your security forces of deliberate and indiscriminate killing of persons not involved with the guerrilla forces or their civilian support mechanisms. I am not referring here to the regrettable but inevitable death of innocents though error in combat situations, but to what appears to us a calculated use of terror to immobilize non politicized people or potential opponents. …

“If you could give me your assurance that you will take steps to halt official involvement in the killing of persons not involved with the guerrilla forces or their civilian support mechanism … we would be in a much stronger position to defend successfully with the Congress a decision to begin to resume our military supply relationship with your government.”

In other words, though the “talking points” were framed as an appeal to reduce the “indiscriminate” slaughter of “non politicized people,” they amounted to an acceptance of scorched-earth tactics against people involved with the guerrillas and “their civilian support mechanisms.” The way that played out in Guatemala – as in nearby El Salvador – was the massacring of peasants in regions considered sympathetic to leftist insurgents.

The newly discovered documents – and other records declassified in the late 1990s – make clear that Reagan and his administration were well aware of the butchery underway in Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America.

According to one “secret” cable also from April 1981 — and declassified in the 1990s — the CIA was confirming Guatemalan government massacres even as Reagan was moving to loosen the military aid ban. On April 17, 1981, a CIA cable described an army massacre at Cocob, near Nebaj in the Ixil Indian territory, because the population was believed to support leftist guerrillas.

A CIA source reported that “the social population appeared to fully support the guerrillas” and “the soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved.” The CIA cable added that “the Guatemalan authorities admitted that ‘many civilians’ were killed in Cocob, many of whom undoubtedly were non-combatants.” [Many of the Guatemalan documents declassified in the 1990s can be found at the National Security Archive’s Web site.]

Dispatching Walters

In May 1981, despite the ongoing atrocities, Reagan dispatched Walters to tell the Guatemalan leaders that the new U.S. administration wanted to lift the human rights embargoes on military equipment that Carter and Congress had imposed.

The “Talking Points” also put the Reagan administration in line with the fiercely anticommunist regimes elsewhere in Latin America, where right-wing “death squads” operated with impunity liquidating not only armed guerrillas but civilians who were judged sympathetic to left-wing causes like demanding greater economic equality and social justice.

Despite his aw shucks style, Reagan found virtually every anticommunist action justified, no matter how brutal. From his eight years in the White House, there is no historical indication that he was morally troubled by the bloodbath and even genocide that occurred in Central America while he was shipping hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to the implicated forces.

The death toll was staggering — an estimated 70,000 or more political killings in El Salvador, possibly 20,000 slain from the Contra war in Nicaragua, about 200 political “disappearances” in Honduras and some 100,000 people eliminated during a resurgence of political violence in Guatemala. The one consistent element in these slaughters was the overarching Cold War rationalization, emanating in large part from Ronald Reagan’s White House.

Despite their claims to the contrary, the evidence is now overwhelming that Reagan and his advisers knew the extraordinary brutality going on in Guatemala and elsewhere, based on their own internal documents.

According to a State Department cable on Oct. 5, 1981, when Guatemalan leaders met again with Walters, they left no doubt about their plans. The cable said Gen. Lucas “made clear that his government will continue as before — that the repression will continue. He reiterated his belief that the repression is working and that the guerrilla threat will be successfully routed.”

Human rights groups saw the same picture. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission released a report on Oct. 15, 1981, blaming the Guatemalan government for “thousands of illegal executions.” [Washington Post, Oct. 16, 1981]

But the Reagan administration was set on whitewashing the ugly scene. A State Department “white paper,” released in December 1981, blamed the violence on leftist “extremist groups” and their “terrorist methods” prompted and supported by Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

What the documents from the Reagan Library make clear is that the administration was not simply struggling ineffectively to rein in these massacres – as the U.S. press corps typically reported – but was fully onboard with the slaughter of people who were part of the guerrillas’ “civilian support mechanisms.”

U.S. intelligence agencies continued to pick up evidence of these government-sponsored massacres. One CIA report in February 1982 described an army sweep through the so-called Ixil Triangle in central El Quiche province.

“The commanding officers of the units involved have been instructed to destroy all towns and villages which are cooperating with the Guerrilla Army of the Poor [the EGP] and eliminate all sources of resistance,” the report said. “Since the operation began, several villages have been burned to the ground, and a large number of guerrillas and collaborators have been killed.”

The CIA report explained the army’s modus operandi: “When an army patrol meets resistance and takes fire from a town or village, it is assumed that the entire town is hostile and it is subsequently destroyed.” When the army encountered an empty village, it was “assumed to have been supporting the EGP, and it is destroyed. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of refugees in the hills with no homes to return to. …

“The army high command is highly pleased with the initial results of the sweep operation, and believes that it will be successful in destroying the major EGP support area and will be able to drive the EGP out of the Ixil Triangle. … The well documented belief by the army that the entire Ixil Indian population is pro-EGP has created a situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike.”

On Feb. 2, 1982, Richard Childress, one of Reagan’s national security aides, wrote a “secret” memo to his colleagues summing up this reality on the ground:

“As we move ahead on our approach to Latin America, we need to consciously address the unique problems posed by Guatemala. Possessed of some of the worst human rights records in the region, … it presents a policy dilemma for us. The abysmal human rights record makes it, in its present form, unworthy of USG [U.S. government] support. …

“Beset by a continuous insurgency for at least 15 years, the current leadership is completely committed to a ruthless and unyielding program of suppression. Hardly a soldier could be found that has not killed a ‘guerrilla.’”

The Rise of Rios Montt

However, Reagan remained committed to supplying military hardware to Guatemala’s brutal regime. So, the administration welcomed Gen. Efrain Rios Montt’s March 1982 overthrow of the thoroughly bloodstained Gen. Lucas.

An avowed fundamentalist Christian, Rios Montt impressed Official Washington where the Reagan administration immediately revved up its propaganda machinery to hype the new dictator’s “born-again” status as proof of his deep respect for human life. Reagan hailed Rios Montt as “a man of great personal integrity.”

By July 1982, however, Rios Montt had begun a new scorched-earth campaign called his “rifles and beans” policy. The slogan meant that pacified Indians would get “beans,” while all others could expect to be the target of army “rifles.” In October, Rios Montt secretly gave carte blanche to the feared “Archivos” intelligence unit to expand “death squad” operations in the cities. Based at the Presidential Palace, the “Archivos” masterminded many of Guatemala’s most notorious assassinations.

The U.S. embassy was soon hearing more accounts of the army conducting Indian massacres, but ideologically driven U.S. diplomats fed the Reagan administration the propaganda spin that would be best for their careers. On Oct. 22, 1982, embassy staff dismissed the massacre reports as communist-inspired “disinformation campaign,” concluding that “that a concerted disinformation campaign is being waged in the U.S. against the Guatemalan government by groups supporting the communist insurgency in Guatemala.”

Reagan personally joined this P.R. campaign seeking to discredit human rights investigators and others who were reporting accurately about massacres that the administration knew, all too well, were true.

On Dec. 4, 1982, after meeting with Rios Montt, Reagan hailed the general as “totally dedicated to democracy” and added that Rios Montt’s government had been “getting a bum rap” on human rights. Reagan discounted the mounting reports of hundreds of Maya villages being eradicated.

In February 1983, however, a secret CIA cable noted a rise in “suspect right-wing violence” with kidnappings of students and teachers. Bodies of victims were appearing in ditches and gullies. CIA sources traced these political murders to Rios Montt’s order to the “Archivos” in October to “apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they saw fit.”

Despite these grisly facts on the ground, the annual State Department human rights survey praised the supposedly improved human rights situation in Guatemala. “The overall conduct of the armed forces had improved by late in the year” 1982, the report stated.

A different picture — far closer to the secret information held by the U.S. government — was coming from independent human rights investigators. On March 17, 1983, Americas Watch condemned the Guatemalan army for human rights atrocities against the Indian population.

New York attorney Stephen L. Kass said these findings included proof that the government carried out “virtually indiscriminate murder of men, women and children of any farm regarded by the army as possibly supportive of guerrilla insurgents.”

Rural women suspected of guerrilla sympathies were raped before execution, Kass said, adding that children were “thrown into burning homes. They are thrown in the air and speared with bayonets. We heard many, many stories of children being picked up by the ankles and swung against poles so their heads are destroyed.” [AP, March 17, 1983]

Putting on a Happy Face

Publicly, senior Reagan officials continued to put on a happy face. In June 1983, special envoy Richard B. Stone praised “positive changes” in Rios Montt’s government, and Rios Montt pressed the United States for 10 UH-1H helicopters and six naval patrol boats, all the better to hunt guerrillas and their sympathizers.

Since Guatemala lacked the U.S. Foreign Military Sales credits or the cash to buy the helicopters, Reagan’s national security team looked for unconventional ways to arrange the delivery of the equipment that would give the Guatemalan army greater access to mountainous areas where guerrillas and their civilian supporters were hiding.

On Aug. 1, 1983, National Security Council aides Oliver North and Alfonso Sapia-Bosch reported to National Security Advisor William P. Clark that his deputy Robert “Bud” McFarlane was planning to exploit his Israeli channels to secure the helicopters for Guatemala. [For more on McFarlanes's Israeli channels, see Consortiumnews.com's "How Neocons Messed Up the Mideast."]

“With regard to the loan of ten helicopters, it is [our] understanding that Bud will take this up with the Israelis,” wrote North and Sapia-Bosch. “There are expectations that they would be forthcoming. Another possibility is to have an exercise with the Guatemalans. We would then use US mechanics and Guatemalan parts to bring their helicopters up to snuff.”

However, more political changes were afoot in Guatemala. Rios Montt’s vengeful Christian fundamentalism had hurtled so out of control, even by Guatemalan standards, that Gen. Oscar Mejia Victores seized power in another coup on Aug. 8, 1983.

Despite the power shift, Guatemalan security forces continued to murder with impunity, finally going so far that even the U.S. Embassy objected. When three Guatemalans working for the U.S. Agency for International Development were slain in November 1983, U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin suspected that “Archivos” hit squads were sending a message to the United States to back off even mild pressure for human rights.

In late November, in a brief show of displeasure, the administration postponed the sale of $2 million in helicopter spare parts. The next month, however, Reagan sent the spare parts anyway. In 1984, Reagan succeeded, too, in pressuring Congress to approve $300,000 in military training for the Guatemalan army.

By mid-1984, Chapin, who had grown bitter about the army’s stubborn brutality, was gone, replaced by a far-right political appointee named Alberto Piedra, who favored increased military assistance to Guatemala. In January 1985, Americas Watch issued a report observing that Reagan’s State Department “is apparently more concerned with improving Guatemala’s image than in improving its human rights.”

It was not until 1999, a decade after Ronald Reagan left office, that the shocking scope of the atrocities in Guatemala was publicly revealed by a truth commission that drew heavily on U.S. government documents that President Bill Clinton had ordered declassified.

On Feb. 25, 1999, the Historical Clarification Commission estimated that the 34-year civil war had claimed the lives of some 200,000 people with the most savage bloodletting occurring in the 1980s. The panel estimated that the army was responsible for 93 percent of the killings and leftist guerrillas for three percent. Four percent were listed as unresolved.

The report documented that in the 1980s, the army committed 626 massacres against Mayan villages. “The massacres that eliminated entire Mayan villages … are neither perfidious allegations nor figments of the imagination, but an authentic chapter in Guatemala’s history,” the commission concluded.

The army “completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their livestock and crops,” the report said. In the northern highlands, the report termed the slaughter “genocide.” [Washington Post, Feb. 26, 1999]

Besides carrying out murder and “disappearances,” the army routinely engaged in torture and rape. “The rape of women, during torture or before being murdered, was a common practice” by the military and paramilitary forces, the report found.

The report added that the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some [of these] state operations.” The report concluded that the U.S. government also gave money and training to a Guatemalan military that committed “acts of genocide” against the Mayans. [NYT, Feb. 26, 1999]

During a visit to Central America, on March 10, 1999, President Clinton apologized for the past U.S. support of right-wing regimes in Guatemala dating back to 1954. “For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake,” Clinton said. [Washington Post, March 11, 1999]

Impunity for Reagan’s Team

However, back in Washington, there was no interest in holding anyone accountable for aiding and abetting genocide. The story of the Guatemalan butchery and the Reagan administration’s complicity quickly disappeared into the great American memory hole.

For human rights crimes in the Balkans and in Africa, the United States has demanded international tribunals to arrest and to try violators and their political patrons for war crimes. In Iraq, President George W. Bush celebrated the trial and execution of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for politically motivated killings.

Even Rios Montt, now 86, after years of evading justice under various amnesties, was finally indicted in Guatemala in 2012 for genocide and crimes against humanity. The first month of his trial has added eyewitness testimony to the atrocities that the Guatemalan military inflicted and that Ronald Reagan assisted and covered up.

On Monday, the New York Times reported on some of this painful testimony, but – as is almost always the case – the Times did not mention the role of Reagan and his administration. However, what the Times did include was chilling, including accounts from witnesses who as children fled to mountain forests to escape the massacres:

“Pedro Chávez Brito told the court that he was only six or seven years old when soldiers killed his mother. He hid in the chicken coop with his older sister, her newborn and his younger brother, but soldiers found them and dragged them out, forcing them back into their house and setting it on fire.

“Mr. Chávez says he was the only one to escape. ‘I got under a tree trunk and I was like an animal,’ Mr. Chávez told the court. ‘After eight days I went to live in the mountains. In the mountain we ate only roots and grass.’”

Lawyers for Rios Montt and his co-defendant, former intelligence chief José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, have maintained that the pair did not order the killings, which they instead blamed on over-zealous field commanders.

However, the Times reported that “prosecution witnesses said the military considered Ixil civilians, including children, as legitimate targets. ‘The army’s objective with the children was to eliminate the seed for future guerrillas,’ Marco Tulio Alvarez, the former director of Guatemala’s Peace Archives, testified last week. ‘They used them to get information and to draw their parents to military centers where they arrested them.’

“In a study of 420 bodies exhumed from the Ixil region and presumed to date from the Ríos Montt period, experts found that almost 36 percent of those who were killed were under 18 years old, including some newborns.

“Jacinto Lupamac Gómez said he was eight when soldiers killed his parents and older siblings and hustled him and his two younger brothers into a helicopter. Like some of the children whose lives were spared, they were adopted by Spanish-speaking families and forgot how to speak Ixil.”

Though some belated justice may still be possible in Guatemala, there is no talk in the United States about seeking any accountability from the Reagan administration officials who arranged military assistance to this modern genocide or who helped conceal the atrocities while they were underway.

There has been no attention given by the mainstream U.S. news media to the new documents revealing how the Reagan administration gave a green light to the slaughter of Guatemalans who were considered part of the “civilian support mechanisms” for the Mayan guerrillas resisting the right-wing repression.

Ronald Reagan, the U.S. official most culpable for aiding and abetting the Guatemalan genocide, remains a hero to much of America with his name attached to Washington’s National Airport and scores of other government facilities. U.S. officials and many Americans apparently don’t want to disrupt their happy memories of the Gipper.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

US Special Operations Command Trained Military Unit Accused of Death Squad Killings in Honduras March 1, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Photo: democracyinaction.org

By (about the author)
OpEdNews Op Eds 3/1/2013 at 20:13:41

This article is based entirely on the report “Human Rights Violations Attributed to Military Forces in the Bajo Aguan Valley in Honduras” published on February 20, 2013. To see the full report with citations:

http://rightsaction.org/sites/default/files//Rpt_130220_Aguan_Final.pdf

Since January 2010, there has been a constant stream of killings of members of land rights, campesino movements in the Bajo Aguan region of Honduras. At least 88 campesino movement members and supporters have been killed, along with five bystanders apparently mistaken for campesinos. Most recently, on Feb. 16 two campesinos were killed–Santos Jacobo Cartagena was gunned down while waiting for a bus, and Jose Trejo, an outspoken advocate for the investigation of his brother’s Sept. 22, 2012 murder, was shot while driving.

While the 2010 and 2011 State Department human rights reports described deaths of campesinos in the Aguan as the result of “confrontations” between palm oil corporation’s security forces and campesino farmers who claim the land was stolen by the agri-businessmen, only six of the killings have occurred on disputed land during land occupations or evictions. In contrast, 78 were targeted assassinations, 8 of those preceded by abductions, their tortured bodies found later; another 3 victims remain disappeared.  Fifty-three people were shot while driving, riding their bicycles or walking along public roads. Another 13 were assassinated in their homes or while working on farms not in dispute.

All of this points to one explanation: a death squad is operating in the Aguan.  This is not news to anyone who lives there, where it is considered common knowledge and it is widely understood that police and military participate in the killings.  Dozens of acts of violence and intimidation have been carried out by the Honduran military against campesino communities over the same time period and geographical area where the death-squad killings have targeted campesinos, lending greater credibility to the charge.

While masked gunmen have been killing campesinos, the Honduran military’s 15th Battalion special forces unit and units or joint taskforces associated with it, have been receiving training from the U.S. armed forces Special Operations Command South, SOCSOUTH, which is also funding construction on the 15th Battalion’s base in Rio Claro, Trujillo.

Local residents and national press have reported the presence of U.S. Army Rangers in the area since at least 2008, and public records of the U.S. government confirm their presence. In 2008, SOCSOUTH conducted two trainings with 135 soldiers each, all from the 1st Special Forces Battalion. The Honduran press has reported that the 1st Battalion and 15th Battalion, both special-forces units, operate as one command, sharing the installations in the Rio Claro military base for training. SOCSOUTH and the U.S.Southern Command, SOUTHCOM, have also funded improvements and expansion of the Rio Claro base since September 2011.

One disturbing observation that resulted from our investigation is that conditions surrounding many of the killings involved techniques included in U.S. training.  According to Honduran press, U.S. special forces train the Honduran Special Operations Forces of the 1st and 15th Battalion in insertion, parachuting, explosives, long-distance sharpshooting, intelligence, advanced marksmanship, urban operations, close combat, martial arts and offensive driving. Dozens of campesinos have died after high-speed pursuit in vehicles, either after crashing or being shot, in incidents that can only be described as offensive driving.

Campesinos have reported surviving long-distance sharpshooting assassination attempts, and many have been killed from shots fired from a significant distance. One man was found dead from unexplained internal injuries while it was rumored that the unit was being trained in mortal hand-to-hand combat, raising suspicions. At least one man was killed in a stealth raid assisted by a helicopter, in which an armed group wearing black uniforms with masks quickly and surreptitiously entered a farm in the night, assassinated a campesino, and left–an operation known in military terms as “insertion”.

The improvements to the Rio Claro military base began just weeks after Xatruch II, a military–police joint task force, arrived in the Aguan. Honduras sent a Xatruch II unit to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, and at least two of the commanding officers of the Xatruch II deployment in the Aguan participated in Iraq. There is significant evidence that the Xatruch II operation in the Aguan is the same unit that served in Iraq.

From Iraq to Aguan

But Xatruch II is not all that is moving from the Middle East to the Aguan–so is the war on terrorism. The conflict in the Aguan is an 18 year-old land dispute. Campesinos explain that agri-businessmen used violence and fraud to illegally separate them from the palm oil plantations they had labored to create and equip. In 1998 they initiated lawsuits demanding annulment of the title transfers, but ever since they have struggled to maintain legal representation as their lawyers were threatened or bribed into abandoning the cases. On September 22, 2012 they lost the only lawyer who had stuck it out when he was shot to death outside a church. Just three months before, he had won the annulment of 3 of the 28 disputed title transfers.

Honduran military, even the commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Security, have consistently distorted the nature of the conflict, claiming there is a guerrilla group operating in the area, connected to drug traffickers. On Sept. 6, 2012, The Times of Israel ran a story citing only Israeli radio, claiming the Hezbollah had established a training camp in Nicaragua on the border with Honduras, a story that was then repeated in Latin American press. The Times of Israel then reported further on the story citing the Latin American press reports it had generated itself. The dangerous, unsubstantiated and opportunistic accusations of narco-terrorism levied against the campesino movement in the Aguan by the military fit neatly into the U.S. objective of expanding its military reach in the region.

Security forces in the Aguan explain that the mission of Xatruch II is to defend the land of the businessmen from the “criminal’ campesinos. However, broad evidence indicates that some of the businessmen in conflict with the campesinos are involved in drug trafficking in the region. Local residents have reported that the 15th Battalion and the Tocoa police have provided protection to the traffickers. The police define their mission as defending the property of Miguel Facusse, whose principal residence in the region was implicated in drug trafficking,according to a State Department cable leaked by Wikileaks.

The conflict in the Aguan is a longstanding land conflict, and it must be treated as such. The conflict can be resolved by duly addressing the land-rights claims. Militarization, supported by the U.S. government, will not resolve the underlying conflict and it clearly increases, rather than decreases, the bloodshed.

Only the courts can resolve the conflict, but the courts don’t function and have further collapsed since the June 2009 military coup.

There is a solution to the violence in the Aguan–the courts, not the military.

Crossposted at cipamericas.org

Annie Bird, a Central America & Latin America human rights activist. She is co-director for rightsaction.org & a writer for cipamericas.org’s Americas Program.

Our Struggle Continues! Venceremos! November 28, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Latin America.
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From November 16-18, over two thousand students, prison abolitionists, teachers, nuns, immigrants, musicians, farmers, activists and workers from across the Americas mobilized to the gates of Fort Benning, to once more express our humanity and solidarity against the school of death and destruction. This year, we were fortunate to have so many activists from Latin America and the Caribbean who shared their stories with us and walked with us. It was a true manifestation of the saying: “Somos Una América! We are One America!”
On Sunday, November 18, we called out the names of our martyrs, including Ebed Yanes, 15, who was assassinated by SOA-trained troops in May, 2012, in Honduras. From left: Fr Ismael Moreno Coto of Honduras, Fr Roy Bourgeois, Adriana Portillo-Bartow, Dr. Martin Almada of Paraguay.
Thousands came together, including many for the very first time. This year, the names of people who died crossing the US/Mexico border were read along with those of SOA victims.
Expressing a vision of the world through puppetry is an integral part of the SOA Watch movement. On Saturday, the puppetistas brought out the USS Empire, representing the 520 years of oppression… which was later overwhelmed by our collective resistance!
Nashua Chantal, 60 years old, from Americus, Georgia, as he climbs the ladder over the fence at Fort Benning, to carry our protest onto the base. He faces 6 months in prison. Nashua will be in federal court in Columbus on January 9, 2013 to put the SOA/ WHINSEC on trial.
Fort Benning military police arrest Nashua for crossing the line.
Hundreds watch as Nashua is taken away. Our resistance transcends borders and fences, and we will not stop until they do!


Click here to see more photos from Tom Bottolene. If you have any pictures you took and would like to share them, you can upload them to the SOA Watch Flickr page.

 
Special thanks to the Mobile Broadcast Network who livestreamed the Vigil. Check out a clip of Rebel Díaz and Fr Roy here, and of the Puppetista pageant and interviews in Spanish here.

 
Also, check a report back from Father Melo about his experience at the gates. Nina spoke of her first trip to Fort Benning, as did Dominique, who rode on the Veterans for Peace bus from Minnesota. From Ft Benning to Cairo, Eva reports on her views of militarism. Also, Rebel Diaz rapper Rodstarz wrote of his encounter with undercover police. Check the reports out!

 
We marched to the Stewart Detention center to protest unjust immigration laws; we connected our issues during caucuses and workshops; we remembered the names of the victims; and one of us took our collective message over the fence. We left with the renewed knowledge that our struggle did not begin or end at Fort Benning, but that we will continue to build a just and peaceful world in our communities every single day of the year!

 
Thank you to all of you who participated in the Vigil weekend and we invite you to stay connected and continue to spread the word through talks in your communities, video-showings, house-meetings, dances, theater, and legislative work (see you in DC April 8-10, 2013!). Take a rest, and get ready for a rebellious and transformative 2013!

 
In struggle,
SOA Watch

 
PS: In the coming weeks, we will be delivering a letter to Congress urging them to include SOA/WHINSEC in their mandatory budget cuts. If you haven’t done so, please ask your local, regional or national organization to sign on to the SOA Watch Congressional letter.

Romney’s Death Squad Ties: Bain Launched With Millions From Oligarchs Behind Salvadoran Atrocities August 13, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Human Rights, Latin America, Mitt Romney.
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US trained “death squad” victims in San Salvador, 1981

Monday, 13 August 2012, www.truthout.org

Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN:

We begin today with new scrutiny Republican candidate Mitt Romney is facing about his record at the private equity firm Bain Capital. The latest controversy surrounding Bain concerns how Romney helped found the company with investments from Central American elites linked to death squads in El Salvador. After initially struggling to find investors, Romney traveled to Miami in 1983 to win pledges of $9 million, 40% of Bain’s start up money. Some investors had extensive ties to the death squads responsible for the vast majority of the tens of thousands of deaths in El Salvador beginning during the 1980′s. The investors include the Salaverria family, whose former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White, has previously accused of directly funding the Salvadorian paramilitaries. In his memoir, former Bain executive Harry Strachan writes, “Romney pushed aside his own misgivings about the investors to accept their backing.” Strachan writes, “These Latin American friends have loyally rolled over investments in succeeding funds, actively participated in Bain Capital’s May investor meetings and are still today one of the largest investor groups in Bain Capital.” For more, we’re joined by Ryan Grim, Bureau Chief for The Huffington Post . He’s connecting the dots in the latest story headlined, “Mitt Romney Started Bain Capital With Money From Families Tied To Death Squads”. Ryan, welcome to Democracy Now! If you could carefully laid out the story, and set the stage in El Salvador in the early 1980′s, what was happening there, the carnage.

RYAN GRIM: Sure. In 1980, there was land reform instituted by the El Salvadoran government that started to parcel up some of the farms, some of the coffee plantations, and the other land holdings of the elite, and they also nationalized the international coffee trade, so they did not nationalize the industry, but just the foreign export of it. So, the oligarchs responded with a vicious and a brutal campaign that included death squads and in the first year or two, killed something like 35,000 people. Over a decade, killed about 70,000 people. The U.N. has since calculated about 85% of the killing was done by these right-wing death squads, so this is not one of those dirty wars where both sides were equally culpable. The leader of this movement, Roberto D’Aubuisson was very public about his support of death squads and that death squads were an important part of what they were doing. He would actually say that the purpose of the death squads was ultimately to diminish violence, because if you could go into a village and go into a couple houses and kill everyone in there, then it would send a message to the rest of the village that they shouldn’t join the village, and therefore there would be less of an uprising and the death squads would not have to kill everyone. That was the kind of macabre logic that lasted for slightly more than a decade in El Salvador.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the most well known victims of the death squads of the military of El Salvador is Archbishop Oscar Romero, known as the voice of the voiceless. He was a prominent advocate for the poor, a leading critic of U.S.-backed Salvadoran military government. He was killed by members of a U.S.-backed death squad while delivering mass at a hospital chapel. I want to play an excerpt from the film “Romero,” which stars Raúl Juliá who played Archbishop Romero.

RAUL JULIA: I would like to make an appeal in a special way to the men in the Army. Brothers, each one of you is one of us. We are the same people. The farmers and peasants that you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear the words of a man telling you to kill, think, instead, in the words of God, thou shalt not kill. No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. In his name, and in the name of our tormented people who have suffered so much and whose limits cry out to heaven, I implore you, I beg you, I order you, stop the repression.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from the film “Romero” of Raúl Juliá who played Salvadoran Oscar Romero. Oscar Romero was gunned down March 24, 1980. Ryan Grim, talk about how he died and the connection to your story.

RYAN GRIM: He was assassinated the day after the clip you played, shot through the heart while delivering mass. We since know, conclusively, that his assassination was ordered by Roberto D’Aubuisson. D’Aubuisson, 18 months later would found the ARENA party which was, basically, at the time, a vehicle for these death squads. ARENA is still around. It has become more of a conventional Latin American right-wing party, but for its first several years, it was, quite simply, the political organization which was managing the death squads. So, Mitt Romney, in this context, knew very well what was happening in El Salvador. The U.S. Ambassador [Robert] White, who you mentioned —

AMY GOODMAN: Robert White.

RYAN GRIM: Robert White, had publicly accused six Salvadorans living in Miami of financing, two of them Salaverrias. When it was suggested to him by Harry Strachan that he go down to Miami to raise money from the exiles there, he actually said to Strachan, make sure that these people are not connected to right-wing death squads. It’s very clear he knew the context and he knew what was going on at the time, but he was having a seriously hard time raising capital for his new enterprise, Bain Capital, and his boss, Bill Bain, told him that he couldn’t use any of the investors or clients of Bain and Co., which was the very successful consulting firm, because if Bain Capital failed, he didn’t want it to take everything else down with it. It’s been reported in a number of places that he failed to raise capital from traditional sources in the U.S. So, given that, he flew to Miami and, in mid 1984, he went directly to a bank and met with a number of these families who were involved with death squads and accepted, what at the time, was a huge amount of money that amounted to 40% of the outside capital that he was able to raise for that initial fund. As Harry Strachan said, they continued to roll over their investments and certainly are worth tens of millions of dollars in Bain Capital now. Just reading from your piece, Ryan Grim, when Romney returned to Miami in 2007 to launch another venture that needed funding, his first presidential campaign, Romney said, “I owe a great deal to Americans of Latin American descent… When I was starting my business, I came to Miami to find partners that would believe in me and that would finance my enterprise. My partners were Ricardo Poma, Miguel Dueñas, Pancho Soler, Frank Kardonski, and Diego Ribadeneira.” Can you talk about these men, like Poma, and their relationship to the death squads in El Salvador?

RYAN GRIM: The Poma family was one of the top families in El Salvador. They were very tightly intertwined with ARENA. The Salaverrias, which we mentioned earlier, two of them were specifically named by White as specifically financing death squads. The De Solas are another family that originally invested in Bain. We know that at least four members of the De Sola family invested in Bain. We only know the names of two of them. There’s one man named Orlando de Sola who the Romney campaign, and nobody else, denies, was a leader of the death squad movement. There’s no question about that. What the Romney campaign has relied on is that they say that Orlando de Solo was a black sheep of the De Sola family. The fact that he was running death squads should not besmirch the four De Sola investors, even though they won’t tell us who two of those four were. However, what we found was that one of the two named De Sola investors — his name is Francisco de Sola — was connected in 1990 to the assassination of two left-wing activists.

There was a meeting held in Guatemala that Chris Dodd, the former senator from Connecticut, moderated. He was trying to strike a peace deal between ARENA and the FMLN. And shortly after that meeting two of the activists who had met with him were assassinated. The Guatemalan government, citing its intelligence sources, concluded that the assassinations were committed by Orlando de Sola, Roberto D’Aubuisson and Fransicso de Sola. Now, Francisco de Sola is still alive and his assistant confirmed to us that he was one of those three people who was accused of these murders. Now, he denied it at the time and denies it today, but just the fact that the Guatemalan intelligence services would lump him together with Orlando de Sola and Roberto D’Abuisson, just known as the basically two leaders of the death squad movement at the time, dramatically undermines the notion that the people involved with Bain are somehow deeply disconnected or that there’s some bright line between the people involved in Bain and the people who are funding and operating the death squads.

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Grim, Mitt Romney’s response to your investigation and to these allegations?

RYAN GRIM: What they did is they sent me a paragraph of an article from the Salt Lake Tribune in 1999 that read, “As was Bain’s policy, they had the families checked out as diligently as possible. They uncovered no unsavory links to drugs or other criminal activity.” That is simply impossible to believe. These families were certainly connected to death squads. Now Romney told the Boston Globe in 1994, something along the lines of, we checked out the individual investors and made sure there were no “obvious signs of criminal activity,” we didn’t check out their in-laws and their cousins. Those are two inconsistent levels of diligence that Romney is claiming to two separate papers. But, if you take the one at the Tribune, which was sent to me by the Romney campaign, that’s simply unbelievable. There’s no possible way that anybody in 1984 could check out these families — which is the term they use, these families — and come away convinced that this money was clean.

AMY GOODMAN: You quote Robert White saying, “The Salaverria family was very well known.” Robert White was the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador. “The Salaverria family was very well known as backers of D’Abussion these guys big money contributors, they were total backers of D’Abuisson including death squads.” And I wanted to read an excerpt from Greg Grandin’s book, “Empire’s Workshop.” He is a professor of Latin American history at New York University. He writes, “The problem was that the military groups had very little popular support due in large part to the fact that they were ‘preternaturally violent.’ According to Reagan’s own ambassador, Robert White, their solution to the crisis ‘was apocalyptic: the country must be ‘destroyed totally, the economy must be wrecked, unemployment must be massive,’ and a ‘cleansing’ of some ’3 or 4 or 500,000 people’ must be carried out,” he says. And he his quoting Robert White. Ryan Grim?

RYAN GRIM: I spoke also with the Sergio Bendixen who is a pollster who did a lot of work in the country in the 1980′s for Univision and is now, coincidentally, he became a pollster for Hillary Clinton and he’s now working with the Obama campaign now. He knew D’Abuisson and he knew lot of the people who were involved with these death squads, and he said that, and this is what I have heard from other people who are familiar with him in the exile community, that this is not something they would hide. Like you said, they were persuaded that they were freedom fighters, that they were on the side of justice, and that if it meant that you had to kill tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, those were evil people who were supported by Castro who wanted to bring about tyranny, etc., etc. So, everything that they were doing was justified by that. Mitt Romney even hinted at that in his 2007 talk to the Miami crowd when he came down to raise money for his campaign. He said, not only did these people invest in me, but they taught me a lot. And what they taught me is that these guerrillas were horrible and they kidnapped one of their brothers and killed him and they tortured Miguel Dueñas he mentions. They kidnapped and tortured Miguel Dueñas. There’s no question that atrocities were certainly committed by both sides, but you can see in that quote that Romney is partly buying into this notion that the violence was justified. And he would not be at all be alone in the Republican Party at that time or the Democratic Party. As you said, these death squads had the backing of the United States government.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking about, as you said, tens of thousands of people in 1989, the government bestowed the Salvadoran government, bestowed — well, this was in 2009. But, remembering, 20 years ago, the killing of the six Jesuit priests in 1989, and then there was the killing of the four American nuns, all these part of the casualties of, as you said, the Salvadoran military and paramilitary, overwhelmingly doing the killing. Now, interestingly, we started with Oscar Romero’s death March 24, 1980. Killed by the right-wing death squads in Salvador. President Obama visited Honduras visited El Salvador and went to the grave of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

RYAN GRIM: And that was an acknowledgment that what the United States and its allies in El Salvador did in the 1980′s was wrong. It wasn’t exactly, but it was tantamount to an apology for all of the death and destruction that was brought about in the name of anti-communism. Archbishop Romero is now known as one of the great heroes and martyrs of the 20th-century. At the same time that we’re talking about Romney’s Association here, we ought to mention that the current occupant of the White House has — operates drones that kill people on a fairly regular basis. There is, unfortunately, still no shortage of killing around the globe.

AMY GOODMAN: And, interestingly, the question, will the Obama administration will make something of this initial Bain investment capital, and will the Romney administration — will the Romney campaign raise the issue of President Obama and his kill list and the operating of drones that are killing many in Yemen and Pakistan, etc.

RYAN GRIM: It will be interesting to see. If the Obama campaign does do anything with it, I would expect that it would be done in the Latino community to help drive support for Obama there, because as you said, there are thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of refugees who are here today because of the violence from there, and when they find out that the oligarchs that were funding that violence get also helped get Romney’s Bain Capital off the ground, that could influence the way they vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Are these families still donating to Romney’s current presidential campaign as they did to his first effort?

RYAN GRIM: I didn’t find any of them doing so. Romney had a strange use of the phrase we he went to Latin America; he called them Americans of Latin American descent. I don’t know if they have become Americans in the sense of the United States as America. If they haven’t gotten U.S. citizenship, then they can’t donate directly to U.S. presidential campaigns. I searched a few names that we do know, and they did not come up as donors to his presidential campaign. But, as Harry Strachan said, they have become — they continue to be significant investors in Bain Capital. Throughout the 1980′s and 1990′s, Bain Capital made just absolutely extraordinary returns, something like 88% annual return over two decades, which is just an absolutely astounding amount of money. If you apply that to $9 million initial investment, you get an absolute fortune.

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Grim, I want to thank you for being with us, Washington Bureau Chief for The Huffington Post for his latest story, “Mitt Romney Started Bain Capital With Money From Families Tied To Death Squads”. We’ll link to it at Democracy Now! This is Democracy Now!. Next up, we’re going to the Syria-Turkish borders. Stay with us.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

 

 

Disappearing Truth in Honduras: Commissions Cover Up Demands for New Constitution April 13, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Written by Annie Bird   
Tuesday, 13 April 2010 09:23
 

golpe de estado Honduras

Though the June 28, 2009 coup in Honduras caught the world’s attention, outside of Honduras little was said about the objective of the coup; to stop the proposal for a new constitution in Honduras. The terrible repression that followed the coup has also prompted international response, but the political proposal of victims of the repression has been made invisible.

The coup is now in its final phase, a phase that cannot be consolidated; the “disappearance” of the proposal for a new constitution. A two pronged strategy is being employed. On one hand, the creation of the appearance, without the actual reality, of national reconciliation processes, such as a ‘truth commission’ which for lack of participation of the human rights victims, among other problems, does not meet international standards for a truth commission. On the other hand, escalating violence and repression continues against the non violent resistance movement, which continues to demand a new constitution and does not recognize the Pepe Lobo government, like many nations of the world since the elections he “won” did not fulfill most indicators for democratic elections. This phase in the coup is the most dangerous and prolonged.

While the US and Canadian governments, corporate lobbyists in Washington and even WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America), a Washington based human rights NGO, assist the Honduran government in creating the illusion of “reconciliation,” death squads assassinate journalists, teachers and unionists.

The Frente and the Proposal

In Honduras, a massive and inspiring social movement has arisen, generating what University of California historian Dana Frank describes as “the most important moment in Honduran history, even more important than the immense general strike of 1954, from which all modern Honduran history flows.”

In the months prior to the coup, a massive alliance of most sectors of Honduran society, labor unions, students, indigenous organizations, women’s organizations, campesino organizations, LGBT organizations, and others came together to promote a proposal to draft a new constitution with broad civic participation. They proposed that a national opinion poll, which was to be held June 28, the day of coup. The poll was to ask Honduran citizens whether or not a national poll should be held during the November 2009 national and presidential elections.  This initiative called the “fourth ballot box,” would have asked Hondurans if they want to convoke a constituent assembly.  The proposal never claimed to create a legal obligation for the state; it simply sought to prove that most Hondurans wished to convoke a constituent assembly.

In the days following the coup, previously unorganized Hondurans came together with the “fourth ballot box” movement to form the Frente Popular Nacional contra el Golpe.  As people across the country repeat, by overthrowing the president, the power structures in Honduras “removed the blindfolds” of the population and the people mobilized massively.  Constant protests, at times of over half a million people, have occurred for over eight months. After the “new” government was installed January 27, 2010, the Frente changed its name to the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular.  In practically every rural village, town, urban neighborhood there is a local committee, which then has representatives in committees in each of Honduras’ eighteen departments, which in turn have representation in the national committee.

A New Constitution and the April 20, 2010 National March

The objective of the Frente is to convoke a national constituent assembly with representatives from all sectors of Honduran society to write a new constitution for the nation.  Currently, they hope to achieve this through participation in the 2013 national elections. The Frente has convoked a national march on April 20 to initiate the campaign to collect signatures on a petition that supports convoking a national constitutional assembly.  They expect to gather a minimum of 2 million signatures, over half of the adult population of Honduras and twice as many people as allegedly voted for Pepe Lobo in the fraudulent November 2009 elections.

The current constitution, the latest of sixteen, was written by a constituent assembly convoked during a military dictatorship, approved by congress and adopted during a military dictatorship.  There was no national debate in regards to its content.  Over the past three decades it has become evident to Hondurans that this constitution does not adequately protect the rights of the majority of the population.

Military Coup to Stop the New Constitution

The possibility of changing the framework of government which has allowed a small sector of Hondurans, and their international business partners, to control the nation shook up the power structure to the degree that it brazenly carried out the most egregious violation of a peoples fundamental political rights, a military coup, on June 28, 2009. The strong arm of the shadowy military and economic forces that have retained the power they consolidated through massive human rights violations in the 1970s and 1980s reappeared briefly in the public eye.

Today, the death squad killings of Frente activists brings up horrific memories of massacres, torture, and forced disappearances from a generation ago that resulted in over 400,000 deaths across Central America.  The authors of those crimes are still active and powerful today, thriving in the space the “democratic” government of Honduras, and the “international community” provide them.

When Zelaya proposed the controversial poll that prompted the military coup, he was simply properly acting as president in response to the request of a broad based social movement who demanded a constitutional assembly. Had the “fourth ballot box” poll taken place during the November elections, and the population had asked for a constitutional assembly, a new president would already have been elected to take over the presidency on January 27, 2010, and the Congress would have had the option to approve, or not, the proposal for a constitutional assembly.

Zelaya was not thrown out of power because there was any basis upon which to believe he intended to extend his presidency, he was overthrown because he was fulfilling his duty as a president in allowing a massive, grassroots political movement to take part in politics through legal mechanisms.

Consolidating the Coup

Initially the coup generated the international reaction it deserved.  Never in history had a military coup been condemned by the General Assembly of the United Nations and the Organization of American States.  Virtually every country in the world refused to recognize the coup regime nominally presided by Roberto Micheletti. However the initial diplomatic reaction was followed by de facto recognition.  The US treasury allowed Honduras to access the foreign reserves on deposit in Washington that the Zelaya government had struggled three years to amass, providing them with ample resources to finance the eight months of diplomatic stand off.   The US sent covert messages of support to the Honduran military by continuing the training of Honduran officers in the US.  The US refused to classify the as coup a “military” coup, in spite of all reasonable legal analysis (including the State Departments own lawyers), so that it would not have to suspend aid.  The World Bank nominally suspended disbursements of loans but made exceptions for key programs in the interest of economically and politically powerful coup supporters.

The US State Department immediately set about attempting to normalize relations with Honduras, lobbying the neighboring countries, maintaining constant communication with coup authors in Honduras while freezing out Zelaya and completely ignoring the existence of the Frente.

The challenge of the Frente and of Zelaya became keeping the massive rejection of the coup visible, both inside of Honduras and internationally.  Alternative media and the internet played an incredibly important role, as did a series of actions and mobilizations, including Zelaya’s dramatic September 22, 2009 return to Honduras and into the Brazilian Embassy. The culmination of the coup consolidation effort was the recognition by the US of the November 2009 presidential elections, and the US State Departments international lobbying campaign for recognition of the newly ‘elected’ government of Pepe Lobo, even though the elections defied every standard that must be met to be called free and fair elections.

Making the Frente Invisible

On January 27, 2010, Pepe Lobo was sworn in as president of Honduras while over half a million people protested by marching to the national airport to wave goodbye to President Manuel Zelaya.  The only Honduran television station that reported the true magnitude of the protest rented a helicopter to fly over the march, but was prevented from taking off.

While there is no doubt that President Zelaya was, and is, an important symbol for the Frente, it is key to understand that he does not represent the Frente, and the Frente does not consist of his “followers” or ”supporters.”  The international press, and the press controlled by the coup supporting regime in Honduras, consistently refers to the massive movement as Zelaya supporters.  This has the effect of invisiblizing the existence of the Frente as a clear, organized and representative political entity, distinct from Zelaya.

In the same way, as the same media outlets consistently and intentionally distort and reduce the massive movement for the new constitution to be an attempt by Zelaya to extend his stay in power, the proposal for a new constitution is invisibilized, disappeared.

This massive political mobilization threatens the consolidation of the coup.  While outside of Honduras, the Frente is ignored, an intentional political action to neutralize their impact, inside of Honduras they cannot be ignored, for they are the majority of Hondurans. So the Honduran state has resorted to invoking fear –state terrorism- in the population as a mechanism of social control and to literally kill the proposal for a new constitution.

They Are Afraid of Us Because We Are Not Afraid

A refrain of the Honduran resistance has been “They are afraid of us because we are not afraid.”   Invoking fear in the population is a longstanding tool for squashing movements for political change. The massive social violence produced by organized crime activity in the region is the organic outgrowth of the death squad networks of the 1970s and 1980s, and has served many purposes including maintaining a high level of immobilizing fear in the population.  It is also easy to redirect that violence against political organizers when necessary.

A fundamental precept of non violent social change movements is that by refusing to submit the injustices of illegitimate structures that maintain power through violence, those powers are forced to either escalate violence to maintain control, and thus demonstrate their illegitimacy, or cave into the will of the majority. For this reason the security of the Frente directly corresponds to the degree to which the Honduran government can engage in repression and still retain a degree of legitimacy.

Hondurans have been very savvy and capable in avoiding an armed or violent response to the coup and the provocations of the anti-democratic forces.  They know that an armed resistance movement would provide justification for even greater repression and even more pervasive de-legitimization of their political demands.

The response to their non violent stance has been attempts to invent a violent movement in Honduras.  While the Honduran press invokes language of ‘terrorism’ and guerrilla movements, lobbyists in Washington argue that the demand for a new constitution is a Cuban-Venezuelan ploy and that Venezuela is building up ties with the Hezbollah.

Government of National “Reconciliation”

When Pepe Lobo was sworn in as President, he immediately advanced in two fronts, consolidating and strengthening the repressive military, police and paramilitary forces while creating the appearance of a “national reconciliation” process. The Government of “National Reconciliation” provides the legitimacy or political cover needed for the acts of repression with which they hope to extinguish the Frente.

The cabinet level positions related to the justice system and policing were given to hard liners with a history of human rights abuses, such as Minister of Government Oscar Alvarez, who held the same position under the president that preceded Zelaya, Ricardo Maduro.  The cabinet positions on economic policy were given to the private sector supporters of the coup, whose grip on Honduran resources the Frente hopes to break through the creation of a new constitution. Three of the cabinet positions for social programs were given to figures associated with the “left,” though two of those have for many years been distanced from the social movement and one, Cesar Ham of the UD political party, has been completely ostracized by the Frente for accepting the political appointment.

The creation of the image of a ‘government of national reconciliation’ when in reality there is no real dialog or reconciliation with the vast majority of Hondurans who are the active base of the Frente, while backing hard line violent repression, is the strategy for consolidating the coup and “disappearing” the Frente.

Rejecting a Truth Commission!

The Truth Commission (TC) proposed in the failed San Jose-Tegucigalpa Accords is part of the “national reconciliation” process, and it has been rejected by both the Frente and the Human Rights Platform, a coordinating body comprised of all six of the principal human rights organizations in Honduras.

It is not easy to say “No” to something called a truth commission; it looks like the dissenting party may have something to hide. But, in the case of Honduras, what is being proposed cannot legitimately be called a truth commission.

Over the past couple decades a series of truth commissions have taken place around the world, and some general characteristics have emerged that define truth commissions. Generally truth commissions are established to investigate past acts of violence or repression, post-conflict after the worst violence has ended. Truth commissions examine a series of events and violations, not a single event.  They normally work with, or at the request of, victims of violations. The proposal in Honduras fits none of these characteristics; it is not a truth commission.

Those who constructed the truth commission in Honduras, principally the US State Department and the Pepe Lobo government, never sought the opinion of the principal victims of rights violations that have occurred – the general population and, specifically, people who are members of the peaceful, pro-democracy Frente. The truth commission in Honduras is being convoked in the middle of an ongoing conflict, in the midst of grave human rights violations. At best, the Commission appears to be a platform for one sided political negotiation.  At worst it is a vehicle to hijack a constitutional reform process that once again does not have the participation of population of Hondurans.

Observers have analyzed, based on statements by the Lobo government and the US State Department, that constitutional reforms may be among the recommendations of the “Truth Commission.”

Washington Chapter of the “Reconciliation” Government

Truth commissions are almost irresistible to the international human rights community, and the severe nature of the human rights abuses occurring provide a strong motivation to look for a quick solution to the ‘crisis.’ Unfortunately quick solutions will not help, they will not stop the violence, instead they will help consolidate the impunity that generates some of the highest levels of social violence in the world.

In the US, on Capitol Hill, the Frente has been invisibilized. Meanwhile, WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America) – a think tank created in the 1980s to support human rights organizations in Latin America, and a group thought to be the voice in Washington of the human rights community – gave testimony in a House of Representatives hearing on Honduras of the International Relations Sub Committee on the Western Hemispheres, in which they requested that the US back the Honduran truth commission. WOLA also voiced support for police and military aid.  They did not once mention the existence of the Frente. The opinions they have voiced to Congress are in line with other actions WOLA has been taking since the coup.

The next project appears to be a meeting WOLA is convoking in Washington between Honduran “civil society,” the Honduran government, international human rights organizations and embassies in Washington; it is scheduled to take place April 14. What appears to be the Washington chapter of the “Government of National Reconciliation” – in reality the disappearance of the truth – is sad and damaging; it helps to legitimize a government engaged in massive human rights violations.

The Frente in Honduras is massive and united.  Whatever NGO shows up to the WOLA convoked meeting will undoubtedly be a small group representing nothing more then the international funders that support it.  What the event might succeed in doing is creating the false image in the “international community” or “human rights world” that a neutral middle ground exists.  The only agenda this serves is putting the Frente at greater risk.

A Moment of Truth and Justice

Honduras will have its moment of truth with justice, but right now is not the time for a truth commission, a truth commission is not the proper mechanism to mediate a complex conflict or to diffuse a political struggle; the role of a truth commission is to evaluate the conflict in retrospect.

Better international observation of human rights abuses is called for.  Building mechanisms to confront impunity, rather then cementing into place the mechanisms that enforce it, is necessary, and is something the international community can contribute to only in coordination with the victims of violations.

Political interventions that invisibilize the victims of human rights and their political position does them no service, and will not stop the abuses, they will compound them.

Annie Bird is co-director of Rights Action, a US and Canada based not-for-profit organization that supports community development and environmental and human rights defense work in Honduras (as well as Guatemala, and elsewhere).

For more information: annie@rightsaction.org This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , 1-202-680-3002

History Repeats: Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared of Honduras February 12, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Foreign Policy, Honduras.
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Written by James Rodriguez   
Thursday, 11 February 2010 16:28
Source: MiMundo.org 

Photos by James Rodriguez

“The so-called 80’s were characterized by a wave of violence in several countries in Latin America. Our country, Honduras, was not an exception. Even though the phenomenon of ‘disappearances’ occurred mostly during the military dictatorships, many people also vanished during democratically elected governments.” (1)

“A forced disappearance can be defined as: The illegal detention of a person by a State security agent or a force acquiesced by it, without the appropriate legal procedure, and in which the act is denied without any further information regarding the location or wellbeing of the detainee.” (2)

“An important characteristic of forced disappearances is that ultimately the victim is executed and the body hidden for good, hence disappeared. In all cases, the main objective is to avoid that the remains be found. Or, if the body is found, to make sure the victim cannot be identified due to grave disfigurement. This important aspect differentiates forced disappearances from another tragic human rights violation: the extrajudicial execution.” (3)

“The victims are not only those disappeared, but also the parents, spouses, offspring, or any other close friend or relative. These secondary victims are placed in a situation of uncertainty and anguish that can last for many years. Due to these reasons, forced disappearances tear open deep wounds within the social fabric of a nation-wide community which ultimately affect political, social and professional circles, and thus weaken the fundamental institutions of a country.” (4)

“By 1982, sixty-nine families were victims of forced disappearances. On November 30th of that same year, twelve families came together to form the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH). The organization’s primary objective was to recover alive, if possible, their family members disappeared by State forces. As sometimes the victims were held in clandestine jails for weeks or months before being irreversibly disappeared, COFADEH’s main objective was accomplished in a few cases. But most of the victims’ remains were never recovered. Between 1980 and 1989, one hundred and eighty-four people were disappeared by the State of Honduras without any due course of legal action followed by the authorities against those responsible.” (5)

“Halfway through the 90’s, COFADEH proceeded with attempts to exhume bodies found in clandestine cemeteries, where some of the disappeared were brutally dumped… Beginning in 1998, a new series of objectives are included in the organization’s formal mission: To defend collective rights, the right to a healthy environment, and liberty of expression. In addition, COFADEH has contributed to demilitarize Honduras, build democratic processes, and act as a human rights watchdog over State security forces.

The importance and quantity of COFADEH’s work increased dramatically after the military coup d’état removed democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya on June 28th, 2009. During the following seven months of de facto governance by Roberto Micheletti, the COFADEH’s offices served as a central headquarters for documentation and analysis of the human rights situation. Human rights violations carried out by the illegal regime continue to be compiled and recorded here on a daily basis, and numerous foreign delegations and alternative media members head here first for last minute information. Just between June 28th and October 10th, 2009, COFADEH has documented 4,234 human rights violations. (7)

For more information on the coup d’état carried out on June 2009, please view these previous photo essays:
Mel, Our Friend, the People are with You!
Tragedy at Toncontin: Army Shoots and Kills Protesters

Shortly before Micheletti’s de facto regime carried out a dubious national election on November 2009, Bertha Oliva de Nativí, director of COFADEH, declared: “I believe we are experiencing a dictatorship without precedents, even worse than in the 80’s. Back then, while we lived under the military boot, paramilitary groups and death squads would assassinate and disappear people in a clandestine manner, so that it was difficult to point them out as the criminals. Today, they do it in broad daylight, openly challenging all national and international structures of human rights and governance.” (8)

Tomás Nativí, founder of the People’s Revolutionary Union (URP), was abducted from his home, in Tegucigalpa, before dawn on June 11th, 1981. His wife, Bertha Oliva, three months pregnant at the time, witnessed the illegal abduction and recognized one of the assailants as Alexander Hernández, leader of Intelligence Battalion 3-16. Mr. Nativí was forcibly detained-disappeared by State forces and 30 years later, his corpse has still not been found. (9)

During the 80’s, General Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez was primarily responsible for the organization of the death squads in Honduras. First as Chief of the Public Security Forces (FUSEP) and eventually as Chief Commander of the Honduran Armed Forces, Álvarez Martínez established “an elite counterinsurgency force [in Battalion 3-16] that became the spearhead of the dirty war in Honduras.” The whole setup emulated the Argentinean counterinsurgency structure and was assessed by military personnel from Argentina, the U.S. and former Nicaraguan Elite Guard members (pro-Somoza dictatorship). (10)

“The information acquired from witnesses, surviving victims, family, and press regarding the forced disappearances, clearly indicates that special units such as the National Direction of Investigation (DNI) and Intelligence Battalion 3-16 were [directly] responsible for the atrocities… This latter unit specialized in vigilance and the production of intelligence regarding specific Honduran citizens who were suspected of subversive acts by the Armed Forces.“ (11)

As in other countries, powerful elites in collaboration with the armed forces nurtured the dirty war in Honduras economically and ideologically. These national elites – who have historically controlled the government in order to protect its economic interests—literally felt threatened by the 1979 triumph of the Sandinista Revolution in neighboring Nicaragua. This powerful oligarchy allied with foreign corporate and political interest groups, helped finance the dirty war through an entity named the Association for the Progress of Honduras (APROH).

“The APROH was the sole creation of two men: Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez and [U.S. ambassador to Honduras] John Dimitri Negroponte [in 1982]. Its origins go back to secret meetings held by Álvarez with elite businessmen, bankers, industrialists, commerce moguls, public administrators and [right-wing] intellectuals.” (12) The APROH gained legal status through a presidential resolution issued by then-President Roberto Suazo Córdoba and its board members were: “President: Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez; Vice-president: Miguel Facussé; Secretary: Oswaldo Ramos Soto; Treasurer: Bernand Casanova; Finances and Membership: Rafael Ferrari… [in addition to] Paul Vinelli, Leonardo Callejas Romero, Osmond Maduro, Benjamín Villanueva, Abraham Bennaton, Edgardo Sevilla and Emín Barjún.” (13)

Leticia Salomón, researcher from the National Autonomous University of Honduras, states: “The coup [against Mel Zelaya on June 2009] was planned by a loose association of businessmen lead by Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé, former President of Honduras (1988-2002). Flores Facussé’s ‘La Tribuna’ newspaper, in cahoots with two other major newspapers ‘La Prensa’ & ‘El Heraldo’, and TV channels 2, 3, 5 and 9, were the main pillar behind the coup… This group of businessmen, who control 90% of the country’s wealth, also includes Jaime Rosenthal and Gilberto Goldstein (directors of the Continental Group, a conglomerate that monopolizes the Honduran banking system, agro industry, and owns mass media outlets like ‘El Tiempo’ and channel 11), José Rafael Ferrari, Juan Canahuati, financier Camilo Atala, lumber mogul José Lamas, energy industrialist Fredy Násser, Jacobo Kattán, sugar baron Guillermo Lippman, construction tycoon Rafael Flores, and real estate and African palm magnate Miguel Facussé”. (14)

The similarities between the APROH from the early 80’s and the elite businessmen association identified by Leticia Salomón are remarkable. Aside from the fact that some men are found on both lists (Ferrari, Facussé), the two groups represent and defend the same economic interests. And, just as in the 80’s, these economic elites are once again fueling repression via death squads run by the criminals of yesteryear. During an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, ousted president Zelaya confirmed that Billy Joya Améndola, former member of Battalion 3-16 who has been accused of numerous human rights violations during the 80’s, served as advisor for Micheletti and has lead terror and torture campaigns for the de facto regime.

Recently-inaugurated president Pepe Lobo has wasted no time in revealing his firm associations with the coup plotters. “His first presidential act consisted of ratifying a political amnesty law proposed by the National Congress, intended to clear all crimes related to the political crisis stemming from Zelaya’s forceful removal from power.” (16) Such bold action awards full impunity to the hundreds of criminals who committed thousands of human rights violations against members of the civic resistance movement.” (16)

In addition, Lobo immediately set forth his strategy of containment against the ever-growing popular resistance catalyzed by last June’s events, by naming Oscar Álvarez as his Minister of Security. Having already served this post during the presidency of Ricardo Maduro (2002-2006), Álvarez has been highly criticized for his evasion of legal procedures, disregard for human rights, and hard-line approach, all reminiscent of his uncle, the aforementioned Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez. “Less than 24 hours after having been sworn in, Minister Álvarez carried out one of his infamous madrugones, or pre-dawn raids. These illegal forced-entry procedures, which often violate national laws, were rather common during his stint under Maduro. On this occasion, he sent a clear message to the Popular Resistance Movement.” (17)

Researcher Robinson Salazar Pérez analyzes: “The coup d’état in Honduras on June 28th, 2009, clearly marks a turning point in the future path of Latin American politics. Three issues in particular, have been clearly signaled and appear to be the target of right-wing hardliners: Avoid any economic alternative [i.e. ALBA] that may block the markets of multinational corporations, detain the progressive advance of the nationalist governments of Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and El Salvador, and sow the seeds of fear among Latin American leaders, by reminding them that extra-national interests are well above legitimate internal governance, even if this latter one is backed up by votes.” (18)

The powerful Hall of Living Memories, inside COFADEH’s headquarters, reminds us that certain chapters in history must not repeat themselves. Nevertheless, in Honduras, the oppressors of the past, using proven methods, once again apply their tyrannical despotism in 2010. A concerned Bertha Oliva concludes: “I am convinced that this is a project they want to emulate throughout Latin America. If they succeed in Honduras, they will also try to do so in other countries that have already been identified.” (19)

Version en español aquí.

Spanish-English Translation: MiMundo.org

1 Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. Los hechos hablan por sí mismos: Informe preliminar sobre los desaparecidos en Honduras 1980-1993. 2a. Edición. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Editorial Guaymuras, 2002. P. 19
2 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. P. 20.
3 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. P. 21.
4 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. P. 19.
5 http://www.cofadeh.org/html/historia/index.htm
6 Ibid.
7 Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH). Violaciones a Derechos Humanos en el marco del Golpe de Estado en Honduras: Cifras y Rostros de la Represión. Segundo Informe. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 22 de octubre de 2009. Full report can be downloaded here (in Spanish only):
http://www.defensoresenlinea.com/cms/documentos/segundo_informe_situacional_cofadeh.pdf
8 Trucchi, Giorgio. “Esta dictadura es peor que la de los 80”. Rel-UITA, 29 de Noviembre, 2009.
(http://www.honduraslaboral.org/leer.php/4659112).
9 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. Pp. 267-8.
10 Becerra, Longino. Cuando las tarántulas atacan. 11a edición. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 2008. Pp. 390-1.
11 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. P. 258
12 Op. Cit. Becerra. P. 404.
13 Ibid. P. 285.
14 http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=89427
15 http://www.democracynow.org/2009/7/30/exclusive_ousted_honduran_president_manuel_zelaya
16 http://www.radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias/69434
17 “Oscar Alvarez inicia gestión con prepotencia y soberbia amenazando a la Resistencia”. El Libertador. 28 de enero, 2010. http://ellibertador.hn/Nacional/3726.html
18 Salazar Pérez, Robinson. “Honduras factor estratégico que cambió el rumbo de América Latina”. America Latina en Movimiento. Golpe de Estado en Honduras: ¿Laboratorio de dictaduras siglo XXI?. Publicada por la Agencia Latinoamericana de Información (ALAI). Agosto 2009. P. 9. (http://alainet.org/publica/447.phtml)
19 Op. Cit. Trucchi.

Undo the Coup July 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Published on Wednesday, July 1, 2009 by TruthDig.com by Amy Goodman
The first coup d’etat in Central America in more than a quarter-century occurred last Sunday in Honduras. Honduran soldiers roused democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya from his bed and flew him into exile in Costa Rica. The coup, led by the Honduran Gen. Romeo Vasquez, has been condemned by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, the Organization of American States and all of Honduras’ immediate national neighbors. Mass protests have erupted on the streets of Honduras, with reports that elements in the military loyal to Zelaya are rebelling against the coup.The United States has a long history of domination in the hemisphere. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can chart a new course, away from the dark days of military dictatorship, repression and murder. Obama indicated such a direction when he spoke in April at the Summit of the Americas: “[A]t times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations.”

Two who know well the history of dictated U.S. terms are Dr. Juan Almendares, a medical doctor and award-winning human rights activist in Honduras, and the American clergyman Father Roy Bourgeois, a priest who for years has fought to close the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, Ga. Both men link the coup in Honduras to the SOA.

The SOA, renamed in 2000 the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), is the U.S. military facility that trains Latin American soldiers. The SOA has trained more than 60,000 soldiers, many of whom have returned home and committed human rights abuses, torture, extrajudicial execution and massacres.

Almendares, targeted by Honduran death squads and the military, has been the victim of that training. He talked to me from Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital: “Most of this military have been trained by the School of America. … They have been guardians of the multinational business from the United States or from other countries. … The army in Honduras has links with very powerful people, very rich, wealthy people who keep the poverty in the country. We are occupied by your country.”

Born in Louisiana, Bourgeois became a Catholic priest in 1972. He worked in Bolivia and was forced out by the (SOA-trained) dictator Gen. Hugo Banzer. The assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the murders of four Catholic churchwomen in El Salvador in 1980 led him to protest where some of the killers were trained: Fort Benning’s SOA. After six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter were murdered in El Salvador in 1989, Bourgeois founded SOA Watch and has built an international movement to close the SOA.

Honduran coup leader Vasquez attended the SOA in 1976 and 1984. Air Force Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, who also participated in the coup, was trained at the SOA in 1996.

Bourgeois’ SOA Watch office is just yards from the Fort Benning gates. He has been frustrated in recent years by increased secrecy at SOA/WHINSEC. He told me: “They are trying to present the school as one of democracy and transparency, but we are not able to get the names of those trained here-for over five years. However, there was a little sign of hope when the U.S. House approved an amendment to the defense authorization bill last week that would force the school to release names and ranks of people who train here.” The amendment still has to make it through the House-Senate conference committee.

Bourgeois speaks with the same urgency that he has for decades. His voice is well known at Fort Benning, where he was first arrested more than 25 years ago when he climbed a tree at night near the barracks of Salvadoran soldiers who were training there at the time.

Bourgeois blasted a recording of the voice of Romero in his last address before he was assassinated. The archbishop was speaking directly to Salvadoran soldiers in his country: “In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cry rises to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: Stop the repression.”

Almost 30 years later, in a country bordering Romero’s El Salvador, the U.S. has a chance to change course and support the democratic institutions of Honduras. Undo the coup.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2009 Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 700 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

SOA (School of the Americas) WATCH June 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America.
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SOA Watch News &   Updates
In this SOA Watch Email Newsletter:

  • SOA Watch Central America Delegation Report Back – FMLN takes over Presidency in El Salvador
  • New Military Base in Colombia Would Spread Pentagon Reach Throughout Latin America
  • All Out to Fort Benning, Georgia from November 20-22, 2009: Close the SOA!

    Winds of Change from the South!SOA Watch Central America Delegation Report Back – FMLN takes over Presidency in El Salvador

    Today the eyes of Latin America – and much of the world – are focused on tiny El Salvador, as representatives from over 100 countries converge for the historic presidential inauguration of FMLN´s Mauricio Funes. Funes´ inauguration marks the end of the two-decade rule of ARENA – an ultra right-wing party that was founded by SOA graduate and death squad leader Roberto DÁbuisson. The new president inherits a nation devastated by poverty and violence, but also filled with hope. The deep commitment of Funes to Monseñor Oscar Romero´s “preferencial option for the poor”, along with FMLN´s long-term dedication to ideals of economic and social justice, bring a spirit of promise to all of Central America.
    A small SOA Watch delegation recently traveled to El Salvador to dialogue with this new government about the participation of Salvadoran soldiers in the SOA/ WHINSEC. Several officials of the new government, including Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, met with the delegation and expressed an open spirit. Organizations within El Salvador echoed the plea that the new government withdraw troops from the SOA/ WHINSEC. At the May Day march, the Comadres (mothers of the disappeared) spoke of this imperative before the crowd of historic proportions. The Dean of the University of Central America (UCA) publicly stated that the continued training of troops at a school noted for teaching torture would be “intolerable”.

    The SOA Watch delegation also visited Honduras, where they met with President Manuel Zelaya, as well as the Honduran Defense Minister and Chancellor. The SOA Watch delegation was privileged to be invited to participate in an all-day meeting with the president, his cabinet, and leaders of the country´s major social movements, to discuss new directions for the country. One of the nine formal proposals brought to this important gathering included the recommendation that Honduras withdraw its troops from the SOA/ WHINSEC.

    Members of the SOA Watch movement in the U.S. are lobbying their members of Congress to sign on to H.R.2567, the bill that would suspend operations at the School of the Americas (SOA/ WHINSEC) and set up a task force to investigate the connection between human rights abuses in Latin America and U.S. foreign military training. It is heartening to know that our southern counterparts are also organizing to close the school – by attrition. We are coming together – those whose tax dollars fund the school and those whose countries have been devastated by it, to close those doors of destruction, to open new doors of respect.

    Click here to read Lisa’s article about the Central America delegation.

    Support SOA Watch’s efforts in Latin America with a donation today. Click here to contribute now.


    New Military Base in Colombia Would Spread Pentagon Reach Throughout Latin America

    The Pentagon budget submitted to Congress on May 7 includes $46 million for development of a new U.S. military base in Palanquero, Colombia.

    The official justification states that the Defense Department seeks “an array of access arrangements for contingency operations, logistics, and training in Central/South America.”

    The military facility in Colombia will give the United States military increased capacity for intervention throughout most of Latin America. The plan is being advanced amid tense relations between Washington and Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and despite both a long history and recent revelations about the Colombian military’s atrocious human rights record.

    Click here to read the full article


    November 20-22, 2009: Converge on Fort Benning, Georgia – SHUT DOWN THE SOA!
    From November 20-22, 2009, thousands of progressive activists will converge at the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia for the annual vigil. In this exciting political climate, there is an air of cautious optimism that the School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC) will be closed during this Congress. However, we recognize that the School of the Americas has operated under both Republican and Democratic presidents and there is still a lot of work to be done! It will take more than change in the White House to change the foreign policy of violence and imperialism that the SOA/WHINSEC represents, but Washington is feeling the pressure. Now is the time to educate the public and to show lawmakers that we have had enough.

    It is never too early to begin coordinating travel plans and organizing groups to travel to Columbus. Together we can show that the people of the Americas are taking a stand against violence and torture. Let’s mobilize our communities to make our voices heard!

    Here are some valuable resources for your organizing:

    Local SOA Watch groups

    Traveling to Columbus, Georgia

    Where to Stay in and around Columbus, Georgia

    Accessibility at the November 2009 Vigil

    Information for people without U.S. citizenship

    Legal Briefing for People Considering Civil Disobedience at SOA Protest

    We need to raise $70,000 to make the November Vigil to close the School of the Americas a success. Click here to make a donation to SOA Watch today.

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