Tags: beth geglia, cesar maxit, death squads, jorge videla, juan geradi, Latin America, latin american military, natalia munoz, nick alexandrov, oscar romero, pinochet, rios-montt, roger hollander, School of the Americas, soa, street art, torture, vasquez velasquez, victor jara, whinsec
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Roger’s note: If you watch the short video at the end of this posting, you will see a group of young people breaking the law by affixing posters on private property. Someone obviously called the cops, and you will see them being arrested and taken away. I don’t know how things turned out, but I suspect they were processed by the criminal justice system and will pay a price, perhaps even a large one, for their “crime.” The object of their action, their protest, their civil disobedience, i.e., the U.S. government School of the Americas, is responsible for wholesale murder throughout Latin America. They (the American politicians and military and the Latin American soldiers they train) will not be brought to justice for their deeds, they will literally get away with murder. This is the world we live in, supported by our tax dollars.
Víctor Jara was an internationally-acclaimed Chilean singer-songwriter, a theater director and activist. When General Augusto Pinochet took power on “the other 9/11” in 1973, his troops forced Jara and thousands of other political prisoners into Santiago’s Chile Stadium. After a group of soldiers recognized the artist, they tortured him in the arena basement, and then—before the crowd of detainees—cut off his fingers, mocking him as they demanded he perform something, perhaps a composition in the “New Song” genre he’d helped pioneer, and which Pinochet had banned. Witnesses recall that Jara sang “Venceremos”—“We Will Win”—before the guards dragged him away. He was shot 44 times.
Jara is one of the people School of the Americas Watch’s (SOAW) current poster campaign, developed with street artist César Maxit, commemorates. Others include El Salvador’s Archbishop Óscar Romero, who was celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel when assassins gunned him down in March 1980; Guatemalan Bishop Juan Gerardi, one of the main figures behind the crucial human rights report Guatemala: Nunca Más!, whose killers pummeled his face with a concrete slab, mutilating it beyond recognition; and Natalia Tuberquia Muñoz, who was only six in 2005 when massacred—along with three men, two women and another child—in the Colombian village of San José de Apartadó. What the musician, the bishops and the child have in common is that they are just four of the thousands of Latin Americans murdered by School of the Americas (SOA) graduates.
The SOA, located at Fort Benning, Georgia, is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, 70,000 of whom have studied counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare there since the institution’s 1946 founding. Training manuals the school used for at least a decade recommended extortion, torture and execution as effective means of dealing with the state’s enemies. And the SOAW posters also feature eight of its alumni, including Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, who died last year in jail, incarceration his punishment for committing crimes against humanity, including disappearances, torture, and the killing of 15,000-30,000 dissidents; Guatemalan military dictator Ríos Montt, whom a Guatemalan court last year found guilty of genocide against his country’s Ixil Maya; and Honduran General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, a key official spearheading the country’s 2009 coup, which even the military lawyer—himself an SOA alum—charged with giving the affair a veneer of legitimacy admittedwas “a crime.”
SOA complicity in the recent Honduran coup reveals the institution’s continuing relevance. Its 2001 name-change—it’s known now as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)—was merely cosmetic, and “there are no substantive changes besides the name,” one of its former instructors testified shortly after the rebranding. The school’s consistent aim, in the past and today, has been to facilitate Latin American militaries’ wars of repression against their own people. Describing Washington’s support for dictators like Videla and Montt as stemming from its “anti-Communism,” or as related to the U.S.-Soviet rivalry, misses the point. The term “Communist,” for example, was always incredibly elastic, used to refer to illiterate peasant farmers, church officials, university instructors, women in areas considered guerrilla territory—the label could be affixed to whoever was slated for execution. “The army is not killing guerrillas, despite what is reported,” a U.S. mercenary in 1980s El Salvador explained. “It is murdering the civilians who side with them. By terrorizing civilians the army is crushing the rebellion without the need to directly confront the guerrillas. Attacking civilians is the game plan.” The SOAW posters remembering some of the victims—bishops, young girls, a musician—help capture this reality, still very much a part of Washington’s Latin America policy, as ongoing U.S. support for the repressive Mexican, Colombianand Hondurangovernments makes clear.
To help draw attention to the beneficiaries and victims of U.S. training and aid, nearly a dozen activists gathered on May 14 in Washington, D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, where they pasted up a mural composed, in part, of the SOAW posters. “Though the activists were peaceful in their actions,” SOAW reports, “D.C. police decided that political art was unacceptable in the district. After the artwork was completed, four of the activists”—Dominique Diaddigo-Cash, Gail Taylor, Maria Luisa Rosal, and Nico Udu-gama—“were handcuffed, arrested and held for 6 hours before being charged with ‘defacing public or private property.’ The charge carries a maximum penalty of 6 months in prison and a $1,000 fine,” and those detained “will be arraigned in the D.C. Superior Court on June 5, 2014.”
But the police intervention in the Adams Morgan art action hasn’t had a deterrent effect: in the last few weeks, SOAW activists have taken posters to other District neighborhoods, as well as the streets of Los Angeles and the UC Riverside campus. “The best way to stand in solidarity with the targeted activists, and to push back against the criminalization of dissent,” SOAW reminds us, “is to keep up the resistance!”
This video, by Beth Geglia, shows footage of the May 14 action, as well as the subsequent arrest of four SOAW activists:
And go here for more information on the SOAW poster campaign. You’ll find the full series of downloadable posters on the website, as well as step-by-step wheat-pasting instructions.
Romney’s Death Squad Ties: Bain Launched With Millions From Oligarchs Behind Salvadoran Atrocities August 13, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Human Rights, Latin America, Mitt Romney.
Tags: amy goodman, arena, bain capital, bishop romero, death squads, El Salvador, mitt romney, oscar romero, robert white, roberto d'aubuisson, roger hollander, ryan grim, salaverria family
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US trained “death squad” victims in San Salvador, 1981
Monday, 13 August 2012, www.truthout.org
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.
Obama in El Salvador March 29, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, El Salvador, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: archbishop romero, belen fernandez, death squad, El Salvador, Honduras, honduras coup, Latin America, monsignor romero, Obama, oscar romero, Roberto D’Aubuisson, roger hollander, School of the Americas, soa, soa watch, zelaya
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(Roger’s note: The role that Obama and his hawkish Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, have played to legitimize the coup inspired regime of Porfirio Lobo in Honduras, renders his visit to the tomb of Archbishop Romero an act of sublime hypocrisy. Be it a Democrat or Republican in the White House, the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex dictate policy in Latin America; a new and improved Monroe Doctrine whereby the only consideration for support or non-support of a government is the degree of its friendliness toward corporate and militarized imperial America).
|Written by Belén Fernández|
|Wednesday, 23 March 2011 12:18|
As part of his visit to El Salvador yesterday, the last stop on a Latin American excursion occurring despite events in Japan and Libya, Barack Obama visited the tomb of Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero, assassinated on March 24, 1980.
Observers have noted that the current bombing of Libya began on the same date as the start of the Iraq war eight years ago. Coincidentally, Obama’s appearance in El Salvador occurs exactly nine years after George W. Bush’s. As the BBC’s Tom Gibb wrote at the time:
Regarding yesterday’s visit by Obama, SOA Watch writes:
Honduras, which also boasts a concentration of SOA alumni—including General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, perpetrator of the 2009 coup against President Mel Zelaya—just last week witnessed the killing of 59-year-old assistant principal Ilse Velásquez, who was run over after being hit by a tear gas canister fired by the police at a peaceful protest in Tegucigalpa.
Her brother Manfredo Velásquez was disappeared in the 1980s during Honduras’ service as preferred U.S. military base. As Stephen Kinzer writes in The New York Review of Books:
Kinzer goes on to note the thoughts of Honduran SOA trainee General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez on how to properly deal with Marxist subversives, “their sympathizers, and outspoken leaders of labor, peasant, and student organizations”:
Especially given the resurgence of right-wing death squads and paramilitaries in Honduras in the aftermath of the 2009 coup, Central American citizens may be forgiven for being less than enthused by Obama’s promise yesterday to provide more training for security forces in the region.
*“The 316th MI Battalion,” secret CIA cable dated February 18, 1995, declassified October 22, 1998, as Document H4-4, approved for release September 1998.
Undo the Coup July 1, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: amy goodman, death squads, hillary clinton, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras military, honduras protests, juan almendares, Latin America military, manuel zelaya, oas, Obama, oscar romero, roger hollander, romeo vasquez, roy bourgeois, School of the Americas, soa, soa watch, United Nations
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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.
El Salvador Votes Away Its Bad Past March 20, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Latin America.
Tags: arena, aristide, central america, d'aubuison, daniel ortega, death squads, El Salvador, el salvador government, el salvador history, el salvador politics, el salvador poverty, Evo Morales, fmln, haiti, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, latin america history, latin america politics, mark weisbrot, mauricio funes, obama administration, oscar romero, roger hollander, ronald reagan, salvadoran military, zelaya
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Published on Friday, March 20, 2009 by The Guardian/UK
Last Sunday’s election in El Salvador, in which the leftist FMLN (Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation) won the presidency, didn’t get a lot of attention in the international press. It’s a relatively small country (7 million people on land the size of Massachusetts) and fairly poor (per capita income about half the regional average). And left governments have become the norm in Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela have all elected left governments over the last decade. South America is now more independent of the United States than Europe is.
But the FMLN’s victory in El Salvador has a special significance for this hemisphere.
Central America and the Caribbean have long been the United States’ “back yard” more than anywhere else. The people of the region have paid a terrible price – in blood, poverty and underdevelopment – for their geographical and political proximity to the United States. The list of US interventions in the area would take up the rest of this column, stretching from the 19th century (Cuba, in 1898) to the 21st, with the overthrow of Haiti’s democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (for the second time) in 2004.
Those of us who can remember the 1980s can see President Ronald Reagan on television warning that “El Salvador is nearer to Texas than Texas is to Massachusetts” as he sent guns and money to the Salvadoran military and its affiliated death squads. Their tens of thousands of targets – for torture, terror and murder – were overwhelmingly civilians, including Catholic priests, nuns and the heroic archbishop Oscar Romero. It seems ridiculous now that Reagan could have convinced the US Congress that the people who won Sunday’s election were not only a threat to our national security, but one that justified horrific atrocities. But he did. At the same time millions of Americans – including many church-based activists – joined a movement to stop US support for the terror, as well as what the United Nations later called genocide in Guatemala, along with the US-backed insurgency in Nicaragua (which was also a war against civilians).
Now we have come full circle. In 2007, Guatemalans elected a social democratic president for the first time since 1954, when the CIA intervened to overthrow the government. Last September, President Zelaya of Honduras – which served as a base for US military and paramilitary operations in the 1980s – joined with Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez when they expelled their US ambassadors. Zelaya defended their actions and postponed the accreditation of the US ambassador to Honduras, saying that “the world powers must treat us fairly and with respect”. In 2006 Nicaraguans elected Daniel Ortega of the Sandinistas, the same president that Washington had spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to topple in the 1980s.
El Salvador’s election was not only another step toward regional independence but a triumph of hope against fear, much as in the US presidential election of 2008. The ruling ARENA party, which was founded by right-wing death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson, made fear their brand: fear of another civil war, fear of bad relations with the United States, fear of a “communist dictatorship”. Almost comically, they tried to make the election into a referendum on Hugo Chávez. (Venezuela kept its distance from the election, with no endorsements or statements other than its desire to have good relations with whomever won.)
ARENA was joined by Republican members of Congress from the United States, who tried to promote the idea that Salvadorans – about a quarter of whom live in the US – would face extraordinary problems with immigration and remittances if the FMLN won. Although these threats were completely without merit, the right’s control over the media made them real for many Salvadorans. In the 2004 election the Bush administration joined this effort to intimidate Salvadoran voters, and it helped the right win.
The right’s control over the media, its abuse of government in the elections and its vast funding advantage (there are no restrictions on foreign funding) led José Antonio de Gabriel, the deputy chief of the European Union’s observer mission, to comment on “the absence of a level playing field”. It’s amazing that the FMLN was still able to win, and testimony to the high level of discipline, organisation and self-sacrifice that comes from having a leadership that has survived war and hell on earth.
This time around, the Obama administration, after receiving thousands of phone calls – thanks to the solidarity movement that stems from the 1980s – issued a statement of neutrality on the Friday before the election. The administration appears divided on El Salvador as with the rest of Latin America’s left: at least one of Obama’s highest-level advisors on Latin America favoured the right-wing ruling party. But the statement of neutrality was a clear break from the Bush administration.
El Salvador’s new president, Mauricio Funes – a popular former TV journalist – will face many challenges, especially on the economic front. The country exports 10% of its GDP to the United States, and receives another 18% in remittances from Salvadorans living there. Along with sizeable private investment flows, this makes El Salvador very vulnerable to the deep US recession. El Salvador has also adopted the US dollar as its national currency. This means that it cannot use exchange rate policy and is severely limited in monetary policy to counteract the recession. On top of this, it has recently signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund that commits the government to not pursuing a fiscal stimulus for this year. And the FMLN will not have a majority in the Congress.
But the majority of Salvadorans, who are poor or near-poor, decided that the left would be more likely than the right to look out for them in hard times. That’s a reasonable conclusion, and one that is shared by most of the hemisphere.