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Allende Vive: Latin America’s Left and the Reunion of Socialism and Democracy September 11, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, Art, Literature and Culture, Canada, Chile, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: There are three items in this post.  Following Derrik O’Keefe’s article you will find the full transcript of the DemocracyNow! program featuring the widow of the Chilean folk singer and activist who was murdered by the Pinochet dictatorship.  After that I have posted David Heap’s article that tells the story of the Canadian response to the Pinochet coup and the Canadian movement to receive refugees from the Pinochet’s Chile.  And, of course, all this to remind us of Chile’s notorious 9/11.

Last night, Barack Obama spoke in defence of his threats to launch U.S. air strikes against Syria. In justifying his push for an attack illegal under international law, the constitutional lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner appealed explicitly to American exceptionalism. Obama also prefaced his case for bombing Syria with a stunningly ahistorical assertion of American benevolence:

 

“My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements. It has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world’s a better place because we have borne them.”

Imagine how this nonsense sounds to Chileans, who are today marking the 40th anniversary of the U.S.-backed coup in Chile against the democratically elected government led by Salvador Allende. More than 3,000 were killed in Chile; tens of thousands were jailed, tortured and exiled.

Chile bore the heavy burden of all those who have shown leadership in fighting for a better world. For over seven decades — was Obama’s metaphorical anchor of global security the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945? — any people combining too much democracy and some measure of national development or socialism that threatens U.S. interests has been met with blood and suffering imposed by that enforcer of global capitalism, the U.S. Empire.

I’ve learned a lot about Chile’s tragedy through my wife and her family. She was born in a refugee camp in Buenos Aires, and came to Canada as a baby after activists in this country agitated and successfully pressured the Liberal government of the day to admit Chileans fleeing the coup (for more on this history, read David Heap’s piece.) Both of her parents were social activists and part of the resistance. So I have some knowledge of the almost unimaginable human toll of the coup.

However, on this anniversary, I don’t want to just repeat a denunciation of the U.S. and the neoliberal economists and their generals who plunged Chile into darkness. I’d rather think about the light that has emerged over the past decades from Latin America, against all odds.

Henry Kissinger et al carried out the coup in Chile because they couldn’t countenance the union of socialism and democracy. An elected Marxist president just could not be tolerated. Allende was a strict constitutionalist and democrat. The coup was a bloody reminder that the ruling classes will never fight fair. They killed thousands in a vengeful attempt to forever separate socialism and democracy. But you cannot kill an idea. Forty years later, they have failed. Socialism and democracy have been reunited. That’s why we can say today: Allende vive. Allende lives.

Allende lives in the governments of countries like Bolivia and Venezuela; Allende lives in the vibrant social movements all across Latin America; Allende lives in ALBA, a regional integration and mutual benefit alliance the likes of which could barely have been fathomed in the 1970s; Allende lives in the steadfast refusal of Latin America to accept U.S. isolation and demonization of Cuba. In fact, it’s the U.S. and Canada who are isolated in Latin America these days, notwithstanding recent coup d’etats in a couple of ALBA’s weaker links, Paraguay and Honduras. And Allende lives in the massive student movement in Chile, which has challenged Pinochet’s legacy of privatization and nudged the whole political spectrum in that country to the left.

Latin America today is the only part of the world where the political left has made concrete gains and broken the stranglehold of neoliberalism. It’s the only part of the world where the left can consistently run in elections as the left — and win.

Today’s resurgent left in Latin America poses a real challenge to timid mainstream social democracy in North America and Europe, not to mention to the small constellation of sects clinging to the certainties of 1917 and other similarly dogmatic or scholastic leftists.

On this 40th anniversary of the coup in Chile, progressives would do well to recommit to learning about and defending the myriad left movements and elected governments of Latin America.

So don’t remember Allende just as a martyr. His descendents have learned from his terrible fate, as Greg Grandin outlined in his London Review of Books article, ‘Don’t do what Allende did.’ The headline refers to reported instructions from Fidel Castro to Hugo Chavez during the hours after the (thankfully failed) coup against Venezuela’s elected leader in 2002.

Emir Sader, the Brazilian left scholar and activist, has summed up the new generation’s political project in his essential book, The New Mole, which looks at the trajectories of today’s Latin American left. Sader explains that, having learned from the Allende government’s failure to “prepare to confront the right’s offensive with strategies for an alternative power,

…processes like those in Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador — at the same time as they try to implement an anti-neoliberal economic model — seek to combine this with a refounding of the state and the public sphere… it is still a process of reforms, but one that leads towards a substantial transformation of the relations of power that underpin the neoliberal state.”

It’s an enormous and worthy undertaking. We should learn from Latin America and we should join them. That’s the best way to honour the legacy of the Chileans who fell forty years ago to the enforcers of global capitalism.

Derrick O'Keefe

rabble.ca Editor Derrick O’Keefe is a writer and social justice activist in Vancouver, BC. He is the author of the new Verso book, Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil? and the co-writer of Afghan MP Malalai Joya’s political memoir, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice. Derrick also served as rabble.ca’s editor from 2007 to 2009. You can follow him at http://twitter.com/derrickokeefe.

 

 

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we look at another September 11th. It was 40 years ago this week, September 11, 1973, that General Augusto Pinochet ousted Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, in a U.S.-backed military coup. The coup began a 17-year repressive dictatorship during which more than 3,000 Chileans were killed. Pinochet’s rise to power was backed by then-President Richard Nixon and his secretary of state and national security adviser, Henry Kissinger.

In 1970, the CIA’s deputy director of plans wrote in a secret memo, quote, “It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. … It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG [that’s the U.S. government] and American hand be well hidden,” unquote. That same year, President Nixon ordered the CIA to, quote, “make the economy scream” in Chile to, quote, “prevent Allende from coming to power or [to] unseat him.”

After the 1973 coup, General Pinochet remained a close U.S. ally. He was defeated in 1988 referendum and left office in 1990. In 1998, Pinochet was arrested in London on torture and genocide charges on a warrant issued by a Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzón. British authorities later released Pinochet after doctors ruled him physically and mentally unfit to stand trial.

Last week, Chile’s judges issued a long-awaited apology to the relatives of loved ones who went missing or were executed during the Pinochet dictatorship. This is Judge Daniel Urrutia.

JUDGE DANIEL URRUTIA: [translated] We consider it appropriate and necessary. We understand, for some citizens, obviously, it’s too late, but nothing will ever be too late to react to what may happen in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: The relatives of some victims have rejected the belated apology and called for further investigations into deaths and disappearances during the dictatorship. Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said the country’s courts had failed to uphold the constitution and basic rights.

PRESIDENT SEBASTIÁN PIÑERA: [translated] The judiciary did not rise up to their obligations or challenges, and could have done much more, because, by constitutional mandate, it’s their duty to protect the rights of the people, to protect their lives—for example, reconsidering the appeals, which they had previously massively rejected as unconstitutional.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, on Sunday thousands of Chileans took to the streets of Santiago to mark the 40th anniversary of the military coup and remember the thousands who disappeared during the brutal regime that followed. This is the president of the Families of Executed Politicians group, Alicia Lira.

ALICIA LIRA: [translated] Forty years since the civil military coup, the issue of human rights, the violations during the dictatorship are still current. This denial of justice, there are more than 1,300 processes open for 40 years, for 40 years continuing the search for those who were arrested, who disappeared, who were executed without the remains handed back. Why don’t they say the truth? Why don’t they break their pact of silence?

AMY GOODMAN: Just last week, the wife and two daughters of the legendary Chilean folk singer Víctor Jara filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. court against the former military officer they say killed Jara almost exactly 40 years ago. Víctor Jara was shot to death in the midst of the 1973 U.S.-backed coup. First his hands were smashed so he could no longer play the guitar, it is believed. Jara’s accused killer, Pedro Barrientos, has lived in the United States for roughly two decades and is now a U.S. citizen. Jara’s family is suing him under federal laws that allow U.S. courts to hear about human rights abuses committed abroad. Last year, Chilean prosecutors charged Barrientos and another officer with Jara’s murder, naming six others as accomplices.

Well, today we’ll spend the hour with the loved ones of those who were killed under Pinochet, and the attorneys who have helped them seek justice. First we’re joined by Joan Jara. She is the widow of Chilean singer Víctor Jara. She is the author of An Unfinished Song: The Life of Victor Jara, first published in 1984.

We welcome you back to Democracy Now!

JOAN JARA: Thank you. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us and in studio here in New York, as victims and those who have worked for justice in Chile gather for this 40th anniversary of the September 11th coup.

JOAN JARA: Indeed.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the lawsuit you have just filed.

JOAN JARA: Well, this lawsuit, which is for the central justice and accountability, is a civil lawsuit, but the—our aim is not to receive pecuniary, because this doesn’t help at all. It’s to reinforce the extradition petition, which was approved by the Chilean Supreme Court and is now in United States territory. It’s somehow to support that and to appeal to public opinion here in the United States. We know we have—there are many people here. In repeated visits here, I have met so many friends who have condemned the coup on the 11th of September, 1973. And I appeal to all the people who listen to Víctor’s songs, who realize—and for all the victims of Pinochet, for their support and appeal to their—your own government to remit a reply positively to this extradition request.

AMY GOODMAN: After break, we’ll also be joined by your lawyer to talk more about the lawsuit. But describe what happened on September 11, 1973. Where were you? Where was Víctor?

JOAN JARA: Yeah, well, we were both at home with our two daughters. There was somehow a coup in the air. We had been fearing that there might be a military coup. And on that morning, together, Víctor and I listened to Allende’s last speech and heard all the radios, the—who supported Salvador Allende, falling off the air as, one by one, being replaced by military marches.

Víctor was due to go to the technical university, his place of work, where Allende was due to speak to announce a plebiscite at 11:00, and Víctor was to sing there, as he did. And he went out that morning. It was the last time I saw him. I stayed at home, heard of the bombing of the Moneda Palace, heard and saw the helicopter’s machine gun firing over Allende’s residence. And then began the long wait for Víctor to come back home.

AMY GOODMAN: And how long did you wait?

JOAN JARA: I waited a week, not knowing really what had happened to him. I got a message from him from somebody who had been in the stadium with him, wasn’t sure what was really happening to him. But my fears were confirmed on the 11th of September—well, I’m sorry, on the 18th of September, Chile National Day, when a young man came to my house, said, “Please, I need to talk to you. I’m a friend. I’ve been working in the city morgue. I’m afraid to tell you that Víctor’s body has been recognized,” because it was a well-known—his was a well-known face. And he said, “You must come with me and claim his body; otherwise, they will put him in a common grave, and he will disappear.”

So then I accompanied this young man to the city morgue. We entered by a side entrance. I saw the hundreds of bodies, literally hundreds of bodies, that were high piled up in what was actually the parking place, I think, of the morgue. And I had to look for Víctor’s body among a long line in the offices of the city morgue, recognized him. I saw what had happened to him. I saw the bullet wounds. I saw the state of his body.

And I consider myself one of the lucky ones, in the sense that I had to face at that moment that—what had happened to Víctor, and I could give my testimony with all the force of what I felt in that moment, and not that horror, which is much worse, of never knowing what happened to your loved one, as what happened to so many families, so many women, who have spent these 40 years looking for their loved ones who were made to disappear.

AMY GOODMAN: Because he was so well known, there have been many stories about his death. Some said because he was this famous folk singer, guitarist, his hands were cut off.

JOAN JARA: No.

AMY GOODMAN: Others said they were smashed. How did you see—what did you see when you saw his body?

JOAN JARA: No, I—this is not true. There was this invention of myths that I people, I suppose, thought would help. The truth was bad enough. There was no need to invent more horrors. Víctor’s hands were not cut off. When I saw his body, his hands were hanging at a strange angle. I mean, his whole body was bruised and battered with bullet wounds, but I didn’t touch his hands. It looked as though his wrists were broken.

AMY GOODMAN: How long had Víctor played guitar? How long had he been singing?

JOAN JARA: Oh, how long had he been singing? Since he was small. Since he was—he didn’t really learn to play the guitar until he was adolescent, but his mother was a folk singer, and he learned from her, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did you meet?

JOAN JARA: We met because in the University of Chile we—Víctor was a student in the theater school, and I was a dancer in the national ballet, but I also gave classes in the theater school. That’s how I met him. He was an excellent student. He was at least the best of his course. But we actually got together after, later, when I was recovering from when I was sort of ill, and he heard I was ill. He came to see me with a little bunch of flowers that I think he took out of the park, because he was penniless.

AMY GOODMAN: And you have two daughters together?

JOAN JARA: No, not together. My first daughter is actually the daughter of my first husband, whom I had separated from, but she was very, very small when Víctor came to see us that day. She was only a year old, slightly less than a year old. And she always felt that Víctor was her father, and Víctor always felt that he—she was her daughter. She—he—sorry, I’m not used to speaking English. So, they were very, very close.

AMY GOODMAN: And the hundreds of bodies you saw in this morgue. How many of them were identified?

JOAN JARA: Can’t tell you that. This particular young man who worked in the identification, civil—civil registry—I don’t know what you call it—he was overwhelmed with what he had to do. I can’t—I can’t tell you. I can’t—I can’t tell.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you able to claim his body and bury him?

JOAN JARA: I was—I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to claim his body, but we had to take it immediately to the cemetery and inter it in a niche high up in the back wall of the cemetery. There could be no funeral. And after that, I had to go home and tell my daughters what had happened.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking with Joan Jara, the widow of Víctor Jara. And we’re going to continue with her, as well as her lawyer. She’s just brought suit against the man she believes was responsible for his murder, among others. We’re also going to be joined by Joyce Horman, another widow of the coup. Her husband, Charles Horman, American freelance journalist, was also disappeared and killed during the coup. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. It’s been 40 years since the September 11, 1973, coup that overthrew the first democratically elected leader of Chile, Salvador Allende, who died in the palace that day as the Pinochet forces rose to power. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Vivir en Paz,” by Víctor Jara, the Chilean singer, songwriter, tortured and executed during the Chilean coup of Salvador Allende, September 11, 1973. This week marks the 40th anniversary the U.S.-backed coup. You can also go to our website at democracynow.org to see highlights from our coverage over the years. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Our guest is Joan Jara, the widow of the legendary Chilean singer Víctor Jara. Last week she filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. court against the former military officer they say killed Jara almost exactly 40 years ago. Víctor Jara was shot to death in the midst of the 1973 U.S.-backed coup within the next week. Joan Jara is author of An Unfinished Song: The Life of Victor Jara.

Also with us is Almudena Bernabeu, attorney who helped file the lawsuit last week against Víctor Jara killers. She’s with the Center for Justice and Accountability, where she directs the Transitional Justice Program.

Tonight there will be a major event where people from around the world will gather who have been involved with seeking justice since the coup took place. Pinochet rose to power on September 11th, and over the next 17 years more than 3,000 Chileans were killed.

Almudena, describe this lawsuit, the grounds, the legal grounds on which you bring this 40 years after Víctor Jara was killed.

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: Absolutely. This is under—these lawsuits are happening in the United States, and there’s an important number of them. They are civil by nature, because it’s what the—it’s a tort, which is a legal word, but, I mean, it’s—what they really look for is a reward on damages. But really, the nature of the evidence and the relevance of the documents and everything that goes into the case really doesn’t distinguish, in my mind, between criminal and civil. It’s under two federal statutes in the United States called the Alien Tort Statute from 1789—ironically, first Congress—and the Torture Victims Protection Act, which is later on in 1992. And what they provide for is the right to victims, whether they’re aliens under the ATS or also U.S. citizens under the TVPA, or what we call the TVPA, to bring suit for human rights violations. The second statute provides for torture, extrajudicial killing, specifically. And the Alien Tort Statute allows you to bring in a more open or wide number of claims, including crimes against humanity, war crimes and slavery, many claims over the years. Colleagues and friends have brought suit under these laws.

In, I guess, the jurisdictional basis, not to be overtechnical, but one of the more solid ones has been the physical presence of the defendant in the United States, which is what I will say the Center for Justice and Accountability specialize. Other colleagues at the Center for Constitutional Rights and other institutions have more experience with corporate cases and so forth. And in this particular instance, Pedro Pablo Barrientos, the guy who has been investigated and identified by Chilean prosecutors and judges as the author, through testimony, of Víctor Jara’s assassination, was living—has been living for number of years, for almost 20 years, in Florida, of all places. So—

AMY GOODMAN: How did you find this out?

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: We—actually, came to the attention Chile television first, and they did a big program about both the investigation in Chile and the likelihood of this person—it was an interesting step—likelihood of this person being the Barrientos that was named in the pleadings in Chile. And after the program, the judge ordered a couple of extra, you know, steps from a criminal investigation standpoint, and they were able to identify him. And I was contacted by the prosecutors in Chile, with whom we have a relationship from prior work, to see if we could actually corroborate one more step to see if he was the person. And he is the same officer that left Chile, we believe between 1989 and 1990, and relocated in Deltona.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you believe the U.S. knew?

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: That he was in the United—

AMY GOODMAN: Who he was?

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: I’m not sure he was high enough, to be frank, from all the information that we have right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Because he was granted U.S. citizenship.

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: He was granted U.S. citizenship. And what I don’t—I don’t necessarily know that at the time that he was probably requesting to file his naturalization application, that the U.S. will know of his involvement. And I think that these guys specialize in lying in those applications, in my experience. So there’s no way necessarily for the U.S. to know, although I do believe that, overall, the U.S. looked somewhere else when all these people were coming from Latin America in the aftermath of their conflicts, no question, particularly military men.

AMY GOODMAN: This Alien Tort Claims Act, which we have covered many times in the past, you yourself have used in other cases. Very briefly, if you could talk about the archbishop of El Salvador, Óscar Romero?

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: This really was an important case, on a personal and professional level. It was filed in 2003. And also with a little bit of this twisting of fate, the—a guy who was crucial to the assassination had been identified by the truth commission, by U.S. important declassified documents and other sources, as the driver, as the sort of right-hand man of Roberto D’Aubuisson, who conceived the assassination and sort of the whole plot. And he was the guy who drove the shooter to the church, and he was living in Modesto, California, running an auto shop. And after we were able to establish that truthfully and corroborate it, we filed suit, which was a very important suit, I will say. It was the only time in the history of the crime for the conditions of El Salvador when any justice has been provided for this emblematic killing, and it was the first case—

AMY GOODMAN: He was killed March 24th, 1980.

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: 1980.

AMY GOODMAN: The archbishop of El Salvador, as—

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: While celebrating mass, absolutely. And he was kind of marks—in the history and the imaginary of Salvadorans, marks the beginning of their 10-year civil war. It really was a declaration of war in the old-fashioned sense. It was—and against all civilians and against the pueblo that he defended so much. It was one—a provocative statement, killing the archbishop, who had been in his homilies and publicly condemning the actions of the army against the people of El Salvador.

AMY GOODMAN: Joan Jara, how did you figure out that—who was responsible for the killing of Víctor, your husband?

JOAN JARA: I didn’t figure it out, because the—the Chilean army would not give the information of who—of the officers who were responsible for the Chile stadium where Víctor was killed. But gradually, within the proceedings of the case, officers were named, especially by the conscript, under whose—become orders, they were, yeah. And it’s these people who were these soldiers of lesser ranks who have identified the officers who were responsible for the crimes.

ALMUDENA BERNABEU: That’s a very important point. Sorry, just to—there’s been no desire or willingness on behalf of the armed forces in Chile to collaborate with the families and the victims struggling for 40 years. They have to rely, the investigators, in now testimony from these low-level soldiers, who don’t have that kind of pact of silence, and they’re providing information that is crucial for their work.

AMY GOODMAN: Joan?

JOAN JARA: Well, they say that they have had to have a pact of silence during many decades because they have been threatened by the armed forces, they should not speak. And there have been many who have been very scared to give their testimony until now.

The Right to Live in Peace: Forty years on, the coup in Chile still has lessons for us today

 

| September 9, 2013

Mural for Victor Jara. (Photo: aullidodelaika.blogspot.com)

Aerial bombings, tanks in the streets, widespread terrorizing of civilians by soldiers and secret police: this was the horror unleashed on September 11, 1973 by the military coup d’état in Chile. Led by Augusto Pinochet and other generals with U.S. backing, the coup overthrew President Salvador Allende’s democratically elected Popular Unity government, and brought in a brutal military dictatorship that lasted for 17 years.

Canada’s official attitude towards the coup might be politely called ‘ambivalent.’ Some Canadian banks and mining interests openly supported the military take-over as a good investment opportunity. Our ambassador to Chile’s rather sympathetic attitude toward the generals led to a rapid recognition of the military junta.

When embassy officials Mark Dolgin and David Adam allowed a handful of asylum-seekers to take refuge at our Santiago embassy, Foreign Affairs tried to shut the door on any more. The ambassador’s classified cables, which called asylum-seekers ‘riff-raff’ and the military killings ‘abhorrent but understandable,’ were leaked by Bob Thomson, a federal CIDA employee in Ottawa.

Those leaks cost Thomson his job but helped build a public clamour in favour of offering refuge to those who needed it. At the time, Canada’s lack of a formal refugee policy left these life-and-death decisions to ministerial discretion. Questions were raised in Parliament, church groups and unions called for more asylum, the media picked up the story, and solidarity activists occupied federal offices in four cities across the country: this growing groundswell in the fall of 1973 eventually led to ‘Special Movement Chile’ opening the doors for thousands of Chilean refugees fleeing Pinochet’s terror to find safety in Canada.

That historic example of citizen action underscores the importance conscientious dissent. Whether high-profile whistleblowers like Manning and Snowden or rank-and-file war resisters who refuse to participate in war crimes, conscientious dissenters deserve honour and protection, rather than vilification and prosecution. Though their individual circumstances may be less dramatic, the same lesson applies to many conscientious scientists and researchers whose work is threatened or suppressed by the Harper government’s ideological preference for evidence-free policy-making.

Many victims of military repression never reach asylum of course, but those who remember the tortured, murdered and ‘disappeared’ can take some comfort in the knowledge that there is no statute of limitations for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The renowned Chilean folk-singer Victor Jara was among those tortured and killed in the early days of the coup, and this year several military officers deemed responsible for his death are finally coming to trial. Some of the accused trained at the infamous School of the Americas (aka School of Assassins: they put Pinochet’s ceremonial sword on display) at Fort Benning Georgia, where human rights vigils continue to call for closure every year.

Whatever the outcome of these belated trials, let’s recall that General Pinochet was fond of lecturing about the health benefits of ‘just forgetting.’  So historical memory really matters: remembering can be an act of resistance in itself. Not only those officially sanctioned memorials, which prescribe just which atrocities ‘We must never forget,’ but also (especially!) independent grassroots initiatives that document and remind us of crimes our governments would prefer us to forget. Such is the case of Zochrot (‘remembering’ in Hebrew), which aims to ‘commemorate, witness, acknowledge, and repair’ the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, in the face of widespread (and increasingly state-enforced) nakba denial in Israel and around the world.

Jara’s poetic legacy lives on in song, of course. Better known for her satirical songs on CBC, topical folksinger Nancy White recorded a (now hard-to-find but recently recovered) medley of his songs called Victor Jara Presente, where she sings in part: ‘His struggle is the struggle of all who would live free. We mustn’t let a Victor Jara die again.’

But we do keep letting it happen, alas. Canada’s governments have either participated in or tacitly supported coups against elected governments in Haiti and Honduras (just to name two recent examples). And with the Conservatives’ increasing political interference in our asylum adjudication system, it is far from clear whether those 1970s Chilean refugees would even be allowed into Canada today under current rules. Refugees who do make it into Canada now also face a much harder time settling here, with mean-spirited federal cuts to health and other services — another area where we see active resistance from conscientious professionals.

Let’s also remember the real motivation for many coups. Henry Kissinger infamously explained why the U.S. set about to destabilize and then overthrow Allende’s democratically elected government: “The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.” Democracy doesn’t count for much when voters ‘irresponsibly’ elect a government Washington doesn’t like.

A recent Wall Street Journal editorial is even clearer about who they support and why: about a more recent military coup, they wrote on July 4 that Egyptians would be “lucky” if their new ruling generals turn out like Chile’s Pinochet, who “hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.” Apart from the slur on midwifery, Pinochet’s rule was a ‘transition to democracy’ like bacon is a transition to vegetarianism. His regime savagely opposed the return to democracy in Chile, relinquishing power only when forced to by national and international pressure, and after decreeing immunity for himself and his henchmen — all the while continuing to receive support from hypocritical U.S. politicians who now lecture us about the immorality of talking with dictators.

But don’t let the WSJ’s chilling historical revisionism mask the cynicism of their underlying message: international finance approves of dictators who bring in ‘free-market reformers.’ The 1973 coup gave free reign to the Chicago-school free market fundamentalists to create havoc in the Chilean social fabric, and similar failed policies are now being pushed down our throats under the guise of ‘austerity.’ Those who revere the ‘invisible hand of the market’ ultimately also rely on its all-too-visible fist.

The poignant title of one of Jara’s most famous songs and albums (El derecho de vivir en paz, 1971) is still relevant today as it sums up the deepest wishes of so many people. A film about his life and an exhibit* of rare historic materials from the Chilean resistance against the coup both bear the name of the same song, inviting us to remember and reflect on those ideals for today and tomorrow: ‘The right to live in peace.’

 

David Heap works with the Latin American-Canadian Solidarity Association (LACASA) and People for Peace in London, Ontario, and is on the international Steering Committee of Gaza’s Ark.

A shorter version of this article appeared in UWO’s Western News on September 5.

Photo: aullidodelaika.blogspot.com

*’The Right to Live in Peace’ is an exhibit of historic materials from Toronto’s Colectivo Alas documenting Chilean resistance against the military dictatorship, running at Beit Zatoun in Toronto until September 11, and then opens at Medium Gallery in London on Friday September 13, where it will stay until September 20.

 

 

 

Hunt For Pablo Neruda’s Alleged Killer, ‘Price,’ Ordered By Chilean Judge June 2, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Chile, Latin America.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Roger’s note: Pablo Neruda, Nobel laureate, is considered one of the greatest poets in the Spanish language of all times.  In the tradition of  many Latin American writers, he also not only held strong political views, but also served in government.  In describing the vicious and manifold crimes of the US supported Pinochet era we can add to the murder of social protest, the murder of beauty.

 

 

Pablo Neruda Price Killer Murderer

This Oct. 21, 1971 file photo shows Pablo Neruda, poet and then Chilean ambassador to France, talk with reporters in Paris after being named the 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature. (AP Photo/Laurent Rebours, File)

06/01/13 11:28 PM ET EDT AP

SANTIAGO, Chile — Forty years after the death of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, a judge has issued an order for police to make a portrait of and find the man who prosecutors allege may have poisoned him.

Neruda’s death was attributed at the time to prostate cancer but the case’s plaintiff lawyer, Eduardo Contreras, says there is new evidence showing he was likely murdered by agents of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Contreras said Dr. Sergio Draper, who originally testified that he was with Neruda at the time of his death on Sept. 23, 1973, is now saying there was another doctor named “Price” with the poet.

But Price did not appear in any of the hospital’s records as a treating doctor and Draper said he never saw him again after the day he left him with Neruda. Moreover Price’s description of a blond, blue eyed, tall man, matches Michael Townley, the CIA double agent who worked with Chilean secret police under Pinochet.

Townley was taken into the U.S. witness protection program after acknowledging having killed prominent Pinochet critics in Washington and Buenos Aires.

For Contreras, whoever the man was, “the important fact is that this was the person who ordered the injection” that allegedly killed Neruda.

Neruda’s former assistant Manuel Araya also said he believed the poet was poisoned by Pinochet’s agents.

The Nobel Prize winner’s body was exhumed on April 8, and is being analyzed by Chilean and international forensic specialists.

Why Would Anyone Celebrate the Death of Margaret Thatcher? Ask a Chilean April 13, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Britain, Chile, Criminal Justice, Genocide, History, Human Rights, Latin America.
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rejoice-margaret-thatcher-dead-250

Thousands have taken to the streets to celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher

Never have I witnessed a gap between the mainstream media and the public, quite like the last 24 hours since the death of Margaret Thatcher. While both the press and President Obama were uttering tearful remembrances, thousands took to the streets of the UK and beyond to celebrate. Immediately this drew strong condemnation of what were called “death parties”, described as “tasteless”, “horrible”, and “beneath all human decency.” Yet if the same media praising Thatcher and appalled by the popular response would bother to ask one of the people celebrating, they might get a story that doesn’t fit into their narrative, which is probably why they aren’t asking at all.

.I received a note this morning from the friend of a friend. She lives in the UK, although her family didn’t arrive there by choice. They had to flee Chile, like thousands of others, when it was under the thumb of General Augusto Pinochet. If you don’t know the details about Pinochet’s blood-soaked two-decade reign, you should read about them but take care not to eat beforehand. He was a merciless overseer of torture, rapes, and thousands of political executions. He had the hands and wrists of the country’s greatest folk singer Victor Jara broken in front of a crowd of prisoners before killing him. He had democratically elected Socialist President Salvador Allende shot dead at his desk. His specialty was torturing people in front of their families.

As Naomi Klein has written so expertly, he then used this period of shock and slaughter to install a nationwide laboratory for neoliberal economics. If Pinochet’s friend Milton Friedman had a theory about cutting food subsidies, privatizing social security, slashing wages, or outlawing unions, Pinochet would apply it. The results of these experiments became political ammunition for neoliberal economists throughout the world. Seeing Chile-applied economic theory in textbooks always boggles my mind. It would be like if the American Medical Association published a textbook on the results of Dr. Josef Mengele’s work in the concentration camps, without any moral judgment about how he accrued his patients.

Pinochet was the General in charge of this human rights catastrophe. He also was someone who Margaret Thatcher called a friend. She stood by the General even when he was exile, attempting to escape justice for his crimes. As she said to Pinochet, “[Thank you] for bringing democracy to Chile.”

Therefore, if I want to know why someone would celebrate the death of Baroness Thatcher, I think asking a Chilean in exile would be a great place to start. My friend of a friend took to the streets of the UK when she heard that the Iron Lady had left her mortal coil. Here is why:

“I’m telling [my daughter] all about the Thatcher legacy through her mother’s experience, not the media’s; especially how the Thatcher government directly supported Pinochet’s murderous regime, financially, via military support, even military training (which we know now, took place in Dundee University). Thousands of my people (and members of my family) were tortured and murdered under Pinochet’s regime- the fascist beast who was one of Thatcher’s closest allies and friend. So all you apologists/those offended [by my celebration] -you can take your moral high ground & shove it. YOU are the ones who don’t understand. Those of us celebrating are the ones who suffered deeply under her dictatorship and WE are the ones who cared. We are the ones who protested. We are the humanitarians who bothered to lift a finger to help all those who suffered under her regime. I am lifting a glass of champagne to mourn, to remember and to honour all the victims of her brutal regime, here AND abroad. And to all those heroes who gave a shit enough to try to do something about it.”

I should add here that I lived in Chile in 1995, when Pinochet had been deposed but was still in charge of the armed forces. I became friends with those who were tortured or had their families disappeared so Thatcher’s connection to Chile strikes a personal note with me. I also understand however, that similar explanations for “why people are celebrating” could be made by those with connections to Argentina, apartheid South Africa, Indonesia, Belfast, Gaza, or Baghdad. The case could also be made by those in the UK affected by Thatcher’s Pinochet-tested economic dictates who choose not to mourn.

It also matters because the 48 hours after a powerful public figure dies is when the halo becomes permanently affixed to their head. When Ronald Reagan passed away, a massive right wing machine went into motion aimed at removing him from all criticism. The Democrats certainly didn’t challenge this interpretation of history and now according to polls, people under 25 would elect Reagan over President Obama, even though Reagan’s ideas remain deeply unpopular. To put it crudely, the political battle over someone’s memory is a political battle over policy. In Thatcher’s case, if we gloss over her history of supporting tyrants, we are doomed to repeat them.

As Glenn Greenwald wrote so expertly in the Guardian, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with loathing Margaret Thatcher or any other person with political influence and power based upon perceived bad acts, and that doesn’t change simply because they die. If anything, it becomes more compelling to commemorate those bad acts upon death as the only antidote against a society erecting a false and jingoistically self-serving history.”

Or to put it even more simply, in the words, of David Wearing, “People praising Thatcher’s legacy should show some respect for her victims.” That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Let’s please show some respect for Margaret Thatcher’s victims. Let’s respect those who mourn everyday because of her policies, but choose this one day to wipe away the tears.Then let’s organize to make sure that the history she authored does not repeat.

Operation Condor Trial Tackles Coordinated Campaign by Latin American Dictatorships to Kill Leftists March 14, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, History, Human Rights, Latin America, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay.
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Roger’s note: The world media is focused on Argentina from where the worlds largest patriarchal, misogynist, authoritarian, homophobic institution has chosen its new leader.  At the same time in Argentina, a trial is being held which reflects on the world’s most violent imperial nation.  The two events are related with respect to the massive and systematic violation of human rights.

http://www.democracynow.org, March 2, 2013

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: An historic trial that began Tuesday in Argentina is set to reveal new details about how six Latin American countries coordinated with each other in the 1970s and 1980s to eliminate political dissidents. The campaign, known as Operation Condor, involved military dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. They worked together to track down, kidnap and kill people they labeled as terrorists: leftist activists, labor organizers, students, priests, journalists, guerrilla fighters and their families.

The campaign was launched by the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and evidence shows the CIA and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were complicit from its outset. At least 25 military generals are facing charges, and more than 500 witnesses are expected to testify during the trial. Last August, an Argentine federal judge issued a formal request to the Obama administration’s Justice Department to make Kissinger himself available for questioning. The Obama administration did not respond.

AMY GOODMAN: This trial is taking place in Buenos Aires, the site of a former auto mechanic shop turned torture camp. Argentina is where the greatest number of killings of foreigners was carried out under Operation Condor. All of this comes just weeks after Uruguay’s Supreme Court struck down a law that had allowed similar prosecutions in that country.

Well, for more, we’re joined by John Dinges, author of The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents. The book brings together interviews and declassified intelligence records to reconstruct the once-secret events. Before that, Dinges was with NPR and worked as a freelance reporter in Latin America. He is currently a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism.

John Dinges, welcome to Democracy Now!

JOHN DINGES: Yeah, nice to be here. Thanks.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of this trial that’s now underway in Argentina.

JOHN DINGES: Well, there have been several trials, and this goes back to when Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998. That unleashed an avalanche of evidence that went across Europe and led to trials in many places—Rome, Paris, Argentina, Chile—but all of them much smaller than this one. This one has 25 people accused. Unfortunately—or fortunately, who knows?—many of the people who were involved in this have already died, they’re getting old, of the top leaders. But this is 25 Argentinians and one Uruguayan, all of whom were in military positions, all of whom were involved directly with the actions of Operation Condor.

This is historic in the sense that we’re going to hear from 500 witnesses. And really, in the Latin American legal system, it’s unusual. It’s really only coming to the fore now that you hear witnesses, as opposed to just seeing them give their testimony to judges in a closed room, and then later on people like me might go and read those testimonies, but really it doesn’t become public. This is all public. And apparently, a lot of it is being videotaped. So this is—this is the first time that the general public is going to hear the details of this horrible, horrible list of atrocities that killed so many people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, John, for folks who have never heard of Operation Condor or know little about it, the origins of it, how it began, and the nations or the governments that spearheaded it, could you talk about that?

JOHN DINGES: Well, it is a Chilean invention. Augusto Pinochet had dominated his opposition by—the coup was in 1973; by 1974, there was no internal opposition to speak of. But many of the people who had been part of the previous government, that he had overthrown, had gone overseas. There was a very major, important general who was living in Argentina. Political leaders, for example, Orlando Letelier, the former foreign minister and former ambassador to the United States, somebody who would have lunch with Henry Kissinger, was living in Washington. People were spread around, in Europe and all over Latin America, and Pinochet wanted to go after them. And so he mounted Operation Condor.

And he convinced the other countries—Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay—to go along with him, with the argument that there are these guerrilla operations that are a threat to all of them. And there was indeed a guerrilla operation, called the Revolutionary Coordinating Junta, of people who were taking up arms against these governments. And the idea was that they would cooperate in tracking these people down. And they did.

Most of the—the biggest part of the exiles were in Argentina, because Argentina was the last country to give up its civilian government. It wasn’t a dictatorship until March of 1976. And this was created in late 1975. So they were all geared up. And when the coup happened in Argentina, they began killing hundreds of people, of these foreigners. And it’s interesting that you mentioned the Automotores Orletti. This is that auto repair shop that was used as a torture center, and that’s where they kept the international prisoners.

AMY GOODMAN: We, Democracy Now!, went there, visited this shop. I want to read from a declassified record of a CIA briefing that shows that American officials were aware that Latin intelligence services were casting their net wide in Operation Condor. It says, quote, “They are joining forces to eradicate ‘subversion’ … a word which increasingly translates into nonviolent dissent from the left and center left.”

It goes on to another document that you obtained, John Dinges, that’s from the Chilean secret police, known as the DINA. It details the number of dead and disappeared compiled by Argentine intelligence. The cable, sent by DINA’s attaché to Buenos Aires, says he’s, quote, “sending a list of all the dead,” which included the official and unofficial death toll. Between 1975 and mid-’78, he reported, quote, “they count 22,000 between the dead and the disappeared.” Talk about the the number of the dead and what the U.S. knew.

JOHN DINGES: Well, let’s do the U.S. first. The United States, in this period, the 1970s, was a major sponsor of the military dictatorships that had overthrown some democracies, some faltering civilian governments. Whatever it was, the result was governments, like Videla, like Pinochet, like Banzer in Bolivia, who were killing their citizens with impunity. The United States knew about the mass killing. We had this kind of schizophrenic, Machiavellian attitude toward it. We really don’t want these communists to be taking over governments, and we fear that democracy is leading to communist governments. Indeed, a leftist government led by Salvador Allende installed a democratically elected, civilian and revolutionary government in Chile, and that’s why—and Pinochet overthrew that government. The United States was deathly fearful that this would spread in Latin America, and so supported the coming of dictatorships.

When they began mass killings, the United States was aware of these mass killings. When they—they learned of Condor shortly after it was created. There’s no evidence that they knew about it the day it was created. The earliest evidence is a couple months after it began its operations. But they certainly knew these things were happening. And if you look at the meetings, the transcripts of the meetings between Henry Kissinger and these leaders, both in Argentina and in Chile, where we have the records, what do they say in private? You know, “We support what you are doing. We understand that you have to assert your authority. Try your best to release some prisoners, because I’m under a lot of pressure in Congress, because the Democrats are trying to make me, you know, defend human rights. Do the best you can, but I understand what you’re doing.”

And in one case, two weeks after Kissinger visited Santiago, there was a—the second major meeting of all the Condor countries to discuss Condor. And at that meeting, in June 1976, they approved operations for assassination outside of Latin America. The first assassination that occurred was in Washington, D.C. Orlando Letelier, the former foreign minister, was killed on the streets of Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: This is an astounding story. You wrote a book about it, in fact.

JOHN DINGES: And this is—I’ve written actually two books, one about the assassination, in which I, for the first time, wrote a chapter on the discovery of Operation Condor. I didn’t have a lot of detail. In fact, I was misled by the State Department, to a certain extent.

And then, years later, after Pinochet was arrested in London, a flood of documents, including many, many—60,000 pages of documents released by—ordered released by President Clinton, I was able to then, you know, really dig in and understand it from the point of view of the United States. But also, many, many documents were revealed in Latin America. And that is, I think, even more important, because if we just had U.S. documents, it’s always subject to: “Well, that’s the U.S. view of these things.” What was really going on in those Latin American governments—

AMY GOODMAN: But explain how Ron—how Orlando Letelier and his assistant, Ronni Moffitt, were killed in the streets of Washington, D.C., in the United States, in 1976.

JOHN DINGES: Pinochet began this operation shortly after that meeting with Kissinger. Within a month, he gave the order approving this. They sent an agent who had been working for DINA for several years named Michael Townley, an American. I don’t believe it was any accident that they made an American working for them the hit man on this, because, obviously, as soon as suspicion was cast on them, they said, “Oh, this guy was working for the CIA.” And a lot of people like to believe the CIA does all these things. In fact, both the extreme right and the extreme left were saying, “Oh, it was the CIA who did it.” There’s no evidence that Townley was working for the CIA, but he certainly was working for the Chileans.

He allied with some Cubans up in New Jersey, anti-Castro Cubans. They came down to Washington. They—Townley crawled under the car, installed a bomb that he had constructed himself. It was run by one of those old beeper devices. They followed the car down Massachusetts Avenue, and at Sheridan Circle, right outside near the Chilean embassy, they pushed the button, killed him. Ronni Moffitt was the wife of Michael Moffitt, who was actually Orlando’s assistant. She was sitting in the front seat, and that’s why she was killed. Michael survived, and Orlando of course was devastated, died immediately.

AMY GOODMAN: And Townley went to jail for a few years. And then—

JOHN DINGES: Townley—the Chileans turned him over. The story of how we solved this case is incredible. The presumption was that the United States is not going to investigate this very strongly. Everybody that thought that was wrong. The FBI did—made an enormous investigation, solved the case, got pictures of the people. And that’s the long story that I tell in the book. When they identified the people that had come up to the United States to carry this out, they went down to Chile, asked for the cooperation of the Pinochet government. And Pinochet eventually—they had two choices: Either they were going to kill Townley—and there’s evidence that that was one of their plans—or they had to turn him over. And they eventually turned him over. He was taken to the United States, and he began to give testimony. And another flood of information came from Michael Townley. Townley still lives in the United States. He served only five years in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: And then went into witness protection.

JOHN DINGES: And was in witness protection for a while. I understand he’s not anymore in witness protection. He lives in the Midwest. And he’s—he has cooperated. I don’t know whether there’s any remorse on his part, but he has cooperated with many investigations since his imprisonment.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: John, I’d like to ask you about an unusual figure that you talk about in the book and his role in trying to end Operation Condor: Ed Koch, the recently deceased mayor of New York, who was then a young liberal congressman and who began asking all kinds of questions about what was going on and angered our own government. Could you talk about that?

JOHN DINGES: Ed Koch, a beloved figure in this city, and certainly everybody that’s dealt with him has had the same experience. And I was reporting this story. He was very cooperative with me. And he came to my book party, so I love him, too.

Ed Koch was a congressman. He spearheaded a bill, an amendment to a bill, to cut off military aid to Uruguay. The Uruguayans were members—this was 1976. The Uruguayans were members of Operation Condor. And the CIA discovered—and I think the evidence is that they discovered because they were—they talked about it in front of them, that they said they were going to get the Chileans to go up to Washington to kill Koch. And whether that actually was put into action, we don’t know. But George Bush, who was head of the CIA at the time, called up Ed Koch and said, “Ed” — and it’s wonderful to hear Ed Koch tell this story — “I’ve got to tell you something: There’s a plot to kill you.” And Ed Koch said, “Are you going to provide me protection?” They said, “No, no, no. That’s not our job. We’re the CIA. We’re just telling you, and it’s up to you to provide your own protection.” Ed Koch didn’t know this was Operation Condor. He just thought this was some crazy people from the dictatorship.

Later on, in my investigation, I was—I actually talked to one of the people who was involved in this, one of the Uruguayans, and who—it was a Condor operation. It was kind of a typical one, even though it didn’t actually kill anybody, luckily. But it was the modus operandi. In order to cover their tracks, one country would use another country’s nationals to do their dirty work in the operations that were planned outside of Latin America. Inside of Latin America, you had a much more systematic and effective way of operating, in which they would just track down each other’s dissidents in whatever country they happened to be—Peru, Brazil, Uruguay, mainly in Argentina. And then they would—the methodology was simple: capture them, kidnap them, torture them, kill them, make their bodies disappear. Very few victims have survived Operation Condor, almost none. It’s very difficult to find a survivor.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And yet, today in Latin America, many of the leaders of the new populist governments were folks who had emerged from some of the very groups that Condor was tracking. And Uruguay especially, a former Tupamaro. And throughout the region, those dissidents now are part of the governing apparatus of their countries.

JOHN DINGES: I was in Bolivia just two weeks ago, and I interviewed one of the—one of the people in the Ministry of Communications, and a man who’s among the many, many, many indigenous people who are in the Morales government. And he described how his father had been a prisoner, had been in Chile as an exile. When the military coup happened, he was imprisoned and kept prisoner for seven months and tortured. And I talked to, in that same office, another person who also had been involved in the Bolivian resistance in the 1980s, going back with the group that had fought together with Che Guevara in the 1960s. His father had been involved with them.

These are revolutionaries, but they are a different brand of revolutionaries. They are as dedicated, I think, but they’re not taking up arms. I really believe that they realize that that did not lead to successful revolutions, and so I’m much more optimistic about what’s going on with the—with this current group of governments.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, a State Department cable, 1978, begins—the jacket of your book, says, “Kissinger explained his opinion [that] the Government of Argentina had done an outstanding job in wiping out terrorist forces.” The significance of the judge calling for Kissinger’s testimony and the Obama administration not responding?

JOHN DINGES: They have asked for Kissinger to give testimony many times. And in my book, I quote the one time where he actually responded to a petition from France, I believe it was. And he basically denied everything. This is very frustrating. I was able to—it was clear to me that, there’s no other word for it, these were lies. I mean, the documents say one thing; Kissinger said another thing. And he knew what those documents said. It’s not—the United States has never allowed any of its officials to face trial in other countries. We are not a member of the ICC. There’s never—

AMY GOODMAN: The International Criminal Court.

JOHN DINGES: The International Criminal Court. There’s never been any participate—there’s never been any trials that have brought Americans in the dock. There was an attempt in Italy; of course, all of those people were gone. The United States, for one reason or another, Democrats and Republicans, protect our own human rights criminals when it’s involving human rights crimes outside of the United States. It’s just the way it is.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you describe Henry Kissinger in that way, as a human rights criminal?

JOHN DINGES: Yes, absolutely.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the relevance of this history of farming out the battle against terrorism, and so you could have no finger marks—no fingerprints of your own involvement to the current war against terrorism in the United States?

JOHN DINGES: Well, I wrote—I was writing chapter one, when 9/11 happened, in my house in Washington. And as I finished the book—and I actually end with a reference to 9/11—I said this is not something that we’re condemned to repeat. And I was making the comparison between the war on terror in the 1970s and the current war on terror that was launched by President Bush. I thought we were going to—we had learned the lesson, that you don’t imitate the methods of your enemies and—or those who had been shown to be human rights criminals. Unfortunately, we crossed that line, I think, many times.

The current discussion about drones, I think, is very frightening, because I’m having a hard time distinguishing between what they did with Operation Condor, low-tech, and what a drone does, because a drone is basically going into somebody else’s country, even with the permission of that country—of course, that’s what Operation Condor did, in most cases: You track somebody down, and you kill them. Now, the justification is: “Well, they were a criminal. They were a combatant.” Well, that may or may not be true, but nobody is determining that except the person that’s pulling the trigger.

I just think that this has to be something that we discuss. And maybe trials like this, going back to the ’70s, people say, “Well, that was the dictatorships of the 1970s.” But the tendency of a state to feel that they can move against their enemies in the most effective way possible is still there, and it is certainly not limited to dictatorships.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, John Dinges, for being with us. John Dinges is author of The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents. Before that, he was with National Public Radio, NPR, worked as a freelance reporter in Latin America, is currently a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll be joined by filmmaker Dave Riker and actress Abbie Cornish about a new film about human smuggling on the border, called The Girl. Stay with us.

How a Washington Global Torture Gulag Was Turned Into the Only Gulag-Free Zone on Earth February 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Chile, Latin America, Torture, War on Terror.
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Published on Monday, February 18, 2013 by TomDispatch.com

The Latin American Exception

by Greg Grandin

(Max Fisher — The Washington Post)

The map tells the story.  To illustrate a damning new report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detentions and Extraordinary Rendition,” recently published by the Open Society Institute, the Washington Post put together an equally damning graphic: it’s soaked in red, as if with blood, showing that in the years after 9/11, the CIA turned just about the whole world into a gulag archipelago.

Back in the early twentieth century, a similar red-hued map was used to indicate the global reach of the British Empire, on which, it was said, the sun never set.  It seems that, between 9/11 and the day George W. Bush left the White House, CIA-brokered torture never saw a sunset either.

All told, of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54 participated in various ways in this American torture system, hosting CIA “black site” prisons, allowing their airspace and airports to be used for secret flights, providing intelligence, kidnapping foreign nationals or their own citizens and handing them over to U.S. agents to be “rendered” to third-party countries like Egypt and Syria.  The hallmark of this network, Open Society writes, has been torture.  Its report documents the names of 136 individuals swept up in what it says is an ongoing operation, though its authors make clear that the total number, implicitly far higher, “will remain unknown” because of the “extraordinary level of government secrecy associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition.”

No region escapes the stain.  Not North America, home to the global gulag’s command center.  Not Europe, the Middle East, Africa, or Asia.  Not even social-democratic Scandinavia.  Sweden turned over at least two people to the CIA, who were then rendered to Egypt, where they were subject to electric shocks, among other abuses.  No region, that is, except Latin America.

What’s most striking about the Post’s map is that no part of its wine-dark horror touches Latin America; that is, not one country in what used to be called Washington’s “backyard” participated in rendition or Washington-directed or supported torture and abuse of “terror suspects.”  Not even Colombia, which throughout the last two decades was as close to a U.S.-client state as existed in the area.  It’s true that a fleck of red should show up on Cuba, but that would only underscore the point: Teddy Roosevelt took Guantánamo Bay Naval Base for the U.S. in 1903 “in perpetuity.”

Two, Three, Many CIAs 

How did Latin America come to be territorio libre in this new dystopian world of black sites and midnight flights, the Zion of this militarist matrix (as fans of the Wachowskis’ movies might put it)?  After all, it was in Latin America that an earlier generation of U.S. and U.S.-backed counterinsurgents put into place a prototype of Washington’s twenty-first century Global War on Terror.

Even before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, before Che Guevara urged revolutionaries to create “two, three, many Vietnams,” Washington had already set about establishing two, three, many centralized intelligence agencies in Latin America.  As Michael McClintock shows in his indispensable book Instruments of Statecraft, in late 1954, a few months after the CIA’s infamous coup in Guatemala that overthrew a democratically elected government, the National Security Council first recommended strengthening “the internal security forces of friendly foreign countries.”

In the region, this meant three things.  First, CIA agents and other U.S. officials set to work “professionalizing” the security forces of individual countries like Guatemala, Colombia, and Uruguay; that is, turning brutal but often clumsy and corrupt local intelligence apparatuses into efficient, “centralized,” still brutal agencies, capable of gathering information, analyzing it, and storing it.  Most importantly, they were to coordinate different branches of each country’s security forces — the police, military, and paramilitary squads — to act on that information, often lethally and always ruthlessly.

Second, the U.S. greatly expanded the writ of these far more efficient and effective agencies, making it clear that their portfolio included not just national defense but international offense.  They were to be the vanguard of a global war for “freedom” and of an anticommunist reign of terror in the hemisphere.  Third, our men in Montevideo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Asunción, La Paz, Lima, Quito, San Salvador, Guatemala City, and Managua were to help synchronize the workings of individual national security forces.

The result was state terror on a nearly continent-wide scale.  In the 1970s and 1980s, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Operation Condor, which linked together the intelligence services of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile, was the most infamous of Latin America’s transnational terror consortiums, reaching out to commit mayhem as far away as Washington D.C., Paris, and Rome.  The U.S. had earlier helped put in place similar operations elsewhere in the Southern hemisphere, especially in Central America in the 1960s.

By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans had been tortured, killed, disappeared, or imprisoned without trial, thanks in significant part to U.S. organizational skills and support.  Latin America was, by then, Washington’s backyard gulag.  Three of the region’s current presidents — Uruguay’s José Mujica, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega — were victims of this reign of terror.

When the Cold War ended, human rights groups began the herculean task of dismantling the deeply embedded, continent-wide network of intelligence operatives, secret prisons, and torture techniques — and of pushing militaries throughout the region out of governments and back into their barracks.  In the 1990s, Washington not only didn’t stand in the way of this process, but actually lent a hand in depoliticizing Latin America’s armed forces.  Many believed that, with the Soviet Union dispatched, Washington could now project its power in its own “backyard” through softer means like international trade agreements and other forms of economic leverage.  Then 9/11 happened.

“Oh My Goodness”

In late November 2002, just as the basic outlines of the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition programs were coming into shape elsewhere in the world, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld flew 5,000 miles to Santiago, Chile, to attend a hemispheric meeting of defense ministers.  “Needless to say,” Rumsfeld nonetheless said, “I would not be going all this distance if I did not think this was extremely important.” Indeed.

This was after the invasion of Afghanistan but before the invasion of Iraq and Rumsfeld was riding high, as well as dropping the phrase “September 11th” every chance he got.  Maybe he didn’t know of the special significance that date had in Latin America, but 29 years earlier on the first 9/11, a CIA-backed coup by General Pinochet and his military led to the death of Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende.  Or did he, in fact, know just what it meant and was that the point?  After all, a new global fight for freedom, a proclaimed Global War on Terror, was underway and Rumsfeld had arrived to round up recruits.

There, in Santiago, the city out of which Pinochet had run Operation Condor, Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials tried to sell what they were now terming the “integration” of “various specialized capabilities into larger regional capabilities” — an insipid way of describing the kidnapping, torturing, and death-dealing already underway elsewhere. “Events around the world before and after September 11th suggest the advantages,” Rumsfeld said, of nations working together to confront the terror threat.

“Oh my goodness,” Rumsfeld told a Chilean reporter, “the kinds of threats we face are global.”  Latin America was at peace, he admitted, but he had a warning for its leaders: they shouldn’t lull themselves into believing that the continent was safe from the clouds gathering elsewhere.  Dangers exist, “old threats, such as drugs, organized crime, illegal arms trafficking, hostage taking, piracy, and money laundering; new threats, such as cyber-crime; and unknown threats, which can emerge without warning.”

“These new threats,” he added ominously, “must be countered with new capabilities.” Thanks to the Open Society report, we can see exactly what Rumsfeld meant by those “new capabilities.”

A few weeks prior to Rumsfeld’s arrival in Santiago, for example, the U.S., acting on false information supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, detained Maher Arar, who holds dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship, at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and then handed him over to a “Special Removal Unit.” He was flown first to Jordan, where he was beaten, and then to Syria, a country in a time zone five hours ahead of Chile, where he was turned over to local torturers.  On November 18th, when Rumsfeld was giving his noon speech in Santiago, it was five in the afternoon in Arar’s “grave-like” cell in a Syrian prison, where he would spend the next year being abused.

Ghairat Baheer was captured in Pakistan about three weeks before Rumsfeld’s Chile trip, and thrown into a CIA-run prison in Afghanistan called the Salt Pit.  As the secretary of defense praised Latin America’s return to the rule of law after the dark days of the Cold War, Baheer may well have been in the middle of one of his torture sessions, “hung naked for hours on end.”

Taken a month before Rumsfeld’s visit to Santiago, the Saudi national Abd al Rahim al Nashiri was transported to the Salt Pit, after which he was transferred “to another black site in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was waterboarded.” After that, he was passed on to Poland, Morocco, Guantánamo, Romania, and back to Guantánamo, where he remains.  Along the way, he was subjected to a “mock execution with a power drill as he stood naked and hooded,” had U.S. interrogators rack a “semi-automatic handgun close to his head as he sat shackled before them.”  His interrogators also “threatened to bring in his mother and sexually abuse her in front of him.”

Likewise a month before the Santiago meeting, the Yemini Bashi Nasir Ali Al Marwalah was flown to Camp X-Ray in Cuba, where he remains to this day.

Less than two weeks after Rumsfeld swore that the U.S. and Latin America shared “common values,” Mullah Habibullah, an Afghan national, died “after severe mistreatment” in CIA custody at something called the “Bagram Collection Point.” A U.S. military investigation “concluded that the use of stress positions and sleep deprivation combined with other mistreatment… caused, or were direct contributing factors in, his death.”

Two days after the secretary’s Santiago speech, a CIA case officer in the Salt Pit had Gul Rahma stripped naked and chained to a concrete floor without blankets.  Rahma froze to death.

And so the Open Society report goes… on and on and on.

Territorio Libre 

Rumsfeld left Santiago without firm commitments.  Some of the region’s militaries were tempted by the supposed opportunities offered by the secretary’s vision of fusing crime fighting into an ideological campaign against radical Islam, a unified war in which all was to be subordinated to U.S. command.  As political scientist Brian Loveman has noted, around the time of Rumsfeld’s Santiago visit, the head of the Argentine army picked up Washington’s latest set of themes, insisting that “defense must be treated as an integral matter,” without a false divide separating internal and external security.

But history was not on Rumsfeld’s side.  His trip to Santiago coincided with Argentina’s epic financial meltdown, among the worst in recorded history.  It signaled a broader collapse of the economic model — think of it as Reaganism on steroids — that Washington had been promoting in Latin America since the late Cold War years.  Soon, a new generation of leftists would be in power across much of the continent, committed to the idea of national sovereignty and limiting Washington’s influence in the region in a way that their predecessors hadn’t been.

Hugo Chávez was already president of Venezuela.  Just a month before Rumsfeld’s Santiago trip, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the presidency of Brazil. A few months later, in early 2003, Argentines elected Néstor Kirchner, who shortly thereafter ended his country’s joint military exercises with the U.S.  In the years that followed, the U.S. experienced one setback after another.  In 2008, for instance, Ecuador evicted the U.S. military from Manta Air Base.

In that same period, the Bush administration’s rush to invade Iraq, an act most Latin American countries opposed, helped squander whatever was left of the post-9/11 goodwill the U.S. had in the region.  Iraq seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of the continent’s new leaders: that what Rumsfeld was trying to peddle as an international “peacekeeping” force would be little more than a bid to use Latin American soldiers as Gurkhas in a revived unilateral imperial war.

Brazil’s “Smokescreen”

Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks show the degree to which Brazil rebuffed efforts to paint the region red on Washington’s new global gulag map.

A May 2005 U.S. State Department cable, for instance, reveals that Lula’s government refused “multiple requests” by Washington to take in released Guantánamo prisoners, particularly a group of about 15 Uighurs the U.S. had been holding since 2002, who could not be sent back to China.

“[Brazil’s] position regarding this issue has not changed since 2003 and will likely not change in the foreseeable future,” the cable said.  It went on to report that Lula’s government considered the whole system Washington had set up at Guantánamo (and around the world) to be a mockery of international law.  “All attempts to discuss this issue” with Brazilian officials, the cable concluded, “were flatly refused or accepted begrudgingly.”

In addition, Brazil refused to cooperate with the Bush administration’s efforts to create a Western Hemisphere-wide version of the Patriot Act.  It stonewalled, for example, about agreeing to revise its legal code in a way that would lower the standard of evidence needed to prove conspiracy, while widening the definition of what criminal conspiracy entailed.

Lula stalled for years on the initiative, but it seems that the State Department didn’t realize he was doing so until April 2008, when one of its diplomats wrote a memo calling Brazil’s supposed interest in reforming its legal code to suit Washington a “smokescreen.”  The Brazilian government, another Wikileaked cable complained, was afraid that a more expansive definition of terrorism would be used to target “members of what they consider to be legitimate social movements fighting for a more just society.” Apparently, there was no way to “write an anti-terrorism legislation that excludes the actions” of Lula’s left-wing social base.

One U.S. diplomat complained that this “mindset” — that is, a mindset that actually valued civil liberties  – “presents serious challenges to our efforts to enhance counterterrorism cooperation or promote passage of anti-terrorism legislation.”  In addition, the Brazilian government worried that the legislation would be used to go after Arab-Brazilians, of which there are many.  One can imagine that if Brazil and the rest of Latin America had signed up to participate in Washington’s rendition program, Open Society would have a lot more Middle Eastern-sounding names to add to its list.

Finally, cable after Wikileaked cable revealed that Brazil repeatedly brushed off efforts by Washington to isolate Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, which would have been a necessary step if the U.S. was going to marshal South America into its counterterrorism posse.

In February 2008, for example, U.S. ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobell met with Lula’s Minister of Defense Nelson Jobin to complain about Chávez.  Jobim told Sobell that Brazil shared his “concern about the possibility of Venezuela exporting instability.”  But instead of “isolating Venezuela,” which might only “lead to further posturing,” Jobim instead indicated that his government “supports [the] creation of a ‘South American Defense Council’ to bring Chavez into the mainstream.”

There was only one catch here: that South American Defense Council was Chávez’s idea in the first place!  It was part of his effort, in partnership with Lula, to create independent institutions parallel to those controlled by Washington.  The memo concluded with the U.S. ambassador noting how curious it was that Brazil would use Chavez’s “idea for defense cooperation” as part of a “supposed containment strategy” of Chávez.

Monkey-Wrenching the Perfect Machine of Perpetual War

Unable to put in place its post-9/11 counterterrorism framework in all of Latin America, the Bush administration retrenched.  It attempted instead to build a “perfect machine of perpetual war” in a corridor running from Colombia through Central America to Mexico.  The process of militarizing that more limited region, often under the guise of fighting “the drug wars,” has, if anything, escalated in the Obama years.  Central America has, in fact, become the only place Southcom — the Pentagon command that covers Central and South America — can operate more or less at will.  A look at this other map, put together by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, makes the region look like one big landing strip for U.S. drones and drug-interdiction flights.

Washington does continue to push and probe further south, trying yet again to establish a firmer military foothold in the region and rope it into what is now a less ideological and more technocratic crusade, but one still global in its aspirations.  U.S. military strategists, for instance, would very much like to have an airstrip in French Guyana or the part of Brazil that bulges out into the Atlantic.  The Pentagon would use it as a stepping stone to its increasing presence in Africa, coordinating the work of Southcom with the newest global command, Africom.

But for now, South America has thrown a monkey wrench into the machine.  Returning to that Washington Post map, it’s worth memorializing the simple fact that, in one part of the world, in this century at least, the sun never rose on US-choreographed torture.

© 2013 Greg Grandin
Greg Grandin

Greg Grandin teaches history at New York University and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His most recent book, Fordlandia, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history.

The Other 9/11 — Never Forget the Anniversary of U.S. Orchestrated Terror and Murder September 12, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Chile, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: the CIA support for and/or direct involvement in assassinations around the globe (and within the United States itself?) goes back many years; it didn’t begin with George Bush.  This article documents the United States government’s disgraceful history with respect to the overthrow of Allende and Pinochet bloodthirsty dictatorship  in Chile

opednews.com, September 11, 2012

(about the author)

 In 1973, the Government of Chile was working on creating a society that took care of its poor. That country had a government that actually tried to leave no child or adult for that matter, behind, unfed, unclothed or without a roof over his or her head.

However, this was unsatisfactory to the corporate-run Government of Richard M. Nixon and Henry Kissenger, who orchestrated a violently brutal but secret U.S. Military attack on the Salvador Allende Government and on innocent people and children who were only trying to live their lives in a way that would cause no harm to other human beings.   In the place of Allende, the U.S. Government installed Agusto Pinochet, a brutal dictator who was despised by the people of Chile.

 

In 1982,    Director Costa Gavras followed the investigation into the U.S. Government approved assassination of American reporters Frank Teruggi and Charlie Harman (who was officially murdered on 9/19) in “Missing,” the docudrama regarding the U.S.-orchestrated Chilean Coup.    If you want to learn about American foreign policy, watch this academy-award nominated movie, starring Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek and John Shea.    You can order the film through Amazon  or sometimes find it online.

Watching “Missing,”woke me up to what my government was doing elsewhere in the world.    I left the theater feeling like a slum-lord.    For those of us who are awake, it is hard to go back to sleep.    It gives us a clearer perspective when viewing current international events

When U.S. political and religious fanatical leaders comment about Bolivia or Venezuela, awake Americans usually view such comments with concern that our government will harm the well-meaning individuals in these nations as their democratically-elected leaders try to help these countries progress towards a better future for their people.    Is democracy really about destroying the democratic will of the people who don’t agree with corporate America?    Are those orchestrating these terrorist attacks against other nations in the Middle East and Latin America in actuality the real traitors and enemies of democracy?

While the cover-up continues regarding the U.S. involvement in Chile, look at this document from the National Security Archive.

http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20000919/

CIA Acknowledges Ties to Pinochet  ‘  s Repression Report to Congress Reveals U.S. Accountability in Chile

by Peter Kornbluh, Director, Chile  Documentation Project   September 19, 2000

After twenty-seven years of withholding details about covert activities following the 1973 military coup in Chile, the CIA released a report yesterday acknowledging its close relations with General Augusto Pinochet ‘ s violent regime. The report, ” CIA Activities in Chile, ” revealed for the first time that the head of the Chile ‘ s feared secret police, DINA, was a paid CIA asset in 1975, and that CIA contacts continued with him long after he dispatched his agents to Washington D.C. to assassinate former Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier and his 25-year old American associate, Ronni Karpen Moffitt.

     ” CIA actively supported the military Junta after the overthrow of Allende, ”  the report states.  ” Many of Pinochet ‘ s officers were involved in systematic and widespread human rights abuses….Some of these were contacts or agents of the CIA or US military. ”

Among the report ‘ s other major revelations:

Within a year of the coup, the CIA was aware of bilateral arrangements between the Pinochet regime and other Southern Cone intelligence services to track and kill opponents ‘  arrangements that developed into Operation Condor.

The CIA made Gen. Manuel Contreras, head of DINA, a paid asset only several months after concluding that he  ” was the principal obstacle to a reasonable human rights policy within the Junta. ”  After the assassination of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt in Washington D.C., the CIA continued to work with Contreras even as  ” his possible role in the Letelier assassination became an issue. ” 

The CIA made a payment of $35,000 to a group of coup plotters in Chile after that group had murdered the Chilean commander-in-chief, Gen. Rene Schneider in October 1970 ‘  a fact that was apparently withheld in 1975 from the special Senate Committee investigating CIA involvement in assassinations. The report says the payment was made  ” in an effort to keep the prior contact secret, maintain the good will of the group, and for humanitarian reasons. ” 

The CIA has an October 25, 1973 intelligence report on Gen. Arellano Stark, Pinochet ‘ s right-hand man after the coup, showing that Stark ordered the murders of 21 political prisoners during the now infamous  ” Caravan of Death. ”  This document is likely to be relevant to the ongoing prosecution of General Pinochet, who is facing trial for the disappearances of 14 prisoners at the hands of Gen. Stark ‘ s military death squad.

    According to Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archive ‘ sChile Documentation Project, the CIA report  ” represents a major step toward ending the 27-year cover-up of Washington ‘ s covert ties to    “Pinochet ‘ s brutal dictatorship. ”  Kornbluh called on the CIA  ” to take the next step by declassifying all the documents used in the report, including the full declassification of the CIA ‘ s first intelligence report on the Letelier assassination, dated October 6, 1976. ”

    The CIA ‘ s Directorate of Operations is currently blocking the release of hundreds of secret records covering the history of U.S. covert intervention in Chile between 1962 and 1975.     The CIA issued     ” CIA Activities in Chile ”  pursuant to the Hinchey amendment in the 2000 Intelligence Authorization Act–a clause inserted in last year ‘ s legislation by New York Representative Maurice Hinchey calling on the CIA to provide Congress with a full report on its covert action in Chile at the time of the coup, and its relations to General Pinochet ‘ s regime.

    The National Security Archive applauded Hinchey ‘ s effort to press for the disclosure of this history and commended the CIA for a substantive response to the law.  ” This is a sordid and shameful story, ”  Kornbluh said,  ” but a story that must be told. ”

So while we look at other events of that date, remember all those who lost their lives in Chile for the sake of American capitalism on September 11, 1973.

The author is the chairman of a liberal Democratic organization that is working to move the country towards its true base, the people.  She has organized major human rights events and worked with some of the most liberal leaders in America.  Her (more…)
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author   and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Keeping “Secrets and Lies” on Argentina’s Past May 24, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Published on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

For a relatively slight margin, the US Congress rejected an amendment by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D) to declassify files on Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship. The refusal to declassify files on Argentina is likely to have momentous consequences on the fate of hundreds of babies stolen or “disappeared” during those years. Many of those babies were born in clandestine torture centers, while others were adopted or given in adoption by the same members of the military or police personnel responsible for their parents’ disappearance.

It is not altogether clear whose interests are sought to be protected, but one can hardly imagine that national security, or the work of US spies fighting Al Qaeda, as suggested by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R), may be put in jeopardy by keeping these files in secret. It is not even clear whether President Cristina Kirchner’s administration is interested in having these files in the open. However, if an official request from the Argentine government were submitted, the U.S. government would be hard pressed, as a matter of international comity, not to reveal at least a redacted text of those files.

Aside from governmental interests and politicians’ desires to keep secrets, what is at stake are human lives, victims, and the administration of justice. In 1999, during the Clinton administration, Rep. Hinchey presented a similar amendment for declassifying documents related to General Augusto Pinochet’s administration.  Declassification resulted in the publication of 24,000 documents that proved to be crucial in the prosecution of crimes committed during the Chilean dictatorship.  It provided clear evidence of Pinochet’s connections to the 1976 assassination, in Washington, D.C., of Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier, along with his secretary Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Also disclosed was Pinochet secret police’s plans to assassinate former Chilean president Patricio Aylwin, the presidential candidate of the coalition that ultimately defeated General Pinochet in 1988.

In December of 2009,  President  Obama signed an executive order entitled “Classified National Security Information”, stating:  “I expect that the order will produce measurable progress towards greater openness and transparency in the Government’s classification and declassification programs while protecting the Government’s legitimate interests, and I will closely monitor the results.” Failure to disclose information on Argentina’s brutal reign of terror cannot be in the interest of the U.S. Government and, to the extent that it may in the interest of some members of the Argentine Government, it is unlikely that those interests may qualify as “legitimate”.

Both the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo and the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo have been searching for decades for their disappeared children and grandchildren. This decision by the U.S. Congress only adds to their difficulties in finding their loved ones. As Representative Hinchey stated, “The United States can play a vital role in lifting the veil of secrecy that has shrouded the terrible human rights abuses of the despotic military regime that ruled Argentina.”  It is about time.

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César Chelala

César Chelala, MD, PhD, is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award. He is also the foreign correspondent for Middle East Times International (Australia).

Alejandro Garro

Alejandro M. Garro teaches Comparative Law at Columbia Law School and sits at advisory board of Human Rights Watch/Americas, the Center for Justice and International Law, and the Due Process of Law Foundation.

Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón on Holding Torturers Accountable, Why He Opposes the Killing of Osama bin Laden, and His Threatened Ouster from the Bench May 12, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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www.democracynow.org, May 12, 2011

Garzon_button

Citing the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón has used the Spanish courts to investigate cases of torture, war crimes and other offenses around the world. In 1998, he ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a move that led to Pinochet’s arrest and detention in Britain. In 2003, Garzón indicted Osama bin Laden and dozens of other members of al-Qaeda. Garzón later attempted to indict six high-ranking members of the Bush administration for their role in authorizing torture at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay and overseas, before the case was eventually dropped under U.S. pressure. While Garzón has long been one of the world’s most feared judges, he is now facing his own legal battle. Last year he was indicted for exceeding his authority for launching an investigation into the disappearance of more than 100,000 civilians at the hands of supporters of Gen. Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Garzón was suspended as a judge in May 2010 and is facing three separate trials.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re joined now by the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, perhaps one of the world’s most famous judges. Citing the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, Garzón has used the Spanish courts to investigate cases of torture, war crimes and other offenses around the world.

In 1998, he ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a move that had led to Pinochet’s arrest and detention in Britain for 18 months.

In 2003, Garzón indicted Osama bin Laden and dozens of other members of al-Qaeda. The indictment led to Europe’s biggest trial of alleged al-Qaeda operatives. Eighteen were eventually found guilty.

Garzón also led the case against Argentine ex-naval officer Adolfo Scilingo for crimes committed during Argentina’s Dirty War. Scilingo is now serving a 640-year sentence.

Garzón attempted to indict six high-ranking members of the Bush administration, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, for their role in authorizing torture at Guantánamo and overseas. The case was eventually dropped. We now know, thanks to WikiLeaks, that the Bush administration privately pressured the Spanish government to drop the prosecution.

AMY GOODMAN: While Judge Garzón has long been one of the world’s most feared judges, he is now facing his own legal battle. Thirteen months ago, he was indicted for exceeding his authority for launching an investigation into the disappearance of more than 100,000 Spanish civilians at the hands of supporters of General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Garzón was suspended as a judge in May 2010 and is facing three separate trials.

The attack on Garzón has been widely criticized by human rights defenders. Lotte Leicht of Human Rights Watch said, quote, “Garzón sought justice for victims of human rights abuses abroad and now he’s being punished for trying to do the same at home. The decision leaves Spain and Europe open to the charge of double standard.”

Judge Baltasar Garzón is here in New York this week to receive the first Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives/Puffin Foundation Award for Human Rights Activism. He flew in from Spain last night, joins us in the studio today.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: Good Morning. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: And thank you to Tony Geist for translating.

Judge Garzón, let’s start with the latest news: the assassination of Osama bin Laden. You have condemned this. Why?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] Any person who leads a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda is obviously a target. Under the rule of law, justice should be sought by legal means. According to the information we have, he could well have been arrested and brought to trial for his crimes.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet he was assassinated. Talk about the example you believe this sets.

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] According to international law, the murder or the assassination of bin Laden was not the appropriate solution. Clearly, from the information we have, it’s an undefined situation, given the state of conflict between the United States and al-Qaeda.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I wanted to ask you about the case, particular case, that you have been now indicted for, specifically overreaching your authority, supposedly, in terms of the investigation into the civilian deaths under the Franco regime. You prosecuted similar cases, where amnesties had been declared, in Argentina and Chile, and your government had no problem with that. But now, when you challenge the amnesty that was supposedly granted to the perpetrators of the Franco atrocities, suddenly the government has problems with your methods?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: Yeah. [translated] This is the paradox and the irony of a situation in which Spain has been a pioneer in the application of universal jurisdiction. Yet, when it actually comes to investigating the case and the facts of the case in Spain, the country denies access to the facts and puts the judge himself on trial. It is the obligation of a judge to investigate the cases and to search for truth, justice and reparation for the victims of these crimes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of the particular powers of a judge in Spain that may differ from what we here in the United States understand as a judge’s power, that the judges in Spain have both a sort of prosecutorial as well as a judgment aspect to their responsibilities, could you explain that?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: Yes. [translated] Judges in Spain are a combination of prosecutor, investigator and judge.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the WikiLeaks revelations. In Spain, there’s a lot of attention, of the documents, the U.S. government cables that have come out, about U.S. interference with the judiciary in Spain. One of the WikiLeaks cables was signed by Edward Aguirre, who is the—President Bush’s ambassador to Spain, who met with you. And he was concerned about a number of issues, and the U.S. has been concerned about the case in which—you opened against six former Bush administration officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, for torture at Guantánamo. Explain this case and why it has now been dropped.

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] In Spain, opened two procedures against—in the Guantánamo case: a general case against—regarding those six people and another specific case in four cases of torture. They were each in separate courts. The case of the four specific cases of torture is in his court, and it’s gone forward, although without specific indictments against particular individuals. Under the principle of universal jurisdiction, they have requested that the United States answer whether they are following up, investigating that case, or not. And if not, we’ll take it to the next step. It’s quite clear that they’re crimes against humanity, cases of torture, and therefore the government is obliged, under universal jurisdiction, to investigate them.

AMY GOODMAN: The ambassador in the document, in the WikiLeaks cable, said you have an anti-American streak. Your response?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: No, you know, no, I don’t. Enemy against the United States, no. I think that is the justice, only justice, as the torture is a universal crime, is necessary to investigate. Only this.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you about—to go back to the case of the Franco era. The New York Times, in an editorial in support of you, said recently, “The real crime[s] in this case are the disappearances, not Mr. Garzón’s investigation. If, as seems likely, these were crimes against humanity under international law, Spain’s 1977 amnesty could not legally absolve them.” Interestingly, the charges were brought against you initially by right-wing, pro-Franco groups in the country. So, in essence, some claim that the only one to be prosecuted for the crimes of the Franco era are the judge that has tried to investigate the cases. Could you—for Americans who are not familiar with what happened during the Franco era, could you talk a little bit about that?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] The paradox again is that the government refuses to investigate the crimes against humanity and at the same time is prosecuting the judge who wants to uncover them. There were between 150,000 and 200,000 people disappeared under the Franco regime, as part of the civil population. It’s still not known where the victims lie buried. It’s a permanent crime, and therefore it cannot be absolved by an amnesty law.

AMY GOODMAN: Judge Baltasar Garzón, you have called for the exhumation of 19 unmarked graves, among them the one believed to contain the remains of the great poet, Federico García Lorca. Why?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] He ordered specifically the opening, the exhumation of Lorca’s grave, because it was requested by the families of the other people who apparently are buried with him. And the request was made specifically to the judge of Granada, the area where the burial is.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you hope to find?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] So, the process is paralyzed right now because the judge of the location where Lorca is buried is one of those who objected and brought the case against Garzón. And the Supreme Court has suspended his decision to exhume the grave.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re going to go to break, but when we come back, we want to talk to Judge Baltasar Garzón about what this means that he now has been indicted, he has been suspended, he can’t practice law right now in Spain, what it means for all of these cases. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Víctor Jara. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. Víctor Jara, the great Chilean singer who was killed when the Augusto Pinochet forces rose to power and Allended died in the palace, September 11th, another September 11th, remarkably enough, 1973, who died among so many thousands of Chileans. It’s our guest today, Judge Baltasar Garzón, who first held Augusto Pinochet accountable, after his 17 years of brutal rule in Chile. When Augusto Pinochet went to Britain in the late ’90s for a doctor’s appointment, Judge Baltasar Garzón, from Spain, had him indicted. And it was because of that indictment that Augusto Pinochet was held in Britain for a year, until eventually allowed to go home.

Now Baltasar Garzón, Judge Garzón, faces his own trial, as he has been taken off the bench after crusading on many different issues, including the indictment of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda operatives in 2003.

I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Judge Garzón, I’d like to ask you about another case that you were involved with, which was the investigation of the “dirty war” that occurred against Basque separatists under a Socialist government, the government of Felipe Gonzalez, in Spain. And you—many say that you were responsible for the fall of that government as a result of what you uncovered. Could you talk about what you found? And interestingly now, Felipe Gonzalez is supporting you and saying that what is happening to you is unjust.

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] I would never be responsible for an electoral loss that is due to the citizens who voted. What I did was simply investigate accusations of persecution against people accused of terrorism. The state of law is equal for all people. It cannot depend on electoral politics. A number of highly placed officials in the Socialist party, ruling party, government were accused and found guilty and removed. I believe that the democracy and the rule of law was strengthened by this action.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Chile. The family of the former Chilean president, Salvador Allende, asked last month for his body to be exhumed to help determine the cause of his 1973 death. President Allende was overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup, September 11th, 1973. The official cause of death on that day in the palace was listed as suicide, but it’s long been speculated he was assassinated by the forces of General Augusto Pinochet. Allende’s daughter, Isabel Allende, spoke to the media.

ISABEL ALLENDE: [translated] We requested the exhumation and autopsy. I think it’s the most rigorous and definitive proof to clear up the causes of his death, and we think this is going to be tremendously important.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the daughter of Salvador Allende, Isabel Allende, not to be confused with the great writer who is his niece. What do you say about the calling for the exhumation and the investigation of whether this was assassination or whether he took his own life as the Augusto Pinochet forces moved into the palace?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] In the first instance, they investigated the criminal actions of those who rose up against a democratically elected government. The actual cause of death is less important than recognizing the fact that this was an illegal action, a coup against a legally elected government. And for those crimes, Pinochet was investigated and indicted in London.

AMY GOODMAN: So where do you stand right now, Judge Garzón? You’ve been suspended. You face trial. You face prison for many years.

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: I am provisionally suspended in my function, jurisdictional function. But I hope the trial against me, that we will, in the next month, I think—but it’s very complicated for me, my actual situation, because I cannot to investigate, to work in Spain. But I work right now in La Haya, in the International Criminal Court, with the prosecutor. But it’s not my destination. I hope the resolution, it will be proximally.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Some of your—you have many people who are passionately supporters of yours, as well as very strong critics, including among your colleagues on the bench. Several major judges in Spain have accused you of basically being a media personality trying to grab attention and really overstepping your responsibilities as a judge. How do you answer those in the judicial community who have criticized you in the past?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] What’s most important are the cases in which I have participated. Any judge who had done what I did would be well known. That’s not, in principle, a bad thing. What’s wrong is to impede those investigations and that the victims should not be aided. It’s true that my personality gives an additional passion to it. But that should be appropriate for any judge. All I’ve done is my job, and I intend to continue doing it. And I’m not especially worried about the criticism that comes from the bench.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And even if you’re absolved of the charges, do you think you will be able to continue to function as a judge in Spain?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] It’s possible that I could continue, but right now I’m involved in a very interesting project in Colombia. For a certain amount of time, I’m going to be working with the OAS in Colombia on furthering the peace process and mediating, to work on a means of transitional justice.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In terms of having—achieving a peace between the FARC and the government?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] To be able to mobilize and put into practice the law which came after the demobilization, so cases can go to trial and victims can receive justice.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to, as we wrap up, talk again about universal jurisdiction, what this means, using the Spanish courts to hold tyrants accountable, wherever they may be. The Spanish government is now curtailing this, saying they don’t want to use universal jurisdiction. You have been a crusader for this. Lawyers around the world have looked at what you’re doing, seeing if it’s possible in their own countries. Yet your own government is cracking down on this. Will you be able, if you are cleared of all the charges and can go back to work, to continue to hold international torturers, tyrants, accountable?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] Yes, indeed. Not just me, but any judge should be able to and will be able to do so. No government in the world is easy with the application of the principle of universal jurisdiction. It’s a mistake. I believe it’s a mistake, because the principle of universal jurisdiction allows the fight against impunity to move forward. It’s the final scenario when the country itself is not willing to investigate these crimes, any government.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Were you surprised by some of the WikiLeaks revelations that indicated an extraordinary degree of pressure by the United States government on the judiciary and the government of Spain on cases affecting the United States?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] Yes, it did surprise me. Those who are susceptible to being pressured will be pressured. And if not, the pressure is meaningless. In this case, the justice system in Spain, specifically in regard to Guantánamo, steadfast, stood fast.

AMY GOODMAN: We have just 10 seconds. Short answer. Your assessment of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

JUDGE BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] The war in Iraq was an unjust and illegal war. And the war in Afghanistan, which has been conducted properly until now, there are many other things that still need to be revealed.

AMY GOODMAN: Judge Baltasar Garzón, thank you so much for being with us.

Chile’s Social Earthquake March 9, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Chile, Latin America.
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Published on Tuesday, March 9, 2010 by CommonDreams.orgby Roger Burbach

Chile is experiencing a social earthquake in the aftermath of the 8.8 magnitude quake that struck the country on February 27. “The fault lines of the Chilean Economic Miracle have been exposed,” says Elias Padilla, an anthropology professor at the Academic University of Christian Humanism in Santiago. “The free market, neo-liberal economic model that Chile has followed since the Pinochet dictatorship has feet of mud.”

 Chile is one of the most inequitable societies in the world. Today, 14 percent of the population lives in abject poverty. The top 20 percent captures 50 percent of the national income, while the bottom 20 percent earns only 5 percent. In a 2005 World Bank survey of 124 countries, Chile ranked twelfth in the list of countries with the worst distribution of income.

The rampant ideology of the free market has produced a deep sense of alienation among much of the population. Although a coalition of center left parties replaced the Pinochet regime twenty years ago, it opted to depoliticize the country, to rule from the top down, allowing controlled elections every few years, shunting aside the popular organizations and social movements that had brought down the dictatorship. 

This explains the scenes of looting and social chaos in the southern part of the country that were transmitted round the world on the third day after the earthquake. In Concepcion, Chile’s second largest city, which was virtually leveled by the earthquake, the population received absolutely no assistance from the central government for two days. The chain supermarkets and malls that had come to replace the local stores and shops over the years remained firmly shuttered.  

Settling Accounts

Popular frustration exploded as mobs descended on the commercial center, carting off everything, not just food from the supermarkets but also shoes, clothing, plasma TVs, and cell phones. This wasn’t simple looting, but the settling accounts with an economic system that dictates that only possessions and commodities matter. The “gente decente” the decent people and the big media began referring to them as lumpen, vandals and delinquents. “The greater the social inequities, the greater the delinquency,” explains Hugo Fruhling of the Center for the Study of Citizen Security at the University of Chile. 

In the two days leading up to the riots, the government of Michele Bachelet revealed its incapacity to understand and deal with the human tragedy wrecked on the country. Many of the ministers were gone on summer vacation or licking their wounds as they prepared to turn over their offices to the incoming right wing government of billionaire Sebastian Piñera, who will be sworn in this Thursday. Bachelet declared that the country’s needs had to be studied and surveyed before any assistance could be sent. On Saturday morning the day of the quake, she ordered the military to place a helicopter at her disposal to fly over Concepcion to assess the damage. As of Sunday morning, no helicopter had appeared and the trip was abandoned. 

As an anonymous Carlos L. wrote in an email widely circulated in Chile: “It would be very difficult in the history of the country to find a government with so many powerful resources-technological, economic, political, organizational-that has been unable to provide any response to the urgent social demands of entire regions gripped by fear, needs of shelter, water, food and hope.” 

What arrived in Concepcion on Monday was not relief or assistance, but several thousand soldiers and police transported in trucks and planes, as people were ordered to stay in their homes. Pitched battles were fought in the streets of Concepcion as buildings were set afire. Other citizens took up arms to protect their homes and barrios as the city appeared to be on the brink of an urban war. On Tuesday relief assistance finally began to arrive in quantity, along with more troops and the militarization of the southern region. 

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on part of a Latin American tour that was scheduled before the quake, flew into Santiago on Tuesday to meet with Bachelet and Piñera. She brought 20 satellite phones and a technician on her plane, saying one of the “biggest problems has been communications as we found in Haiti in those days after the quake.” It went unsaid that just as inChile, the US sent in the military to take control of Porte au Prince before any significant relief assistance was distributed. 

Milton Friedman’s Legacy

The Wall Street Journal joined in the fray to uphold the neoliberal model, running an article by Bret Stephens, “How Milton Friedman Saved Chile.” He asserted that Friedman’s “spirit was surely hovering protectively over Chile in the early morning hours of Saturday. Thanks largely to him, the country has endured a tragedy that elsewhere would have been an apocalypse.”  He went on to declare, “it’s not by chance that Chilean’s were living in houses of brick-and Haitians in houses of straw-when the wolf arrived to try to blow them down.” Chile had adopted “some of the world strictest building codes,” as the economy boomed due to Pinochet’s appointment of Friedman-trained economists to cabinet ministries and the subsequent civilian government’s commitment to neoliberalism.  

There are two problems with this view. First, as Naomi Klein points out in “Chile’s Socialist Rebar” on the Huffington Post, it was the socialist government of Salvador Allende in 1972 that established the first earthquake building codes. They were later strengthened, not by Pinochet, but by the restored civilian government in the 1990′s. 

Secondly as CIPER, the Center of Journalistic Investigation and Information reported on March 6, greater Santiago has twenty-three residential complexes and high rises built over the last fifteen years that suffered severe quake damage. Building codes had been skirted, and “the responsibility of the construction and real estate enterprises is now the subject of public debate.” In the country at large, two million people out of a population of seventeen million are homeless. Most of the houses destroyed by the earthquake were built of adobe or other improvised materials, many in the shanty towns that have sprung up to provide a cheap, informal work force for the country’s big businesses and industries. 

There is little hope that the incoming government of Sebastian Piñera will rectify the social inequities that the quake exposed. The richest person in Chile, he and several of his advisers and ministers are implicated as major shareholders in construction projects that were severely damaged by the quake because building codes were ignored. Having campaigned on a platform of bringing security to the cities and moving against vandalism and crime, he criticized Bachelet’s for not deploying the military sooner in the aftermath of the earthquake.  

Signs of Resistance

There are signs that the historic Chile of popular organizations and grass roots mobilizing may be reawakening. A coalition of over sixty social and nongovernmental organizations released a letter stating: “In these dramatic circumstances, organized citizens have proven capable of providing urgent, rapid and creative responses to the social crisis that millions of families are experiencing. The most diverse organizations–neighborhood associations, housing and homeless committees, trade unions, university federations and student centers, cultural organizations, environmental groups-are mobilizing, demonstrating the imaginative potential and solidarity of communities.” The declaration concluded by demanding of the Piñera government the right to “monitor the plans and models of reconstruction so that they include the full participation of the communities.”*

*See Asociacion Chilena de ONGs Accion, La Ciudadania, Protagonista de la Reconstruccion del Pais. March 7, 2010, Published in Clarin, http://www.elclarin.cl/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=20384&Itemid=48

Roger Burbach lived in Chile during the Allende years. He is author of The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice (Zed Books) and director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) based in Berkeley, CA

The Other 9/11 Returns to Haunt Latin America July 3, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Chile, Honduras, Latin America.
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Published on Friday, July 3, 2009 by The Independent/UK

It was inevitable that the people at the top would fight to preserve their privileges

by Johann Hari

The ghost of the other, deadlier 9/11 has returned to stalk Latin America. On Sunday morning, a battalion of soldiers rammed their way into the Presidential Palace in Honduras. They surrounded the bed where the democratically elected President, Manuel Zelaya, was sleeping, and jabbed their machine guns to his chest. They ordered him to get up and marched him on to a military plane. They dumped him in his pyjamas on a landing strip in Costa Rica and told him never to return to the country that freely chose him as their head of state.

Back home, the generals locked down the phone networks, the internet and international TV channels, and announced their people were in charge now. Only sweet, empty music plays on the radio. Government ministers have been arrested and beaten. If you leave your home after 9pm, the population have been told, you risk being shot. Tanks and tear gas are ranged against the protesters who have thronged on to the streets.

For the people of Latin America, this is a replay of their September 11. On that day in Chile in 1973, Salvador Allende – a peaceful democratic socialist who was steadily redistributing wealth to the poor majority – was bombed from office and forced to commit suicide. He was replaced by a self-described “fascist”, General Augusto Pinochet, who went on to “disappear” tens of thousands of innocent people. The coup was plotted in Washington DC, by Henry Kissinger.

The official excuse for killing Chilean democracy was that Allende was a “communist”. He was not. In fact, he was killed because he was threatening the interests of US and Chilean mega-corporations by shifting the country’s wealth and land from them to its own people. When Salvador Allende’s widow died last week, she seemed like a symbol from another age – and then, a few days later, the coup came back.

Honduras is a small country in Central America with only seven million inhabitants, but it has embarked on a programme of growing democracy of its own. In 2005, Zelaya ran promising to help the country’s poor majority – and he kept his word. He increased the minimum wage by 60 per cent, saying sweatshops were no longer acceptable and “the rich must pay their share”.

The tiny elite at the top – who own 45 per cent of the country’s wealth – are horrified. They are used to having Honduras run by them, for them.

But this wave of redistributing wealth to the population is washing over Latin America. In the barrios and favelas, I have seen how shanty towns made out of mud and rusted tin now have doctors and teachers and subsidised supermarkets for the first time, because they elected leaders who have turned the spigot of oil money in their direction. In Venezuela, for example, the poorest half of the country has seen its incomes soar by 130 per cent after inflation since they chose Hugo Chavez as their President, according to studies cited by the Nobel Prize-winning US economist Joseph Stiglitz. Infant mortality has plummeted.

No wonder so many Latin American countries are inspired by this example: the notion that Chavez has to “bribe” or “brainwash” people like Zelaya is bizarre.

It was always inevitable that the people at the top would fight back to preserve their unearned privilege. In 2002, the Venezuelan oligarchy conspired with the Bush administration in the kidnapping of Hugo Chavez. It was only a massive democratic uprising of the people that forced his return. Now they have tried the same in Honduras.

Yet the military-business nexus have invented a propaganda-excuse that is being eagerly repeated by dupes across the Western world. The generals claim they have toppled the democratically elected leader and arrested his ministers to save democracy.

Here’s how it happened. Honduras has a constitution that was drawn up in 1982, by the oligarchy, under supervision from the outgoing military dictatorship. It states that the President can only serve only one term, while the military remains permanent and “independent” – in order to ensure they remain the real power in the land.

Zelaya believed this was a block on democracy, and proposed a referendum to see if the people wanted to elect a constituent assembly to draw up a new constitution. It could curtail the power of the military, and perhaps allow the President to run for re-election. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that it is unconstitutional to hold a binding referendum within a year of a presidential election. So Zelaya proposed holding a non-binding referendum instead, just to gauge public opinion. This was perfectly legal. The military – terrified of the verdict of the people – then marched in with their guns.

But there has been progress since the days of 1973, or even 2002. The coups against Allende and Chavez were eagerly backed by the CIA and White House. But this time, Barack Obama has said: “We believe the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the President of Honduras.” He called the coup “a terrible precedent”.

His reaction hasn’t been perfect: unlike France and Spain, he hasn’t withdrawn the US Ambassador yet. He supports the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which are vast brakes on Latin American democracy, and he bad-mouths Chavez while arming the genuinely abusive Colombian government. But it is a vast improvement on Bush and McCain, who would have been mistily chorusing “We are all Honduran Generals now”.

The ugliest face of the Latin American oligarchy is now standing alone against the world, showing its contempt for democracy and for its own people. They are fighting to preserve the old continent where all the wealth goes to them at the end of a machine gun. I have seen the price for this: I have lived in the rubbish dumps of the continent, filled with dark-skinned scavenging children, while a few miles away there are suburbs that look like Beverly Hills.

This weekend, Zelaya will return to the country that elected him, flanked by the presidents of Argentina and the Organisation of American States, to take his rightful place. Whether he succeeds or fails will tell us if the children of the rubbish dumps have reason to hope – and whether the smoke from the deadliest 9/11 has finally cleared.

© 2009 The Independent

Johann Hari is a columnist for the London Independent. He has reported from Iraq, Israel/Palestine, the Congo, the Central African Republic, Venezuela, Peru and the US, and his journalism has appeared in publications all over the world. 

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