Category Archives: El Salvador

Shifting Baselines in a Time of Climate Change, Systems Stagnation, Life and Death in a Time of Amnesia

Both of my parents were assassinated by death squads in our country. My siblings and I fled because we were afraid. We entered the U.S illegally. We crossed the river, and once inside the U.S., we applied for asylum. We were among the very few who were granted asylum. In 1988 I graduated from Bowie and studied at UTEP, receiving a bachelor’s of science.

— Former refugee at a press conference in El Paso, at Annunciation House

I once volunteered at Annunciation House, in El Paso, during the 1980s. I was chipping away at my graduate degree in English, teaching as a TA at UT-El Paso, as well as working freelance writing gigs with both the morning and evening newspapers, teaching one-on-one conversational English to an engineer in Juarez (who was working for Packard Electric getting paid one-tenth the pay as his fellow Yankees), writing a couple of books, and being active in environmental and social justice issues tied to protesting the militarization of the border and the overuse of the Rio Grande as a toxic slough and drawing down of the Hueco Basin aquifer for golf courses. Heck, in El Paso during this time I even worked for Planned Parenthood helping write a media plan against a mean son-of-a-bitch who called himself a Jew for Christ who set upon the clinic (no abortions done there) mean as cuss religious zealots who tried to block women and families from seeking STD services and such.

Ruben Garcia started the House in the late 1970s and by the time I got there, at Casa Anunciación, the dirty wars in Central America were really ramped up against teachers, unionists, activists, politicals on the left, priests, nuns and anyone questioning the right wing policies of US-backed governments and the thug henchmen of those administrations, the death squads in Guatemala, Honduras, and Salvador, and the contras in Nicaragua. Part of the fallout created by those US-trained militarists, economists and lawyers who perpetrated that harm against their own people was that many small towns and villages – regular people of the land, la tierra – were being caught in the crossfire.

Entire villages were told in the morning by the fascists to pack up and head out of their pueblitos by sundown. Many girls, women and old ladies were raped and murdered. Beheadings of husbands and grandfathers, fetuses cut out of bellies, and torture of anyone who was suspected of going against Death Squad Capitalism were the order of the day.

As far as media coverage goes: My baseline was different than that of twenty-somethings today. When I was in my mid-twenties, in El Paso and working along the border, there were much more robust forms of journalism and ground-truthing reporting going on than anyone today in their twenties could image.

The baseline was a more open, aggressive Press willing to pull away more of the onion layers to get to the truth. Really, many editors and most of the newspaper journalists had no issue with peering through the looking glass to uncover truth, and their motto was that governments do and will tell lies. Now comparing the number of print newspapers, dailies, and weeklies and monthlies, even magazines and broadsheets, newsletters, and the like that were inking up paper in my time, and then looking at the Press now, going on 38 years of study and my own battles as a writer, anyone young can never really know what has been lost in this impetus of the Press then who were striving for independence, in a good way.

It’s the old saws of not having their own boots on the ground then, not having an authentic real point of view because they never lived and worked then, what is termed liberally by me as the shifting baseline syndrome.

I’m talking about small-town journalism, medium-sized market news, and quirky and unique monthlies. While the so-called liberal media (SCLM) was not liberal at all, what was happening in newsrooms and with editorial boards, for the most part, in the 1970s and Eighties was, compared to today, more nurturing to truth tellers, with a truer sense of why journalism’s ethical code points us to looking at as many sides as possible to weigh in on editorial decision-making. Sort of akin to what a lot of people use as a baseline for liberal (sic) versus conservative, comparing today’s neoliberal democrats, for instance, to someone like Barbara Jordan, or looking at Crypo-AngloZionist Republicans such as Ted Cruz today to so-deemed Rockefeller Republicans of old. When I was born, 1957, the Republican Party’s platform was much more progressive and populist than that of the Pelosi-Schumer Party of the millionaires (or billionaires when looking at proverbial Dem Billionaire Michael Bloomberg). Get a load of this, 62 years ago:

Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things, but their number is negligible and”–and the president says–“their number is negligible and they are stupid.

— Dwight Eisenhower, Republican President

The platform for 1956 under the banner of the Republican Party included fighting for workers, the right to form a union, for health and safety measures at workplaces, for a strengthened eight-hour work, for social welfare programs for individual citizens to be strengthened, and more and more positive programs along the lines of today’s milquetoast progressives. Ike was backed by the Republican Party, and it was Eisenhower who fought to keep the tax rate for the very rich fair, which in today’s baseline would be considered way too high and communist!  For instance, the top income tax bracket in the 1950’s was 91%. And, Eisenhower fought tooth and nail to ensure that it remained at that rate.

Can you imagine Bernie Sanders or Obama or Clinton backing this? Forget the neocons, the professors of the Chicago School of Predatory and Culture-Destroying (brainwashing) Capitalism even wanting any tax rate other than zero percent (0.00 %) for the rich, for the corporations, who are now persons with full rights of person-hood.

How many rich individuals and how many corporations pay no taxes today, and how many have tax shelters (“legit” mafia-style money-laundering outfits) overseas, in Cayman or Panama? We have winks and nods and complete red-faced debates and retorts against the accusation that the rich pay no taxes, or certainly not enough, with bald-faced defenses by tens of millions run-of-the-mill Americans who support their flavor of rich man/rich woman in America.

Imagine, rooting for millionaires and billionaires? By welfare recipients or middle-class soccer moms. What does George Lakoff call it, Narrative Frames? For decades this was considered unAmerican to support the rich over the poor!

That’s one difference I have experienced – when I was a teenager and college puke, most people hated the rich for what they were. Many average working class people looked at rich as sociopaths who were only rich because they exploited the average American citizen. Add to the baseline shift from today versus back then: my bosses at newspapers were not multimillionaires, and many more newspapers by a factor of 5 or 10 in the 1970s and 1980s were independent and competitive, compared to 2019.

Back then, the baseline was that many reporters were vying to get the scoop on real news stories. Truth and facts were a given; anything else rose to the level of pink slip offenses. That robust nature of things back then — even though for the most part, as a socialist and Marxist, I never did fit personally into any paradigm in a newsroom — was things that you’d never see printed today in the few small town newspapers left (there are hardly any left across America, anyway) were vigorously printed in many more newspapers back then. From Salon:

According to University of North Carolina’s research, the country has lost nearly 1,800 local newspapers since 2004, and many more have lost the ability to comprehensively cover their communities.

Rural counties with poorer, older populations are most at risk — 500 rural papers have shuttered since 2004. These communities are also less likely to see a digital start-up help fill the void — as funding for both for- and non-profit models are more available in metro areas, and many rural counties across the U.S. still lack broadband internet access, which is critical for delivering online news.

More than 200 counties in the U.S. have no local paper, but that’s just part of the story, or this new shifted baseline: Local ownership of papers is eroding big time. Get this — nearly one-third of U.S. newspapers and two-thirds of dailies are now owned by 25 companies. GateHouse Media is rapacious, buying up small-town papers. That means the news is controlled by Big Brother Being The Oligarchs, many times edited a thousand miles or more from the towns or counties that are supposedly being covered. Copy-editing and editorial decisions for GateHouse originate in Austin, Texas. It’s the number one small and medium newspaper owner in the USA, and its model of “efficiency” means many fewer reporters and a more insipid and irrelevant TV style content which is also replicated (shared) widely.

Murders, celebrities, food, weather (not global warming) pet tricks, celebrity food, celebrity weather, celebrity pet tricks, celebrity murders idiocy of the umpteenth degree.

I have a case in point: a massive militarized police presence was in Beaverton, Oregon, last April, resulting in closing the main road east-west, locking down schools and the Salvation Army facility I worked at as a social worker. There were civilian-clothed snipers with high powered rifles w/ higher powered scopes all over; dozens of multi-agency personnel out in public with pistols brandished, and two armored vehicles with gun turrets that rammed the offending ex-vet’s big pick-up truck.

He had just been evicted from the Salvation Army’s homeless veterans transition center for suspect reasons. The entire homeless facility was bombarded with SWAT-outfitted police thugs, and no one was allowed to enter or leave the facility, creating high levels of anxiety with already PTSD-addled veterans and their homeless families.

The veteran was shot seven times, after only a few hours of staged hostage negation-like stuff, even though he was alone, pinned in his own pickup truck. The Salvation Army leadership later said it was a coup for them (this bizarre religious organization) – “Thank goodness we controlled the story and very few media outlets picked it up. We want to protect our brand in Oregon . . . as the number one non-profit.”

Now, imagine if there had been one or two beat reporters, like myself in my teens and twenties, vying to find out what really happened and why so much force had been deployed for a suicidal veteran basically isolated in his pick-up who could do no harm to anyone but himself? My baseline would have been news coverage galore, and better yet, follow up coverage.

Today, nothing, not even in the Portland, Oregon media market that serves millions of residents. And this is the Salvation Army, funded by the US taxpayer; i.e., VA paying for beds for those veterans to be housed.

This is the shifting baseline syndrome, which is a sickness tied to outfits like the Salvation Army using PR flaks and using the fact there are no newspapers in Washington County to cover local news and this disturbing show of military force and what the implications of a military operation in their neighborhood might mean in the future. No less, against a veteran who was getting services from a well-known homeless center.

Local news, and then news that has national and international implications, lost. Not covered. In the memory hole!

Shifting baseline syndrome means the public gets shafted and the administrators and gatekeepers of information — PR and marketers and development officers – get to lie through their teeth, or in the case of my police-involved shooting incident (even that term is dripping with propagandist flavor), no one knew the ramifications of the Salvation Army’s unprofessionalism and lack of trauma informed care leading up to the soldier’s eviction and then the suicidal behavior and then the soldier almost killed, and now, recovering in County lock-up jail serving time.  And he’s still suicidal, untreated.

Job well done by the keepers of the information flow. Shifting baseline disease.

Read the three parts of my Salvation Army mess here, II  III.

In the 1980s, I had published pieces in small towns newspapers, and later in the El Paso Times and El Paso Herald-Post on Central American refugees, on people crossing the border seeking asylum, on groups, both religious and secular, helping undocumented people cross the border and get help once here and to apply for political asylum. Piece published on the front pages of many small town rags I worked for.

My baseline then was we still had morning and evening rags, and weeklies, that debated hard the military’s presence in towns like Tucson or El Paso. Debated hard the debasement of the environment through the unchecked developers razing the desert. Debated hard the values of community health, welfare, safety and well-being over the wants and desires of small and large companies coming into communities and demanding tax abatements, giveaway land schemes, and more-more-more from the public coffers to do their trickster capitalism to make more-more-more for the owners, CEOs and stockholders.

Now Democrats and Republican alike rah-rah cheer trillions in military spending. Job creation and Hollywood America the Greatest masturbation. –

I’m going back to Ike: In his final address to the country, in 1961, while still a five-star general, and still a believer in the American way, in American exceptionalism, in America’s greatness (both sides of the political isle yammer on and on to show their patriotism), he did at least put into check the US military industrial complex:

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.

Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.   —source

Now, I have to back up a bit to reset this essay: I continue today — just hitting 62 — to call this myopia and concerted erasure of knowledge and historical context (what Gore Vidal calls the United States of Amnesia) shifting baseline syndrome covering many aspects of my life, the life of America and the implications to the world that the US Empire negatively effects.

I explain this concept daily as I go about living and roaming, learning and teaching, struggling and rejoicing.

Here, illustratively: The baseline for divers like me, in the Sea of Cortes (called the Aquarium of the World by many then), for the 1970s and ’80s:

I was diving daily near San Carlos and Guaymas, out near Tiburon Island from the boat my buddy and I paid $500 from a lake fisherman from Phoenix. So, a typical dive – dozens of turtles of three or four species, dozens of moray eels of a dozen species; pinnipeds like sea lions by the hundreds; long beak and short beak dolphins by the dozens; hammerhead sharks by the dozen; over two hundred species of reef fish, crustaceans, and sponges and soft corals; brown pelicans by the hundreds; pelagic fish and groupers and barracuda and amazing surface fish, nudibranchs; and, well, in one hour dive, more than what any overpaid Avatar CGI technical wonk could create, let alone dream of.

That’s the baseline for an 18-year-old in 1975, me, a wanna be Jacques Cousteau and marine biology college major. Fast forward forty-four years, and the baseline of another Pablo diver, same age, well, now a decimated, overfished, multi-polluted ocean, with hardly a shadow of what I saw on typical dives in the 1970s.

The baseline shifted, and today, the syndrome, in the shifting baseline syndrome/disease analogy, would be the arrogance, historical stupidity, and hubris to believe that a healthy and normal reef dive is what it should be as experienced in 2019. The syndrome and disease of shifting baselines it that it is most likely even smart biologists might be working on staving off further decline in an ecosystem based on the present baseline. What you don’t see now normalizes one to see what they see now as the correct baseline to go by. Wrong.

Now transfer the shifting baseline syndrome/disease to almost every aspect of US society: no, the baseline for police involvement in our lives is not a Gestapo, shoot to kill first force, where we all are in fear, while witnessing pigs murder Latinos and African Americans with impunity. Judge, jury and executioner, no, is not the baseline we should be stuck with or happy with.

Baseline sickness now applied to what it means to be a student – my baseline was a university where faculty had freedom to teach, that more were on the tenure track, where students would be experimenting with ideas and learning, without fear of Goldman Sachs thugs hobbling them for life with $100 K debt or censuring like a Phil Knight of Nike fame or Monsanto do regularly to researchers.

Yes, the baseline in 1975 when I was coming of age was that we COULD protest in the streets without fear of felonies, without being sprayed upon with tear gas and rubber bullets at every event; where cops were in small numbers, and there were no drones and militarized SWAT teams for peace demonstrations.

Baseline was for 1975 one hell of a lot more book readers, more by a power of 10,000 regular thinkers, and more people who had newspapers in their hands and talked about local politics by a power of 1,000,000.

Shifting baseline syndrome is now infecting every sector of our lives, where what is acceptable thinking, behavior, standard operating procedures and collective will NOW are so bastardized, retrograded and devolved that the conversation about anything on any tract – food-medicine-science-arts-law-education-international politics-community standards-health-safety-welfare of the environment-ownership-birth and death-cradle to cradle planning — is an effort in alien talk, as if people today are from a completely new set of gravitaional laws.

Idiots call this the “new normal,” another shifting baseline of not only bastardizing language but Orwellizing it. War is Peace, Lies are Truth, Stupidity is Smarts. New normal!

Now, back to “we all are illegal aliens,” where I helped push that bumper sticker in El Paso as a solidarity protest meme, to illustrate that no American First Nations leaders came together to endorse the free passage of all those whites to use their great Turtle Island as a haul-out like a bunch of molting fur seals.

Here, my writing, 13 years ago, for Dissident Voice, just below. Talk about no shifting baseline for me, or in the case of this hatred of Mexicans and Central Americans, displayed by more than just Trump and his ilk.

Oh, once you hit 50 or 60, the ramifications of this French doozy really sink in:

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose — the more things change the more they stay the same –

It hearkens to the proverb, “Turbulent changes do not affect reality on a deeper level other than to cement the status quo.”

Related image

What is the Empire’s status quo when it comes to people displaced by American Empire structural and military and economic and environmental violence? April 7, 2006:

See the source image

This Land is Their Land, and We Are the Illegal Aliens

By Paul. K Haeder, April 7, 2006

We are all illegal aliens.” It’s a bumper sticker many of us on the frontlines of the fight against the United States’ government’s assault on Central Americans plastered on our car bumpers down El Paso way.

That was in the 1980s.

Image result for childrens drawings of murders in Central America by death squads

You know, when Reagan was running amok ordering his captains Ollie North, McFarland, Casper Weinberger, the whole lot of them, to send bombs, CIA-torture manuals and US agents in order to aid terrorist contras and other despotic sorts in killing hundreds of thousands of innocents in civil wars in Salvador and Guatemala and El Salvador.

We worked with women and children who had witnessed fathers, uncles and husbands eviscerated by US-backed military monsters.

Victims of torture, in Texas illegally. You know, what those brave Smith and Wesson-brandishing, chaise lounge Minutemen of today would call aliens.

We worked with people in faith-based communities, mainstream churches, and non-profits throughout El Paso, Juarez and the general area known as La Frontera. Everyone I met working with in this refugee assistance stint had humanitarian blood coursing through their veins. We were proud of our law-breaking work — we gave refuge to terrorized and sometimes half-dead civilians.

We were called lawbreakers by the Reaganites and the Minutemen of that time. Communists. Pinko-fags. Those were the good old days of low-tech surveillance and simple FBI lists.

But what we did was human and humane, in the tradition of that very universal (with roots in Quakerism) belief in bearing witness and acting upon that which has been judged as unjust and inhumane.

Of course, we were up against the laws of this land and coarse politically-driven judges who denied victim after victim permanent or temporary status while seeking asylum in the US.

We have so many stories of people sent back who were at best imprisoned, and in the worse cases, mutilated, disappeared, and murdered.

Guatemalan and Salvadorans, that is. My readers may not want to hear the narratives and visualize the descriptions of photos of those victims of torture. Ghastly things happened to teachers, nuns, medical workers and farmers, more heinous than what we’ve heard happened in the cells of Abu Ghraib.

We were there to assist, but more importantly to bear witness to our country’s terror campaign. Some of us got so riled up that later in our lives — me included — we hoofed it to Central America. Kicked around. Wrote articles for the few newspapers in this country that even cared about poor, misbegotten, displaced people of Latin America.

But no matter how hard-nosed we became, or how much we could withstand the photographs of women’s sliced backs and beheaded fetuses, we couldn’t shake the images of the children of torture at this two-story refugee house, Annunciation House. It was full of scruffy-looking East Coast volunteers who had hooked up with Ruben Garcia, the House’s director, through Catholic services organizations. It was their stint with public service, their spiritual duty calling. Part of their degree plans. But most were converted and slammed hard intellectually and spiritually by the violence their charges had suffered under in our name – as US citizens paying taxes.

Those PTSD-induced cartoons those children drew sucked the air out of even the hard-ass border patrol guys who used to “dump” the Central Americans at Ruben’s door at all hours of the night. Who can believe it now, that once upon a time official INS and border patrol officers knowingly let their perps go — knew that Ruben and his volunteers could salve emotional and physical wounds of these tortured crossers.

Their chance at freedom. Except for the piss-ant judges. And the memories of pregnant aunties being raped, their fetuses cut out alive, speared, and the laughing Reagan-loved military punks in the highlands and jungle.

Annunciation House was bulging at 100 people — disheveled lives jammed in. Beans always cooking. Songs. Mattresses and piles of donated clothes. Guitars strumming. Gueros, the white ones, and the Chicanos would help with in-takes — asylum transcripts, translation, dotting all the i’s and crossing the t’s. Help with getting jobs. Odd jobs in the community. Help with making sure the refugees didn’t get caught again.

But it was always those by-the-letter-of-the-law jurists helping to confound the torture. More than 70 percent of our brothers and sisters seeking asylum in the US were denied entry by some fat cat, many times cocaine-sniffing immigration judge who usually had a friend in the back pocket of some Bush or buddy of Bush somewhere.

Then it was trying to get the denied victims off to Canada without being caught. You remember, the Canada back then which used to open its borders to refugees, [the Canada of shifting baseline syndrome].

The judges and politicians and Minutemen all professed, “Send them back. Those aliens broke our immigration laws.”

But “we are all illegal aliens” as a rejoinder went much farther than USA’s mayhem in Mesoamerica. We worked in solidarity with the housekeepers, bricklayers, agricultural workers and so many other worthy Mexicans who worked their butts off in the US for little pay and much less respect.

These were workers who crossed the Rio Grande to find low-paying jobs with American families and businesses — working for mayors, bigwigs, even on government contracts. In Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, elsewhere. With a wink and a smile by the American exploiters.

Mojado — wetback. Squatter. Beaner. Illegal alien. These were the more tame epithets.

But let’s not kid ourselves about the genesis of this new round of empowered Latinos fighting against racist laws put forward by the dispassionate conservatives running the ship of fools in DC.

This is not a country of legal immigrants. It’s a country based on colonialists, undocumented white people who helped displace native tribes through broken laws and genocide.

It’s a country based on illegal occupation of native lands and on Mexico’s lands, pure and simple. Colonialists protected by Federal laws that deemed free white people as the only ones who had the right to be fully-fledged citizens.

Manifest Destiny was a violent racist act to seize lands illegally.

Everything this country’s current anti-Mexican and pro-Apartheid border war proponents stand upon — all that doctrine and those so-called laws — is based on illegally seizing lands of Native tribes.

And worse — laws that “removed” natives. Laws that starved natives. Laws that approved of eradicating native families, entire tribes.

The current massive turnout of students and workers alike in this country’s major cities is a testament to these Americans’ backbone to fight this new exclusionary law — HR4377 — a Washington, DC-inspired racist act that has its roots in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Many Americans do express a certain humanity and dignity for the people many deem aliens, but it’s not awe-inspiring that some citizens of Copenhagen, Denmark or Limerick, Ireland, disobey the so-called immigration laws of this country during their initial years as landed immigrants.

Let’s make no bones about the motives of Jim Sensenbrenner, the author of this racist House bill: He sees those brown-skinned south-of-the-border lettuce pickers, linen washers, house framers, and their US-born children as, what? “Alien gang members terrorizing communities.”

Anyone spouting that we are a nation of immigrants and laws has a disease, what George Orwell called the illness of double-think.

And until those many white Americans stop spewing that this is their land, a land of their laws, and a land made for Christians, the racist Minutemen will ramp up their gun brandishing on the southern and northern borders. And racist politicians will continue to play on the fears of uniformed constituents and try to pass the 21st Century’s racist exclusionary laws.

I wonder what these modern-day Nazis would say about those children’s cartoons — images of bodies floating in rivers. Blood-soaked church walls. Military men with their M-16s trained on men while others are sketched in their rape hunch. Beautiful jungle birds flying in the sky next to US-paid-for helicopter gunships spraying the corn and coffee fields below. Dead mommies cradling dead babies.

Yeah, I’m an illegal alien. We all are illegal aliens, under the laws of these creeps in high office. Humanity and caring and simple benedictions for suffering so much, those are alien traits only held by a minority in this country of exclusion, and slavery. Yeah, those creeps on hate-radio and in the newspaper columns and on Capitol Hill, sure, they recognize all of us who see the lies and fight the injustice as aliens.

And the children whose post-traumatic cartoons brought tears to men and women, some who had “fought” in Vietnam. Simple Crayola colorings brought tears to a county sheriff who had survived drug runners shooting up his town and unearthed bodies.

Yeah, we are all illegal aliens. Except them.

Paul Haeder worked in Central America and Mexico writing for newspapers during the 1980s and early 1990s. He’s currently in Spokane, Washington, as an instructor of writing at Spokane Falls Community College and writes sustainability-energy-environmental pieces for the towns weekly, Pacific Northwest Inlander.

 

Career War Criminal Elliott Abrams to Lead US on Venezuela

In 1985, an activist for the relatives of the disappeared [persons in Guatemala], named Rosario Godoy, was abducted by the army. She was raped. Her mutilated body was found alongside that of her baby. The baby’s fingernails had been torn out. The Guatemalan army, when asked about this atrocity, said, “Oh, they died in a traffic accident.”

When [US human rights official] Elliott Abrams was asked about this accident, he affirmed also that they died in a traffic accident. This activist raped and mutilated, the baby with his fingernails pulled out, Abrams says it’s a traffic accident.

— Allan Nairn, on Democracy NOW January 30, 2019

Some say history repeats itself. Mark Twain said history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes. The January 25 appointment of convicted perjurer Elliott Abrams as the new US Special Envoy on Venezuela is evidence that history just goes on and on and on with ironic cruelty and relentless injustice. That would be especially true if you happen to have the world’s largest proven oil reserve, as Venezuela does.

The malign US interference in Venezuela goes back more than a century. For decades the idea of “Venezuelan democracy” was a US-inflected oxymoron. When Venezuela somehow elected Hugo Chávez president in 1999 – legitimately – turnout was 63%, and Chávez won 56% of the vote (both better numbers than the 2016 US presidential election). Chávez was a leader of failed coups in 1992 that tried to topple the corrupt kleptocracy of then-president Carlos Andrés Pérez, who had been elected promising to resist US meddling, only to become a corrupt tool of it (and impeached in 1993). The US responded to the democratic process in Venezuela with at least one coup attempt in 2002 and chronic economic warfare for two decades. Despite its oil, Venezuela has not prospered and remains a country of about 31 million people, one in five of whom are poor.

Venezuela is now in play once more, with no reasonably decent outcome in sight. Whichever vicious and corrupt side wins, most of the Venezuelan people are likely to lose. In a sense, it was ever thus. Presently, the US has taken sides with self-proclaimed Venezuelan interim president Juan Guaidó. On January 22, Guaidó leveraged his position as President of the Venezuelan National Assembly to make an ingenious but untested argument that the national presidency was “vacant” and he had a constitutional obligation to fill it (or something like that – try to find a coherent explanation of what actually happened). In an alternative reality, Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro was re-elected president last May and sworn in on January 10. The Venezuelan constitution is invoked on both sides, and there appears to be no institution with sufficient authority to resolve the issue. The constitutional basis of Guaidó’s position is specious on its face, since he relies on Article 233 and none of its conditions apply. Guaidó asserts that the National Assembly, controlled by the opposition party, voided the May 2018 election results and that therefore when Maduro’s term expired on January 9, the presidency became vacant. On Maduro’s side is the Constituent Assembly, a murky institution created in 2017 that runs in parallel with the National Assembly. The CIA acknowledges that the “ruling party” controls the Constituent Assembly, but states: “The US Government [like 40 other countries] does not recognize the Assembly, which has generally used its powers to rule by decree rather than to reform the constitution.”

So, of course, when Juan Guaidó used the National Assembly’s power to rule by decree, the US rushed to recognize his somewhat imaginary government without hesitation, without analysis, without restraint. Even if there is no practical way to sort out the competing constitutional legalities in an orderly, peaceful way, the US might have given the rule of law at least lip service. Instead, the US polarizes the world further, demanding that other nations help make Venezuela worse. On January 26, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the UN Security Council:

Now, it is time for every other nation to pick a side. No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem.

Whose mayhem? Whose economic sanctions? Whose periodic coup attempts? Pompeo embraces a version of the Big Lie about Venezuela we’ve been hearing for a long, long time. The day before he spoke at the UN, Pompeo announced the appointment of Attorney Elliott Abrams, a promising sign that the Venezuelan future will be dark and bloody. In his announcement, Pompeo invoked “the Venezuelan people” at least nine times, which should be warning enough. Pompeo said, complete with the contradiction as to which people will be served:

Elliott Abrams is coming aboard to lead our efforts on Venezuela…. Elliott’s passion for the rights and liberties of all peoples makes him a perfect fit and a valuable and timely addition…. Elliott will be a true asset to our mission to help the Venezuelan people fully restore democracy and prosperity to their country…. he is eager to advance President Trump’s agenda and promote the ideals and interests of the American people.

President Trump was talking about invading Venezuela in 2017, but was dissuaded by Rex Tillerson, then Secretary of State, and National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster. The idea is still not off the table, as National Security Advisor John Bolton recently confirmed (along with flashing his notepad with “5,000 troops to Colombia,” unexplained). Bolton is apparently one of the architects of the current coup effort in Venezuela, along with Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence. Pence was on the phone assuring US support for Guaidó before he named himself president (on behalf of the Venezuelan people who were not involved).

Adding Elliott Abrams to this team does little to provide hope for the Venezuelan people. Contrary to Pompeo’s assertion, Abrams has never demonstrated “passion for the rights and liberties of all peoples,” least of all Palestinians. But Abrams’s demonstrated capacity for supporting subversion, torture, and mass killing does indeed make him “a perfect fit and a valuable and timely addition.” After all, Abrams represents the continuity of 40 years of genocidal US global policies. And he participated in many of them, as reported with devastating detail on Democracy NOW as well as the terror timeline in The Intercept, but not so much in mainstream media.

In 1981, at the age of 33, Abrams was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as Ronald Reagan’s Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. Reagan’s first choice, Ernest Lefever, had been rejected in part for his view that the US should support vicious regimes if they were our allies.

Abrams managed to carry out that policy very well, starting in El Salvador in the early 1980s, when our Salvadoran government ally could carry out human rights violations and mass killings almost without reproach. The government killed nearly 75,000 people. No atrocity was worthy of Abrams’s condemnation. He had no sympathy for those seeking asylum from US-sponsored violence, telling Congress:

Some groups argue that illegal aliens who are sent back to El Salvador meet persecution and often death. Obviously, we do not believe these claims or we would not deport these people.

Overseeing US involvement in Guatemala, Abrams claimed to be equally oblivious to the human rights depredations of the government of Gen. Ríos Montt, a born-again evangelical Christian. He was a hero to the Reagan administration as his death squads helped kill some 200,000 Guatemalans. Ríos Montt was eventually convicted in a Guatemalan court of waging genocide against his own people. If there’s any evidence Abrams regrets his support for crimes against humanity, that evidence is well hidden. In 2017, his status as an unindicted war criminal was enough to keep Trump from naming him Secretary of State.

In 1983, Abrams supported the US invasion of Grenada. He also pushed for a full-scale invasion of Nicaragua, where he was already involved in the support of the terrorist Contras against the Sandinista government. When Congress cut off support to the Contras, Abrams was involved in the criminal activities of the so-called Iran-Contra operation that included selling drugs to support the Contras and shipping arms to Iran to support the Contras. Abrams escaped serious consequences for his crimes, pleading guilty in 1991 to two counts of lying to Congress. Without remorse, Abrams wrote what he thought of his prosecutors: “You miserable filthy bastards, you bloodsuckers.” The first President Bush pardoned him and five other Iran-Contra criminals on Christmas Eve 1992. (These pardons were supported by current attorney-general nominee William Barr.)

In 1985, the Reagan administration was aware that Panamanian president Manuel Noriega was a heavy drug dealer. When a former Panama health official was about to release what he said was proof of Noriega’s cocaine smuggling, Noriega’s agents seized and tortured the man, sawing off his head while he was still alive. When the news became public and caused a stir in the US, Abrams went out of his way to block Congressional hearings, claiming that Noriega was “being really helpful to us” with Nicaragua and that he was “really not that big a problem.”

Abrams was reportedly involved in the US-supported coup attempts against Chavez in Venezuela in 2002. In 2003, Abrams played a mysterious role in squelching a peace proposal from Iran that might have ended the US war against Iraq.

In 2006, Abrams was instrumental in suppressing the results of a legitimate democratic election. In support of the corrupt Palestinian Authority, the Bush administration pushed for elections in the West Bank and Gaza. To their surprise, Hamas won. In response, Abrams and others tried to organize a coup. Hamas effected a counter-coup, the Bush administration refused to recognize the election winners, and that US-enforced injustice is at the heart of suffering in Gaza now.

Everywhere Elliott Abrams goes, innocent people are left bleeding or dead. Objections among the predominant political and pundit classes are hard to find. The conventional wisdom, especially among Democrats, is to support the US coup attempt but object to any military intervention, as if that satisfied any standard of national sovereignty. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard seems to be alone in saying that the US “needs to stay out of Venezuela.”  But now Elliott Abrams is our man for Venezuela. And that suggests that tens of thousands of Venezuelans will soon be having serious “traffic accidents.”

Venezuela: What Activists Need To Know About The US-Led Coup

Photo: John Zangas, DC Media Group.

Two things stand out about the US coup in Venezuela. First, it is unusually open. Typically, the US tries to hide its coups. Second, the coup is built on a series of obvious falsehoods, yet the bi-partisans in Washington, with a few exceptions, keep repeating them.

First, we will correct the falsehoods so readers are all working from the same facts. Second, we will describe how this coup is being defeated. It will be another major embarrassment for the Trump administration and US foreign policy.

It is important to understand Venezuela has become a geopolitical conflict as Russia and China are closely allied with Venezuela. China and Russia coming into the backyard of the United States challenges the antiquated Monroe Doctrine.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and the second largest gold reserves, as well as diamonds and other minerals such as coltan (needed for electronic devices). And, Venezuela is taking over as president of OPEC and will be in a position to push for oil payments in non-dollar currencies or in cryptocurrencies, a major threat to the US dollar.

A protest outside the United States Consulate in Sydney on January 23 to demand no US intervention in Venezuela. Photo: Peter Boyle

Correcting the Record

There are a series of false statements repeated by DC officials and corporate media to justify the coup that are so obvious, it is hard to believe they are not intentional. In his two-paragraph comment on the coup, even Senator Bernie Sanders repeated them.

1. Truth: President Nicolás Maduro is the legitimate president.

President Maduro was re-elected on May 20, 2018, in response to the opposition demanding an early election. The legitimacy of the election of Maduro is so evident that it must be assumed those who say he is illegitimate are either intentionally false or ignorant. The election was scheduled consistent with the Venezuelan Constitution and in consultation with opposition parties. When it became evident that the opposition could not win the election, they decided, under pressure from the United States, to boycott the election in order to undermine its legitimacy. The facts are 9,389,056 people voted, 46% of eligible voters. Sixteen parties participated in the election with six candidates competing for the presidency.

The electoral process was observed by more than 150 election observers. This included 14 electoral commissions from eight countries among them the Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America; two technical electoral missions; and 18 journalists from different parts of the world, among others. According to the international observers, “the elections were very transparent and complied with international parameters and national legislation.”

Venezuela has one of the best electoral systems in the world. Voter fraud is not possible as identification and fingerprints are required for each voter. Voting machines are audited before and immediately after the election. Venezuela does something no other country in the world does — a public, citizen’s audit of a random sample of 53% of voting machines that is televised. All 18 parties signed the audits.

Maduro won by a wide margin, obtaining 6,248,864 votes, 67.84%; followed by Henri Falcón with 1,927,958, 20.93%; Javier Bertucci with 1,015,895, 10.82%; and Reinaldo Quijada, who obtained 36,246 votes, 0.39% of the total.

This same voting system has been used in elections that Maduro’s party has lost in governor’s and legislative elections. Venezuela is a real democracy with transparent elections. The United States could learn a good deal about real democracy from Venezuela.

2. Truth: The economic crisis is caused by outside intervention, internal sabotage and the decline in oil prices.

There is no doubt the economic situation in Venezuela is dire. The cause is the economic war conducted by the United States, the major decline in oil prices and economic sabotage by the opposition. In essence, the United States and opposition created problems in the Venezuelan economy and now say Maduro must be replaced because of problems they created.

Oil was discovered in Venezuela in the early part of the 20th Century and has dominated the economy since then. The Dutch Disease, the negative impact of an economy based on one natural resource, causes a sharp inflow of foreign currency, which raises the value of the country’s currency, making the country’s other products less price competitive. It is cheaper to import products rather than create them. This makes it more difficult for segments of the economy like agriculture and manufacturing to develop.

Chavez/Maduro sought to diversify the economy. They put in place thousands of communes and hundreds of thousands of people working in cooperatives to build agriculture and manufacturing. When the global price of oil was cut by more than half, it collapsed Venezuela’s public finances undermining these efforts. The economic war by the US made it difficult for Venezuela to borrow and trade with some countries.

Economic sanctions against Venezuela began under President Obama, and the Trump administration escalated them with financial sanctions. United States sanctions cost Venezuela some $6 billion since August, according to an October analysis. Measures against the nation’s oil industry have prohibited the Venezuelan majority-owned company, CITGO, from sending profits back to Venezuela, a $1 billion loss to the government yearly. Now, the Bank of England is refusing to return $1.2 billion in gold reserves after US officials, including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, lobbied them to cut Venezuela off from its overseas assets.

The US economic war and sabotage of the economy by business interests has been exposed as part of the effort to remove Maduro by creating social unrest and lack of confidence in the government.  This has included hoarding of goods, storing essentials in warehouses and selling Venezuelan goods in Colombia.

In September 2018, Venezuela pointed to a false media campaign exaggerating migration from Venezuela. They highlighted   statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to affirm that Venezuela has the fewest volunteer migrants in the continent. They pointed out 5.6 million Colombians have fled violence in their country and live in Venezuela. Venezuela has programs that have helped thousands of Venezuelans return home.

Socialism strengthens economies, as demonstrated in Portugal. Indeed, one criticism of Venezuela is that the Bolivarian Process is moving too slowly to put in place a socialist economy. There is a need for more sectors to be nationalized and put under democratic control of the people.

3. Truth: The opposition is violent, not the Maduro government.

Opposition protesters have been extremely violent. One tactic of the opposition was to be violent and then film the government’s response to make the government look violent. When Abby Martin was confronted by opposition protesters, they told her, “Do not film anything that we do. Just film what the government does to us.” She reported on the violence saying, “the vast majority has been caused by either indirect or direct violence by the opposition.”

Martin reports the opposition attacked hospitals, burned down the Housing Ministry, assassinated Chavistas and attacked citizen communes such as an art commune that gave free dance and music lessons to local children. Afro-Venezuelans were burned alive. Protesters pulled drivers out of buses and torched the buses. When photos and videos of opposition violence were put on social media, Martin and her colleague, Mike Prysner, became the target of a false media campaign on social media. The opposition did all they could to prevent them from reporting the truth using hundreds of death threats and threats they would be lynched.

In 2017, Venezuela Analysis reported that violent opposition protests included an attack on a maternity hospital endangering the lives of more than 50 newborn babies. Another report described the opposition using snipers to shoot government officials and civilians. Opposition newspapers urged that blunt objects be used to “neutralize” pro-government protesters, resulting in serious injuries and death.

Steve Ellner also reported that violence was coming from the opposition. He pointed to attacks at grocery stores, banks, buses, and government buildings.  Other commentators described specific incidents of violence by the opposition including killing people. Maduro ordered the arrest of a retired general who tweeted how to use wire to decapitate people on motorcycles, which happened, and how to attack armored vehicles with Molotov cocktails.

Documents show that violence was the opposition’s strategy. They sought to “Create situations of crisis in the streets that will facilitate US intervention, as well as NATO forces, with the support of the Colombian government. Whenever possible, the violence should result in deaths or injuries.”

The tales of government violence are rooted in lies. The government’s response was Maduro calling for a peace conference describing it as “a national peace conference with all the country’s political sectors … so we Venezuelans can try to neutralize violent groups.”

4. Truth: The National Assembly acted in violation of the law and is in contempt of court.

The National Assembly is not the only democratic body in Venezuela. Indeed, its actions since the opposition won a majority have violated the law and protected the violence of the opposition with an embarrassing amnesty bill.

On December 6, 2015, the opposition won a parliamentary majority in the Assembly. There were allegations of vote buying in Amazonas state that were investigated by the National Electoral Council, another branch of the government. The Supreme Court barred four legislators from Amazonas taking office, two from the opposition, one allied with the opposition and one from the ruling party. The National Assembly allowed three candidates to take office. The Assembly has been held in contempt of court since July 2016 and their decisions were nullified.

Before the court ruling, the Assembly passed an amazing amnesty law, which granted amnesty for crimes the opposition has committed since 1999 (Chavez’ election). The law is an admission of guilt and provides a well-organized catalog of crimes including felonies, crimes committed at public rallies, terrorist acts involving explosives and firearms and undermining the economy. They essentially admitted exactly what Chavez/Maduro have claimed — crimes to overthrow the government for 17 years. Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled the amnesty law was unconstitutional. Inaccurately, the Trump administration calls the Assembly Venezuela’s only remaining democratic institution.

This January, a subsidiary of the state oil company asked the Assembly to intervene claiming the president cannot make reforms to mixed public-private oil businesses without the prior approval of the National Assembly. On January 16, the court ruled that the Assembly was still in contempt of court and could not act. This is also when the Assembly elected Juan Guaidó as their president, who would later appoint himself President of Venezuela, as part of the US-led coup. Guaidó’s election to head the legislature was illegal and nullified by the court.

The Assembly still exists but remains in a state of contempt of the judiciary. It can rectify the situation by removing the lawmakers accused of electoral fraud. The Assembly refuses to do so because their goal is to remove Maduro from office and they need a super-majority to do so.

Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK disrupts Mike Pompeo at the OAS. Press TV.

A Timeline of the US Coup in Venezuela

In “Anti-Maduro Coalition Grew from Secret Talks,” the Associated Press explains the coup was “only possible because of strong support from the Trump administration, which led a chorus of mostly conservative Latin American governments that immediately recognized Guaidó.”

Since August 2017, Donald Trump has been saying that military intervention against Venezuela was a distinct possibility. AP describes this as a “watershed moment” in the coup planning. They report Trump pressuring aides and Latin American countries to invade Venezuela. In September, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration had been meeting with coup plotters since mid-2017.

The Wall Street Journal reports Trump has long viewed Venezuela as one of his top-three foreign policy priorities, with Iran and North Korea. Trump requested a briefing on Venezuela on his second day in office, talking of the immense potential of Venezuela to become a rich nation through its oil reserves. AP reports that Trump “personally sparked” this as he brought up regime change in Venezuela in every meeting with Latin American leaders.

After Maduro was re-elected, administration plans began taking shape, driven in part by key members in the National Security Council and anti-Maduro advocates in Congress like extreme interventionist Senator Marco Rubio.

On November 1, John Bolton zeroed in on Latin America, calling Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela a “troika of tyranny.” On January 2, Bolton met with his Brazilian and Colombian counterparts to collaborate to “return Venezuela to its democratic heritage.”

On January 10, Maduro was sworn in for his second term, Pompeo spoke with opposition leader Guaidó, pledging support. Canada also played a key role, AP reports that Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to Guaidó the night before Maduro’s inauguration offering Canada’s support. This was 13 days before Guaidó announced he was president of Venezuela.

On January 12, the State Department backed Guaidó’s move to invoke his authority as president of the assembly, saying, “It is time to begin the orderly transition to a new government.” On January 15, the National Assembly declared Maduro as illegitimate. The Trump administration worked to get allies lined up to support Guaidó’. By January 18, the Venezuela Foreign Minister was describing a US coup in progress.

The night before Guaidó’s announcement on January 23, Vice President Mike Pence put out a video message encouraging Venezuelans to overthrow their government, saying, “We are with you. We stand with you, and we will stay with you.” Guaidó also received a phone call from Pence the night before he appointed himself president where he pledged that the U.S. would back Guaidó.

Guaidó declared that Maduro’s government was illegitimate and he was assuming the presidency. In a well-coordinated charade, almost instantly, Trump recognized Guaidó as the country’s rightful leader. To further demonstrate the preconceived, tightly coordinated and efficiently carried out coup, US allies, among them Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Peru, quickly recognized the coup president.

The Trump administration is claiming Guaidó represents the lawful government and is entitled to all Venezuelan revenues. The State Department notified the Federal Reserve that Guaidó is the agent for access to Venezuelan assets in US banks.

Nearly as quickly, Maduro drew statements of support from Russia, China, Turkey, Mexico, Cuba, Bolivia, and others. The Venezuelan Supreme Court called for an investigation into the National Assembly and Guaidó, regarding the illegal usurpation of Executive power. The Venezuelan military announced it supported Maduro and Russia warned the US not to intervene militarily.

On January 25, the Organization of American States, which is traditionally a US tool, rejected a resolution to recognize Guaidó. Medea Benjamin of CODE PINK interrupted Pompeo at the OAS holding a sign that said: “a coup is not a democratic transition!” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza thanked Benjamin, saying, “With her protest, she revealed the macabre coup plan against Venezuela, we will always prevail, thank you!” Eighteen countries defeated the proposal.

At the UN Security Council meeting on January 26, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the United States of attempting “to engineer a coup d’etat.” He demanded to know whether the Trump administration “is ready to use military force” against Venezuela. European countries gave Venezuela eight days to hold an election, a suggestion Venezuela rejected. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Venezuela an “illegitimate mafia state.” He accused Russia and China of trying “to prop up Maduro.”

Both China and Russia have told the US not to intervene in Venezuela’s internal affairs. In December, Russia sent two nuclear-capable strategic Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela along with an An-124 heavy military transport plane and an II-62 long-haul plane. As of December, Russia has one brigade in Venezuela and was discussing sending a second military brigade to Venezuela even before the coup due to the continued threat of intervention from the United States.

China has lent over $50 billion to Venezuela through oil-for-loan agreements over the past decade and has become a partner in the Venezuelan oil industry. In December, seven months since signing a financial business venture with China, Venezuela’s oil production has doubled to 130,000 barrels per day. The take-over of Venezuela’s oil would also be an attack on China. China and Venezuela signed 28 bilateral strategic cooperation agreements on September 14 in the areas of oil, mining, security, technology, finance, and health.

Demonstrating the nature of the coup president, the first acts that Guaidó took were to seek a loan from the International Monetary Fund, which would put Venezuela in debt to western bankers and under their control, and to privatize the Venezuelan oil industry, which would rob Venezuela of the funds being used to lift up the poor and working class.

The appointment by Mike Pompeo of Elliott Abrams as the person in charge of overseeing operations “to restore democracy in Venezuela” is an ominous sign. It is scandalous and demonstrates the most extreme elements of the US establishment are leading the charge. Abrams was convicted during the Iran-Contra scandal, supported US-backed death squads in Guatemala and El Salvador in the 1980s, played a key role in the Reagan administration support for the murderous Contras in Nicaragua and was the person who gave approval for the US-backed coup in Venezuela in 2002.

Analyst Vijay Prashad writes the coup violated the charters of the United Nations and of the Organisation of American States and describes efforts to call on the military to rise up against the government have failed. The Trump administration is now  threatening a total oil embargo on Venezuela and is leaving the “military option” open.

The concerted campaign by the US and Canada to install Juan Guaidó as the new ‘self-declared’ interim President of Venezuela has been met with initial failure. Unfortunately, the illegal and undemocratic attempts to destabilize the country and overthrow the democratically-elected President will continue with harmful consequences. The people of Venezuela are rising once again to defend their country against hostile foreign intervention. It is essential that we support them in this fight. Many groups are holding solidarity rallies and issuing statements of support. Find rallies and protests here and here.

While Sanders got all the facts wrong about Venezuela, he did reach the right conclusion: “The United States has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries. We must not go down that road again.” People in the United States have an important role to play in supporting Venezuela and defeating the coup.

The Obsession with and Lies about Nicaragua

The intense focus on the “ills” of Nicaragua completely misses the deep issues of continued US intervention – imperial neocolonialism – into the sovereign lives of other countries, as here with Nicaragua. Whether you love or hate Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, their personalities and personal lives are not the issue, whatsoever.

For US Americans to be so closely scrutinizing clearly the most progressive government in Central America, ignoring the new US friendly but unpopular president of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado Quesada; the systematic violence in the streets of El Salvador which is directly related to the US funded death squad governments of the 1980s; the repressive and illegal President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez; and the repressive and corrupt government of Guatemala under President Jimmy Morales, is very interesting, and disturbing.

The elaborate, well-planned conspiracy behind the April-July 2018 US-orchestrated coup attempt against Nicaragua, included most of the church hierarchy, many wealthy ex-Somocistas, many NGOs including the European-funded CENIDH, the NED (National Endowment for Democracy) and USAID, and a couple thousand young Nicaraguans trained over 4 years in the use of social media to blitzkrieg an agenda-loaded propaganda campaign when the right opportunity arose. It had been in the works since at least 2011 when Nicaraguan Felix Maradiaga teamed up with Colombian narco-trafficker Julio Cesar Paz Varela to develop a drug distribution network in Nicaragua, many of the proceeds of which were to be devoted to overthrow the Sandinista government.

The facts are that the few NGOs (of over 4,000 NGOs in the country) who have recently been curtailed by the Nicaraguan government, is because of their support of various criminal activities designed to overthrow the government. Their accountability to the law was long overdue. The same goes for several TV stations (funded largely by NED), the internet news outlet Confidencial (funded by the NED), and La Prensa (funded by NED) which have openly supported opposition “terrorist” activities (yes, that is correct), something that would never be tolerated in the US or in virtually any country. Many of the hundreds participating in dozens of murders, arsons, destruction of buildings, tortures, and destruction of equipment (including over 50 ambulances), etc., committed by Opposition members, are fortunately now on trial or in jail. Over 200 fugitives remain in Costa Rica.

It is also ironical, that those people in the US who are so condemnatory of the Nicaraguan government, remain comfortably removed from the terror campaign, April-July, which was awful as I can attest as a resident, while I was forced to read and view, with rage and anger, the spew of scripted lies days after day on social media, and major media outlets, not based on any actual investigative reporting. Ironic, because the US is one of the most oligarchic, non-democratic countries on the planet, and its citizens possess no legal or moral authority to judge others. The US possesses the largest prison per capita population in the world, with 80,000 of prisoners in solitary confinement; it produces the most waste and pollution; it has military troops in 150 countries, and war planes and ships everywhere; it is the wholesale terrorist force on the Planet; it has on average 3 citizens a day murdered by US police; it has a president who has been accused by over 15 women of sexual misconduct/assault, a president who lies multiple times each day; it is a country where student debt keeps graduates in a kind of servitude for life to the banks; it has thousands of homeless living in tents and abandoned cars in virtually every city; it is a country without accessible health care for millions of its citizens; etc. It has a political election process unreliable due to systematic voter suppression, gerrymandered Congressional districts every ten years, privatization of the voter counting process, while the process itself is literally owned by the millions and billions of dollars of the rich and mighty, headed by the military industrial complex that makes obscene profits on intervening everywhere.

So, Nicaragua is an easy center of focus. If any one of us, or any other Central American government, was subjected to the intense efforts to destroy us, or any country, then one can predict the likely consequences. Neighboring Honduras has not yet recovered from the 2009 US sanctioned coup of President Zelaya. The fear and the repression there is horrendous, but it seems that with those in the US, including in the government, nobody gives a shit. The NICA Act should be the HICA Act for Honduras instead of Nicaragua. But Honduras is a safe Cry Uncle government, despite the fact that the people live in constant fear.

And the idea of name calling people as usual is not helpful in the discussion. Catherine Cusic, who has called Camilo Mejia a liar, has called me several times as an idiot – then, in the past, and now.  Not too constructive for healthy debate.

When will the issue of US imperialism be taken seriously, and a recognition that the US political economy is so destructive it is on a path to destroy the planet? And, yet, the most progressive country in Central America (where there really is NOT repression) – Nicaragua –  with no friends in the Senate or House of Representatives, very little support in the solidarity community, and only supported by the ALBA countries of Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia, is targeted for destruction. Lies, lies, more lies. Disgusting beyond disgusting. The truth as I have documented is virtually the exact opposite of what most social media and major media organs spew as if reading from a script. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, is famous for saying that a lie told enough times becomes the truth. Goebbels principle has come once again to haunt Nicaragua. And the US government has spent millions of dollars through NED, US AID, NGOs, etc., at least since 2014, getting ready for the overthrow of a progressive government, primarily because it IS progressive compared to the other Central American governments. It is not a Cry Uncle government. And despite the lies, the Sandinista government remains popular with a majority of the people, similar to Assad in Syria despite intense western media propaganda against him.

So, Libya, The Ivory Coast, the Ukraine, Venezuela, Russia, and on and on, are touted as enemies, subject to the “exceptional” US to seek their overthrow to “correct” matters,  if they haven’t already succeeded. It is interesting that Trump’s fanatical security adviser, John Bolton, has identified the Troika of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua (and soon Bolivia) to be targets as threats to the national security of the US. So preposterous yet it is official US policy.

Astonishing, absurd, and criminal. So continue, folks, focusing on the issues you have with Ortega-Murillo, while the US continues on an uncontrolled imperial savagery. Meanwhile, feel smug with your support of “humanitarian intervention” by the most dangerous country on Earth.

From Central America to Syria: The Conspiracy against Refugees

Watching the ongoing debate between US liberal and right-wing pundits on US mainstream media, one rarely gets the impression that Washington is responsible for the unfolding crisis in Central America.

In fact, no other country is as accountable as the United States for the Central American bedlam and resulting refugee crisis.

So why, despite the seemingly substantial ideological and political differences between right-wing Fox News and liberal CNN, both media outlets are working hard to safeguard their country’s dirty little secret?

In recent years, state and gang violence – coupled with extreme poverty – have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras, among other countries, in Central and South America.

US mainstream media, however, is rarely interested in the root cause of that reality.

Fox News is tirelessly peddling the offensive language used by President Donald Trump, which perceives the refugees as criminals and terrorists, who pose a threat to US national security.

At a press conference last October, Trump urged a reporter to take his camera into ”the middle” of a caravan of migrants on the treacherous journey through Mexico, to locate ”Middle Eastern” people that have infiltrated the crowd. In Trump’s thinking, ‘Middle Eastern people’ is synonymous with terrorists.

CNN has, on the other hand, labored to counter the growing anti-immigrant official and media sentiments that have plagued the US, a discourse that is constantly prodded and manipulated by Trump and his supporters.

However, few in the liberal media have the courage to probe the story beyond convenient political rivalry, persisting in their hypocritical and insincere humanitarianism that is divorced from any meaningful political context.

The fact is the Central American refugee crisis is similar to the plethora of Middle East and Central Asian refugee crises of recent years. Mass migration is almost always the direct outcome of political meddling and military interventions.

From Afghanistan, to Iraq, Libya, Syria, millions of refugees were forced, by circumstances beyond their control, to seek safety in some other country.

Millions of Iraqis and Syrians found themselves in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, while a far smaller number trickled to Europe, all seeking safety from the grinding wars.

Political opportunists in Europe are no different from their American counterparts. While the former has seized on the tragedy of the refugees to sow seeds of fear and hate-mongering, Americans, too, have blamed the refugees for their own misery.

Blaming the victim is nothing new.

Iraqis were once blamed for failing to appreciate Western democracy, Libyans for their failed state, Syrians for taking the wrong side of a protracted war, and so on.

Yet, the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Syria are all, in varied degrees, outcomes of military interventions, a truth that does not seem to register in the self-absorbed minds of both right-wing and liberal intellectuals.

The irony is that the hapless refugees, whether those escaping to Europe or to the United States, are perceived to be the aggressors, the invaders, as opposed to the US and allies that had, in fact, invaded these once stable and sovereign homelands.

Trump has often referred to the Central American migrants’ caravan as an ‘invasion’.  Fox News parroted that claim, and injected the possibility of having the refugees shot upon arrival.

If Fox News lacked the decency to treat refugees as human beings deserving of sympathy and respect, CNN lacked the courage to expand the discussion beyond Trump’s horrid language and inhumane policies.

To expand the parameters of the conversation would expose a policy that was not introduced by Trump, but by Bill Clinton and applied in earnest by George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Media grandstanding aside, both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the current refugee crisis.

In 1996, Democratic President Clinton unleashed a war on refugees when he passed two consecutive legislations: the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.

Millions of people – who had escaped US-instigated wars and military coups – were deported back to Central and South America. While 2 million people were deported during the Bush terms, 2.5 million were deported under Obama.

A terrible situation was exacerbated. Violence and want flared even more.

To rally his angry and radicalized constituency, Trump waved the migrant card once more, threatening to build a “great wall” and to close “loopholes” in the US immigration law.

Like his predecessors, he offered little by way of redressing an unjust reality that is constantly fomented by destructive US foreign policy, stretching decades.

But the refugees kept on coming, mostly from Central America’s Northern Triangle region. Without proper political context, they, too, were duly blamed for their hardship.

Considering Fox News and CNN’s lack of quality coverage, this is not surprising. Few Americans know of the sordid history of their country in that region, starting with the CIA-engineered coup d’état in Guatemala in 1954, or the US support of the coup against the democratically-elected President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, in 2009, or of everything else that happened in between these dates.

The unhealthy relationship between the US and its southern neighbors goes back as early as 1904, when President Theodore Roosevelt declared the ‘right’ of his country to hold “international police power” in Latin America. Since then, the entire region has been Washington’s business.

The free trade agreement (CAFTA-DR) signed between Central American countries and the US has done its own share of damage. It “restructured the region’s economy and guaranteed economic dependence on the United States through massive trade imbalances and the influx of American agricultural and industrial goods that weakened domestic industries,” wrote Mark Tseng-Putterman in Medium.

Acknowledging all of this is threatening. If US mainstream pundits accept their country’s destructive role in Central and South America, they will be forced to abandon the role of the victim (embraced by the right) or the savior (embraced by the left), which has served them well.

The same stifling political and intellectual routine is witnessed in Europe, too.

But this denial of moral responsibility will only contribute to the problem, not to its resolution. No amount of racism on the part of the right, or crocodile tears of the liberals, will ever rectify this skewed paradigm.

This is as true in Central America as it is in the Middle East.

The American Dance of Life: A Handful of Unrelated but Connected Notes on the U.S. and War

Diego Rivera’s painting at the beginning of this article is called “Gloriosa victoria” (“Glorious Victory”) and was done by him in 1954 as a protest against the U.S. overthrow of Guatemala’s democratically elected government that same year. At the painting’s center, U.S. Sec. of State John Foster Dulles shakes hands with the new (Washington-approved) president of Guatemala while behind them other U.S. officials hand out money to Guatemalan soldiers.

This past Memorial Day, one vet who wasn’t honored by anyone but me was my Uncle Adam on my dad’s side. He died only a few years ago, my last older relative. A civilian for god knows how many decades, he was still a corporal at heart. And he had the mouth to prove it. If there was a version of Scrabble for only four-letter words, he would’ve never lost a game.

But the important thing is this. If you’re a vet like he was, when you die the government suddenly appears out of nowhere to describe your death as the passing-on of an American hero, all past crimes absolved. The VA may have scorned your claim that your cancer resulted from your tour of duty at Area 9 of the Nevada Atomic Test Site, or it may have turned a blind eye to the symptoms you suffered after your exposure to napalm in Vietnam, or it may have been aggravated by your claim that you returned from Afghanistan with PTSD, but once you’re dead everything’s forgotten and the White House bellows —

This man’s a hero!

You see, that’s how it happens. They bury you as a hero to hide the fact that when alive they treated you like shit.

*****

One event from almost thirty years ago left an indelible impression on me. It illustrated for me how society as a whole, including every institution and product and entertainment that’s part of it, increasingly becomes a mass-delivery device for saturating us with the propaganda necessary for keeping us synced to what’s psychologically required of us in order for the nation’s economic elites to retain power — and grow wealthier. Just think of how often we buy a tee-shirt emblazoned with the name of the company which manufactured it. This shows how the U.S. economic (and cultural) system has conditioned us to do what would have been considered impossible years ago: to fork up our hard-earned cash for the “privilege” of advertising a manufacturer’s product with no cost to the company! We’ve turned ourselves into walking billboards for corporate America’s further enrichment.

But that’s only the small-fry stuff.

On Super Bowl Sunday 1991, while Frank Gifford and his colleagues announced the game on ABC, their play-by-play commentary was spliced with live war-updates from the network’s then-top newscaster, Peter Jennings.  After a while, it was impossible for the viewing audience to tell which was the main attraction: the game or the war. But in reality, the question was irrelevant. The truth was that ABC had created a new kind of event, a hybrid form of activity which switched effortlessly back and forth between the “pastime” of real blood being spilled in a real war and another pastime, the football game’s highly disciplined athletic violence. An amazing simultaneity had been achieved: the crowd’s roar was like a split-personality screaming in 2 voices at once — one voice cheered on Baghdad’s obliteration, the other shouted for running back Otis Anderson as he plunged off-tackle toward MVP immortality.

This display of athletics and patriotism was reinforced by a Disney-influenced halftime show that featured a blond child, surrounded by a chorus of other kids, singing, “You are my hero, you are everything I want to be” in honor of US service people in the Gulf. As the boy’s sweetly warbled song turned the Florida air into an oozing goo of patriotic emotion, upbeat images of US military personnel periodically flashed on the TV. All this activity soon led to a special message, projected on the stadium’s giant screen as well as on televisions across the nation, from President Bush. In his message, the president extolled the virtues of fighting a war in which goodness (i.e., the US) would triumph over evil (i.e., Iraq). As halftime ended and the 2 teams prepared to resume their battle on the field, fans waved flags and a patriotic jolt better than any crack high swept through the stadium crowd and the nation’s millions of TV viewers.  When the kickoff occurred, somewhere in the Middle East an Iraqi target was undoubtedly leveled, detonated by a high-tech US weapon. The crowd cheered.

In the midst of such patriotism-infused cultural events, with people who are ready to kill for their country bonding everywhere in a euphoria of nation-love, it’s difficult to be a nonconformist, which is why the idea of turning the whole of society into a sprawling propaganda machine appeals to the 1 percent.

Events like the 1991 Super Bowl raise politics to the level of pure spectacle.  Such events — with their efforts to induce a trance-like national pride, and their emphasis on the wholesomeness of the military mentality and the moral purity of those in power — are not confined solely to the US and are not without precedent in the past. An example of this is Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 Triumph of the Will, the German film that is a classic of Nazi propaganda and which includes many of the same elements that the 1991 Super Bowl/Gulf war extravaganza included. Riefenstahl’s film is alive, not with apparent hatred, but with the apparent power of goodness. Triumph is a feast of the images of such goodness: blond young men smiling and expressing male solidarity, buxom women working hard for the national good, a feel for the middle-European beauty of German cities and countryside, and a night-time political rally at Nuremberg which, with lit torches and an almost churchly atmosphere, seems, not like a mundane political event, but rather like a futuristic mass in honor of everything mysterious and noble in the galaxy. The film’s purpose was to create in the hearts of “good” Germans a sense of grand national destiny, a euphoric awareness of their historic mission to reorganize life on the planet in the name of a higher good that only they, among the world’s peoples, were capable of comprehending. Nazism’s deepest realities — racism, hatred of democracy, its belief in the usefulness of genocide — were hidden in the film behind images of happy nuclear families and individuals devoted to traditional values. In the end, of course, those romanticized traditional values killed 6 million Jews and millions of other people.

Just as Triumph obscured the details of Nazism’s character as a hate philosophy, so the 1991 Superbowl spectacle obscured the details of the US elite’s political/economic ambitions with regard to the middle east.  It also hid some of the war’s dirtier details — for instance, the US government’s willingness to expose its troops (and then to deny it did so) to chemical and biological weapons, and also the Pentagon’s policy of killing Iraqi civilians as a way of trying to force the population into removing Saddam Hussein from power. The burial of such details shouldn’t surprise us. Like Riefenstahl’s film, the purpose of the 1991 Superbowl spectacle was not to provide us with objective war-related information while the game was going on, but rather to manipulate people emotionally. Adopting techniques similar to the ones used in the pro-Nazi documentary, ABC and the White House employed wholesome-looking images for the purpose of instilling in the viewer a grandiose sense of national superiority. All of this is part of the language (words, symbols, images) of our American identity, our (theoretically) undeniable wholesomeness.

*****

None of us can escape it. It may be only a noise in the distance now, but it’s growing louder. As thousands of feet drum the ground, a procession of refugees, most of them from Central America, march toward the U.S.’s southern border.

These are the people who make up Trump’s hated “caravan.”

But it’s wrong to link the caravan issue only to Trump. Doing so not only misses the point, it trivializes the point to the brink of irrelevance.

The point is this: Why are they marching here? Is it simply because they’re jealous of U.S. wealth and want a piece of the pie? Or is it out of pure malice; do they get a sick thrill out of the idea of stealing U.S. citizens’ jobs?

It’s said that those in the know — the insiders with security clearances, the higher-ups, the experts — understand better than we do what’s going on in the world. The common wisdom assures us of that. Theoretically, it’s precisely such better understanding that has led the U.S. Customs and Border Protection division of the Department of Homeland Security to increasingly resist immigration from the southern Americas. Similarly, it prompted Obama to deport more immigrants from Latin America than any president prior to him. It’s also why Trump, Obama’s successor, now talks in reverent tones about a Glorious Wall, which supposedly will protect us from Latin America’s unwanteds.

What, though, is this trend’s purpose? What do “those in the know” know that has persuaded them this is a good idea? What secret information do they possess that purportedly makes them better able to grasp this issue than we are?

Well, whatever it is, it can’t be so covered up that we can’t locate it. Why not? All that’s required of an efficient knowledge-hunter is a strong stubborn streak, a lot of digging in the dark, a talent for scavenging and a low tolerance for b.s.

From 1980–1992, El Salvador was torn by violence precipitated by its military-led government. Even with all the resources made available to it as the result of U.S. aid, the government couldn’t suppress popular dissent over its broken promises to increase economic equity and political democracy. One reason for the government’s difficulty was that in response to its previous acts of repression, by 1980 the most important left and progressive formations in the country had formed an umbrella organization, Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), whose guerillas fought the elites’ armies.

As Washington looked on, the government it propped up resorted to even more violence to restore order. Although some of these incidents — like the rape and murder by El Salvadoran National Guardsmen of four churchwomen1 from the U.S. who were sympathetic to the rural poor and other oppressed sectors of the population  — caused outrage among American citizens, the White House persisted in its support of the regime. As Jeffery M. Paige wrote in an essay on the situation during that period, “It is clear that El Salvador would fall tomorrow without United States military aid.”2

But the U.S. wasn’t merely helping out with aid; it was, in fact, participating. One dimension of Washington’s commitment to assist the El Salvadoran government was to involve our own military in training Salvadoran units in counterinsurgency. The most prized of these units was the Atlacatl Battalion, which soon after its creation became well-known for its relentlessness throughout El Salvador.

Created in 1981, the battalion was a rapid-response unit which specialized in battling leftist guerrillas. Designed to be an exemplary fighting team, its purpose was broader than merely killing FMLN guerillas. It was also meant to be a sort of living advertisement for proving to folks in the U.S. “how American money and training could transform the Salvadoran army into a professional fighting force.”3

What “professional fighting force” meant in this instance was that the unit’s efficiency in the field entailed massacres and other forms of illegal violence (e.g., purposeful killing of noncombatants, etc.). However, since El Salvador’s rulers were willing to crush any left-leaning peasant, worker or student demands which might clash with its U.S. patron’s financial or other regional interests, Washington continued to consider the nation an ally. The U.S. remained unbudging in this relationship throughout the 1980s, regardless of what happened.

And a lot happened.

One of those things, a mass killing perpetrated by the Atlacatl Battalion in the village of El Mozote, was detailed in the 1993 “Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador.” After invading the village, the battalion murdered everyone they found, after dividing them into groups. First, they slew the men, who were mostly agricultural laborers and farmers with meager landholdings, then the women, then the children. Although initial death totals were estimated to be in the 200-plus range, later searches of particular sites in the village — like Santa Catarinain church where eventually more than 135 bodies were found, almost all under age twelve — expanded the verified number too much higher, somewhere in the range of 794-1000.4

The Truth Commission also cited in its 319-page report many other incidents of war-crime-level brutality, including 118 civilians killed close to Lake Suchitlán, an area supposedly under rebel control, and the 1989 slaying of “six Jesuit priests, a cook, and her 16-year old daughter . . . at the Pastoral Centre of José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador.”

Further, the UN reports that in total 75,000 El Salvadorans were killed during the 1980-1992 period, with 85 percent of the civilian deaths caused by “agents of the State, paramilitary groups allied to them, and the death squads,” with the FLMN causing only 5 percent.

As Michael J.  Hennelly’s essay “US Policy in EI Salvador” (1993) at the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) establishes, during this same period “the military and political role played by the US government was one of the most significant aspects of the Salvadoran war.” He reinforces this point by tabulating the dollar amounts spent by the U.S. on military trainers, specialized interrogation classes, military hardware, etc., plus “over $4 billion in assistance to help ensure the survival of the Salvadoran government”. Hennelly calculates that these expenditures amounted to “about one million dollars a day in US assistance” during the period.5

His final judgment is that the operation was well worth the investment.

The proof’s in the pudding, I guess. 75,000 people dead apparently isn’t a debit in his rose-colored-glasses account. Neither was the coincident destruction of much of the economic infrastructure upon which the poorer and working classes depended for survival. It’s all part of the game called Empire.

Now it’s years later. Some of the children born back then, adults now, are approaching us. They’re part of the caravan mentioned earlier, men and women plodding forward, babies crying, a ragged column winding northward. What drives them?

In many cases, as in El Salvador, the refugees are in flight from poverty and violence, residues of the harm done by U.S. policies to their nations. These policies, neocolonial/imperialist in nature, prioritized alliances with dictators while methodically retarding those nations’ independent political and economic development as part of a U.S. strategy for making sure no leftist reformers mobilized sufficient numbers of people to jeopardize U.S. plans for the area.

One more example of this U.S. approach is its operations in Guatemala, particularly in relation to that nation’s thirty-plus year civil war, which stretched from the 1960s into the 1990s.

In 1999 the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification released a report, Memory of Silence, on human rights violations and mass killings during the Guatemalan government’s repression of leftist anti-government forces. In the report’s Introduction, editor Daniel Rothenberg described the period as

a thirty-four year conflict forged by the Cold War, strongly influenced by U.S. foreign policy, and so severe that the commission determined that the state committed genocide against its own indigenous people.6

Regarding the genocide accusation, in 2013 the Guatemalan courts found General Ríos Montt, one of the dictators who led the government during the conflict, guilty of genocide against the Mayans, Guatemala’s indigenous people and the hardest hit of all the population sectors attacked by government forces and death squads. Although sentenced to 80 years in prison, his conviction was later overturned. He died in a helicopter crash before he could be retried.7

The question here is why, as documented by Memory of Silence, did the U.S. under the Reagan administration advise, train and provide international cover for Guatemalan units that killed over 100,000, mostly Mayan, people and disappeared countless others? Although Reagan was advised by the CIA of Guatemalan President Ríos Montt’s approval of such killings at the height of the death squads’ massacre spree in the early 1980s, Reagan nonetheless lauded Montt in a December 4,1982 statement following a meeting with him in Honduras. “I know,” Reagan pronounced, “that President Rios Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment” whose “country is confronting a brutal challenge from guerrillas.”8

The “brutal challenge” mentioned here by Reagan was a lie. As Memory of Silence points out, 93 percent of all deaths during the Guatemalan government’s war against its own people were perpetrated by Guatemala’s government-supported death squads, not by Reagan’s fantasy of an evil enemy’s brutality. The report also stressed that U.S. involvement in the conflict “had significant bearing on human rights violations during the armed confrontation.”

No wonder, given the amount of money we poured into the country. The quickest way to indicate the level of support given by the U.S. to the Guatemalan government in the latter part of the last century is to view a small slice of that assistance. From 1980-1986, U.S. aid to Guatemala grew from $11 million to $104 million9 But U.S. involvement in Guatemalan politics didn’t begin in the 1980s. It began long before.

Yet such is the power of our government’s culture of non-transparency that it is able to excommunicate such information from our nation’s official histories. Which is why historically the U.S. looks with distaste at serious investigative journalists and out-of-the-box analysts in the mold of Angela Davis, I.F. Stone, and Alexander Cockburn.

But even when buried information is unburied in the contemporary world, the media reburies it under so many pundit interpretations of what it supposedly means that the information is once again lost. What’s left afterward is society’s background noise: the ghostly echo of many simultaneous specialist monologues dissolved into a soup of endless chatter, not one detail of which makes sense anymore.

Given this context, it’s no surprise that as a nation we know so little today about Washington’s relationship with Guatemala. A relationship that also includes an issue not mentioned here yet: the CIA overthrow in 1954 of a democratically elected Guatemalan government led by President Jacobo Árbenz, an event believed by many to have precipitated decades of U.S.-provoked  death and ruination in the country.

Philip Rothenberg, Memory of Silence’s editor, described the overthrow and its aftermath this way: “In the mid-1950s, a successful ten-year democratic process that challenged the status quo was overthrown with support from the United States.” He then further states that from the coup onwards the U.S. exerted significant control “through overt and covert means” over Guatemalan politics for decades. This control includes the so-called civil war, which was actually a clash between a succession of U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictatorships and the people of their own country, people fighting to recapture some of the freedom and hope they’d experienced during the Árbenz period of leftist democratic reform. A period which we, the U.S., brought to a violent end.

The story of this violation of international law is one more tale that, if told in the U.S. in combination with the story of our intervention in El Salvador and elsewhere in Latin America, would help us to better understand the caravans of refugees which periodically march toward our southern border.

Whether we understand the reason for them coming or not, they keep coming. The reason for their coming is no surprise. It’s not because the caravans consist of rabid mobs foaming at the mouth to steal our livelihoods. It’s not because, as Carson Tucker suggested on Fox TV on July 17, 2018, that there’s a plan afoot for assimilating darker-skinned refugees from Latin America for the purpose of “changing election outcomes here by forcing demographic change on this country.”

The caravans head here not for these reasons but for others. They migrate in significant part because over the decades U.S. policies have left (and often still leave) disaster in their wake: fractured economies, austerity budgets shaped by the IMF and World Bank, giant gulfs between poor and rich, and drug lords and street gangs filling the gaps left by corrupted political leadership.

Today, fleeing violence and poverty at home, many Central Americans head north to the U.S. This is irony in the form of the darkest black humor. In-flight for their lives, asylum-seekers quit homelands wrecked by U.S. neocolonialism, then migrate toward the U.S. in hope of a better future! Such is the life of the international poor under advanced capitalism. Constantly caught between a rock and a hard place, they must accept help even from those imperial outsiders responsible for much of the hardship they’ve suffered.

*****

I saw an interesting fellow last night in Philadelphia on the corner of Chestnut St. and 2nd Ave., only a block or so from the Indian restaurant where Suman (my wife) and I ate earlier.

He was one of those guys you can find in any city, a bearded character who knows how to attract a crowd with his shenanigans. Dressed cleanly, although, in faded loose-fitting clothes that looked like they’d been in and out of a thousand laundromats on the wrong side of the tracks over the years, he wore a kid’s party hat, the kind shaped like a cone and secured in place by a rubber band under the chin. Playing the buffoon, but nonetheless showing his smarts, he glanced merrily at his growing number of listeners. An artist of the nonstop soliloquy, complete with punchlines and melodramatic facial expressions, his oratory soared like an MC who never saw an audience he didn’t love. I couldn’t keep up with everything he said, but at one point he mentioned a neighborhood called Star-Spangled Estates, then a while later joked, “If you’re gonna pull yourself up by the bootstraps, you best buy a new pair of colorful Nike laces first, so when you get where you’re going they’ll know you’re the man!”

The crowd loved him. A marvel of streetsmart articulacy, he was on a roll. Later, as he brought his spiel to conclusion, he did a sort of bump-and-grind to punctuate his words, then twirled in a circle and suddenly stood still, holding his hands, palms upward, in the air, with a plastic statue of liberty on one palm and a toy automatic weapon on the other —

“Oh yeah, folks, let me teach you the American dance of life! Let me show you how to let it all hang loose!”

The swarm of onlookers, which had grown much larger by then, roared their approval for his performance. It was his appearance that made their hearts go out to him. For them, for all of us, he was the spitting image of an old Uncle Sam down on his luck.

The government must have fired him years ago, then outsourced his job to god knows where.

*****

Rather than expressing a truth, the phrase “The land of the free and home of the brave” impersonates a truth.

The phrase is a lure like the lure on a fishing line. We are meant to bite down on it in a gluttonous spasm of patriotic hunger, only to have a hook rip open the roof of our mouth, then anchor itself unbudgingly in the wound.

This is how we’re caught. How groupthink triumphs.

Revolting against such a reality makes sense. But to revolt doesn’t mean lecturing people about what they should do. It means working alongside people so we can learn together how to transform ourselves into a relentless mass force for a revolutionary reorganization of the nation and a reinvention of values.

The wars are everywhere. Wars at home. Imperial wars overseas. Our struggle may be complex, but our goals aren’t. We must fight injustice and inequity wherever we find them within the U.S., and stop exportation of violence, murder, and oppression to other lands. We don’t need reform, we need revolution.

  1. Haggerty, Richard A., ed. 1990. El Salvador: A Country Study. Library of Congress, Federal Research Division.
  2. Paige, Jeffery M. 1993. “Coffee and Power in El Salvador.” Latin American Research Review, Vol. 28, No. 3. 1993.
  3. Wilkinson, Tracy. “Notorious Salvadoran Battalion Is Disbanded: Military: U.S.-trained Atlacatl unit was famed for battle prowess but was also implicated in atrocities”, LA Times, December 9, 1992.
  4. Malkin, Elisabeth. 2016. “Survivors of Massacre.” The New York Times, May 16, 2016; Tawney, Joseph. 2018. “The Long-Game.” International Policy Digest, January 12, 2018.
  5. Hennelly, Michael J. 1993. “US Policy in EI Salvador.” Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC).
  6. Rothenberg, David, ed. 2012. Memory of Silence. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  7. Kinzer, Stephen. 2018. “Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemalan Dictator Convicted of Genocide, Dies at 91.” The New York Times, April 1, 2018.
  8. Reagan, Ronald. 1982. “Remarks in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Following a Meeting With President Jose Efrain Rios Montt of Guatemala.” UC Santa Barbara: The American Presidency Project.
  9. Grandin, Greg. 2013. “Guatemalan Slaughter Was Part of Reagan’s Hard Line.” The New York Times, May 21, 2013.

The Millstone around Trump’s Neck?

This Bible passage (Matthew 18:1-6) is getting a lot of attention recently. Let me use the King James Version so beloved by evangelicals:

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

This text has been used to criticize Trump’s grotesque child-abusing border policy by a range of Christian groups, pro- and anti-Trump and maybe some others. Anyway the passage occurred to me as I watched the news, and I’m not even Christian, just familiar from childhood with gospels. I can understand why it might have crossed a few million other minds simultaneously as this horror story unfolded.

Some of the most moving passages in the New Testament deal with the treatment of children. When the chief priests in the Temple in Jerusalem hear children cheering Jesus and complain, he cites Psalm 8:2 about how praise for the Lord comes out from the mouths of babes and sucklings (Matthew 21:16). In Mark 10:13-16 Jesus, in response to protests he is spending too much time with children, says famously, “Suffer the little children to come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Et cetera.

This is why Karl Marx told his daughter Eleanor (after, as she recounted, “patiently elucidating the story of the carpenter whom the rich men killed”): “We can forgive Christianity much because it taught us the worship of the child.” (Not once but often in her childhood, according to her account.) Marx was very pro-child.

In 1975 McGraw-Hill published a volume in its Karl Marx Library series entitled On Education, Women and Children. I don’t have it on hand and can’t readily cite it now but remember feeling impressed by Marx’s psychological insights about how children grow up.

Socialist societies, to the extent that societies deserving that designation have ever existed, have placed priority on the care of children. Certainly children’s housing, security, education, medical care. These efforts have been widely studied in this country and sometimes inspired “socialist” institutional changes. One could mention the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), a federal assistance program begun during the New Deal in this country in 1935 (but ended during Bill Clinton’s tenure in 1996).

The International Year of the Child pronounced by UNESCO in 1979 led to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ten years later. (One must mention, however, that the U.S. withdrew from UNESCO last October—in protest of its bias against Israel, surprise, surprise—and the U.S. Congress has never ratified the Convention.)

In the U.S. groups like Focus on the Family depict themselves as protectors of children (or imagined children, including every human egg fertilized as we speak). One of the most horrible pieces of recent U.S. legislation is referred to as the “No Child Left Behind” act. Hillary Clinton ran twice as a mother—-so warmly maternal, did you notice?—who had told us it takes a village to raise a child.

The worship of the child, that is to say, passed from Christianity into Marxism and the socialist experiments that prompted in response global reforms. But in the 90s triumphant capitalism became crueler; most notably, the 1994 crime bill endorsed by Clinton virtually criminalized a generation of black youth. Still, there remained a thin veneer of humanitarianism. Clinton’s attorney general had the good sense to let Elian Gonzalez return to his dad in Cuba, for example, in 2000.

But now the world hears these reports and sees these images of the U.S.A. that had once said: “Give me your tired and your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Now the message is: You tired, poor people, hardly breathing after your 1000-mile trek, need to be detained as criminals, the children among you held separately and dispersed all over the country pending some possible reunion somewhere at some point, there being no guarantee parents won’t be deported while their children remain in confinement. That’s not as evil as stuff terrorists have done to children in Iraq and Syria. ICE is not ISIS. But it’s shockingly bad.

All of Latin America knows that Trump is a racist buffoon using anti-immigrant (especially anti-Hispanic immigrant) sentiment and the issue of the wall to maintain his appeal to his base. The “zero policy” is overwhelming supported by Republican Party voters.

But It’s one thing to inveigh against Mexican advantages within NAFTA or accuse Mexico of sending its rapists to the U.S. It’s one thing to insult leaders of neighboring nations. That’s just adults, acting childish.

It’s another to cruelly treat Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan families including those seeking asylum, ripping parents from their kids after their hazardous 1000-mile trek. It’s another thing to compound childhood trauma with more trauma, to show the state of the power to enforce obedience to its laws.

In a CIA study of world infant mortality rates, the U.S. stands at 170 out of 225—behind virtually all of Europe, and, of course, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Macao, Hong Kong. It is tied with Serbia. Trump’s stand on Planned Parenthood promises no improvement.

How can you more alienate normal humanity than inflicting pain on children, wrenching them from their mother’s arms? There are several millstones around Trump’s neck, but this could be the one that drags him down.

More on “Keeping Families Together”

Good on everyone who rallied in such large numbers on behalf of keeping families together. I will generalize and break down the participants into three groups. The first was composed of folks who may have participated in their first protest and responded with genuine empathy and moral outrage regarding a transparently immoral situation. They are well-intentioned and believe the Federal government is not acting in ways commensurate with America’s highest ideals. For them, the blame largely lies with Trump but they’re not opposed to hearing more discussion on the subject.

A second group understood that public pressure must be sustained to force any meaningful change. They also grasp that this didn’t begin with Trump but with a long history of brutal bipartisan U.S. policy in Central America‘s Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. These three countries suffer the first, fourth and fifth highest homocide rates in the world. U.S action on behalf of empire stoked this desperate situation; this second group also refuses to exempt the Democrats for their complicity, including Obama’s horrific immigration policies. They know that in 2014, Hillary Clinton spoke in favor of deporting thousands of Central American migrant children, saying “We have to send a clear message that just because your child gets across the border doesn’t mean your child gets to stay.”

These participants largely connected the dots and know the history of U.S. officials breaking and destroying families both here and abroad from the very beginning. These folks might have read books like Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States or Robert Jensen’s Citizens of the Empire. Further, they might have wondered, as did commentator Elizabeth Oram, that considering this past, “Where were the masses, outrage, the fury? Do we care about families or do we just want to make a partisan challenge to an embarrassing Republican?” In addition, the second group are right to worry there will be 24/7 efforts by DNC-level Democrats to coopt the movement and use it to protect incumbants and increase their seats in November.

Those in the third group might have a ”Hate Has No Home Here” yard sign, mouth the right phrases and take part in one-off, media-celebrated, “feel good,“ anti-Trump events. And not a few of them come across as self-righteous while keeping cognitive dissonance at bay. As Noam Chomsky observes, such people are “…deeply and deliberately apolitical in the sense they do not seek to address issues of power, resources, decision making, or how to bring about change.”

I take no pleasure in saying it’s the latter who must “get woke“ from their moral amnesia if they’re serious about safeguarding children and families everywhere. It’s not too late but time is exceedingly short.

Shakespeare said it best

Much ado about nothing.

That’s the “Russian interference” in the 2016 American election.

A group of Russians operating from a building in St. Petersburg, we are told in a February 16 US government indictment, sent out tweets, Facebook and YouTube postings, etc. to gain support for Trump and hurt Clinton even though most of these messages did not even mention Trump or Clinton; and many were sent out before Trump was even a candidate.

The Russian-interference indictment is predicated, apparently, on the idea that the United States is a backward, Third-World, Banana Republic, easily manipulated.

If the Democrats think it’s so easy and so effective to sway voters in the United States why didn’t the party do better?

At times the indictment tells us that the online advertising campaign, led by the shadowy Internet Research Agency of Russia, was meant to divide the American people, not influence the 2016 election. The Russians supposedly wished to cause “divisiveness” in the American people, particularly around controversial issues such as immigration, politics, energy policy, climate change, and race. “The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy,” said Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the inquiry. “We must not allow them to succeed.”1

Imagine that – the American people, whom we all know are living in blissful harmony and fraternity without any noticeable anger or hatred, would become divided! Damn those Russkis!

After the election of Trump as president in November 2016, the defendants “used false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies in support of then president-elect Trump, while simultaneously using other false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies protesting the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

The indictment also states that defendants in New York organized a demonstration designed to “show your support for President-Elect Donald Trump” held on or about November 12, 2016. At the same time, defendants and their co-conspirators, organized another rally in New York called “Trump is NOT my President”.

Much of the indictment and the news reports of the past year are replete with such contradictions, lending credence to the suggestion that what actually lay behind the events was a “click-bait” scheme wherein certain individuals earned money based on the number of times a particular website is accessed. The mastermind behind this scheme is reported to be a Russian named Yevgeny Prigozhin of the above-named Internet Research Agency, which is named in the indictment.2

The Russian operation began four years ago, well before Trump entered the presidential race, a fact that he quickly seized on in his defense. “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President,” he wrote on Twitter. “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”

Point 95 of the Indictment summarizes the “click-bait” scheme as follows:

Defendants and their co-conspirators also used the accounts to receive money from real U.S. persons in exchange for posting promotions and advertisements on the ORGANIZATION-controlled social media pages. Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain U.S. merchants and U.S. social media sites between 25 and 50 U.S. dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false U.S. persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist.

Although there’s no doubt that the Kremlin favored Trump over Clinton, the whole “Russian influence” storm may be based on a misunderstanding of commercial activities of a Russian marketing company in US social networks.

Here’s some Real interference in election campaigns

[Slightly abridged version of chapter 18 in William Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower; see it for notes]

Philippines, 1950s:

Flagrant manipulation by the CIA of the nation’s political life, featuring stage-managed elections with extensive disinformation campaigns, heavy financing of candidates, writing their speeches, drugging the drinks of one of the opponents of the CIA-supported candidate so he would appear incoherent; plotting the assassination of another candidate. The oblivious New York Times declared that “It is not without reason that the Philippines has been called “democracy’s showcase in Asia”.

Italy, 1948-1970s:

Multifarious campaigns to repeatedly sabotage the electoral chances of the Communist Party and ensure the election of the Christian Democrats, long-favored by Washington.

Lebanon, 1950s:

The CIA provided funds to support the campaigns of President Camille Chamoun and selected parliamentary candidates; other funds were targeted against candidates who had shown less than total enchantment with US interference in Lebanese politics.

Indonesia, 1955:

A million dollars were dispensed by the CIA to a centrist coalition’s electoral campaign in a bid to cut into the support for President Sukarno’s party and the Indonesian Communist Party.

Vietnam, 1955:

The US was instrumental in South Vietnam canceling the elections scheduled to unify North and South because of the certainty that the North Vietnamese communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, would easily win.

British Guiana/Guyana, 1953-64:

For 11 years, two of the oldest democracies in the world, Great Britain and the United States, went to great lengths to prevent Cheddi Jagan – three times the democratically elected leader – from occupying his office. Using a wide variety of tactics – from general strikes and disinformation to terrorism and British legalisms – the US and Britain forced Jagan out of office twice during this period.

Japan, 1958-1970s:

The CIA emptied the US treasury of millions to finance the conservative Liberal Democratic Party in parliamentary elections, “on a seat-by-seat basis”, while doing what it could to weaken and undermine its opposition, the Japanese Socialist Party. The 1961-63 edition of the State Department’s annual Foreign Relations of the United States, published in 1996, includes an unprecedented disclaimer that, because of material left out, a committee of distinguished historians thinks “this published compilation does not constitute a ‘thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of major United States foreign policy decisions’” as required by law. The deleted material involved US actions from 1958-1960 in Japan, according to the State Department’s historian.

Nepal, 1959:

By the CIA’s own admission, it carried out an unspecified “covert action” on behalf of B.P. Koirala to help his Nepali Congress Party win the national parliamentary election. It was Nepal’s first national election ever, and the CIA was there to initiate them into the wonderful workings of democracy.

Laos, 1960:

CIA agents stuffed ballot boxes to help a hand-picked strongman, Phoumi Nosavan, set up a pro-American government.

Brazil, 1962:

The CIA and the Agency for International Development expended millions of dollars in federal and state elections in support of candidates opposed to leftist President João Goulart, who won anyway.

Dominican Republic, 1962:

In October 1962, two months before election day, US Ambassador John Bartlow Martin got together with the candidates of the two major parties and handed them a written notice, in Spanish and English, which he had prepared. It read in part: “The loser in the forthcoming election will, as soon as the election result is known, publicly congratulate the winner, publicly recognize him as the President of all the Dominican people, and publicly call upon his own supporters to so recognize him. … Before taking office, the winner will offer Cabinet seats to members of the loser’s party. (They may decline).”

As matters turned out, the winner, Juan Bosch, was ousted in a military coup seven months later, a slap in the face of democracy which neither Martin nor any other American official did anything about.

Guatemala, 1963:

The US overthrew the regime of General Miguel Ydigoras because he was planning to step down in 1964, leaving the door open to an election; an election that Washington feared would be won by the former president, liberal reformer and critic of US foreign policy, Juan José Arévalo. Ydigoras’s replacement made no mention of elections.

Bolivia, 1966:

The CIA bestowed $600,000 upon President René Barrientos and lesser sums to several right-wing parties in a successful effort to influence the outcome of national elections. Gulf Oil contributed two hundred thousand more to Barrientos.

Chile, 1964-70:

Major US interventions into national elections in 1964 and 1970, and congressional elections in the intervening years. Socialist Salvador Allende fell victim in 1964, but won in 1970 despite a multimillion-dollar CIA operation against him. The Agency then orchestrated his downfall in a 1973 military coup.

Portugal, 1974-5:

In the years following the coup in 1974 by military officers who talked like socialists, the CIA revved up its propaganda machine while funneling many millions of dollars to support “moderate” candidates, in particular Mario Soares and his (so-called) Socialist Party. At the same time, the Agency enlisted social-democratic parties of Western Europe to provide further funds and support to Soares. It worked. The Socialist Party became the dominant power.

Australia, 1974-75:

Despite providing considerable support for the opposition, the United States failed to defeat the Labor Party, which was strongly against the US war in Vietnam and CIA meddling in Australia. The CIA then used “legal” methods to unseat the man who won the election, Edward Gough Whitlam.

Jamaica, 1976:

A CIA campaign to defeat social democrat Michael Manley’s bid for reelection, featuring disinformation, arms shipments, labor unrest, economic destabilization, financial support for the opposition, and attempts upon Manley’s life. Despite it all, he was victorious.

Panama, 1984, 1989:

In 1984, the CIA helped finance a highly questionable presidential electoral victory for one of Manuel Noriega’s men. The opposition cried “fraud”, but the new president was welcomed at the White House. By 1989, Noriega was no longer a Washington favorite, so the CIA provided more than $10 million dollars to his electoral opponents.

Nicaragua, 1984, 1990:

In 1984, the United States, trying to discredit the legitimacy of the Sandinista government’s scheduled election, covertly persuaded the leading opposition coalition to not take part. A few days before election day, some other rightist parties on the ballot revealed that US diplomats had been pressing them to drop out of the race as well. The CIA also tried to split the Sandinista leadership by placing phoney full-page ads in neighboring countries. But the Sandinistas won handily in a very fair election monitored by hundreds of international observers.

Six years later, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Washington’s specially created stand-in for the CIA, poured in millions of dollars to defeat Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas in the February elections. NED helped organize the Nicaraguan opposition, UNO, building up the parties and organizations that formed and supported this coalition.

Perhaps most telling of all, the Nicaraguan people were made painfully aware that a victory by the Sandinistas would mean a continuation of the relentlessly devastating war being waged against them by Washington through their proxy army, the Contras.

Haiti, 1987-1988:

After the Duvalier dictatorship came to an end in 1986, the country prepared for its first free elections ever. However, Haiti’s main trade union leader declared that Washington was working to undermine the left. US aid organizations, he said, were encouraging people in the countryside to identify and reject the entire left as “communist”. Meanwhile, the CIA was involved in a range of support for selected candidates until the US Senate Intelligence Committee ordered the Agency to cease its covert electoral action.

Bulgaria, 1990-1991 and Albania, 1991-1992:

With no regard for the fragility of these nascent democracies, the US interfered broadly in their elections and orchestrated the ousting of their elected socialist governments.

Russia, 1996:

For four months (March-June), a group of veteran American political consultants worked secretly in Moscow in support of Boris Yeltsin’s presidential campaign. Boris Yeltsin was being counted on to run with the globalized-free market ball and it was imperative that he cross the goal line. The Americans emphasized sophisticated methods of message development, polling, focus groups, crowd staging, direct-mailing, etc., and advised against public debates with the Communists. Most of all they encouraged the Yeltsin campaign to “go negative” against the Communists, painting frightening pictures of what the Communists would do if they took power, including much civic upheaval and violence, and, of course, a return to the worst of Stalinism. Before the Americans came on board, Yeltsin was favored by only six percent of the electorate. In the first round of voting, he edged the Communists 35 percent to 32, and was victorious in the second round 54 to 40 percent.

Mongolia, 1996:

The National Endowment for Democracy worked for several years with the opposition to the governing Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRR, the former Communists) who had won the 1992 election to achieve a very surprising electoral victory. In the six-year period leading up to the 1996 elections, NED spent close to a million dollars in a country with a population of some 2.5 million, the most significant result of which was to unite the opposition into a new coalition, the National Democratic Union. Borrowing from Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, the NED drafted a “Contract With the Mongolian Voter”, which called for private property rights, a free press and the encouragement of foreign investment. The MPRR had already instituted Western-style economic reforms, which had led to widespread poverty and wiped out much of the communist social safety net. But the new government promised to accelerate the reforms, including the privatization of housing. By 1998 it was reported that the US National Security Agency had set up electronic listening posts in Outer Mongolia to intercept Chinese army communications, and the Mongolian intelligence service was using nomads to gather intelligence in China itself.

Bosnia, 1998:

Effectively an American protectorate, with Carlos Westendorp – the Spanish diplomat appointed to enforce Washington’s offspring: the 1995 Dayton peace accords – as the colonial Governor-General. Before the September elections for a host of offices, Westendorp removed 14 Croatian candidates from the ballot because of alleged biased coverage aired in Bosnia by neighboring Croatia’s state television and politicking by ethnic Croat army soldiers. After the election, Westendorp fired the elected president of the Bosnian Serb Republic, accusing him of creating instability. In this scenario those who appeared to support what the US and other Western powers wished were called “moderates”, and allowed to run for and remain in office. Those who had other thoughts were labeled “hard-liners”, and ran the risk of a different fate. When Westendorp was chosen to assume this position of “high representative” in Bosnia in May 1997, The Guardian of London wrote that “The US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, praised the choice. But some critics already fear that Mr. Westendorp will prove too lightweight and end up as a cipher in American hands.”

Nicaragua, 2001

Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega was once again a marked man. US State Department officials tried their best to publicly associate him with terrorism, including just after September 11 had taken place, and to shamelessly accuse Sandinista leaders of all manner of violations of human rights, civil rights, and democracy. The US ambassador literally campaigned for Ortega’s opponent, Enrique Bolaños. A senior analyst in Nicaragua for Gallup, the international pollsters, was moved to declare: “Never in my whole life have I seen a sitting ambassador get publicly involved in a sovereign country’s electoral process, nor have I ever heard of it.”

At the close of the campaign, Bolaños announced: “If Ortega comes to power, that would provoke a closing of aid and investment, difficulties with exports, visas and family remittances. I’m not just saying this. The United States says this, too. We cannot close our eyes and risk our well-being and work. Say yes to Nicaragua, say no to terrorism.”

In the end, the Sandinistas lost the election by about ten percentage points after steadily leading in the polls during much of the campaign.

Bolivia, 2002

The American bête noire here was Evo Morales, Amerindian, former member of Congress, socialist, running on an anti-neoliberal, anti-big business, and anti-coca eradication campaign. The US Ambassador declared: “The Bolivian electorate must consider the consequences of choosing leaders somehow connected with drug trafficking and terrorism.” Following September 11, painting Officially Designated Enemies with the terrorist brush was de rigueur US foreign policy rhetoric.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs warned that American aid to the country would be in danger if Mr. Morales was chosen. Then the ambassador and other US officials met with key figures from Bolivia’s main political parties in an effort to shore up support for Morales’s opponent, Sanchez de Lozada. Morales lost the vote.

Slovakia, 2002

To defeat Vladimir Meciar, former prime minister, a man who did not share Washington’s weltanschauung about globalization, the US ambassador explicitly warned the Slovakian people that electing him would hurt their chances of entry into the European Union and NATO. The US ambassador to NATO then arrived and issued his own warning. The National Endowment for Democracy was also on hand to influence the election. Meciar lost.

El Salvador, 2004

Washington’s target in this election was Schafik Handal, candidate of the FMLN, the leftist former guerrilla group. He said he would withdraw El Salvador’s 380 troops from Iraq as well as reviewing other pro-US policies; he would also take another look at the privatizations of Salvadoran industries, and would reinstate diplomatic relations with Cuba. His opponent was Tony Saca of the incumbent Arena Party, a pro-US, pro-free market organization of the extreme right, which in the bloody civil war days had featured death squads and the infamous assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

During a February visit to the country, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, met with all the presidential candidates except Handal. He warned of possible repercussions in US-Salvadoran relations if Handal were elected. Three Republican congressmen threatened to block the renewal of annual work visas for some 300,000 Salvadorans in the United States if El Salvador opted for the FMLN. And Congressman Thomas Tancredo of Colorado stated that if the FMLN won, “it could mean a radical change” in US policy on remittances to El Salvador.

Washington’s attitude was exploited by Arena and the generally conservative Salvadoran press, who mounted a scare campaign, and it became widely believed that a Handal victory could result in mass deportations of Salvadorans from the United States and a drop in remittances. Arena won the election with about 57 percent of the vote to some 36 percent for the FMLN.

After the election, the US ambassador declared that Washington’s policies concerning immigration and remittances had nothing to do with any election in El Salvador. There appears to be no record of such a statement being made in public before the election when it might have had a profound positive effect for the FMLN.

Afghanistan, 2004

The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, went around putting great pressure on one candidate after another to withdraw from the presidential race so as to insure the victory for Washington’s man, the incumbent, Hamid Karzai in the October election. There was nothing particularly subtle about it. Khalilzad told each one what he wanted and then asked them what they needed. Karzai, a long-time resident in the United States, was described by the Washington Post as “a known and respected figure at the State Department and National Security Council and on Capitol Hill.”

“Our hearts have been broken because we thought we could have beaten Mr. Karzai if this had been a true election,” said Sayed Mustafa Sadat Ophyani, campaign manager for Younis Qanooni, Karzai’s leading rival. “But it is not. Mr. Khalilzad is putting a lot of pressure on us and does not allow us to fight a good election campaign.”.

None of the major candidates actually withdrew from the election, which Karzai won with about 56 percent of the votes.

The Cold War Forever

On March 7 British police said that a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, a city southwest of London. The police said that Skripal had been “targeted specifically” with a nerve agent. Skripal was jailed in Russia in 2006 for passing state secrets to Britain. He was released in 2010 as part of a spy swap.

Because nerve agents are complex to make, they are typically not made by individuals, but rather by states. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said that the Skripal case had “echoes” of what happened to Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB Operative who British officials believe was poisoned in London by Russian agents in 2006, becoming the first victim of lethal polonium-210-induced acute radiation syndrome. Before he died, he spoke about the misdeeds of the Russian secret service and delivered public deathbed accusations that Russian president Vladimir Putin was behind his unusual malady.

Because of this the Skripal poisoning looks like an open-and-shut case.

But hold on. Skripal was sent to Britain by the Russian government eight years ago in an exchange of spies. Why would they want to kill him now, and with Putin’s election coming up? And with the quadrennial football (soccer) World Cup coming up soon to be played in Russia. Moscow is very proud of this, publicizing it every day on their international television stations (RT in the US). A murder like this could surely put a serious damper on the Moscow festivities. Boris Johnson has already dropped a threat: “Thinking ahead to the World Cup this July, this summer, I think it would be very difficult to imagine that UK representation at that event could go ahead in the normal way and we would certainly have to consider that.”3 It was totally predictable.

Because political opposition is weak, and no obvious threat to the ruling United Russia Party, what would the government gain by an assassination of an opposition figure?

So if Russia is not responsible for Skripal’s poisoning, who is? Well, I have an idea. I can’t give you the full name of the guilty party, but its initials are CIA. US-Russian Cold Wars produce unmitigated animosity. As but one example, the United States boycotted the Olympics that were held in the Soviet Union in 1980, because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union then boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Ideology and Evolution

New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet recently declared: “I think we are pro-capitalism. The New York Times is in favor of capitalism because it has been the greatest engine of, it’s been the greatest anti-poverty program and engine of progress that we’ve seen.”4 The man is correct as far as he goes. But there are two historical factors that enter into this discussion that he fails to consider:

    1. Socialism may well have surpassed capitalism as an anti-poverty program and engine of progress if the United States and other capitalist powers had not subverted, destabilized, invaded, and/or overthrown every halfway serious attempt at socialism in the world. Not one socialist-oriented government, from Cuba and Vietnam in the 1960s, to Nicaragua and Chile in the 1970s, to Bulgaria and Yugoslavia in the 1990s, to Haiti and Venezuela in the 2000s has been allowed to rise or fall based on its own merits or lack of same, or allowed to relax its guard against the ever-threatening capital imperialists.
    2. Evolution: Social and economic systems have evolved along with human beings. Humankind has roughly gone from slavery to feudalism to capitalism. There’s no reason to assume that this evolution has come to a grinding halt, particularly given the deep-seated needs of the world in the face of one overwhelming problem after another, most caused by putting profit before people.
  1. New York Times, February 16, 2018.
  2. Mueller Indictment – The “Russian Influence” Is A Commercial Marketing Scheme,” Moon of Alabama, February 17, 2018.
  3. The Independent (London), March 6, 2018.
  4. Huffington Post, February 27, 2018.

Toronto Maple Leafs go Full Military

Hey, Maple Leafs, be careful what traditions you honour.

On Saturday the Leafs are playing an outdoor game against the Washington Capitals at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. To mark the occasion the team created a jersey with the Royal Canadian Navy’s “Ready, Aye, Ready” motto on it. The website unveiling the sweaters includes a brief history of the RCN, and Leafs President Brendan Shanahan said the jerseys were designed to honour “the traditions of the Royal Canadian Navy” whose sailors “stand always ready to defend Canada and proudly safeguard its interests and values whether at home or abroad.”

Sounds all maple syrupy, but there are a couple of nagging questions: Whose “interests and values” are we talking about? Should we honour all their traditions?

For example, in 1917 the Royal Bank loaned $200,000 to unpopular Costa Rican dictator Federico Tinoco just as he was about to flee the country. A new government refused to repay, saying the Canadian bank knew Tinoco was likely to steal it. “In 1921,” reports Royal Military College historian Sean Maloney in Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy, “Aurora, Patriot and Patrician helped the Royal Bank of Canada satisfactorily settle an outstanding claim with the government of that country.”

In 1932 RCN destroyers Skeena and Vancouver assisted a month-old military coup government that brutally suppressed a peasant and indigenous rebellion in El Salvador. London had informed Ottawa that a “communist” uprising was underway and there was a “possibility of danger to British Banks, railways and other British lives and property” as well as a Canadian-owned utility. Bolstered by the RCN’s presence, the military regime would commit “one of the worst massacres of civilians in the history of the Americas.”

In 1963 two Canadian naval vessels joined US, British and French warships, reports Maloney, that “conducted landing exercises up to the [Haiti’s] territorial limit several times with the express purpose of intimidating the Duvalier government.” That mission was largely aimed at guaranteeing that Haiti did not make any moves towards Cuba and that a Cuban-inspired guerrilla movement did not seize power.

Two years later thousands of US troops invaded the Dominican Republic to stop a left-wing government from taking office. Alongside the US invasion, a Canadian warship was sent to Santo Domingo in April 1965, in the words of Defence Minister Paul Hellyer, “to stand by in case it is required.”

After dispatching three vessels during the First Iraq war in 1991 Canadian warships were part of US carrier battle groups enforcing brutal sanctions. In 1998 HMCS Toronto was deployed to support US airstrikes on Iraq. In the months just before and after the second US-led invasion of Iraq at least ten Canadian naval vessels conducted maritime interdictions, force-support and force-projection operations in the Arabian Sea. Canadian frigates often accompanied US warships used as platforms for bombing raids in Iraq. A month before the commencement of the US invasion, Canada sent a command and control destroyer to the Persian Gulf to take charge of Taskforce 151 — the joint allied naval command. Opinion sought by the Liberal government concluded that taking command of Taskforce 151 could make Canada legally at war with Iraq.

In 2011 HMCS Charlottetown and Vancouver were dispatched to enforce a UN arms embargo on Libya. But, they allowed weapons, including from Canadian companies, to flow to anti-Gaddafi rebels. They also helped destroy Libyan government naval vessels.

Last summer HMCS Ottawa and Winnipeg participated in “freedom of navigation” operations alongside US, Japanese, Australian and other countries’ warships in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Chinese vessels responded by “shadowing” the Canadian vessels for 36 hours.

The honest truth is that the RCN is employed mostly to advance corporate and Western geostrategic interests, something many of us would prefer not to honour.