The Yellow Book (Libro amarillo) is a 270 page document from 1987 that the National Security Archive in Washington DC made public on September 28th, 2014. The Yellow Book includes 1,975 photographs that the Salvadoran Armed Forces and the State Department of Intelligence of El Salvador used to catalogue people as “terrorists” and “enemies” of the state. The Yellow Book is the only military document that has been made public to this day.
At first glance the document seems to reiterate many of the cases that were made public through the work of the Truth Commission in El Salvador in the early 1990s. However, upon closer inspection, important clues begin to emerge about the nature of military surveillance of Salvadoran citizens and how disappearances and deaths were covered up. For example, in the document, names are encoded with letters and the codes matched with photographs that strip citizens of the very identities that stitched them into Salvadoran society. In the first few pages the book lays out a system for referencing “terrorist delinquents” so that names would not be spoken by radio or telephone. In effect, this code facilitated the process of making detainees disappear without a trace. The pictures themselves provide further clues about state surveillance; some photographs look as though they were part of the state ID card photographs and yet other photographs show individuals in much more haggard condition. Were these photographs taken during a given moment of detainment? Yet other photographs look as though they were taken during moments shared between friends or families. Were these photographs stolen from people’s homes during raids? There are other photographs that seem to have been taken without the person knowing that they were being photographed. These types of photographs suggest the work of a secret police that was trailing marked individuals. Additionally, the fact that the book was a photo-album to be photocopied means that it was likely a work in progress. As photographs were obtained they were added and information could shift and change without displacing the logic of the entire text.
The code also reveals the nature of state surveillance of Salvadoran citizens in the 1980s. The document identifies Salvadorans as leaders of militant groups, militants, and union organizers and specifies which particular group or political party the person is associated with. Salvadoran state authorities also recorded additional information about individuals such as pseudonyms and noted any trips abroad to Nicaragua, Cuba, Russia or China. Dozens of individuals are marked as “collaborators,” which leads the viewer to wonder about the torture mechanisms that broke the will of militants. The fact that there were so many collaborators muddies the public memory of a clearly divided left and right. What was the nature of the collaboration? Does “collaboration” mean naming people during torture sessions or does it imply a much deeper involvement as in the Chilean cases of Luz Arce and Alejandra Merino? Does the title of “collaborator” mean that the individual survived their involvement with the Salvadoran Armed Forces? Other individuals are listed as “pardoned” and this category of individuals also leaves many questions.
On the cover page just above the title of the book, a penned note serves as a prologue: “That this may be used. Make photocopies of the photographs and print them in bulletins, so that their enemies will be known.” This is part of a secondary “code” at work in the document in which some photographs are starred in pen and other names are crossed out. The stars mark names that are well known today including El Salvador’s current President Salvador Sánchez Cerén.
Recently, organizations such as the Human Rights Institute of the Central American University (IDHUCA) and the Asociación Pro-Búsqueda presented a legal challenge to the Supreme Court to revisit the legality of the general amnesty passed in 1993. The publication of the Yellow Book may become a cornerstone in the case against impunity in El Salvador.
Evelyn Galindo-Doucette is a Kohler Fellow at the University of Wisconsin.
Chile, El Salvador and Peru have announced they are recalling their ambassadors in Tel Aviv in consultation to protest the Israeli assault on the besieged strip of Gaza.
The moves come on the heels of Brazil and Ecuador, who announced last week that they were recalling their envoys.
“Given the escalation of Israeli military operations in Gaza, the Government of Chile, in coordination with others in our region, has decided to call in consultation Santiago Ambassador of Chile in Tel Aviv, Jorge Montero,” the Chilean foreign ministry in Santiago said in a statement.
“Chile notes with great concern and dismay that such military operations, which at this stage of development are subject to a collective punishment against the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza do not respect fundamental rules of international humanitarian law.”
The Chilean foreign ministry emphasized the more than 1,000 Palestinians killed, including women and children during Operation Protective Edge, which continued for a 22nd day on Tuesday. The statement also noted Israel’s attacks “on schools and hospitals.”
“The scale and intensity of Israeli operations in Gaza violate the principle of proportionality in the use of force, an essential requirement to justify self-defense,” the statement added, referring to rocket fire by the resistance movements in the coastal territory.
El Salvador Ambassador in the Zionist entity Susana Edith Gun was also recalled for “urgent consultations” on Tuesday. The Foreign Ministry of the Central American country said that El Salvador President Sanchez Ceren gave these instructions “over serious escalation of violence and Israel’s bombings in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.”
A similar statement was also published by the Peruvian Foreign Ministry, condemning Israel’s operation in Gaza.
Venezuela and Bolivia that cut their ties with Tel Aviv over Israel’s 2009 war on Gaza have also strongly condemned Israel’s actions.
Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela were among the 29 countries that voted in favor of a probe by the UN Human Rights Council into Israel’s war crimes in Gaza.
A US immigration judge has ruled that former Salvadoran defense minister José Guillermo García Merino (1979-1983) is eligible for deportation from the US because of “clear and convincing evidence” that he “assisted or otherwise participated” in 11 acts of violence during the 1980s, including the March 1980 murder of San Salvador archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero. Gen. García also helped conceal the involvement of soldiers who raped and killed four US churchwomen in December1980 and “knew or should have known” about the military’s December 1981 massacre of more than 800 civilians in the village of El Mozote, according to the 66-page decision by Immigration Judge Michael Horn in Miami. The judge ruled against García on Feb. 26, but the decision was only made public on Apr. 11 as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the New York Times. García’s lawyer said the general would appeal.
The decision against García comes after repeated efforts to bring him to justice in the US for war crimes committed in El Salvador. He came to the US in 1989 and was granted political asylum a year later. In May 1999 the families of the four murdered US churchwomen filed a suit (Ford et al. v. García, Vides Casanova) against García and former defense minister Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova (1983-1989) in Florida, where both generals have lived since moving to the US. A jury cleared the generals. Also in 1999 the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) brought a suit (Ramagoza Arce v. Garcia and Vides Casanova) against the generals on behalf of Salvadoran torture victims; the jury awarded the victims $54.6 million in 2002. US prosecutors began seeking the generals’ deportation in 2009, and an immigration judge cleared the way for Gen. Vides Casanova’s removal in February 2013 [see World War 4 Report 2/24/13].
Like many Salvadoran military officers, García and Vides Casanova received training at the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), which was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001 [see Update #1200]. García completed a counterinsurgency course in 1962, when the SOA was located in Panama; it is now in Fort Benning, Georgia. García and Vides Casanova were both recipients of the US Legion of Merit, an award from the US Armed Forces for meritorious service, during the 1980s. (NYT 4/12/14; SOA Watch press release 4/15/14; National Catholic Reporter 4/17/14)
The war crimes with which García and Vides Casanova are charged took place during a bloody counterinsurgency against the rebel Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN); the fighting left 70,000 people dead. The FMLN later became a legal political party under a 1992 peace accord, and it backed current president Mauricio Funes, an independent, in his 2009 campaign. A leader of the FMLN, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, won the presidency in a runoff on Mar. 9 this year and is to take office on June 1. (BBC News 3/17/14)
CISPES | February 3 2014
San Salvador —With 99% of votes counted, candidate for the governing Farabundo Martí national Liberation Front (FMLN) party, Salvador Sanchez Cerén, has won the first round of El Salvador’s 2014 presidential election, with ten-point lead over Norman Quijano of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA). Both candidates will head to a run-off on March 9.
According to the CISPES electoral observation mission, which included delegates from the National Lawyers Guild, the American Association of Jurists and various U.S. universities, the electoral proceedings were calm and peaceful.
As Laura Embree-Lowry reported for CISPES’ mission, “This has been a much more transparent and peaceful process than we’ve observed in the past.” Observers noted the positive impact of several steps taken by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal over the past four years to increase both voter access and transparency, especially the new neighborhood voting system, which was carried out throughout the entire country for the first time on February 2.
The mission reported several denouncements made to them throughout the day, primarily concerning voting centers that did not open to the public at 7:00 am as scheduled due to the lack of sufficient numbers of poll workers, but these incidents were characterized as minor anomalies.
Embree-Lowry noted, “CISPES has observed every election since the Peace Accords. Today’s election shows that the process of democratization in the country continues to advance.”
Supreme Electoral Tribunal president Eugenio Chicas announced that the final vote count will be formally announced on Tuesday, February 4th. None of the candidates have challenged the preliminary results; both Sánchez-Cerén and Quijano gave press conferences in San Salvador on Sunday night expressing satisfaction and hope for a victory on March 9.
The 70-person CISPES observer mission, together with the SHARE Foundation, U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities, and other international organizations will issue their report on the election at a press conference on Tuesday in San Salvador.
Since the beginning of the New Year and with the February 2nd presidential elections less than two weeks away, El Salvador has seen a dramatic increase in homicides. In the month of January, El Salvador has seen an average of 9.4 violent deaths per day, a shocking increase from months past, many of them carried out en masse and reminiscent of death squad-style murders.
The Foundation for the Study of the Application of Law (FESPAD), a Salvadoran legal aid clinic and research group, reports that the murders are being carried out by “extermination groups.” Nelson Flores of FESPAD notes that these types of murders often occur prior to electoral periods, and that the “extermination groups” are trying to generate terror in the population and make the government look like it cannot stop this phenomenon.
The type of group that FESPAD describes have been operating in El Salvador since during the armed conflict; many of the groups take their names from “historic figures tied to the worst state violence, including General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, Domingo Monterrosa, Roberto D´Aubuisson.” This is not the first time that FESPAD has publicized the continued operation of social cleansing groups in El Salvador (For more background, download a report in Spanish here).
Even before FESPAD’s recent announcement, many prominent voices in El Salvador had been questioning whether the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party was behind the recent rise in homicides.
President Mauricio Funes expressed concern about a possible link between the increased violence and ARENA’s electoral campaign, while FMLN spokesperson Roberto Lorenzana described ARENA, wracked by internal crises and an unpopular candidate, as being driven to desperate measures, including the use of confrontation and violence as part of a last ditch effort at a “black campaign.”
ARENA’s new campaign manager, the infamous right-wing Venezuelan campaign manager J.J. Rendón, is renowned for his use of “rumorology” and smear tactics. At the very least, ARENA is taking advantage of the increase in murders in their campaign, which has in recent weeks turned more vitriolic, with a focus on violence and insecurity. Some ads use slogans like “My money will no longer go to gangs” and “Children will play safely in the streets again” while others directly attack the Funes administration’s public security policies. In a recent presidential debate, ARENA candidate Norman Quijano, who was the only candidate to directly attack the administration, proposed militarizing public security as a solution to the insecurity problems, a measure that would directly violate El Salvador’s Constitution.
On Saturday, October 16, US Congressmen Matt Salmon (R-AZ) and Albio Sires (D-NJ) from the House’s Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere subcommittee wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry using vague, fear-mongering rhetoric to delegitimize a potential left-wing victory in the upcoming presidential elections in Honduras and El Salvador, where the left candidates are leading in the polls. Explicitly denigrating two of the three leading Salvadoran candidates, Salmon and Sires exposed themselves as mouthpieces for the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, which has mounted an escalating smear campaign against its opposition in both El Salvador and the US.
In the letter—which was then republished in El Salvador—the congressional duo question the “democratic credentials” of both Honduran presidential candidate Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, wife of former President Manuel Zelaya ousted in the 2009 US-backed coup d’état, and Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the leftist candidate for the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador, accusing them of being allies of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. The congressmen also call out Salvadoran right-wing UNITY coalition candidate Tony Saca as corrupt, clearly demonstrating their preference for ARENA—the only other leading party in the race. In a particularly troubling gesture, they call for “heightened security to ensure that all candidates abide by the democratic rules of the game,” and tacitly request greater participation of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI)— US institutions notorious for undermining democratic elections in the region.
This is not the duo’s first effort to intervene in the democratic process in El Salvador. In April, Salmon and Sires published a letter implying—falsely—that $300 million in US development aid from the Millennium Challenge Corporation was at risk because the US-backed Public-Private Partnership Law had not yet been approved by the Salvadoran legislature. Now, in questioning the democratic legitimacy of both Xiomara Castro and Sánchez Cerén, Sires and Salmon are setting the stage to delegitimize any leftist electoral victory from the US, and throwing their weight behind the ARENA party in El Salvador.
This is the same tactic recently employed by ultra-conservative lobbyist Otto Reich in his public comments against the FMLN, and was promptly followed by the November 4 publication of an article in the Spanish-language edition of the Miami Herald interviewing several ARENA party leaders claiming that Saca had made an agreement with the FMLN to divide the right-wing and bring socialism to El Salvador. The stakes are high in the upcoming presidential elections in Honduras and El Salvador, and ARENA and its allies are hard at work prevent any electoral outcome that conflicts with their vast economic interests in the region.
… The electoral contest takes place in the context of a Salvadoran social movement to end the impunity of war criminals who have thus far escaped justice due to a 1993 amnesty law whose constitutionality is now under examination by the Supreme Court of El Salvador. The issue has become especially intense since October 1, 2013, when the Catholic Archdiocese of San Salvador shut down the most important human rights archives in the country, Tutela Legal, and dismissed the employees, placing the very documents that would be used in war crimes tribunals at risk of being compromised.  These actions have provoked international solidarity with the thousands of Salvadorans, including those in the Salvadoran diaspora, who are at work recuperating the historical memory of the country and seeking justice for the more than 70,000 citizens killed during the war as well as the survivors of torture and other war crimes. …
The first month of the genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt has elicited chilling testimony from Mayan survivors who – as children – watched their families slaughtered by a right-wing military that was supported and supplied by U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
As the New York Times reported on Monday, “In the tortured logic of military planning documents conceived under Mr. Ríos Montt’s 17-month rule during 1982 and 1983, the entire Mayan Ixil population was a military target, children included. Officers wrote that the leftist guerrillas fighting the government had succeeded in indoctrinating the impoverished Ixils and reached ‘100 percent support.’”
President Ronald Reagan meeting with Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt.
So, everyone was targeted in these scorched-earth campaigns that eradicated more than 600 Indian villages in the Guatemalan highlands. But this genocide was not simply the result of a twisted anticommunist ideology that dominated the Guatemalan military and political elites. This genocide also was endorsed by the Reagan administration.
A document that I discovered recently in the archives of the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, revealed that Reagan and his national security team in 1981 agreed to supply military aid to the brutal right-wing regime in Guatemala to pursue the goal of exterminating not only “Marxist guerrillas” but people associated with their “civilian support mechanisms.”
This supportive attitude toward the Guatemalan regime’s brutality took shape in spring 1981 as President Reagan sought to ease human-rights restrictions on military aid to Guatemala that had been imposed by President Jimmy Carter and the Democratic-controlled Congress in the late 1970s.
As part of that relaxation effort, Reagan’s State Department “advised our Central American embassies that it has been studying ways to restore a closer, cooperative relationship with Guatemala,” according to a White House “Situation Room Checklist” dated April 8, 1981. The document added:
“State believes a number of changes have occurred which could make Guatemalan leaders more receptive to a new U.S. initiative: the Guatemalans view the new administration as more sympathetic to their problems [and] they are less suspect of the U.S. role in El Salvador,” where the Reagan administration was expanding support for another right-wing regime infamous for slaughtering its political opponents, including Catholic clergy.
“State has concluded that any attempt to reestablish a dialogue [with Guatemala] would require some initial, condition-free demonstration of our goodwill. However, this could not include military sales which would provoke serious U.S. public and congressional criticism. State will undertake a series of confidence building measures, free of preconditions, which minimize potential conflict with existing legislation.”
The “checklist” added that the State Department “has also decided that the administration should engage the Guatemalan government at the highest level in a dialogue on our bilateral relations and the initiatives we can take together to improve them. Secretary [of State Alexander] Haig has designated [retired] General Vernon Walters as his personal emissary to initiate this process with President [Fernando Romeo] Lucas [Garcia].
“If Lucas is prepared to give assurances that he will take steps to halt government involvement in the indiscriminate killing of political opponents and to foster a climate conducive to a viable electoral process, the U.S. will be prepared to approve some military sales immediately.”
But the operative word in that paragraph was “indiscriminate.” The Reagan administration expressed no problem with killing civilians if they were considered supporters of the guerrillas who had been fighting against the country’s ruling oligarchs and generals since the 1950s when the CIA organized the overthrow of Guatemala’s reformist President Jacobo Arbenz.
Sympathy for the Generals
The distinction was spelled out in “Talking Points” for Walters to deliver in a face-to-face meeting with General Lucas. As edited inside the White House in April 1981, the “Talking Points” read: “The President and Secretary Haig have designated me [Walters] as [their] personal emissary to discuss bilateral relations on an urgent basis.
“Both the President and the Secretary recognize that your country is engaged in a war with Marxist guerrillas. We are deeply concerned about externally supported Marxist subversion in Guatemala and other countries in the region. As you are aware, we have already taken steps to assist Honduras and El Salvador resist this aggression.
“The Secretary has sent me here to see if we can work out a way to provide material assistance to your government. … We have minimized negative public statements by US officials on the situation in Guatemala. … We have arranged for the Commerce Department to take steps that will permit the sale of $3 million worth of military trucks and Jeeps to the Guatemalan army. …
“With your concurrence, we propose to provide you and any officers you might designate an intelligence briefing on regional developments from our perspective. Our desire, however, is to go substantially beyond the steps I have just outlined. We wish to reestablish our traditional military supply and training relationship as soon as possible.
“As we are both aware, this has not yet been feasible because of our internal political and legal constraints relating to the use by some elements of your security forces of deliberate and indiscriminate killing of persons not involved with the guerrilla forces or their civilian support mechanisms. I am not referring here to the regrettable but inevitable death of innocents through error in combat situations, but to what appears to us a calculated use of terror to immobilize non politicized people or potential opponents. …
“If you could give me your assurance that you will take steps to halt official involvement in the killing of persons not involved with the guerrilla forces or their civilian support mechanism … we would be in a much stronger position to defend successfully with the Congress a decision to begin to resume our military supply relationship with your government.”
In other words, though the “talking points” were framed as an appeal to reduce the “indiscriminate” slaughter of “non politicized people,” they amounted to an acceptance of scorched-earth tactics against people involved with the guerrillas and “their civilian support mechanisms.” The way that played out in Guatemala – as in nearby El Salvador – was the massacring of peasants in regions considered sympathetic to leftist insurgents.
The newly discovered documents – and other records declassified in the late 1990s – make clear that Reagan and his administration were well aware of the butchery underway in Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America.
According to one “secret” cable also from April 1981 — and declassified in the 1990s — the CIA was confirming Guatemalan government massacres even as Reagan was moving to loosen the military aid ban. On April 17, 1981, a CIA cable described an army massacre at Cocob, near Nebaj in the Ixil Indian territory, because the population was believed to support leftist guerrillas.
A CIA source reported that “the social population appeared to fully support the guerrillas” and “the soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved.” The CIA cable added that “the Guatemalan authorities admitted that ‘many civilians’ were killed in Cocob, many of whom undoubtedly were non-combatants.” [Many of the Guatemalan documents declassified in the 1990s can be found at the National Security Archive’s Web site.]
In May 1981, despite the ongoing atrocities, Reagan dispatched Walters to tell the Guatemalan leaders that the new U.S. administration wanted to lift the human rights embargoes on military equipment that Carter and Congress had imposed.
The “Talking Points” also put the Reagan administration in line with the fiercely anticommunist regimes elsewhere in Latin America, where right-wing “death squads” operated with impunity liquidating not only armed guerrillas but civilians who were judged sympathetic to left-wing causes like demanding greater economic equality and social justice.
Despite his aw shucks style, Reagan found virtually every anticommunist action justified, no matter how brutal. From his eight years in the White House, there is no historical indication that he was morally troubled by the bloodbath and even genocide that occurred in Central America while he was shipping hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to the implicated forces.
The death toll was staggering — an estimated 70,000 or more political killings in El Salvador, possibly 20,000 slain from the Contra war in Nicaragua, about 200 political “disappearances” in Honduras and some 100,000 people eliminated during a resurgence of political violence in Guatemala. The one consistent element in these slaughters was the overarching Cold War rationalization, emanating in large part from Ronald Reagan’s White House.
Despite their claims to the contrary, the evidence is now overwhelming that Reagan and his advisers knew the extraordinary brutality going on in Guatemala and elsewhere, based on their own internal documents.
According to a State Department cable on Oct. 5, 1981, when Guatemalan leaders met again with Walters, they left no doubt about their plans. The cable said Gen. Lucas “made clear that his government will continue as before — that the repression will continue. He reiterated his belief that the repression is working and that the guerrilla threat will be successfully routed.”
Human rights groups saw the same picture. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission released a report on Oct. 15, 1981, blaming the Guatemalan government for “thousands of illegal executions.” [Washington Post, Oct. 16, 1981]
But the Reagan administration was set on whitewashing the ugly scene. A State Department “white paper,” released in December 1981, blamed the violence on leftist “extremist groups” and their “terrorist methods” prompted and supported by Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
What the documents from the Reagan Library make clear is that the administration was not simply struggling ineffectively to rein in these massacres – as the U.S. press corps typically reported – but was fully on board with the slaughter of people who were part of the guerrillas’ “civilian support mechanisms.”
U.S. intelligence agencies continued to pick up evidence of these government-sponsored massacres. One CIA report in February 1982 described an army sweep through the so-called Ixil Triangle in central El Quiche province.
“The commanding officers of the units involved have been instructed to destroy all towns and villages which are cooperating with the Guerrilla Army of the Poor [the EGP] and eliminate all sources of resistance,” the report said. “Since the operation began, several villages have been burned to the ground, and a large number of guerrillas and collaborators have been killed.”
The CIA report explained the army’s modus operandi: “When an army patrol meets resistance and takes fire from a town or village, it is assumed that the entire town is hostile and it is subsequently destroyed.” When the army encountered an empty village, it was “assumed to have been supporting the EGP, and it is destroyed. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of refugees in the hills with no homes to return to. …
“The army high command is highly pleased with the initial results of the sweep operation, and believes that it will be successful in destroying the major EGP support area and will be able to drive the EGP out of the Ixil Triangle. … The well documented belief by the army that the entire Ixil Indian population is pro-EGP has created a situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike.”
On Feb. 2, 1982, Richard Childress, one of Reagan’s national security aides, wrote a “secret” memo to his colleagues summing up this reality on the ground:
“As we move ahead on our approach to Latin America, we need to consciously address the unique problems posed by Guatemala. Possessed of some of the worst human rights records in the region, … it presents a policy dilemma for us. The abysmal human rights record makes it, in its present form, unworthy of USG [U.S. government] support. …
“Beset by a continuous insurgency for at least 15 years, the current leadership is completely committed to a ruthless and unyielding program of suppression. Hardly a soldier could be found that has not killed a ‘guerrilla.’”
The Rise of Rios Montt
However, Reagan remained committed to supplying military hardware to Guatemala’s brutal regime. So, the administration welcomed Gen. Efrain Rios Montt’s March 1982 overthrow of the thoroughly bloodstained Gen. Lucas.
An avowed fundamentalist Christian, Rios Montt impressed Official Washington where the Reagan administration immediately revved up its propaganda machinery to hype the new dictator’s “born-again” status as proof of his deep respect for human life. Reagan hailed Rios Montt as “a man of great personal integrity.”
By July 1982, however, Rios Montt had begun a new scorched-earth campaign called his “rifles and beans” policy. The slogan meant that pacified Indians would get “beans,” while all others could expect to be the target of army “rifles.” In October, Rios Montt secretly gave carte blanche to the feared “Archivos” intelligence unit to expand “death squad” operations in the cities. Based at the Presidential Palace, the “Archivos” masterminded many of Guatemala’s most notorious assassinations.
The U.S. embassy was soon hearing more accounts of the army conducting Indian massacres, but ideologically driven U.S. diplomats fed the Reagan administration the propaganda spin that would be best for their careers. On Oct. 22, 1982, embassy staff dismissed the massacre reports as communist-inspired “disinformation campaign,” concluding that “that a concerted disinformation campaign is being waged in the U.S. against the Guatemalan government by groups supporting the communist insurgency in Guatemala.”
Reagan personally joined this P.R. campaign seeking to discredit human rights investigators and others who were reporting accurately about massacres that the administration knew, all too well, were true.
On Dec. 4, 1982, after meeting with Rios Montt, Reagan hailed the general as “totally dedicated to democracy” and added that Rios Montt’s government had been “getting a bum rap” on human rights. Reagan discounted the mounting reports of hundreds of Maya villages being eradicated.
In February 1983, however, a secret CIA cable noted a rise in “suspect right-wing violence” with kidnappings of students and teachers. Bodies of victims were appearing in ditches and gullies. CIA sources traced these political murders to Rios Montt’s order to the “Archivos” in October to “apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they saw fit.”
Despite these grisly facts on the ground, the annual State Department human rights survey praised the supposedly improved human rights situation in Guatemala. “The overall conduct of the armed forces had improved by late in the year” 1982, the report stated.
A different picture — far closer to the secret information held by the U.S. government — was coming from independent human rights investigators. On March 17, 1983, Americas Watch condemned the Guatemalan army for human rights atrocities against the Indian population.
New York attorney Stephen L. Kass said these findings included proof that the government carried out “virtually indiscriminate murder of men, women and children of any farm regarded by the army as possibly supportive of guerrilla insurgents.”
Rural women suspected of guerrilla sympathies were raped before execution, Kass said, adding that children were “thrown into burning homes. They are thrown in the air and speared with bayonets. We heard many, many stories of children being picked up by the ankles and swung against poles so their heads are destroyed.” [AP, March 17, 1983]
Putting on a Happy Face
Publicly, senior Reagan officials continued to put on a happy face. In June 1983, special envoy Richard B. Stone praised “positive changes” in Rios Montt’s government, and Rios Montt pressed the United States for 10 UH-1H helicopters and six naval patrol boats, all the better to hunt guerrillas and their sympathizers.
Since Guatemala lacked the U.S. Foreign Military Sales credits or the cash to buy the helicopters, Reagan’s national security team looked for unconventional ways to arrange the delivery of the equipment that would give the Guatemalan army greater access to mountainous areas where guerrillas and their civilian supporters were hiding.
On Aug. 1, 1983, National Security Council aides Oliver North and Alfonso Sapia-Bosch reported to National Security Advisor William P. Clark that his deputy Robert “Bud” McFarlane was planning to exploit his Israeli channels to secure the helicopters for Guatemala. [For more on McFarlanes’s Israeli channels, see Consortiumnews.com’s “How Neocons Messed Up the Mideast.”]
“With regard to the loan of ten helicopters, it is [our] understanding that Bud will take this up with the Israelis,” wrote North and Sapia-Bosch. “There are expectations that they would be forthcoming. Another possibility is to have an exercise with the Guatemalans. We would then use US mechanics and Guatemalan parts to bring their helicopters up to snuff.”
However, more political changes were afoot in Guatemala. Rios Montt’s vengeful Christian fundamentalism had hurtled so out of control, even by Guatemalan standards, that Gen. Oscar Mejia Victores seized power in another coup on Aug. 8, 1983.
Despite the power shift, Guatemalan security forces continued to murder with impunity, finally going so far that even the U.S. Embassy objected. When three Guatemalans working for the U.S. Agency for International Development were slain in November 1983, U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin suspected that “Archivos” hit squads were sending a message to the United States to back off even mild pressure for human rights.
In late November, in a brief show of displeasure, the administration postponed the sale of $2 million in helicopter spare parts. The next month, however, Reagan sent the spare parts anyway. In 1984, Reagan succeeded, too, in pressuring Congress to approve $300,000 in military training for the Guatemalan army.
By mid-1984, Chapin, who had grown bitter about the army’s stubborn brutality, was gone, replaced by a far-right political appointee named Alberto Piedra, who favored increased military assistance to Guatemala. In January 1985, Americas Watch issued a report observing that Reagan’s State Department “is apparently more concerned with improving Guatemala’s image than in improving its human rights.”
It was not until 1999, a decade after Ronald Reagan left office, that the shocking scope of the atrocities in Guatemala was publicly revealed by a truth commission that drew heavily on U.S. government documents that President Bill Clinton had ordered declassified.
On Feb. 25, 1999, the Historical Clarification Commission estimated that the 34-year civil war had claimed the lives of some 200,000 people with the most savage bloodletting occurring in the 1980s. The panel estimated that the army was responsible for 93 percent of the killings and leftist guerrillas for three percent. Four percent were listed as unresolved.
The report documented that in the 1980s, the army committed 626 massacres against Mayan villages. “The massacres that eliminated entire Mayan villages … are neither perfidious allegations nor figments of the imagination, but an authentic chapter in Guatemala’s history,” the commission concluded.
The army “completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their livestock and crops,” the report said. In the northern highlands, the report termed the slaughter “genocide.” [Washington Post, Feb. 26, 1999]
Besides carrying out murder and “disappearances,” the army routinely engaged in torture and rape. “The rape of women, during torture or before being murdered, was a common practice” by the military and paramilitary forces, the report found.
The report added that the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some [of these] state operations.” The report concluded that the U.S. government also gave money and training to a Guatemalan military that committed “acts of genocide” against the Mayans. [NYT, Feb. 26, 1999]
During a visit to Central America, on March 10, 1999, President Clinton apologized for the past U.S. support of right-wing regimes in Guatemala dating back to 1954. “For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake,” Clinton said. [Washington Post, March 11, 1999]
Impunity for Reagan’s Team
However, back in Washington, there was no interest in holding anyone accountable for aiding and abetting genocide. The story of the Guatemalan butchery and the Reagan administration’s complicity quickly disappeared into the great American memory hole.
For human rights crimes in the Balkans and in Africa, the United States has demanded international tribunals to arrest and to try violators and their political patrons for war crimes. In Iraq, President George W. Bush celebrated the trial and execution of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for politically motivated killings.
Even Rios Montt, now 86, after years of evading justice under various amnesties, was finally indicted in Guatemala in 2012 for genocide and crimes against humanity. The first month of his trial has added eyewitness testimony to the atrocities that the Guatemalan military inflicted and that Ronald Reagan assisted and covered up.
On Monday, the New York Times reported on some of this painful testimony, but – as is almost always the case – the Times did not mention the role of Reagan and his administration. However, what the Times did include was chilling, including accounts from witnesses who as children fled to mountain forests to escape the massacres:
“Pedro Chávez Brito told the court that he was only six or seven years old when soldiers killed his mother. He hid in the chicken coop with his older sister, her newborn and his younger brother, but soldiers found them and dragged them out, forcing them back into their house and setting it on fire.
“Mr. Chávez says he was the only one to escape. ‘I got under a tree trunk and I was like an animal,’ Mr. Chávez told the court. ‘After eight days I went to live in the mountains. In the mountain we ate only roots and grass.’”
Lawyers for Rios Montt and his co-defendant, former intelligence chief José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, have maintained that the pair did not order the killings, which they instead blamed on over-zealous field commanders.
However, the Times reported that “prosecution witnesses said the military considered Ixil civilians, including children, as legitimate targets. ‘The army’s objective with the children was to eliminate the seed for future guerrillas,’ Marco Tulio Alvarez, the former director of Guatemala’s Peace Archives, testified last week. ‘They used them to get information and to draw their parents to military centers where they arrested them.’
“In a study of 420 bodies exhumed from the Ixil region and presumed to date from the Ríos Montt period, experts found that almost 36 percent of those who were killed were under 18 years old, including some newborns.
“Jacinto Lupamac Gómez said he was eight when soldiers killed his parents and older siblings and hustled him and his two younger brothers into a helicopter. Like some of the children whose lives were spared, they were adopted by Spanish-speaking families and forgot how to speak Ixil.”
Though some belated justice may still be possible in Guatemala, there is no talk in the United States about seeking any accountability from the Reagan administration officials who arranged military assistance to this modern genocide or who helped conceal the atrocities while they were underway.
There has been no attention given by the mainstream U.S. news media to the new documents revealing how the Reagan administration gave a green light to the slaughter of Guatemalans who were considered part of the “civilian support mechanisms” for the Mayan guerrillas resisting the right-wing repression.
Ronald Reagan, the U.S. official most culpable for aiding and abetting the Guatemalan genocide, remains a hero to much of America with his name attached to Washington’s National Airport and scores of other government facilities. U.S. officials and many Americans apparently don’t want to disrupt their happy memories of the Gipper.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
- Genocide trial of former Guatemala dictator Rios Montt opens (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Guatemala: Ríos Montt Trial Implicates Current President (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Ríos Montt and the Need for International Accountability for War Crimes in Guatemala (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- How Reagan Promoted Genocide (consortiumnews.com)
- Guatemala genocide trial continues; watch or listen live (boingboing.net)
A new op-ed in the Guardian by Ricardo Hausmann portrays a dystopian fictional Venezuela, one in which the Venezuelan government has run the economy into the ground despite abundant oil wealth, but yet its charismatic president continues to be re-elected through some sort of sinister trickery.
Sound familiar? It should: it’s the same tired story repeated in the U.S. and U.K. media almost every day, but in this case Hausmann was apparently given free rein to present his own set of “facts.” It isn’t surprising that Hausmann would write something so divorced from reality; he went to elaborate lengths to invent a conspiracy theory about supposed fraud in Venezuela’s 2004 recall referendum by relying on fake exit polls. An independent panel of statisticians selected by the Carter Center determined that Hausmann and his colleague Roberto Rigobón had in fact found no evidence of fraud. [PDF]
But let’s get back to Hausmann’s latest Guardian piece, starting with the economy. Hausmann writes, “Since 1999, the year [Chávez] took over the presidency, Venezuela has had the lowest average GDP growth rate and the highest inflation of any Latin American country except Haiti.”
The source for this “lowest average GDP growth rate” to which Hausmann links is a highly opinionated BBC article which in turn quotes a colleague of Hausmann’s from the Center for International Development at Harvard University who has a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics. Had Hausmann consulted official government data, or growth numbers for the region from the IMF, he would have found a very different set of facts.
In fact, Brazil, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, and other countries all had lower average GDP growth than did Venezuela since 1999, according to IMF data.
Hausmann’s next sentence reads: “[Venezuela] has also seen a fivefold increase in assassinations to arguably the highest murder rate in the world.”
Why does Hausmann want to “argue” the case for Venezuela having the “highest murder rate” in the world? Because the U.N. keeps track of such figures, and at 91 per hundred thousand, post-coup Honduras’ homicide rate is about twice as high as Venezuela’s; El Salvador’s is also much higher.
Hausmann then makes the usual claims about Chávez “eliminat[ing] checks and balances” and describes – without providing any evidence – “a very large civilian army of political activists that are handsomely compensated by the state for their party work.” Such distortions of Venezuela’s democracy belittle both the many elections in which voters have overwhelmingly chosen pro-Chávez legislators and state and local officials, and the bottom-up nature of much of the transformative processes occurring in Venezuela. Hausmann then claims that Chávez “dominate[s] the airwaves,” even though Venezuelan state television has a 5.4 percent audience share while more than 94 percent of the TV seen by Venezuelans is not pro-government.
As Hausmann himself writes, “in choosing your narrative, be creative. Don’t be limited by truth, reality or common sense. …Whenever you fail, blame a conspiracy.” Hausmann has provided an excellent demonstration of the former with his Guardian op-ed, just as his post-recall referendum fantasy stories were a great example of the latter.
- World Bank and IMF Forecasts Follow Predictable Pattern for Haiti, Venezuela
- There is an alternative: what Venezuela can teach us about the banking sector
- Venezuela’s Economy Grows by 5.5 Percent in 2012
- Economic BS in Rich Countries is Reinforced by BS about Venezuela
- The Achievements of Hugo Chavez
- Venezuela Among the Most Positive Countries, Gallup Says
U.S.-Funded Fight against ‘Gangs’
San Salvador – On December 12, 2012, 12 young people were arrested in the poor community of El Progreso 3, in the northeastern part of San Salvador. Dressed all in black with their faces covered, police from the much-feared Anti-Gang Unit stormed the community in the middle of night, going home to home trampling down doors and pulling young people from a community center. The police claimed that the goal of the raid was to arrest suspected gang members, but several young community leaders were also apprehended, while their terrified families and neighbors looked on. The students were taken directly to jail, charged with illicit association, and thrown into crowded cells already filled with accused criminals awaiting trial.
Now, nearly a month after the raid, neighbors and members of the Movement of Popular Resistance-October 12 (the MPR-12), a national alliance of community organizations and unions, are demanding that the six youth leaders arrested be released from the overcrowded temporary jail where they are being held in inhumane conditions. Community members gathered in front of the downtown office of the Ombudsman of Human Right to show support for these falsely accused youth leaders and demand that the national police and specialized anti-gang units stop terrorizing the communities in and around the areas where the students were arrested.
About 50 people, including family members and neighbors of the arrested youth, addressed the Salvadoran press and held signs declaring, “Organizing to Improve our Communities is not a Crime” and, “Stop the Criminalization of Protest.” Ana Gladis Rivera, spoke about her twenty-five -year old son, Emerson Rivera, who, along with a friend and fellow youth organizer, Giovanni Aguirre, has been in hiding since the raid, fearing that to turn himself over to the authorities would land him in another overcrowded jail cell.
Like the others, Emerson’s mother was indignant at the charges of illicit association brought against her son, who has organized popular education schools, soccer tournaments and health campaigns in the community, and has worked with his neighbors on infrastructure projects in which the municipal government declined to invest. The MPR-12 alliance awarded Emerson and Giovanni scholarships in recognition of their local and national youth organizing work, and the two were expecting to start their university studies this month. Rivera believes that her son and fellow youth organizers are being targeted because of their involvement with the leftist FMLN party and their outspoken criticism of the administration of Mayor Norman Quijano of the right-wing ARENA party. Quijano, who is also ARENA’s candidate for the 2014 presidential elections, has been widely criticized for his disregard for the poorer sectors of San Salvador. In November, Quijano ordered the violent eviction of thousands of street vendors, the majority of whom are single mothers with no other source of income.
Since the young men are charged with being tied to gang or organized crime, their cases are part of a specialized court system made up of police judges trained by the U.S. run International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA). Under this specialized system, it seems that the police need very little, or even no, evidence to charge suspects with illicit association. In their first hearing in December, neither the youths nor their lawyers were able to present evidence in their defense. In 2007, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) reported on the increase in instances of police violence against young people and activists since the opening of the ILEA in 2005. These and other reports about the valuable lessons being imparted at the ILEA seem to contradict its stated goal of creating “a regional community of law enforcement professionals capable of effectively and efficiently fighting transnational crime, through the use of modern techniques and tools, with the utmost respect for human rights and the well-being of the people.” The terrorized residents of urban communities like El Progreso 3 would certainly question that description of their local police force. One of the El Progreso 3 residents told the staff of the Human Rights Office that a police officer stole $2000 from her neighbor during the December 12th raid and threatened to kill him if he reported the crime.
Community members from El Progreso 3 have been struggling under the dual pressures of police harassment and the violence of street gangs for some years. Carlos Vasquez, who works with the Catholic Church on violence prevention efforts in El Progreso 3 and surrounding communities complained that the police didn’t even investigate the murders of community members killed by gang members in past years. Their only activity was to , enter the community to collect the dead bodies. Instead of working on violence prevention, Vasquez says the police have ramped up their harassment of youth in the community, monitoring and photographing their organizing activities and movements. Residents fear that the anti-gang police will raid the community again using this information and they worry who will be taken next.
In the meantime, Emerson Rivera and his friend Giovanni Aguirre remain in hiding. Their fellow youth organizers are stuck inside an overcrowded jail and are only allowed to see their mothers once a week for three minutes when they come to deliver food. The youths were thus unable to participate in a soccer tournament they had organized and could not celebrate the holidays with their families. They are waiting for the slow process of justice to continue, since their next court hearing may not be for three or four months. Ana Gladis Rivera and her neighbors and friends, however, will continue organizing for the release of the young leaders, hoping that with the support of Salvadoran and international human rights organizations Emerson, Giovanni and the others might be able to get back to their important work of improving their community and fighting for a more just and fair El Salvador.
- Gangs Back Plan for Violence-Free Districts in El Salvador (ipsnews.net)
- El Salvador to Launch Youth Violence Prevention Program (hispanicallyspeakingnews.com)
A new survey by the Washington, DC-based public opinion pollster Gallup finds that Latin Americans are the most positive people in the world, and Venezuela is tied for second place among all countries measured.
The survey asked citizens of various countries to answer questions including: “Did you feel well-rested yesterday?” “Were you treated with respect?” and “Did you smile or laugh a lot?”
In Venezuela, 84 percent of respondents answered “yes” to those questions, the same amount as in El Salvador, which tied with Venezuela for second place after Panama and Paraguay, which tied for first with 85 percent.
According to Gallup, eight of the top ten most positive countries in the world are in Latin America, with Trinidad and Tobago coming in at number five (with 83 percent), followed by Thailand (83 percent), Guatemala (82 percent), Philippines (82 percent), Ecuador (81 percent), and Costa Rica (81 percent). At the low end, just 46 percent of respondents in Singapore answered “yes” to the questions.
The implications, according to the analysis, are that a country’s overall economic prosperity does not correspond with the amount of positivity felt by its citizens.
The report explains: “These data may surprise analysts and leaders who solely focus on traditional economic indicators. Residents of Panama, which ranks 90th in the world with respect to GDP per capita, are among the most likely to report positive emotions. Residents of Singapore, which ranks fifth in the world in terms of GDP per capita, are the least likely to report positive emotions.”
On average, 73 percent of adults around the world felt enjoyment a lot of the day, and 72 percent felt well-rested. A smaller proportion – 43 percent on average – said they were able to learn or do something interesting.
The report states that, on the whole, the data “reflects a relatively upbeat world.” It concludes that “Despite many global challenges, people worldwide are experiencing many positive emotions.”
Click here to see the full results.
- The Achievements of Hugo Chavez (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Economic BS in Rich Countries is Reinforced by BS about Venezuela (alethonews.wordpress.com)
On Wednesday August 22, people will gather at the church in Amatitán Abajo, in San Vicente Department, to commemorate, remember and demand justice for a massacre which happened thirty years ago. It is the anniversary of the El Calabozo massacre, when troops of the US-trained Atlacatl Battalion murdered more than 200 civiliam victims taking refuge along a river’s banks.
The massacre was documented in the UN Truth Commission Report following the signing of the 1992 Peace Accords:
On 22 August 1982, in the place known as El Calabozo situated beside the Amatitán river in the north of the Department of San Vicente, troops of the Atlacatl Rapid Deployment Infantry Battalion (BIRI) killed over 200 men, women and children whom they were holding prisoner.
The victims had converged on El Calabozo from various directions, fleeing a vast antiguerrilla military operation which had begun three days earlier in the area of Los Cerros de San Pedro and which involved, in addition to the Atlacatl BIRI, other infantry, artillery and aerial support units.
There was a major guerrilla presence, supported by the local population, in the area of the operation. Government forces had penetrated the area on earlier occasions, but the guerrillas had avoided combat. This time the operation, which bore the name “Teniente Coronel Mario Azenón Palma”, involved some 6,000 troops and was designed to clear the area of guerrillas. As the troops advanced, the civilian population fled, fearing the shelling and the soldiers’ violence. One of the places where a large number of fugitives congregated was El Calabozo.
According to witnesses, the fugitives were surprised by the Atlacatl Battalion unit. Some of them managed to escape; the rest were rounded up and machine-gunned. The military operation continued for several more days. The Government informed the public that it had been a success: many guerrillas had been killed, camps had been destroyed and weapons and other supplies had been seized.
On 8 September, two weeks after the incident, the massacre was reported in The Washington Post. The Minister of Defence, General José Guillermo García, said that an investigation had been made and that no massacre had occurred. He repeated this assertion in an interview with the Commission….
There is sufficient evidence that on 22 August 1982, troops of the Atlacatl Battalion deliberately killed over 200 civilians – men, women and children – who had been taken prisoner without offering any resistance. The incident occurred at the place known as El Calabozo, near the canton of Amatitán Abajo, Department of San Vicente.
Although the massacre was reported publicly, the Salvadorian authorities denied it. Despite their claim to have made an investigation, there is absolutely no evidence that such an investigation took place.
Families of the victims of the massacre have worked to keep the memory of these events alive and to demand justice. Laura Hershberger wrote on the SHARE Foundation blog about a youth event in 2009 commemorating the slaughter:
None of the youth had lived through the Calabozo massacre that happened by river of Amititan in a place called the Calabazo in 1982, but they had grown up hearing the story from their family. How the army had advanced from the San Pedro hills and how the inhabitants of the region fled their homes in what was known as the “guindas.” How the people had been walking for seven days without food and took refuge by the river to sleep when they were attacked by the Atlacatl and the Ramon Belloso Batallian, it was then that they were massacred in cold blood, over two hundred men, women and children. When the youth group from the Community of El Rincon acted out a play that had written about the massacre, they made sure to include the part where the mothers plea for the soldiers to take their own lives but to spare the lives of their small children.
Those pleas for mercy fell on the deaf ears of the soldier of the Atlacatl Battalion who 9 months earlier had slaughtered 1000 civilians in El Mozote. The forensic anthropologists from Argentina who have conducted the investigations at El Mozote have also exhumed bodies of victims of the El Calabozo massacre. Earlier this year, the online periodical ContraPunto described their recovery of the body of a grandmother and her two granddaughters, ages 5 and 9, from the massacre site. This investigation had been led by Asociación Pro Búsqueda, the NGO which continues the search for children missing from the years of the civil war. As ContraPunto notes, twenty years after the signing of the Peace Accords, many families still face the uncertainty of not knowing where the bodies of their loved ones can be found, or whether they could have survived.
The families of the victims continue to demand justice in the face of the 1993 Amnesty Law which the government interprets to prevent prosecution of such war crimes. There is still no political will in the National Assembly or the president’s office to repeal the law. You can watch this video of a 2009 press conference given by human rights lawyer David Morales and families of victims regarding their petition that the case against those responsible for the the El Calabozo massacre be pursued.
- Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death (Full Version) (undergrounddocumentaries.com)
Santarchy | January 15, 2011
This is volume 3 of a three-part documentary series release in 1987 (now out of print).
Series Synopsis (from VHS box):
A chilling documentary on U.S. policy in Central America, this three volume series, which took six years to make, was researched and filmed by Allan Francovich, best known for his award winning film about the CIA, On Company Business.
An astonishing range of characters tell their stories, from soon-to-be-assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero to Salvadoran right wing leader Robert D’Aubuisson; from three then-Presidents of the three republics to Guatemala’s impoverished indigenous peoples; from ousted American Ambassador Robert White, CIA operatives, and National Security officials to the founder of El Salvador’s secret police, who speaks directly of the rape and murder of four American missionary women there, from the top death squad officials to remorseful triggermen whose gruesome accounts of kidnapping, torture and killing lend compelling moral urgency to the case against right-wing dogma.
“The issue is really whether the U.S. government instigated, trained and has direct knowledge regarding a whole series of murders – including American citizens plus hundreds of thousands of local people – and has covered it up. What people know about the world is controlled. These issues are crucial to democracy: without information you can’t expect the population to make decisions knowingly.” – Allan Francovich
- Uniformed US soldiers involved in killing of six Honduran civilians (alethonews.wordpress.com)