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Reagan’s Dark Global Legacy
It is typical of Americans, unlike other peoples, to not truly appreciate someone until he or she passes away. Surely this is the case with our 40th president, Ronald Wilson Reagan.
True, long before he died his name was affixed to a California license plate, an aircraft carrier and a federal building. But all that amounts to small potatoes compared to the honors bestowed years earlier from a host of grateful nations and peoples. As we consider additional tributes to Mr. Reagan, let us recall some of the creative honors dreamed up by our international friends so that they’d never forget the man and his values.
o Afghanistan. "Ronnie Poppy." This opium flower honors President Reagan’s contribution to the explosive growth of the Afghan heroin industry in the 1980s through his unconditional support for the most extreme Islamic fundamentalists who were justifiably opposed to the murderous Soviet occupation. When not battling the Red Army or rival guerrillas, or terrorizing civilians and shooting down non-military passenger planes, Reagan’s favored fundamentalists cultivated opium, converted it into smack and supplied three-fourths of the junkies of Europe and one-third of the junkies of America. A tip of the Islamist hat to Ronnie for averting his eyes as the horse trade boomed and for refusing to use his considerable leverage to promote moderation or a negotiated settlement, thereby creating the conditions for continued chaos and the eventual emergence of a "failed state," which set the stage for a takeover by the Taliban, who rolled out the red carpet for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, who . . . Well, you know the rest of the story.
o Angola. "The Gipper Stump." This polished-oak peg leg features a heart-felt message from the Cold War commander-in-chief, who worked with the South African apartheid state to keep Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA terrorists armed and dangerous, thus keeping the Angolan market for artificial limbs – not to mention graveyards – booming. "Thanks for taking one for the Gipper," the inscription reads. "My best to you and any remaining appendages. Love, Ronnie." o Argentina. "The Reagan Islands." Technically, the former Falkland/Malvinas Islands are no longer the property of Argentina, but Argentinians voted for the new name to honor Ronnie’s role in the restoration of civilian rule in their country. His enthusiastic support for the torture-prone, anti-Semitic generals – magical men who had the ability to make dissidents and their relatives "disappear" – persuaded the high command that Reagan would take their side if they seized the disputed islands. They were wrong, and Margaret Thatcher’s counterattack so devastated and humiliated the generals that they handed the government back to civilians.
o Cambodia. "Reagan Skull Bag." This handy Khmer Rouge carrying sack holds up to 25 skulls. The Skull Bag recognizes the Reagan administration’s unstinting support for Pol Pot’s assaults on Cambodians from 1981 to 1989, as well as Reagan’s policy of recognizing the exiled Khmer Rouge at the U.N. as the legitimate government of Cambodia.
o Costa Rica. "El Rancho Reagan." The former "front farm" of a CIA and contra collaborator, El Rancho Reagan is preserved in its mid-1980s pristine prime. Contra killers lounge in the backyard, the safe overflows with cash to bribe Costa Rican officials to ignore violations of their nation’s neutrality, and kilos of coke are on hand for transhipment.
o El Salvador. "The Reagan Missionary Position." No, not a sexual position for raping American churchwomen (for that would be in poor taste), but a position as in a stand. The Reagan Missionary Position, formulated by high officials Al Haig and Jeane Kirkpatrick, is that the three nuns and one layworker were pro-Marxist "political activists" and thus hardly innocent. Besides, their deaths were accidents, not planned executions. Haig explained that the churchwomen ran or were perceived to have run a "roadblock" and may have gotten caught in a guerrilla-National Guard "exchange of fire." Were they also raped in the crossfire? The Reagan Missionary Position’s lips say no, but his eyes say yes.
o Guatemala. "The Reagan ‘Bum Rap’ Rap." Grandmaster Ronnie first laid down this rap in 1982 to discredit reports by Amnesty International and others of the army’s slaughter of thousands of Indian villagers in the first months of General Efrain Rios Montt’s rule. Ronnie rapped that Rios Montt (an evangelical minister nicknamed the "born-again butcher") was getting a "bum rap." The beauty of the bum-rap rap is that it bolsters "military impunity," regarded by Reagan as a cornerstone of client-state pseudo-democracy.
o Honduras. "Reagan’s Rascals." The crazy cut-ups of Battalion 316 comprised a secret unit of CIA-backed torturers and murderers. They rid Honduras of real and imagined subversives and dissidents, assisted Reagan’s beloved contras and ensured the continued rule of corrupt army thugs behind a civilian facade — another cornerstone of client-state pseudo-democracy.
o Haiti. "Ronnie Doc." Duvalier loyalists awarded Reagan the highest degree a Haitian can steal, the Doctor of Kleptocracy. Papa Doc and Baby Doc earned theirs the hard way, while Reagan’s honorary title states, "Long after the spineless State Department distanced itself from the sinking Duvalier ship, you stood steadfast. Unlike the ignorant Haitian masses, you never condemned Baby Doc’s stylish extravagance."
o Kurdistan. "Reagan Red Hot." Nothing’s more appetizing than human skin drenched with mustard, or for that matter, mustard gas, which is what a "Reagan Red Hot" hot dog is. (Great at a ballgame with jelly beans and beer.) Iraqi Kurds thank the Gipper from the surface of their seared hearts for his devotion to Saddam as he squirted them with mustard gas and other lethal condiments.
o Laos. "Ronnie Rain." In the mountains of Laos, April showers dump bee feces on flowers. Ronnie Rain salutes the 1982 White House "Yellow Rain" disinformation campaign – spread by the demented Wall Street Journal editorial board and many seemingly sane mainstream journalists – that portrayed the annual bee barrage as a genocidal commie chemical-weapons assault.
o Lebanon. "The Reagan Wink." It’s as good as a nod. Go into the home of any member of the Lebanese Phalange militia and you’ll see a glossy photo of the handsome Gipper closing his right eye. In 1982, Reagan engineered the withdrawal of PLO soldiers from Beirut by guaranteeing the safety of Palestinian civilians left behind. As soon as the PLO pulled out, Reagan withdrew the U.S. peace-keeping force. The Israeli military then opened the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps to the Phalange militia, who were bitter enemies of the PLO and not inclined to treat kindly any real or imagined PLO sympathizers. Phalangists methodically combed the camps, killing perhaps a thousand defenseless women, children and old men in the process. Good thing Reagan’s wink nullified his guarantee.
o Nicaragua. "The Reagan Wall." Modeled after the U.S. memorial to Americans who died in Vietnam, the Reagan Wall lists the names of the thousands of civilians murdered by "the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers" (Ronnie’s pet name for the contras). An asterisk denotes a sadistic murder — e.g., a parent mutilated in front of his or her children. Two asterisks denote a sadistic murder derisively dismissed by a Reagan henchman — an Elliott Abrams, Colin Powell, Ollie North or George Shultz.
o South Africa. "The Reagan White House." Not a replica of the Pennsylvania Avenue edifice but a Johannesburg mansion that harkens back to a simpler time when whiteness reigned supreme in Pretoria, to the delight of President Reagan. Pay the admission price of ten rand and hassle the black servants, demand to see their pass books, and interrogate the Nelson Mandela look-alike in the basement cell. Rail against "Soviet sponsorship" of the African National Congress and denounce it as "terrorist" — just as the Reagan administration did. Conspire with the South African defense minister and the ghost of CIA director William Casey on how best to maintain illegal control of Namibia and destabilize Angola and Mozambique. Sure, those destabilizations led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs!
o Zaire. "Reagan Cane." Before he was chased into exile, President Mobutu Sese Seko high-stepped with this gold-encrusted walking stick. In its day, the Reagan Cane was ideal for maintaining balance or whacking a dissident. It now resides in a Kinshasa museum, a reminder of the golden years of the U.S.-Zaire-South Africa alliance, when plunderer nonpareil Mobutu was an ascendant Reagan Doctrine asset.
Additional honors have been bestowed in Indonesia, East Timor, the Philippines, Brazil and Chile, where people who struggled in the 1980s for freedom and democracy knew precisely where Ronald Reagan stood.
DENNIS HANS is a freelance writer who has taught American Foreign Policy at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. His essays have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and a host of places online. He can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu