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Why I Didn't Salute...

When Ollie North Came to Hot Springs

by JOHN BOMAR

"They took out their knives and stuck them under his fingernails. After they took his fingernails off, then they broke his elbows. Afterwards they gouged out his eyes. Then they took their bayonets and made all sorts of slices in his skin all around his chest, arms, and legs. They then took his hair off and the skin of his scalp. When they saw there was nothing left to do with him, they threw gasoline on him and burned him. The next day they started the same thing with a 13 year old girl. They did more or less the same, but they did other things to her too. First, she was utilized, raped by all the officers. They stripped her and threw her in a small room, they went in one by one. Afterwards they took her out tied and blindfolded. Then they began the same mutilating, pulling her fingernails out and cutting off her fingers, breaking her arms, gouging out her eyes and all they did to the other fellow. They cut her legs and stuck an iron rod into her womb."

"Rosa had her breasts cut off. Then they cut into her chest and took out her heart. The men had their arms broken and their testicles cut off and their eyes poked out. They were then killed by slitting their throats and pulling the tongue out through the slit."

These are but two of the hundreds of documented eyewitness accounts of the kind of brutal and sadistic rapes, sodomies, kidnappings, tortures and murders committed by the Contra forces in Nicaragua in the 1980’s — Contras that were clothed, fed and armed by the illegal efforts of Oliver North.

I guess it is no wonder that his recent visit to Hot Springs gave me waking nightmares. It was as if the spirits of those brutalized, tortured and murdered by the Contra "freedom fighters" were calling out to me. Perhaps it was my working knowledge of Spanish and my thirty years of travel to Latin America that brought these souls to my door. The images haunted and shamed me. The most horrible aspect of these tales is that the atrocities were commonly committed on the most vulnerable; young boys and girls, their pregnant mothers and their grandparents. Many times the families were forced to watch as these abominations were carried out. Terror, you see, is most effective and intimidating when viewed publicly. In all, over 30,000 civilians were killed in Nicaragua by the Contras, mostly peasants, rural doctors and health care workers, teachers, clergy, and civil administrators trying to afford social services to the poorest in the land. This is our government’s most recent legacy in Central America.

The Sandanistas had been freely and fairly elected among seven active political parties, with 75% voter turn out. It was declared a just election by all international observers and monitors. After leading the rebellion to oust one of Latin America’s most infamously brutal and greedy military dictators Anastacio Samoza, the new government chose a more socialized model that quickly garnered international acclaim for its efforts at providing health care, food, education, literacy and land reform for its population. It also brought on the wrath of the U.S. government and the CIA who financed the ex-national guardsmen: Samoza’s former henchmen, who formed the core of the Contra forces. Eventually, the U.S. congress was so repulsed by the stories of horror and butchery coming out of the villages in northern Nicaragua, and lobbied strongly by ecumenical church organizations representing millions of church goers, they forbade any further financing of the effort or any further U.S. involvement. A congressional intelligence committee at the time confirmed that the Contras "raped, tortured and killed unarmed civilians, including children" and that "groups of civilians, including pregnant women and children were burned, dismembered, blinded and beheaded."

With the elimination of U.S. funds the Contra forces waned and were forced back into their sanctuaries across Nicaragua’s borders. That was when Mr. North secretly went to work in the basement of the White House. His unlawful scheme eventually involved tens of millions of dollars, secretly selling arms to the Islamic fundamentalists in Iran. This sad story also includes sworn testimony by those involved of cocaine filled airplanes returning to the U.S. after dropping off supplies, explosives and arms to the Contras. Some have attributed this "coca pipeline" to the crack epidemic that swept through many American cities in the mid 1980’s. By his own hand written accounts at the time, preserved in the last days of the Reagan administration, Mr. North acknowledged being repeatedly informed of contra ties to drug trafficking. Luis Posada, deeply implicated in the terrorist bombing of a Cubana DC 8 airliner filled with teenagers in 1976, and a confessed hotel lobby bomber, was a leading local coordinator of the effort. Many lurid tales have come to light in the ensuing years of our CIA,s dealings with the dirtiest of the dirty in Latin America during this era.

I guess, being a believer in the inalienable rights of an oppressed people to rise up and throw off their yokes and form a new government, even one we don’t particularly like, puts me in a foreign camp to some. To me, national sovereignty means a country being able to chart its own course, free of coercive outside attack from powerful and wealthy forces, even down what many of us believe is the dead-end road of extreme socialism. It is giving to other nations nothing more than we demand for ourselves.

So, I hope you can understand if I couldn’t stand up and salute when Ollie came to town. The whispered voices and tortured images wouldn’t let me.

Dr. JOHN BOMAR, a veteran of the Vietnam War, is a Catholic Lay Minister and student of Latin American history. He can be reached at: johnrbomar@hotsprings.net