If patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, anti-Americanism is currently the first. The Bush regime uses it to deceive the United States people while enriching its corporate buddies. Spreading fear, anxiety, and hatred under the pretext of fighting terrorism, Bush and his team tear up the US constitution and pawn the country’s future. The McCarthyite suggestion that a menace exists called “anti-Americanism” is a potent weapon in the Bush plutocrats’ disinformation armoury. It makes it much harder for rational criticism of US government policy to be heard–let alone accepted. The sleight of hand is to pretend that the regime installed in the White House represents the United States people.
People throughout the Americas know better. After such long experience of US government aggression, opportunism and duplicity, maybe they are harder to dupe. As Bolivia tries to remake itself and the peoples of Venezuela and Colombia gear up to resist yet more White House sponsored terrorism,1 now may be a good time to remember some United States citizens who had a very different vision from that of their government. In Central America thousands of communities have been victims of terrorist aggression by the US government or its open support for genocidal military-dominated regimes in the region. Yet it is in those places that a more authentic voice of the United States people has been taken to heart. This truth counteracts the mindless racism encouraged by the neo-cons’ beloved cop out, “anti-americanism”.
The assassination of Ben Linder 2
When Ben Linder was murdered by US government trained and funded Contra terrorists in 1987 in northern Nicaragua, he was installing electricity for impoverished rural communities. At his funeral in Matagalpa, that northern Nicaraguan city overflowed with mourners for the young man from Portland, Oregon who came to work for them and finished by dying for them. Writing about what was needed in order to resist the US terrorist war against Nicaragua, Linder wrote once “everything you can do should be done”. So, apart from fixing up electrical generating plant, he also helped with vaccination programs, dressing up as a clown to amuse parents and children waiting in line, riding his unicycle, juggling.
How exceptional was Ben Linder? Perhaps it was his murder that made him an icon for those people determined to show solidarity with Central American victims of US government aggression. Tens of thousands of US citizens worked for longer or shorter periods in Central American countries before and after Ben Linder. The great majority stayed for brief lengths of time with poor rural and urban communities in Nicaragua during the Sandinista revolution. But many others worked long term on human rights and grass roots community development throughout the region.
Rejecting the racist colonialism practiced by their governments since the interventions in Cuba and the Philippines during the war with Spain, these United States citizens shared an authentically American vision. That vision embraces as equals and as teachers the diverse peoples of all the Americas. It is the vision of Simon Bolivar to the sound of the Demajagua bell3 that day when Carlos Manuel de Cespedes declared an end to slavery in Cuba and called on all free people to rise up and resist an earlier vicious, corrupt, ruthless empire.
For people in the United States that vision has travelled through many diverse filters. But the essential elements are in common and derive from the ideals that inspired the French and American revolutions. Successive US governments have betrayed those ideals around the world, from Central America to Asia, in Palestine and now in Venezuela. As heroic Rachel Corrie tragically found out in Palestine, should US citizens defy their government’s policy and defend the most basic humanitarian norms, so much the worse for them.
US nuns murdered in El Salvador 4
In 1981, a couple of decades before Rachel Corrie was murdered, the bodies of four women were found in a shallow grave in a rural district not far from San Salvador, El Salvador’s capital. They had been raped and shot dead by members of the Salvadoran army on the orders of senior officers. In the context of the time, the atrocity would hardly have merited reporting. But the women were United States citizens. Two were religious sisters of the New York based Maryknoll order, Ita Ford and Maureen Clarke. One was an Ursuline Sister, Dorothy Kazel, the fourth a lay missioner, Jean Donovan. By virtue of their nationality, the story did make the news, just–the back page of the New York Times, to that paper’s eternal shame.
Those four women had helped defend Salvadorans from the terror unleashed against their own people by the Salvadoran government with support from the United States administrations of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. They gave their lives working alongside vulnerable people and communities in El Salvador. The murders followed the assassination in 1980 of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. The women’s deaths were manipulated by the US government and its ever-pliant news media. The full facts took years to emerge. US ambassador to the UN, Jean Kirkpatrick, falsely accused the women of having supported the Salvadoran armed opposition, the FMLN. In fact, the four women were passionate advocates of non-violence, accompanying the rural villagers they served while caught up in a violent civil war.
Ambassador Kirkpatrick’s statements on the case of the four women were to be expected from an unrepentant supporter of the bloodthirsty Argentinian military dictatorship. Her successor at the UN was Vernon Walters, former deputy director of the CIA, co-organiser of the continent wide terrorist blueprint Plan Condor and promoter of Ronald Reagan’s terrorist war against Nicaragua. In 1986 Vernon Walters threw in the face of the UN his government’s rejection of the International Court of Justice verdict convicting the US of terrorism against Nicaragua.
Kirkpatrick’s and Walters’ apologetics for mass murder helped John Negroponte, then US ambassador to Honduras, cover up his support for the systematic forced disappearances used to destroy Honduran civilian opposition to the presence of Contra bases in their country. Thomas Pickering, US ambassador to El Salvador at the time, also gave misleading information on local army and paramilitary murders, probably an essential qualification for his subsequent posting in 1989 as US ambassador to the UN, taking over from Vernon Walters.
Jean Kirkpatrick, Vernon Walters, Thomas Pickering, John Negroponte and other US government representatives sent clear signals that the local military in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala were to be allowed a free hand by the United States government to murder tens of thousands of civilians and anyone who spoke out against the slaughter. Perhaps the defining climax to the sickening murder campaign came in 1989 when the Salvadoran army killed six Jesuit academics and two of their domestic staff at the University of Central America in San Salvador. These crimes were made possible because the United States government consistently tried to conceal its institutional role in funding, training and supporting the military and paramilitary perpetrators. The Iran-Contra scandal was the culmination of that sustained program of regional deceit.
James “Guadelupe” Carney–the dilemma of a socially committed priest 5
Faced with the murderous onslaught of their own governments, plenty of people in Central America believed the only practical response was armed resistance. Many others took the path of non-violent opposition. The tension between the two responses at a time of widespread savage violence raised painful moral dilemmas. Someone whose life epitomised those dilemmas was a Jesuit priest called James Carney. From Minnesota, Carney was known by his Honduran parishioners as Padre Guadelupe, after the Mexican indigenous Virgin Mary.
Carney, a World War Two combat veteran, was forcibly disappeared by the Honduran military in September 1983. Remains exhumed at a former US-Contra military base in January this year may have been those of the missing priest. The discovery came after many years of efforts to find out how he died from the US authorities by Carney’s family, the Honduran government, relatives of other Honduran disappeared victims and by some US journalists, principally the Baltimore Sun in the mid-1990s. The US government is involved because senior US embassy personnel may have authorised Carney’s murder.
Arriving in Honduras not long after the epoch-making Honduran general strike in 1954, Carney worked for over 20 years in northern Honduras and had taken Honduran nationality. In 1979 the Honduran government expelled him for his determined and outspoken support for the Honduran rural poor. He was especially incensed at CIA intervention in the internal elections of the most successful ever agricultural cooperative in Honduras, Las Isletas, subsequently sold to the Standard Fruit company.
In Nicaragua, he met a group of other Honduran exiles determined to return home and start a campaign of armed resistance to the military presence in their country of the Nicaraguan Contra backed by the United States army. Carney felt he had no choice but to accompany them as their chaplain. Twenty years ago, he resigned from the Jesuit order and went back to the country he loved carrying his Bible in his pack.
The armed group crossed into Honduras, reaching the remote Patuca district in Olancho. Right then the United States army was on a series of manoeuvres with the Honduran army known as Big Pine. Following desertions, the small guerilla column was located. Of its 93 members, over 70 were killed. Most were captured, interrogated under torture and then murdered.
Prevarication and cover up
And that was James Carney’s fate too. As Carney’s friend Fr. Joe Mulligan is quoted as saying, “If James Carney was captured by Honduran troops, before killing him I think the Honduran officials would have looked for a wink or a nod of approval from someone in the U.S. government or from the CIA.”6 That suspicion is supported by the January 1998 report of the Honduran government’s Human Rights Commission. The Commission, under Leo Valladares, reported in detail on its efforts to obtain information from various offices of the United States government.
In March and August of 1997, after years of prevarication and disingenuous manoeuvring, US government officials made available some of the documentation. Over 50% of it was blacked out. Valladares and his team found themselves examining page after page of erasures. The insulting farce Valladares was subjected to confirms the US government and John Negroponte have plenty to hide. Honduran government requests for information from the Argentinian government, whose military trained the Contra in Honduras, also drew a blank.
The report by Valladares records various accounts by witnesses indicating the presence of US army and CIA personnel during Carney’s capture and interrogation. It is inconceivable that Carney would have been murdered without the knowledge of senior embassy officials back in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa. No wonder so much of the evidence was erased and put beyond perusal.
How high in the embassy hierarchy does the cover up reach? Given the circumstances of the time, suspicion points firmly to John Negroponte himself. Valladares’ report cites testimony from a witness taken seriously by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in a test case judgement in 1989 condemning the Honduran government for four crimes of forced disappearance. The witness, a member of the Battalion 3-16 death squad, alleged that General Alvarez Martinez, then head of the Honduran armed forces, personally interrogated James Carney.
Alvarez and Negroponte worked closely together through 1982 and 1983 consolidating a national security state in Honduras so as to provide a secure base for the Contra war against Nicaragua. If the information in Valladares report is true, Negroponte certainly was aware that Carney had been captured. Did he turn a blind eye while a United States citizen was tortured and murdered? Or did he actually authorize it?
Who really represents the United States?
With this history, it is fitting that the Bush regime’s ambassador to the UN should be John Negroponte. Few are better qualified than he to dissemble and justify current policies of murder, terror and torture by the current US government and its proxies around the world. Apart from the many thousands of murdered civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of innocent immigrants are in detention in the US itself, victims of racist propaganda and political expediency. The inmates of Guantanamo Camp X-Ray suffer a worse fate, along with an unknown number of detainees in US bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Diego Garcia and elsewhere.
By now, few expect Bush regime representatives to be anything but morally dishonest and intellectually shifty. It is appropriate that the US government rejects the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court given the record of so many of its functionaries. The recent rebuke by the International Red Cross for US government treatment of the prisoners in Guantanamo was timely and salutary.
But the United States people are not their government. They have offered repeated examples from which everyone can take heart. Innumerable individuals like Ita Ford, Maureen Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, Jean Donovan and James Carney have already helped build another America, influenced by the United States’ labor traditions, civil rights history and anti-war movements. Millions of United States citizens actively continue building a vision that rejects exploitation and intimidation masquerading as “free trade” and dismisses with contempt support for murderous military and paramilitary forces under cover of false campaigns against drugs or terrorism.
A new generation is defending the authentic American ideals exemplified often enough from Chicago and La Demajagua to present day Chiapas and Bolivia. It is unlikely that Ben Linder and Rachel Corrie will be the last United States citizens to give their lives out of goodness for the sake of a better world. Their enduring presence and boundless charity renders alien and lilliputian the dysfunctional, psychotic regime John Negroponte represents at the UN.
TONI SOLO ia an activist based in Central America. Contact :–firstname.lastname@example.org
1. US terrorism against Venezuela
–‘Chavez Accuses CIA as Bombings Rock Venezuela’ Agence France-Presse.Saturday 11 October 2003 (in www.truthout.com)
–‘Waiting for a response to U.S.-based terrorists’ by Dozthor Zurlent,October 13, 2003 www.yellowtimes.org
2. Ben Linder – among many sites:
3Carlos Manuel de Cespedes owned a sugar plantation at La Demajagua near the town of Manzanillo in Cuba’s south east. On October 10th in 1868, he rang the sugar mill’s bell and assembled his slaves. Cespedes announced he was freeing them, and called on them to join him in a fight to win Cuba’s independence from Spain. The bell ubsequently became a symbol of defiance to the US-dominated Batista dictatorship.
4. For the case of the four murdered US women religious:-
–Chapter Two of “Manufacturing Consent” by Edward S. Herman & Noam Chomsky. Pantheon Books. 1988
–Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (www.lchr.org/lac/nuns/nuns.htm)
–“WHO IS THOMAS PICKERING?”, Democracy NOW!, July 13, 1998 (www.pacifica.org)
–United States Institute of Peace Library. Item:–“UN Security Council, Annex, From Madness to Hope: the 12-year war in El alvaldor: Report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, S/25500, 1993, 62-75.” (www.usip.org)
5. For James Carney:-
–EN BUSQUEDA DE LA VERDAD QUE SE NOS OCULTA. Un informe preliminar del Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos sobre el Proceso de Desclasificacion. Dr. Leo Valladares Lanza and Susan C. Peacock. January 1998 www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/)
–“Friends reflect on life of radical priest who disappeared 20 years ago” Shawnee News Star February 8th 2003 (www.news-star.com)
–“EMBASSY VIGIL FOR FATHER CARNEY”, EPICA News Release. Tegucigalpa, Honduras Dec. 3, 1997 www.igc.apc.org/epica)
6 “U.S. embassy throws out Catholics demanding truth about Carney”, Paul Jeffrey. National Catholic Reporter. November 3rd 1997