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“I mean, my goodness, El Salvador had elections when people were being shot at and there was a civil war going on, and it worked fine,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in an interview last month.
(As quoted in an article in the Wall Street Journal published January 10, “US Officials Say Latin Nation’s Past Bodes Well for Elections, by John Lyons.)
As the date for the elections in Iraq approaches, and the war on the ground becomes increasingly bloody and unmanageable, US policy makers, in their desperation to justify a shred of legitimacy in the bankrupt process, are dredging up old lies to justify their benighted plan. They talk of a “Salvador Option”, as though the elections of the last twenty-five years in this oppressed Latin American nation have been a success, an example that can be followed in the Middle East.
The elections in El Salvador have not ushered in a period of Democracy. The end of the civil war in 1992 brought life under the Peace Accords, whose promise has been largely unfulfilled. The majority live in poverty. Maquilas and the informal economy are the basis for existence. The rich control the politics and economy of the country. Most hope for a life in El Norte, the United States, where 25% of Salvadorans live and work, and support the economy of the nation with their remesas (money sent home from the US–$2 billion a year).
The occupation in Iraq is using terror, torture and violence against a civilian population, just as the death squads do in El Salvador. (Witness the November 5, 2004 assassination of US trade unionist, Gilberto Soto.) Now, as stated in the Wall Street Journal piece, and in a current article in Newsweek, the occupation will try to train Iraqis to inflict terror against other Iraqis with the creation of death squads which will infiltrate the Sunni population and assassinate and kidnap civilians who support the insurgency. This is the exact model used in Latin America and if there are elections at the same time, we can call it Democracy.
Of course, the policy could be called the “Guatemala Option”, since in Guatemala the United States overthrew the elected government of Jacobo Arbenz, which created the conditions for a decades-long civil war that resulted in the deaths of 200,000 civilians at the hands of CIA facilitated death squads and at the hands of the military which carried out the monstrous policies of genocidal fundamentalists such as Rios Montt. This period saw a series of military governments that placed the economy squarely in the hands of multinational corporate interests. US troops were not required, only training. Of course, this is the preferred model for domination, for it requires only know-how, not soldiers on the ground.
Guatemala is also a model that the Iraqis can anticipate in their new Democracy, in which resources will be plundered and the people exploited. In Guatemala, the majority indigenous Mayan population, which bore the repression of the conflict, continues to live in poverty, without significant representation in the government. They struggle to survive on the marginal land of the country, while huge economic interests dominate the economy. One current example is the conflict over the attempt by the Canadian mining company Glamis Gold Limited to develop the Marlin mine in the western department of San Marcos.
Supported by a $45,000,000 World Bank loan, this mining project would have serious effects on the local environment and population. Glamis plans to use a cyanide leaching process that would poison the environment. Neither the company nor the Guatemalan or Canadian governments have consulted with the local communities. The project was not approved by the local government, and now the local population is in the 42nd day of a protest which has blocked mining trucks from entering the construction site. The World Bank, Glamis and the Canadian government are threatening to call on the Guatemalan military to escort the mining equipment and quell the uprising. (For more info, http://chiapas.mediosindependientes.org/
This is what democracy looks like to US policy makers. It could be called the Salvador Option, the Guatemala Option, the Indonesia Option, the Colombia Option, the Chile Option. Where there are elections, there is democracy, unless the elections do not support the US agenda, in which case the government chosen is ripe for destabilization and overthrow by any means necessary.
The elections in Iraq this month happen at the behest of the occupying powers of Iraq. They will not represent democracy any more than the elections in El Salvador or Guatemala have made these nations magically democratic.
When the United States government and military openly advocate these positions that support torture, such as occurred with the soon-to-be Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, or death squads, as Rumsfeld and others in the military advocate, we are confronted with blatant criminality. These are illegal policies under international law, and under the law of the United States. The nation is being placed on notice in the most obvious way that the United States is a rogue nation, prowling the earth for resources and conquest. How will the citizenry of this “land of the free, home of the brave” react? What option will we choose?
(Thanks to Marco Fonseca for the info on the mining operations in Guatemala. He is the recently published author of “Entre la comunidad y la república: ciudadanía y sociedad civil en Guatemala.” Guatemala: F&G Editores, 2004)
JOE DeRAYMOND has been an election observer in El Salvador in 2003 and 2004, with the Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org