FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Pentagon’s New Plan to Confront Latin America’s Pink Tide

by NICK ALEXANDROV

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was in Uruguay recently, where he spoke of the need to strengthen the southern hemisphere’s police forces.  This proposed policy has a precedent, almost unknown in this country, but potentially indicative of what awaits Latin American governments willing to cooperate with their northern neighbor’s defense establishment.  In the 1960s, Washington initiated a decade-long training program for Uruguay’s police, helping transform them from a weak, underfunded force into an efficient instrument of repression.  The metamorphosis coincided with Uruguay’s descent from democracy to dictatorship, as “the Switzerland of Latin America” became, by the time the U.S. had finished its work, the world’s leader in political prisoners per capita.

Panetta delivered his remarks at Punta del Este, where the Alliance for Progress was launched in 1961.  Aimed at raising income levels and promoting land reform in Latin America, President Kennedy’s program reflected his agenda accurately—to about the same extent Obama’s handshake with Chávez heralded a “friendly turn” in U.S.-Latin American relations.  Down here on Earth, Obama ensured the current Honduran regime stole the last election successfully.  In the fraud’s aftermath, death squads roam the country, murdering human rights lawyers and activists.  The Kennedy administration, for its part, oversaw the write-up of a development plan for Uruguay within the Alliance framework, which was effectively discarded upon completion.  None of its recommendations were ever carried out, since other matters took priority.  In 1962, Kennedy created the Office of Public Safety (OPS), supervised loosely by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and responsible for Uruguay’s Public Safety Program (PSP) from 1964-1974.

The PSP was a training program for Uruguay’s police, who received instruction both in the U.S. and their home country, part of the general effort to combat rising urban terrorism and crime.  Or at least that was the authorized rationale.  U.S. government documents, meanwhile, tell a different story.  Half a year after the program began, for example, USAID officials in Montevideo explained that “Uruguay has enjoyed a relatively peaceful state of security for many years,” and that “[n]o active threat of insurgency exists.”  In the 2012 version of this story, Panetta offers drug traffickers and insurgents as the twin dangers necessitating revamped police squads.  But if the past is any guide, these claims should be met with extreme skepticism.

The Tupamaros, a left-wing political group, are often considered the main target of the PSP.  They spent their first few years organizing, and raiding banks and weapons caches for funds and guns.  They next started kidnapping top officials, beginning with the head of the state telephone company—who was also President Jorge Pacheco Areco’s close friend and adviser—in August 1968.  But the guerrillas took their hostage only after Pacheco cracked down on left-wing periodicals and political parties, declaring a state of emergency that allowed the government to make use of its “special powers” at will.  The fact that Uruguay’s democracy was unraveling had been pointed out by a number of observers several years before.  One of these noted in 1965 that, while a pair of “political parties have dominated the Uruguayan scene for over 100 years,” they were effectively identical, characterized by “little difference of policy.”  These parties’ shared aims did not include taking action to remedy the “continuing industrial recession, rising unemployment…and a spiraling cost of living” underway at the time.  The radical implications of this analysis—which was the CIA’s—are obvious: to improve Uruguayan lives, actions had to be taken outside the established political channels, given that the two major parties were doing nothing, and in fact promoting, the deepening austerity.  The Tupamaros, of course, agreed with the CIA on this point, but these groups diverged in their visions for the future. While the rebels wished to see conditions improve within the context of a better social order, Washington wanted to prevent Uruguayans from even protesting the “continuing industrial recession” through which they suffered.

A review of the relevant government documents makes it obvious the PSP targeted Uruguayans generally, and not merely the Tupamaros.  The earliest USAID reports from Montevideo, again, documented the “relatively peaceful” climate prevailing there, and subsequent memos took note primarily of “strikes, public meetings and demonstrations,” which officials understood stemmed from growing “financial problems.”  Washington’s goal was to monitor the ability of the PSP-trained police to control these protesters—“urban terrorists,” in Beltway slang—via “strict control of crowds, a strong representation of police personnel at all demonstrations and the immediate use of force to prevent escalation to riot stage.”  “Preventive techniques are being used effectively,” one USAID memo concluded.  The students were learning their lessons well.

Little had changed in Uruguay by 1969, when U.S. official Dan Mitrione arrived to supervise police training.  Writing to Washington late that year, he explained, “Life today seems normal on the streets of Montevideo, and the real problem facing the police is the number of assaults on police officers[.]”  The “real problem,” it bears repeating, was not that Uruguay’s government, functionally a one-party system, was forcing citizens to cope with the stark choices a ruined economy imposes.  The problem was that Uruguayans protested these conditions.  The U.S. government trained Uruguay’s police to punish them for this sin—punishment that would only intensify when a few dared to retaliate against their aggressors.  Mitrione himself understood well the business of discipline.  His reputation, in certain circles, was that of a master torturer.

He had a simple motto: “The precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect.”  And he was proud of his abilities, according to a Cuban double agent working with the CIA in Uruguay.  This man attended one of Mitrione’s seminars.  Four homeless people were picked up off the street for the occasion.  They were used first to show the effects “of different voltages on different parts of the human body.”  Next came a demonstration of an emetic’s functions.  Once they had finished vomiting, they were forced to ingest another chemical.  In the end, all the subjects died.  The Tupamaros subsequently kidnapped Mitrione in July 1970, and killed him in early August.  Two months later, the Uruguayan Senate issued a report indicating that the Montevideo police tortured its prisoners on a regular basis.  By June 1973, President Bordaberry—whom Washington aided in the 1971 election by suppressing his leftist opponents—completed the transformation.  Uruguay had become a dictatorship.

Those looking to read more on this period should consult William Blum’s Killing Hope, which has a typically powerful chapter on the U.S.-facilitated Uruguayan decline.  And while it is too early to tell exactly how Panetta’s plan, discussed in the Pentagon’s recently-released Western Hemisphere Defense Policy Statement, will pan out, one outcome seems guaranteed.  If the U.S. government successfully implements its new “security” policies in the southern hemisphere, then Latin America’s pink tide—a reference to its left-leaning political leaders—will run red, with the blood of murdered campesinos, feminists, activists, guerrillas, and anyone else deemed expendable in the cruel calculus of power.

Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC.

 

More articles by:

Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC.  He can be reached at: nicholas.alexandrov@gmail.com

CounterPunch Magazine


bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

September 26, 2017
Paul Street
Good Blacks, Bad Blacks: From Washington and DuBois to Morgan Freeman and Colin Kaepernick
James Bovard
World War I Continues to Haunt America
Hiroyuki Hamada
Death Cult Spiral
Johnny Hazard
Mexico’s Earthquake: Government Represses Grassroots Rescue Work and May be Burying Survivors Alive
CJ Hopkins
Sympathy for the Corporatocracy
Howard Lisnoff
Selling a Bill of Goods on PBS about the Vietnam War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Newsletter: Is Health Care A Commodity Or Right?
Gregory Barrett
The German Election: the West’s Nervous Breakdown Continues
Thomas Klikauer
Nazis March into Germany’s Parliament
Vacy Vlanza
How Do They Sleep at Night?
Paul Goldsmith
Kenya’s Secession Non-Debate and the Shape of Things to Come
Dave Lindorff
Why Don’t We Demand 1st Amendment Rights on the Job?
Johan Galtung
The World, Where Are You Heading?
Shepherd Bliss
Cannabis Cultivating Re-Visited
Thomas Knapp
Social Media: When Does “Actively Working With the Government” Become Censorship?
Michael Dickinson
The Baseness of Israel’s US Military “Facility”
September 25, 2017
Frank Serpico
Kap, Cops and Confederate Statues: a Better World Without Double Standards
Vicent Partal
Proud to be an Agent of Catalonian Sedition
Robert Hunziker
Climate Armageddon Revisited
David Rosen
Populists vs. Progressives: Are They Still Relevant?
S. Brian Willson
Obfuscating the Truths of Vietnam
Patrick Cockburn
Why the Kurds Are Seeking Independence From Iraq
Victor Grossman
Merkel Clobbered, German Far Right Rising
Belén Fernández
Letter From Iran
Binoy Kampmark
Benjamin Netanyahu, Penguins and the United Nations
John Grant
The Vietnam War as Public Spectacle
Ron Jacobs
Colonialism Never Gives Anything Away for Nothing
Andre Vltchek
Western Propaganda in Southeast Asia
Jane Constantineau
Our Man in Panama: When Diplomacy Matters
Mike Garrity
Wildfires Don’t Destroy Forests, Logging Does
Barbara Nimri Aziz
A Risky Referendum for Kurdistan Underway in Iraq
Thomas Knapp
JPMorgan Chase is Right to Fear Cryptocurrency
Tom H. Hastings
Tween Boys and the Fate of the World?
Weekend Edition
September 22, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Killing of History
Anthony DiMaggio
Who Are the “Alt-Right”? On the Rise of Reactionary Hatred and How to Fight it
Paul Street
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s “Vietnam War”: Some Predictions
Douglas Valentine – Lars Schall
The CIA: 70 Years of Organized Crime
Paul Atwood
Korea? It’s Always Really Been About China!
Jeffrey St. Clair
Imperial Ruins: Frank Lloyd Wright in Hollywood
Mike Whitney
Uncle Sam vs. Russia in Eastern Syria: the Nightmare Scenario   
Andrew Levine
Trump Flux
Paul Michael Johnson
Lessons on Colonial Monuments From an Unlikely Place
Benjamin Dangl
Masters of War: Senate Defense Budget Set to Exceed One Third of Global Military Spending
Brian Cloughley
NATO’s Decomposing Corpse
Linda Pentz Gunter
Stanislav Petrov: the Ignominious End of the Man Who Saved the World