Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Chapter 4: Adjuncts of Government Segment 7/10
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The media responded to these unacceptable facts by suppressing them. The United States was of course not a signatory, so technically speaking it could not "violate" the accords. An honest accounting, however, would have noted -- indeed, emphasized -- that the United States acted at once to render the accords nugatory. Nothing of the sort is to be found. Apart from marginal groups with access to alternative media, not subject to the code of discipline, even the most assiduous media addict could hardly have been more than minimally aware of these crucial facts. The behavior of the New York Times was particularly remarkable, including outright falsification along with scrupulous suppression.
Suppression of evidence concerning U.S. supply flights persisted after the accords were finally demolished in January 1988. Nicaraguan reports, which had been accurate and ignored in the past, continued to be ignored by the media, as inconsistent with the images they seek to convey. In December 1988, Defense Minister Humberto Ortega alleged that the Reagan administration was continuing supply flights to contras inside Nicaragua in violation of the congressional ban (not to speak of the forgotten peace accords and the even more profoundly irrelevant terms of international law). He claimed that Nicaraguan radar detected ten clandestine supply flights into Nicaragua from Ilopango air base near San Salvador in November -- the "Hasenfus route" -- adding that "We are talking about CIA flights; we do not know if they have the approval of the Salvadoran government." Apart from faith in the doctrine of miraculous "change of course," there was little reason to doubt that the report might be true. It was as usual ignored, and no investigation, commentary, or conclusions followed. These quite significant reports from Nicaragua were available to readers of the English language Barricada Interna-cional (Managua), but not those of the New York Times, or elsewhere to my knowledge. Attacks by the U.S.-run terrorist forces on civilians also continued, unreported, in accordance with the general pattern for years.44
The accords called for "justice, freedom and democracy" and guarantees for "the inviolability of all forms of life and liberty" and "the safety of the people," for "an authentic pluralistic and participatory democratic process to promote social justice" and "respect for human rights." These provisions were also unacceptable to the United States, because they plainly could not be met or even approached in the U.S. client states without the dismantling of the governmental structure, dominated by the armed forces and security services. Having eliminated the provisions applying to the United States, the media therefore faced a second task: to remove the practices of the client states from the agenda. This problem was readily overcome by the same means: simple refusal to report the facts, or marginalization and distortion when they were too visible to ignore entirely. State terror in the U.S. client states escalated, but no matter. The laser-like focus of the media was on Nicaragua, which received far more coverage than the other countries combined -- virtually all of it concentrating on departures from the accords as interpreted in Washington.
Another unacceptable feature of the accords was the role given to international monitors, the CIVS. The United States brooks no interference in its domains; hence the longstanding U.S. opposition to the peace efforts of the Latin American democracies, and now to the CIVS as well. Furthermore, the CIVS presence would inhibit violation of the accords, thus interfering with U.S. intentions. The first phase of the accords ended in January with a report by the CIVS, which had the bad taste to condemn the United States and its clients while praising steps taken by Nicaragua. Obviously it had to go. The Times cooperated by virtually suppressing the CIVS report, and under U.S. pressure the monitoring commission was abolished.
The victory was complete: not a shred of the original agreements remained. Nicaragua responded by announcing that it would satisfy the terms of the former accords unilaterally, requesting international supervision to monitor its agreement alone. The loyal media responded by announcing that finally Nicaragua had agreed to comply with the peace accords, though of course Communists cannot be trusted.
Meanwhile state terror escalated in the client states, without, however, influencing the judgment that Nicaragua bore prime responsibility for violating the accords; the correct response, given that the United States and its clients were now exempt, by Washington-media edict. In the Times, the terror was barely noted, apart from guerrilla terror in El Salvador, to which the government sometimes "responded," James LeMoyne commented with regret. In October 1988, Amnesty International released a report on the sharp increase in death squad killings, abduction, torture, and mutilation, tracing the terror to the government security forces. The Times ignored the story, while the Senate passed a resolution warning Nicaragua that new military aid would be sent to the contras if the Sandinistas continued to violate the peace accords.45
Returning to January 1988, with the accords now restricted to the question of Nicaraguan compliance with Washington's dictates, the crucial issue became the willingness of the Sandinistas to negotiate with the CIA-established civilian front for Washington's proxy forces. The accords themselves required no such negotiations, as was occasionally noted in the small print, but they had long since been dismissed to oblivion. In early 1988, Nicaragua did agree to this U.S. condition, reaching an unexpected cease-fire agreement with the contras. Meanwhile the indigenous guerrillas in El Salvador and Guatemala were consistently rebuffed in their efforts to negotiate, but these facts were suppressed as irrelevant, in conformity with the Washington-media version of the accords. Where not suppressed, the facts were simply denied, as when Jeane Kirkpatrick wrote in June that "Duarte has seen his generous offers of amnesty and negotiations rejected by the FMLN [guerrillas], one by one." This pronouncement followed Duarte's rejection of a series of efforts by the FMLN, the political opposition, and the Church to arrange negotiations; the generous offer of amnesty, as Kirkpatrick fully understands, would be an offer to be slaughtered by the death squads, quite apart from the fact that the Duarte government -- unlike the Sandinistas -- was refusing amnesty for guerrilla leaders.46
The Nicaraguan cease-fire was signed on March 23. The agreement stated that "only humanitarian aid will be negotiated and accepted in accordance with article 5" of the August 1987 accords, to "be channeled through neutral organizations." Organization of American States (OAS) secretary general Jo<176>o Clemente Baena Soares was entrusted with ensuring compliance with the agreement. Congress responded by voting overwhelmingly to violate the terms of the cease-fire, approving $47.9 million in aid to the contras, to be administered by the State Department through the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID). The aid would be delivered in Honduras and within Nicaragua by a "private company," James LeMoyne reported, quoting contra leader Alfredo César; the phrase "private company" is a euphemism for the CIA, for which AID has admittedly served as a front in the past. Contra leader Aldolfo Calero stated that the cease-fire agreement allowed for delivery of aid to the Nicaraguan border by the CIA, and Democratic Congressperson David Bonior added that the rebels would select "the private carrier." By no stretch of the imagination can AID be considered a "neutral organization."47
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44 Ortega, Barricada Internacional, Dec. 22, 1988, Review of 1988 (POB 410150, San Francisco CA 94103); also AP, Dec. 15, 1988 (since the information was on the wires, it was readily available to every segment of the mass media). On one contra attack in November, see Ellen V.P. Wells, letter, NYT, Dec. 31, 1988. Commenting on a Times report that the contras had passed into history, Wells reports her experience as a Witness for Peace observer living with farmers in Jinotega province. On November 18, contras raided their cooperative, killing two, destroying houses, supplies, harvested coffee, and a health clinic (a prime target for many years). In an August 17 raid, four children had been killed.
45 See appendix IV, section 5, for further details on these matters.
46 Kirkpatrick, WP, June 6, 1988. See appendix IV, section 5, for details.
47 LeMoyne, NYT, March 26; Susan Rasky, NYT, March 29, 30, 1988.