Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Chapter 4: Adjuncts of Government Segment 8/10
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The congressional legislation stipulated that all aid must be administered in a manner consistent with the March 23 cease-fire agreement and in accord with the decisions of the Verification Commission established by that agreement, for which Secretary General Soares was the responsible authority. In a letter to George Shultz on April 25, Soares drew his attention to this passage of the congressional legislation and stated that reliance on AID was in clear violation of the cease-fire agreement, expressing his "deep concern about this whole situation." He emphasized further that article 5 of the peace accords, which determines how aid shall be delivered under the cease-fire agreement, quite explicitly rules out any assistance whatsoever to the contras except for repatriation or resettlement. Aid can be sent to contras within Nicaragua by means agreed by both sides, as a means towards their "reintegration into normal life," but for no other end. The objections of the official in charge of monitoring the agreement were disregarded -- in fact unreported to my knowledge -- and the illegal operations continued.48

It would be interesting to learn whether any reference appeared in the U.S. media to the decision of the World Court concerning "humanitarian aid" (paragraph 243). If such aid is "to escape condemnation" as illegal intervention, the court declared, "not only must it be limited to the purposes hallowed in the practice of the Red Cross, namely, `to prevent and alleviate human suffering', and `to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being'; it must also, and above all, be given without discrimination to all in need in Nicaragua, not merely to the contras and their dependents." "An essential feature of truly humanitarian aid is that it is given `without discrimination' of any kind." Even the most imaginative commentator would have some difficulty rendering that judgment compatible with the congressional legislation. Best, then, to suppress the matter, an easy matter in an intellectual culture that disdains the rule of law as a childish absurdity (when it applies to us) and that conforms to the requirements of the powerful virtually as a reflex.

The Times report on the decision of Congress to fund the contras in violation of the cease-fire agreement, the peace accords, and international law cited views ranging from hawks who condemned the sellout of the contras "as a low point in United States history" (Senator John McCain), to Senator Brock Adams, who voted against the aid proposal on the grounds that "the United States attempt to create a government through the contras is a historic mistake, similar to our trying to create a government in Southeast Asia. We are in a position again of supporting military force without victory." These two quotes also appeared in "Quotations of the Day."49 Appropriately, the highlighted opinion falls well within the acceptable bounds of mere tactical disagreement.

AID head Alan Woods said that the aid would have to be delivered by "private American aircraft" and that there was no assurance that the Sandinistas would permit such airdrops to the contras within Nicaragua -- in violation of the cease-fire agreement, as Secretary General Soares had determined. The Times article reporting this is headed "Official Sees Problems on Contra Aid: The big hurdle is Sandinista mistrust." AID then began delivering supplies to contras in Honduras, violating the congressional legislation that stipulated that the aid was to be delivered "in cease-fire zones," all of which are in Nicaragua, and violating the cease-fire agreement for the reasons already spelled out; for one, because "AID, a U.S. agency, clearly is not...[a] neutral organization," the Council on Hemispheric Affairs pointed out, noting the protest by Soares, and the Nicaraguan complaint "that weapons originating from the CIA base at Swan Island, Honduras, had been concealed in the banned shipments." Wire services reported that Nicaragua had offered to have supplies sent to the contras through the Red Cross or other neutral agencies and that representatives of rebel Indian groups "agreed with the government that the International Red Cross should handle distribution of humanitarian aid to them," offers rejected or ignored by the U.S. government and its proxies.50

The Democratic Study Group of Congress issued a report condemning the administration for numerous violations of the cease-fire agreement and the congressional legislation. It noted that the Sandinistas had proposed the Red Cross, UNICEF, and other recognized relief agencies as delivery agents, but that all but one of them had been rejected by AID, which proposed several organizations with right-wing political ties and no experience in Latin America. The Study Group reported also that the Sandinistas had "invited the contras to propose another agency," receiving no response from the contras -- not surprisingly, since they were being supplied in violation of the cease-fire agreement. The report also noted that while sending aid illegally to the contras, the administration had refused to provide assistance to the families of Indian rebels and would only supply fighters based in Honduras, using a company that had carried supplies to the contras.51

The facts were largely ignored by the Times, which offered a different version. James LeMoyne reported that "because the Sandinistas have managed to obstruct efforts to resupply the rebels, as called for under the cease-fire terms, they may attack them at a moment of maximum weakness when the cease-fire ends." Robert Pear alleged that President Ortega "has blocked deliveries" of the aid authorized by Congress on grounds "that the deliveries would violate the cease-fire agreement." Unmentioned was the fact that this was also the conclusion of the official in charge of monitoring the agreement; his name did appear in the article, but only in the context of the Reagan administration decision that he had not met their financial "accountability standards," so they had not disbursed the $10 million provided by Congress for the commission to verify compliance with the cease-fire agreement -- an understandable reaction to verification mechanisms when the U.S. government is intent on violating agreements and international law with the protection of the media.52

In further violation of both the cease-fire agreement and the congressional legislation, the Reagan administration sent funds to the contras to spend as they wished, a method "regarded by AID as sufficient accounting," congressperson Tony Coelho commented sardonically. AID officials announced that in addition to food aid, "more than $1 million in materiel -- military equipment and supplies -- also was delivered," though not weapons and ammunition, the Washington Times reported. Congress had legislated the delivery of aid to Nicaraguan children, stipulating, however, that "no assistance may be provided to or through the government of Nicaragua," which operates most medical facilities and hospitals. AID predictably gave the condition the narrowest interpretation, thus effectively restricting this rather cynical gesture on the part of those funding the "unlawful use of force" against Nicaragua. AID also rejected offers by nonpartisan humanitarian organizations to deliver aid to Nicaraguan children. A letter from Brown University Medical School offering to submit a detailed proposal to distribute this aid was not even acknowledged. The Nicaraguan government later refused all such aid as long as the United States supports the contras, on grounds that "it makes no sense to receive aid for children from the same body that is responsible for their injuries," the Embassy press officer said. "It's like someone giving you a beating and then, to relieve his conscience, he gives you a Band-Aid. Then he gives you another beating."53

The national media remained unperturbed throughout, in accordance with the doctrine that the United States stands above any law or international agreement -- and needless to say, above any moral principle.

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48 Letter of the Secretary General of the OAS to George Shultz, April 25, 1988.

49 NYT, April 1. Susan Rasky reported that Adams also "said that even humanitarian aid for the rebels amounted to support of a fighting force," perhaps an oblique reference to the World Court decision.

50 Robert Pear, NYT, April 6; COHA Washington Report on the Hemisphere, May 11; AP, May 12, 11; Reuters, BG, May 13, 1988.

51 "Special Report," DSG, May 16, 1988.

52 LeMoyne, NYT, May 12; Pear, NYT, May 10, 1988.

53 John Goshko, WP, May 14; John McCaslin, WT, June 14, 1988; COHA press release, May 12, 1988; Don Podesta, WP, Sept. 21, 1988.