Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix IV Segment 13/23
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In September, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the O.A.S. issued a report noting a "perceptible decline in the observance of human rights" in Guatemala, expressing concern over "the resumption of methods and systems for eliminating persons in mass and the reappearance of the dreadful death squads." The Costa Rican-based Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Central America reported to the U.N. in November on the continuing terror by the Guatemalan security services and death squads, documenting some 175 cases of abductions, disappearances, and assassinations from August 8 to November 17, 1987, in addition to grenade attacks, a bomb thrown into a church, etc. The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission had recorded 334 extrajudicial executions and 73 disappearances in the first nine months of 1987. One of its directors reported in Washington that "the accords are being used as a smoke screen and the human rights situation is becoming much graver... [The accords have served] to allow violations with much more impunity." He added that the documented cases represent only a fraction of the abuses because most take place outside of the capital, citing also other government atrocities. The military also launched a new offensive in the mountains to try to drive the survivors of the near-genocidal campaigns of the early 1980s into "Development Pole villages" where they can be controlled by force.72

American readers were spared such facts. "During the first six months after the signing of the accords," Latin Americanist Susanne Jonas observes, "not one article on Guatemalan compliance appeared in the New York Times, and virtually none were printed in other major U.S. media." In a review of the Times, Christian Science Monitor, Miami Herald, and Wall Street Journal from October 1987 to March 1988, Alexander Cockburn found little comment on Guatemala at all, and no mention at all of the rising tide of political violence through November. As atrocities mounted further in December and January, there were two stories on Guatemala in the journals reviewed, both in the Monitor, both discussing rights abuses. The totals for October through January are over 500 dead and 160 disappeared, and two news stories. Combining the record of all papers reviewed over the entire period, Cockburn observes, "there is one critical story every 154 days on Guatemala in the US's most influential newspapers."73

In El Salvador, Tutela Legal, the human rights monitoring office of the Archdiocese of San Salvador, reported that recorded death squad killings doubled to about ten a month immediately after the accords, continuing through January; for the year, Tutela Legal's figures were 88 disappeared and 96 killed by death squads, the armed forces and civil defense, in addition to 280 killed, most presumed to be civilians, during army military operations.74 Amadeo Ramos, one of the founders of the Indian Association ANIS, reported that an Indian settlement was bombed by the army and "the bodies of several Indians were found in a remote area thrown in a ditch" in mid-November; not being Miskitos in Nicaragua, their fate was of no interest. There were many other dramatic cases, ignored or barely mentioned. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs estimated eighty-seven civilians killed or "disappeared" by death squads during the August-January phase of the accords. Chris Norton, one of the few U.S. journalists based in El Salvador, reported abroad that the real numbers are unknown because, as in Guatemala, most death squad killings "have taken place in rural areas and few of them have been reported."75

Protection of the client regime of El Salvador is a particular imperative, reaching impressive levels. The fate of the Human Rights Commission CDHES is illustrative. The murder of its president, Herbert Anaya, was reported by James LeMoyne, with due respect for the official government story that the guerrillas were responsible. Omitted from his account was testimony to the contrary by his widow Mirna Anaya and others. Mirna Anaya, a Salvadoran judge until 1987, fled the country after her husband's assassination. Her statement that the security forces were responsible and that witnesses will so testify if granted protection was available to a Canadian audience, but New York Times readers were again spared such unpleasant facts, or her speech before the Human Rights Assembly of the United Nations identifying a death squad of "members of the hacienda police and National Police" as the assassins.76

It is of little moment that a former CDHES president, Marianela Garcia Villas, had been killed by security forces on the pretext that she was a guerrilla, while other members had been murdered or "disappeared" by the security forces. Herbert Anaya had been arrested and tortured by the Treasury police in May 1986, along with other Commission members. While in prison, they continued their work, compiling sworn testimony of torture by prisoners. They succeeded in smuggling out of the prison a document with detailed evidence on the torture of 430 prisoners along with a videotape of testimony. But this was evidence about torture by U.S. agents and clients (and a U.S. military officer in uniform, in one case), not about Cuban or Russian prisons. Hence these revelations aroused no interest, and nothing appeared in the national media (see appendix I, section 1). After Anaya was released in a prisoner exchange, he was denounced by the government and informed that he headed a list of Commission workers to be killed. Lacking the protection that might have been afforded by some media visibility, he was assassinated, probably by the security forces or their affiliates, as indicated by Archbishop Rivera y Damas in a homily at the Metropolitan Cathedral, unreported in the Times, in which he cited information that "a death squad was responsible."77

Systematically avoiding the undesirable facts about El Salvador, James LeMoyne assured his readers at the end of November that President Duarte "has gone considerably further [than the Sandinistas] in carrying out the letter of the treaty" though perhaps he too is not "particularly committed to its spirit of reconciliation," since he "is trying to split the leftist rebel alliance" -- nothing more. LeMoyne also praised Duarte for having given the rebels "free access to the press"; the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, in contrast, reports that "journalists practice self-censorship to such an extent that papers will not print statements by opposition groups critical of the government."78

LeMoyne was also impressed with Duarte's having "permitted rebel civilian leaders to come home and actively pursue their political vision," asking whether "like the rebels in El Salvador, the contras may eventually...take the risk of sending some representatives back to Nicaragua to test the Sandinistas' promise to offer genuine political freedom after eight years of single-party rule" -- though there is reason to "doubt their sincerity" and willingness to "tolerate some political opposition."79 LeMoyne is well aware that respected church leaders and intellectuals who have no connection with guerrilla movements have been forced to flee El Salvador and are unable to return for fear of assassination, while in Nicaragua the opposition have never faced anything remotely comparable to the terror of Duarte's security forces and their associates, and quite openly support the U.S. forces attacking the country, regularly identifying with them in public statements in La Prensa, publicly denouncing the government, and implicitly calling for further military aid to the contras when visiting Washington.80

As LeMoyne also knows full well, not only the pro-contra internal opposition, but even contra military leaders who decide to return to Nicaragua live and work there without concern for their lives. To cite only one of several cases, contra leader Fernando Chamorro returned to Nicaragua from Costa Rica and was named regional president of the Conservative Party, which openly supports the contras.81 Consider in contrast Col. Adolfo Majano, not a guerrilla leader but the army officer who led the reformist military coup in October 1979 and was described by the U.S. press as "the symbol of American policy in this country" because of his efforts to move towards democracy and reform.82 Majano was marginalized as the traditional repressive forces took over with U.S. government backing, and was removed from the junta in December 1980, when Duarte became president to preside over the slaughter then intensifying. He was forced to flee the mounting terror, returning after seven years in exile to test the "new democracy." Upon returning, he survived at least two assassination attempts by suspected death squads. A third occurred on August 25, 1988, when his car came under fire from two gunmen in a San Salvador shopping center and two bodyguards were killed. "This criminal attempt was aimed at myself and there is no doubt that it was carried out by the death squads," Majano said. The Archbishop agreed, stating in the Sunday mass three days later that the killings had been carried out by "the sinister death squads."83 The assassination attempt took place immediately after a series of murders by security forces and presumed death squads. One suspects that similar events in Managua might have made the New York Times. Instead, we find philosophical reflections on the freedom and openness of El Salvador as compared with the brutal repression under the Sandinistas.

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72 COHA, Washington Report on the Hemisphere, Feb. 3, 1988; Update, Central American Historical Institute, Dec. 28, 1987; Cultural Survival, vol. 12, no. 3, 1988.

73 Jonas, San Francisco Bay Guardian; Cockburn, Anderson Valley Advertiser; both June 8, 1988.

74 Human Rights Watch (Americas Watch/Asia Watch/Helsinki Watch) and Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Critique: Review of the Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1987, June 1988. The review particularly condemns the State Department reports on the Central American countries, and their denigration and misrepresentation of the work of the "highly respected" Tutela Legal. These have been regular features of State Department productions.

75 COHA Washington Report on the Hemisphere, Feb. 17, 1988; Latinamerica press (Peru), Nov. 19, 1987.

76 See my article in Z Magazine, March 1988, for further details; U.N. testimony, La Voz, CDHES, March 24, 1988.

77 AP, Nov. 15, 1987; the Archbishop also noted other death squad killings. On February 20, the Times ran a brief AP report noting that the Archbishop attributed the murder to death squads and that the alleged killer retracted his confession.

78 LeMoyne, NYT, Nov. 29, 1987; COHA Washington Report on the Hemisphere, Feb. 17, 1988. Access to radio and TV later became much more free, but to speak of "free access to the press" in November 1987 was outlandish, and there has never been anything corresponding to the U.S.-funded pro-contra journal La Prensa. On the media in Central America, see appendix V, section 6.

79 NYT, Nov. 29, 1987; June 5, Feb. 22, 1988.

80 See appendix V, section 6.

81 Ibid. On Chamorro's return, see COHA, News and Analysis, Feb. 20, 1988.

82 See Turning the Tide, 109-10.

83 El Sol (El Salvador On Line, Center for Central American Studies, Washington), Aug. 29, 1988; Sam Dillon, "El Salvador's Violent Past Returns in Poverty, Death," Miami Herald, Sept. 6, 1988.