Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix IV Segment 15/23
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Growing Honduran concerns over loss of national independence and integrity under U.S. influence have also not been a popular topic. As discussed earlier, the March 1988 Nicaraguan operations against the contras elicited irate denunciations of Sandinista aggressiveness and threat to Honduras in the U.S. media and Congress; also a bipartisan proposal for $48 million in aid, including arms, to the beleaguered freedom fighters so unfairly attacked. When the United States sent an airlift to "defend Honduras" against Sandinista aggression, there was much jingoist fanfare at home, and a reaction in Honduras that received somewhat less attention. Honduran journalists condemned the U.S. "invasion." El Tiempo denounced the government call for -- or acquiescence in -- the dispatch of U.S. troops as "not only illegal but shameful. It is telling the world that the state of Honduras does not exist." The journal described the U.S. troops as an "occupation force," while the Christian Democratic Party "said that the U.S. soldiers should fly home immediately" and its leader Rubén Palma "told reporters that Honduran President José Azcona had acted illegally in calling in foreign troops without parliament's authorization."91
One could learn little about such matters from the New York Times,92 and not much elsewhere. Media reporting that departed from the U.S. government agenda would have allayed the widespread shock when Hondurans attacked the U.S. Embassy a few weeks later while police stood by, in an explosion of anti-U.S. sentiment.
Apart from the barriers to U.S. terror, overcome with media complicity as discussed earlier, two central features of the Esquipulas Accord were intolerable to Washington: the role given to international monitors, the CIVS, and the "symmetry" condition on which the agreements were based, requiring steps in parallel by all Central American countries. The former condition was unacceptable because it interferes with the U.S. ability to violate the Accord as it wishes; the latter, for the same reason, and because Washington's terror states cannot possibly live up to the provisions on democratization and human rights. The task of the media, then, was to eliminate these two unwanted principles. The agreement as revised by Washington must be focused solely on Nicaragua, with the international monitors dismissed. By these means, the unwanted Esquipulas Accord could be brought into line with the Reagan-Wright plan rejected by the Central American presidents in August.
The problem of international monitoring became serious in January 1988, when the CIVS was to present its findings to the Central American presidents after studying the five countries. Plainly, this was the central diplomatic event of the month; equally plainly, it was unacceptable, particularly when the Commission presented its conclusions. The CIVS singled out the United States for condemnation because of its continued assistance "to the irregular forces operating against the government of Nicaragua," thus violating "an indispensable requirement for the success of the peace efforts and of this Procedure as a whole." A CIVS official informed the press that Latin American representatives were "shocked by the attitudes of patent fear" expressed by trade unionists and opposition figures in El Salvador and Guatemala. He added that the CIVS could not provide details about compliance because of objections from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala -- a clear indication of what the report would have said, had it not been blocked by the United States and its clients. The report praised Nicaragua's "concrete steps" towards democratization despite the difficulties it faced.
The facts were reported by several journals, but eliminated from the New York Times, where James LeMoyne, in a dispatch focusing on denunciations of Nicaragua, dismissed the CIVS report in one sentence, stating only that its meeting ended "with little agreement" (the report was adopted unanimously). The condemnation of the United States was briefly noted in an article on another topic nine days later by Stephen Kinzer, who added that "the commission fell out of favor in some circles when it reported that Nicaragua had taken `concrete steps toward the beginning of a democratic process'<|>"; like the O.A.S., the CIVS had thus "lost much of its authority as the conscience of Latin America."93
The Commission was disbanded under U.S. pressure, enabling the United States to pursue its terrorist exercises unhampered and permitting Duarte to continue to serve as a front man for repression and murder.
The "symmetry" problem was overcome by focusing virtually all coverage on Nicaragua, along with the constant pretense that whatever may appear in the text of the Esquipulas Accord, "there is no doubt that [the treaty's] main provisions are principally directed at Nicaragua and will affect Nicaragua more than any of the other nations that signed the accord" (James LeMoyne). That is quite true under the conditions dictated by Washington and observed by the press, though the conclusion has no basis in the text. As LeMoyne explained further, the Sandinistas are "in a somewhat exposed position" because they, and they alone, "are under close scrutiny for their efforts to carry out the Central American peace treaty."94 Again true, on the tacit assumption that the Free Press must follow the marching orders that issue from Washington. His colleague Stephen Kinzer offered the same analysis, as did the media fairly generally.
The Media Alliance in San Francisco studied press samples during two periods of peak coverage of the peace plan (August 5 through September 15, 1987; January 5 through February 7, 1988). The New York Times devoted ten times as many stories to Nicaragua as to all the other countries combined in the first period, and eleven times as many in the second. Other media sampled had similar proportions.95 Efforts to gain mainstream coverage for these reports failed.
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91 Toronto Globe and Mail, March 23, 1988. See appendix III on the integrity of the concerns angrily expressed over the Sandinista border violation. On the aid proposal, see Susan Rasky, NYT, March 19, 1988.
92 From Tegucigalpa, Joseph Treaster reported only that "ordinary Hondurans" generally feel that with the contras out of Honduras, tensions between the two countries will end, referring to the fear in Honduras that they will "get stuck with" the contras; NYT, March 21, 27.
93 See p. 221. Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 15; Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 14; LeMoyne, NYT, Jan. 16; Kinzer, NYT, Jan. 25, 1988.
94 NYT, Nov. 10, 1987.
95 San Francisco Bay Guardian, Jan. 6, April 20, 1988.