Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix IV Segment 18/23
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The insistence on wide-ranging negotiations with the contra directorate was another part of the longstanding effort to establish the fiction that the proxy army is an indigenous force, comparable to the guerrillas in El Salvador who were largely mobilized by U.S.-backed state terror, have always fought within their country, receive little if any military aid from abroad, have nothing like the extraordinary intelligence and support system provided by the contras' superpower sponsor,118 and face a military force that, on paper at least, is considerably more powerful than the army of Nicaragua. It is necessary to suppress the astonishing inability of the U.S. to construct a guerrilla army in Nicaragua despite support vastly exceeding anything available to authentic guerrillas, U.S. dominance of the media over much of the country through powerful radio stations, recruitment of mercenaries in Honduras and elsewhere, an economy that has collapsed as a result of U.S. economic warfare and terror, and denial, thanks to U.S. ideological warfare, of the right to employ the domestic measures regularly adopted by Western democracies under far less threatening circumstances. With a fraction of the outside support lavished on the U.S. proxy forces, the Salvadoran guerrillas would have quickly overthrown the U.S.-installed government, and one might suspect that a guerrilla movement could be successfully established in U.S. border regions with a comparable effort by some unimaginable superpower. This failure of the U.S. effort to organize a guerrilla force within Nicaragua or even one that could be sustained from abroad without unprecedented outside support and direction is most remarkable, and very informative, for anyone prepared to think about what it means. Therefore, the facts and their meaning must be scrupulously suppressed, as they are.

The U.S. foreign aid budget for fiscal 1989 contained $2 million to support opposition political groups and media in Nicaragua, the Congressional Quarterly (CQ) reported (June 25, 1988), some of which openly identify with the contra attack. None of these "democratic groups in Nicaragua," as CQ calls them, has the support of more than 3 percent of the population; combined, they have the support of 9 percent, less than one-third the support for the Sandinistas. These are among the results of polls taken under the auspices of the Centro Interamericano de Investigaciones in Mexico and the Jesuit University (UCA) in Managua. As for President Ortega himself, 42 percent ranked him "good/excellent" and 29 percent "fair." For comparison, in an UCA poll in El Salvador that received little notice, 6 percent of the respondents supported Duarte's Christian Democrats and 10 percent supported ARENA, while 75 percent stated that no party represented them.119

Other interesting results of the Salvadoran poll were that 95 percent preferred economic and humanitarian aid over any kind of military aid, 4 percent blamed "guerrilla or communist subversion" for the crisis, and only 13 percent rated Duarte as "good" or "excellent." Recall that only 10 percent of the population see any signs of a democratic process in El Salvador.120 Another contrast between El Salvador and Nicaragua was that in the former, pollsters have found that

certain political questions had to be carefully couched in non-incriminating language. A significant number of Salvadorans told us that they do not discuss politics -- period -- not even with their closest friends or relatives. By contrast, in our survey in Nicaragua in June, interviewers judged that 77 percent of some 1,129 respondents in Managua answered poll questions without apparent fear or distrust,
and the interviewers reported that "their biggest problem in the field was the delay caused when respondents amplified their answers," giving explanations of their responses for or against the Sandinista regime. In polls in Honduras in November 1987, 65 percent of respondents "said they believed Hondurans were afraid of expressing their political opinions in public" and "interviewers judged that only 38 percent of their respondents answered questions without fear or distrust."121 The difference in climate between Nicaragua and El Salvador has always been obvious, though the media have succeeded in conveying the opposite impression.

Other unreported information on public opinion in El Salvador provides a good deal of insight into U.S. policy and the real concerns of the media. In 1988, the Archbishop of San Salvador organized a national debate to consider the problems facing the country. Over sixty organizations took part, "representing the private sector, professional associations, educational and cultural bodies, labor organizations, humanitarian groups, the displaced, religious institutions and others."122 There was near-unanimous (95-100 percent) agreement on "the failure of the Reagan Administration's project for El Salvador"; support for negotiated settlement; increasing concern over human rights violations and impoverishment of the majority "while a few have become richer"; identification of the "root cause" of the conflict not in "international communist aggression" but rather "structural injustice, manifested in the unjust concentration of wealth" in land, industry, and commerce and "exhaustion of the capitalist, dependent agro-export model as part of an unjust structure of international commerce."

The same proportions (95-100 percent) condemned:

  1. The "subordination of political power to economic power"
  2. The "direct, permanent interference by the military in the operation of the state and the society in support of the oligarchy and dominant sectors, and thus in support of North American interests" as the country is "subjugated to the interests of international capital"
  3. "Mortgaging the national sovereignty and self-determination and the enormous interference of the U.S. in El Salvador's national affairs"
  4. Foreign military aid
  5. The "strong opposition by the United States" and its Salvadoran right wing and military allies to the Esquipulas Accord, to which El Salvador should be pressured to conform
  6. The Amnesty Law which exculpated "those charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity."

Furthermore, 88 percent see "serious restrictions on the democratic process" and regard "Christian Democracy as a cover while North American interference became more intensified"; attribute principal responsibility for the armed conflict to "foreign intervention, especially that of the U.S."; and describe the armed struggle as a response to "the impossibility of any genuine form of popular participation." Most called for recognition of the FMLN guerrillas as a "representative political force" that emerged in response to violence and injustice (55-59 percent). The highly touted elections were described by 81 percent as "the fundamental instrument of the U.S. counterinsurgency project, legitimizing the war and neutralizing the popular movement."

The document has much to say about "the U.S. counterinsurgency project" and the likely prospects for this tortured country. It was ignored in the United States, as were the polls.

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118 Julia Preston notes that the Sandinistas have captured "state-of-the-art equipment, so modern that not even all U.S. units have them" (WP, Feb. 4, 1988), quite apart from the sheer mass of regular supply and the crucial assistance of U.S. aerial and naval surveillance. On the high quality of contra military and communication systems, extraordinary by the standards of the region, see Culture of Terrorism, 91. The illegal "humanitarian" aid sent to the contras in their Honduran bases provides them with a level of sustenance beyond what they could find within Nicaragua, not only food and supplies but even first class sports equipment (see Joe Gannon, Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 13, 1989). The "humanitarian" aid is presumably designed not only to maintain the terrorist forces in the field but also to draw people from Nicaragua as the economic situation worsens.

119 Interamerican's Public Opinion Series, no. 7, June 4-5, 1988, Interamerican Research Center, Los Angeles. Alert! (CISPES), March 1988.

120 See p. 16.

121 William Bollinger and David M. Lund, Latinamerica Press (Peru), Sept. 22, 1988. Bollinger is the director of the Interamerican Research Center; Lund is chair of the history department at the Universidad Autónoma in Mexico City. Both are involved in polling in Central America, including the polls they discuss.

122 Conclusions of the National Debate for Peace in El Salvador, Called by Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas, Sept. 1988. Distributed by National Agenda for Peace in El Salvador, Box 192, Cardinal Station, Washington DC 20064.