Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix IV Segment 22/23
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Also in October 1988, the Guatemala City journal Central America Report took as its lead story the just released Amnesty International annual review of human rights for 1987.145 It reported that "some of the most serious violations of human rights are found in Central America," particularly Guatemala and El Salvador, where "kidnappings and assassinations serve as systematic mechanisms of the government against opposition from the left, the [AI] report notes"; recall that the situation deteriorated after the Esquipulas Accord, and became still more grim through 1988. The human rights situation is "less dramatic" in Nicaragua and Honduras, apart from "civilian deaths at the hands of U.S.-supported contra forces." While there have been "cases of kidnappings, tortures and extrajudicial killings in Honduras, Panama and Nicaragua, these actions have not been established as systematic government mechanisms."

A month later, the New York Times published a front-page story by Lindsey Gruson on atrocities in Guatemala.146 In the past, Gruson observes, Guatemala City had been "a free-fire zone for political extremists" who carried out extensive terror; unmentioned is the fact that the "political extremists" responsible for the overwhelming majority of the atrocities were -- and are -- the agents of the U.S.-backed government. In fact, the U.S. role in Guatemala is unmentioned in this story. Gruson describes the increase in kidnappings, torture, and murder, the worsening situation in the cities, and the "de facto military dictatorship" in the countryside (quoting Americas Watch observer Anne Manuel). The main targets in the cities are "labor leaders, union organizers and leftists." A spokesman for an independent human rights organization says that "there's a democratic facade now, nothing more. The facade hides that all the power is held by the army and that the situation is getting worse." An Americas Watch report released two weeks later accused the government of prime responsibility for the serious increase in human rights abuses, now reaching a level of about two a day, presumably a considerable underestimate, Americas Watch concludes.147

As 1988 came to a close, government atrocities mounted in the client states. Several new death squads appeared. The dean of the Law School in Santa Ana, Imelda Medrano, was murdered on December 16 after returning from a university demonstration in San Salvador where she was a principal speaker; her house had been watched for two days by men in a jeep with darkened windows, a death squad trademark. Three powerful explosions destroyed the biology building of the National University on December 22. Attackers killed one watchman; a second described a heavily armed squad of about 50 men. The University Rector accused the military of planting the bombs: "This is the response of the Armed Forces to the stepped up war and their impotence in containing it," he said. The attack took place as soldiers were surrounding the campus and only the military would have been free to operate so openly, the Rector added. The director of Tutela Legal agreed that "These are actions of people with military training, heavily armed and moving with total liberty." Five days later, a bomb destroyed the offices of the Lutheran Church, which the army views with suspicion because of its work with refugees. Privately, church officials, who had received death threats, blamed the army. The West German Ambassador, who had condemned attacks against the Lutheran Church, received a death threat and left the country. A Western diplomat observed that "I see a military hand" behind the bombings. A source with close military contacts says the army feels it can counter the guerrillas only with "selective terror."148 There was little news coverage, less concern, except for the possible threat to the Reagan project of bringing "democracy" to El Salvador.

The lesser abuses in the client states also continued. On September 13, soldiers and police attacked a student demonstration in San Salvador and broke up another in Santa Ana, while security forces surrounded the UNTS offices. Some 250 students and university workers were arrested; the rector of the university claimed that 600 students had been arrested and that the whereabouts of over 400 were unknown. "During the demonstration riot police fired volleys of shots and canisters of tear gas into the crowd of 3,000," wounding "scores of demonstrators" and apparently killing the operator of a police water cannon (Central America Report). Thirty local and foreign journalists "were ordered to the ground by security agents, who warned them not to move or take photographs" and at least ten foreign observers were detained. Sam Dillon reported in the Miami Herald that "angry riot police" had hurled tear-gas canisters at the students and workers, "firing their rifles skyward," "clubbing protestors and arresting 230." The director of Tutela Legal "said the police actions appeared designed to intimidate urban protesters at the beginning of a crucial election period." "The patience of the security corps has its limits, faced with street provocations," Defense Minister Vides Casanova told reporters: "We'll not tolerate any more violence." The day before, COHA reported, military forces had "attacked 500 demonstrators in Usulutan who were peacefully protesting the lack of government aid following heavy flooding," injuring fifteen and arresting eight.149

As before, these lesser abuses pale into significance before the government strategy of intimidation through sheer terror.

None of this elicited interest or concern, as distinct from the events at Nandaime that briefly approached some of the regular lesser abuses. These, as we have seen, aroused such horror that congressional doves were compelled to renew aid to their terrorist forces to punish the Sandinistas. Furthermore, the European allies of the United States refrained from more than token assistance after Hurricane Joan destroyed much of Nicaragua in October. The reason was their profound revulsion over the repression at Nandaime, which "many European governments open defiance by the Sandinistas of the regional peace process," Julia Preston reports, noting "the current displeasure in Europe with the Sandinistas" -- though not with El Salvador and Guatemala, which continue to merit their support.150 Again we see that hypocrisy has no limits, and also that Europe is far more colonized than it likes to believe.

As noted, the lesser abuses in the client states, generally ignored, were reported by Sam Dillon in the Miami Herald. In a later article, he reviews the increasing repression throughout the region, singling out Nicaragua as the worst offender, its most serious offense being "the gassing of a peaceful rally and jailing of top political leaders" at Nandaime. He goes on to describe how the Salvadoran military attacked "large but peaceful urban protests," which "angry riot police...crushed...with tear gas, clubbings and more than 250 arrests," along with arrests of many others "in night raids on the offices of two leftist unions and peasant groups." He briefly mentions the "dramatic" increase in "political killings by the army and death squads -- as well as by guerrillas." He is plainly cognizant of the facts, but, as the facts pass through the ideological filter, large-scale slaughter, terror, and repression as a government strategy of intimidation in the U.S. client states become insignificant as compared with real but far lesser abuses in a country subjected to U.S. terror and economic warfare. Note that we are considering a reporter, and a journal, that are at least willing to report some of the facts.151

The client states continued to reject negotiations, while the U.S. government and the media railed at the Sandinistas for their failure to revitalize the negotiations stalled by the obstructionist tactics of the U.S. proxies. We learn from the Mexican press that President Cerezo "reiterated his rejection of a possible dialogue with the guerrilla army," adding that as long as the " not give up their belligerent position, we will not open direct talks with their leaders... No dialogue can take place amidst weapons." In El Salvador, thousands of peasants, students and workers marched through the capital city to the hotel where an O.A.S. meeting was taking place to demand that the government negotiate with the guerrillas. The guerrillas had declared a unilateral truce for the duration of the meeting and "renewed a call for negotiations with the government," AP reported. President Duarte, in his address to the O.A.S. delegates, "said the guerillas' expressed desire to resume negotiations was merely `tactical'. He accused the rebels of pursuing `a strategic maneuver to destroy democracy through democracy's own liberties."152

The O.A.S. meetings were covered by Lindsey Gruson in the New York Times. Gruson referred bleakly to the "perversion" of the peace process in Central America. Predictably, only one example is cited: the Nandaime rally and the arrests of Nicaraguan peasants on suspicion of aiding the contras. These acts of repression have "undermined efforts to reinvigorate the negotiations," Gruson reports, citing U.S. diplomats. With regard to El Salvador, his only comment is that the October 1987 amnesty closed the books on earlier army assassinations; Guatemalan and Honduran abuses are unmentioned, and nothing is said about negotiations in El Salvador and Guatemala, or why they have not been "invigorated."153 In short, a selective filter designed for the needs of government propaganda, and reflecting the insignificance of terror, torture, and repression when they do not serve these ends.

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145 Central America Report, Oct. 14, 1988.

146 NYT, Nov. 13, 1988.

147 LAT-BG, Nov. 25, 1988.

148 Chris Norton, CSM, Jan. 13; El Sol, Jan. 9, 1989.

149 UPI, BG, Sept. 14; El Sol, Sept. 19, Central America Report, Sept. 23; Sam Dillon, MH, Sept. 20; COHA "News and Analysis," Oct. 19, 1988.

150 Preston, WP, Nov. 8, 1988.

151 Sam Dillon, MH, Oct. 1, 1988.

152 Excelsior (Mexico City), Aug. 31, Central America NewsPak. AP, Nov. 15; a few words were excerpted in the Boston Globe, noting that there had been a march for unstated purposes, Nov. 16, 1988.

153 Lindsey Gruson, NYT, Nov. 18, 1988.