Monday, December 04, 2006

Profiles in Courage

"You shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wants to can leave -- and we will see where this process leads."
(Defense Minister) Moshe Dayan advising what (Prime Minister) Golda Meir should tell the Palestinians
Jimmy Carter now has a book out called "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid". The reason its a big deal is because in America, you never hear about the unspeakable horrors imposed on the Palestinian people by the United States and Isreal. To say they are treated like dogs is inaccurate, dogs are treated much better. But I'll post more about the Palestinians later in the week.
I think its great Jimmy Carter is speaking out for an oppressed people, especially since its taboo to do so in the U.S. And I'll write a whole post about that.
I was watching Jimmy Carter do an interview on a live call-in show on CSPAN this Sunday. I kept trying to call in (to no avail.) But I had no intention of asking him about his book. The whole time I was looking at Jimmy Carter, all I could think about was Oscar Romero.
My post today is a story about a horror forced upon a people that far elcipses what is happening to the Palestinians. A brutal terrorist regime had seized power and declared a war on its own people, correctly described by a UN Commission as genocide.
The American president at the time was Jimmy Carter.
"I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916."
-General Smedley Butler, Marine Corps; and in 1933 was the most decorated soldier in US history


Oscar Romero. Catholic priest, later Archbishop of San Salvador. He is currently on the path to becoming a Saint, and has his own statue in Westminster Abbey as one of the greatest of "20th century martyrs". He is hailed as a hero across the world and his name alone will evoke deep emotion across Latin America. However, like the plight of the Palestinians, in the United States the name "Oscar Romero" is completely unknown.
To understand this case, I'll start with a quote that General Smedley Butler gave in 1933. At the time, Butler was the most decorated veteran in American history. Here, he reflexs on his long and distinguished career as one of the few, the proud, the marines:

El Salvador is one of the Central American republics that Smedley said he "helped in the raping of...for the benefits of Wall Street." Instead of direct colonial rule, though, the US relied on quite brutal dictators. The country would be exploited and controlled by US business. But control started slipping in the 1970's. The oppressed, the peasants, the workers, the majority. They began organizing themselves (with a lot of help from the Church) and demanding basic human rights.
This became a concern for the United States, which would prefer to have Central America firmly under its control and to enrich American business. Naturally if the people start organizing themselves against their imposed regime, it becomes a problem.
In 1979 a right-wing military junta seized power in El Salvador. It immediately began a program of terror, not only did they begin slaughtering the peasants of El Salvador, anyone who spoke out against this was immediately killed.
For me to just say the junta terrorized the people of El Salvador would give no justice to what was happening.

Daniel Santiago was an American Jesuit priest who wrote down what he saw. "People are not just killed by death squads in El Salvador-they are decapitated and then their heads are placed on pikes and used to dot the landscape. Men are not just disemboweled by the Salvadoran Treasury Police; their severed genitalia are stuffed into their mouths. Salvadoran women are not just raped by the National Guard; their wombs are cut from their bodies and used to cover their faces. It is not enough to kill children; they are dragged over barbed wire until the flesh falls from their bones, while parents are forced to watch. "
In a gruesome, but common, example, Santiago wrote about "a peasant woman who returned home one day to find her three children, her mother and her sister sitting around a table, each with its own decapitated head placed carefully on the table in front of the body, the hands arranged on top, as if each body was stroking its own head. The assasins, from the Salvadoran National Guard, had found it hard to keep the head of an 18 month old baby in place, so they nailed the hands onto it. A large plastic bowl filled with blood was tastefully displayed in the center of the table."

The military junta was backed and armed by the United States. The press refused to report what was going on. I emphasize the word refused. Many credited people tried to get them to report it. Many respected academics wrote op-eds. The American press refused to publish anything.

Father Oscar Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador (capital of El Salvador.) Much of the Catholic Church (in El Salvad0r) was concerned about the widespread misery and poverty of the El Salvadorian people, and they were being killed off one by one for speaking out. Instead of, say, giving up and focusing on preventing evolution from being taught in schools, Oscar Romero used his position to affect change.
Romero began speaking out on social justice, poverty, widescale torture and oppression and the assasinations that were killing priests and nuns across the country. When the military junta took power in 1979 the horror was escalated to unprecedented scales, with daily massacres and some 3,000 dying every month for the whole year of 1980. Romero was a hero to a people who had never before had a voice, who had never before had anyone take their side.

In early 1980 it was reported that the US was considering a massive increased in military aid to the junta, perhaps hoping they could hurry up and finish the job. Upon hearing this Oscar Romero wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter.

Romero begged Carter not to send the aid, telling him "your government’s contribution will undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for respect for their most basic human rights."
Carter decided to send the aid anyway.

The war of terror soon entered into a phase that the UN characterized as "genocidal." Speaking in one of his many broadcasts, Romero addressed the Salvadoran National Guard, "Brothers, you are from the same people; you kill your fellow peasant . . . No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God . . . In the name of God then, in the name of this suffering people I ask you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God: stop the repression."

The next day, March 24, was the last day of Oscar Romero's life. He was giving mass that day. As he stood before his congregation, Romero told them "One must not love oneself so much, as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and those that fend off danger will lose their lives." Seconds later gunman burst in and, in front of all his parishiners, in the middle of his mass, opened fire and murdered Oscar Romero.
The gunman were later identified. They had been armed and trained by the United States.
As he collapsed before his flock, and lay dying on the floor, Romero looked to those around him and said "May God have mercy on the assassins," then died.
"If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. If the threats come to be fulfilled, from this moment I offer my blood to God for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. Let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality."
Three days later, in the largest demonstration in the history of Latin America, more then 50,000 peasants from around the nation gathered to bury Oscar Romero. Dignitaries from every major country, except the United States, attended. The BBC covered the event live, and millions of people all over the world witnessed something extraordinary. As the people of El Salvador began burying their hero, the Salvadoran National Guard opened fire and began massacring them. Television viewers would see widespread panic, chaos, bombs going off, dignitaries fleeing into the Church where they were trapped for hours.
Admist the bombs, gunfire and chaos as yet another massacre took place; a few brave peasants stood their ground and, with bullets whizzing past their heads, lowered their fallen hero into his final resting place.
"Aspire not to have more, but to be more."
The week of March 30th, 1980, headlines around the world carried news of Oscar Romero and later his horrifying funeral, from Europe to Africa and Asia it was given massive attention. In the United States of America, the nation that armed and trained Romero's assasins, with the freest press in the world, not a word of Romero's death or funeral was even reported. A New York Times archives search of the year 1980 shows the last mention of Romero was in February, a month before he was assasinated, buried on page six in an article titled "U.S. Aid Plan Opposed."
The repression continued for another 12 years. After the people were sufficiently slaughtered and terrorized, the US allowed elections to take place, but with an explicit warning: Vote for our candidate, or the terror will start again. The US canidate won.
Since then, US dictated economic policies (known as 'neo-liberalism', 'structural adjustment programs' or 'the washington consensus) have devastated El Salvador. For many of the impoverished majority, their only source of income is "remittances", which is money sent from Salvadoran relatives living abroad. When elections are held, the US ambassador will announce what candidate should be elected, and warns what will happen if US orders are not followed.
In the last election, FMLN was the opposition party. El Salvador was told, and it was widely (and constantly) reported in the Salvadoran media that George W Bush thinks FMLN are "terrorists" (this was just after the invasion of Iraq) and that the US will "reconsider" its relations with El Salvador if they elect FMLN, and in any case all remitances will be cut off (a death sentence for millions) and all Salvadorans in the US deported. The FMLN was linked to Osama bin Laden and on election day, international observers blocked from leaving the airport. When the votes were counted, the US candidate won.
Three days later, March 24, thousands of Salvadorans marched in a candle lit ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the fallen leader's murder. Stretching across the capital's main plaza was a banner, which read
""Forgive us, Monsignor, for we have elected your assassins once again . . . "

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
When the Reagan Administration tookover in 1981, the war was expanded. It was not only escalated in El Salvador, but added to the list of targets was Nicaragua. The devastation caused by US-backed death squads in Nicaragua essentially destroyed the country and it today remains the most impoverished nation in Latin America.
At the height of the atrocities, the US government was running a multi-national war of terrorism, deploying death squads all over Central America; destroying peasant movements, labor unions and anything else deemed an obstacle to total US control. The whole effort was being run out of the US Embassy in Honduras by the American Ambassador, John Negroponte.
Where do we find ourselves 20 years later?
After the illegal US invasion of Iraq and prolonged control by US viceroy Paul Bremer; it was announced that we were turing sovereignty over to the Iraqi people, showing that we have no interest in control Iraq or its resources. And since Iraq is now a sovereign nation, it would make sense to send a US Ambassador to occupy the new built American Embassy; which just happened to be the biggest embassay in world history (literally.) And who did Bush send to be the first American Ambassador to Iraq after sovereignty was returned? John Negroponte.
John Negroponte doesn't even speak Arabic. It seems an odd choice. Why the hell would they make John Negroponte the first Ambassador to Iraq?
"El Salvador-style 'death squads' to be deployed by US against Iraq militants"
The London Times, January 10th, 2005
- Its great that Jimmy Carter is speaking out for the Palestinians. But he had a chance to do something when he was President, and he did not. Instead, he wrote a book 30 years after he was elected president; long after he left politics, when he is a few years away from death, and at this point, has got nothing to lose.
- Oscar Romero saw suffering and did something about it. Carter's biggest risk he faced for speaking out was having some jackasses at AIPAC say you are a Jew-hater. Romero risked being killed. And he was. By weapons supplied from Carter.
-For anyone who cares, John Negroponte was replaced by a former oil executive who can speak Arabic. Instead, Negroponte is now the first "Director of National Intelligence". This makes more sense, because Negroponte made his name by conducting a secret, covert terrorist war against the people of Central America; in ways that covered American involvement. That may seem unimportant, but there were some real whackos in the government back then.
- Isn't Life Funny: One of the craziest voices in all this came in 1984. There was a high-level CIA agent who said; Look, if the people of Nicragua dont vote the way we tell them, we should bomb them, just bomb the shit out of them! It's as simple as that.
Twenty-six years later, that man was called to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee. It was today, and it was his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of Defense.

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