Bush Administration interventions in 2004
in addition to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Haiti

excerpted from the book

Freeing the World to Death

essays on the american empire

by William Blum

Common Courage Press, 2005, paper



Eastern Europe, an ongoing intervention

It has been observed that there was a very good reason for the much-publicized comment by US Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld that France and Germany are "old Europe," and that the "center of gravity is shifting to the east." The reason is that the United States is already winning the battle for influence in the "new Europe."

Since the demise of the Soviet Union, the United States has laid claim to Moscow's former republics and satellites. Apart from its 1999 bombings and other military operations in the former Yugoslavia, Washington has used the weapons of political and economic subversion for its interventions into Eastern Europe.

The standard operating procedure in a particular country has been to send in teams of specialists from US government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), American labor unions, or private organizations funded by American corporations and foundations; leading examples are the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Agency for International Development (AID), and the Open Society organizations of George Soros, American citizen and billionaire. These teams go in with as much financial resources as needed and numerous carrots and sticks to wield; they hold conferences and seminars, hand out tons of papers, manuals and CDs, and fund new NGOs, newspapers and other media, all to educate government employees and other selected portions of the population on the advantages and joys of privatizing and deregulating the economy, teaching them how to run a capitalist society, how to remake the country so that it's appealing to foreign investors.

The American teams have been creating a new class of managers to manage a new market economy, as welt as providing the capital and good ol' American know-how for winning elections against the non-believers. In the process, they pass information and experience from one country to another; thus the Soros organization-which has offices throughout the former Soviet Union-had people from Serbia, who had been involved in the successful campaign to oust Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, share their experiences with people in Georgia who were seeking to oust Eduard Shevardnadze in 2003, and were likewise successful. This transfer of techniques, including an acclaimed video shown on Georgian independent television, was cited by participants in Georgia as playing a vital role in their toppling of Shevardnadze.

In Russia and in the other countries, the "success" of such globalization programs has typically resulted in the mass of the population being left in great want, much worse off than they were under communism, while a wealthy elite class is created and the country is gradually thrown open to foreign investment and control.

The reduction in the standard of living of the people in the region since 1990 can scarcely be exaggerated. The European Children's Trust reported in October 2000 that based on key indicators-such as infant mortality, life expectancy, tuberculosis, and Gross Domestic Product per capita-conditions in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union were worse or no better than those in many so-called developing countries.' From Bulgaria to Poland, from Slovenia to Lithuania, the citizens have left their homes to become the guest workers, the illegal workers, the migrants, the refugees, and the prostitutes of Western Europe.

However, these countries are now honored members of NATO, proud possessors of a couple of billion dollars worth of useless military hardware they were obliged to buy from multinationals, they have the right to send their youth to the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan to support US wars, the American flag flies over American military bases in their lands, globalized free enterprise is king, and the wealthy elite have a lot more in common with the likes of Dick Cheney than with the great majority of their countrymen. Some prominent excommunist apparatchiks across the region repeat oaths of fealty to America as once they parroted the Brezhnev line. Poland's president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, who was a Communist minister in the 1980s, now declares: "If it is President Bush's vision, it is mine."

The Eastern European mentality implied by the above was burgeoning even before the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War. The intellectual equation that was arrived at, consciously or unconsciously, was that if the Soviet Union was "bad", it must be "all bad". And therefore, the Soviet's principal foe must be "all good". Thus, if the Soviet command economy had multiple shortcomings, the market economy is guaranteed to bring prosperity and justice. How many Eastern Europeans, to this day, know that most of what they may see as Western benefits flowing automatically from the market's "invisible hand", in actuality had to be wrested from capitalism by social movements and labor unions with much attendant suffering?

All in all, NATO-occupied Eastern Europe, until recently the home of "socialist republics," has become a much more congenial place for royalty. Bulgaria's King Simeon (now prime minister), came back to reclaim his domain, as did Romania's King Michael, Yugoslavia's King Presumptive Alexander, and Albania's King Leka (son of Hitler's and Mussolini's ally, King Zog).


Slovakia 2002

Vladimir Meciar is not a true believer in globalization. He had been a marked man in Washington since 1994 when he became prime minister as the head of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (MDS), the main party in a coalition that won the election on a strong anti-capitalist platform. After being unseated in the 1998 elections by Mikulás Dzurinda, a man much more comfortable with opening up the country to foreign capital, Meciar was again a candidate in 2002.

Elections were scheduled for September, but Washington began its anti-Meciar campaign in February when the American ambassador, Ronald Weiser, issued a warning to the people of Slovakia that electing Meciar once again would hurt their chances of entry into the European Union and NATO. "If the situation repeats itself, there will not be an invitation," warned the ambassador.'

In March, Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, arrived in Bratislavia, the Slovak Capital, and issued his own warning, reminding Slovakians that the United States had blocked Slovakia's entry into NATO in 1997 because of Meciar and could do it again. Washington still viewed Mr. Meciar as an authoritarian anti-West leader, he said. "The former government, we believe, did not demonstrate a commitment to democracy and the rule of law."

To put Burns' remarks in perspective, we should keep in mind that when the United States does not want to support a particular government because that government is not receptive to the forces of globalization and/or other objectives of US foreign policy, it can always find reasons for not doing so stated in terms of democracy and freedom; conversely, Washington can find justification for supporting an ideologically-compatible regime no matter how oppressive or corrupt it may be or how much its elections may be of dubious purity; Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, and Peru are some examples of this in the several years preceding this period.

The Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED)-the long-time front for the CIA-was also present in Slovakia, expending some $417,000 in the 12 months leading up to the election on media, electoral, youth and other projects. NED typically paints such projects in generalized, non-ideological, non-partisan colors; in Slovakia, its programs were referred to by terms such as "election-related political and organizational skills"; "voter education and mobilization activities"; and producing and distributing "a series of get-out-the-vote materials." Such programs sound straight out of an American high-school textbook on civics, but they're carefully designed to aid Washington's chosen organizations, parties and individuals. The National Democratic Institute (NDI), one of NED's four principal arms, admitted that it excluded Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia from those political parties receiving aid. NDI maintained that MDS lacked "internal democracy" and "threaten(s) the participatory and representative nature of democracy."

According to NED's annual report, NDI oversaw training in Slovakia that "targeted young party members, women and Roma [Gypsies]; three participants in its 'Youth in Politics' program were elected to Parliament."'

The main English-language newspaper in Slovakia, The Slovak Spectator, which was opposed to Meciar, nonetheless contended that the NED aid was a violation of Slovakian law aimed at keeping foreign influences out of elections. "Slovakia's law on political parties forbids foreign citizens or foreign legal entities, with the exception of foreign foundations and partner political parties, from supporting domestic political parties."

This kind of prohibition would of course apply to NED activities in almost every country they're active in, but, inasmuch as they're backed by the US government-indeed, they are the US government-it's rare that any complaint against their activities gets anywhere.

Ambassador Weiser also advised some Slovak political parties not to cooperate with another political party in the event the latter got enough votes to win seats in the legislature. When questioned about this after the election, Weiser was reluctant to discuss his initiative, saying he felt it was a dead issue given that the party in question did not get into parliament.

In the end, Dzurinda kept power. Although Meciar's party won the most votes, no other political party would form a coalition with them." One does not have to be terribly cynical to surmise that fear of antagonizing Washington lay behind this.

After the election, The Washington Post reported: "Politicians and analysts here said the campaign to increase voter participation improved turnout, which in turn probably improved the vote for Dzurinda and his allies,"

Two months later, in November, Slovakia declared that its airspace would be open to over-flights by US aircraft in the event of an attack on Iraq, and in February 2003, the government agreed to assist any US operation against Iraq and to join any US military operation."


Latin America Nicaragua 2001

As Sandinista presidential candidate Daniel Ortega was doing well in the polls for the November election, the Bush administration was setting out to campaign against him.

In June, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State Lino Gutiérrez, the State Department's No. 2 diplomat for Latin America, made it clear in a talk in Managua that the United States would not look kindly upon the return to power of the socialist- oriented Sandinistas. He blasted Ortega's ties to people such as Fidel Castro of Cuba and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Subsequently, State Department spokeswoman Eliza Koch criticized the Sandinistas for alleged contact with Iraq, the FARC rebels in Colombia, and the ETA separatist movement in Spain.

This last accusation was made less than two months after the September 11 attacks, when any association at all with "terrorists" was being promoted by Washington as the ultimate sin. Koch further singled out the continuing presence in the Sandinista inner circle of three so-called "hardliners"-Tomas Borge, Lenin Cerna and Alvaro Baltodano. All three, she said, "have tong histories of grossly violating civil and human rights and suppressing democratic activities." Another State Department official, John Keane, added to the invective by asserting that the Sandinistas still had in their fold hard-liners who were responsible for "abominations" of human and civil rights." These remarks were coming from the government that ran the infamous army of thugs known as the Contras, which plagued the people of Nicaragua with genuine abominations throughout the 1980s.19 Apart from being shameless interference in Nicaraguan politics, the State Department remarks are further testimony that the US government can say anything it cares to about Officially Designated Enemies (ODE) without ever being called to back up their charges.

There was also US Ambassador Oliver Garza, who went around handing out bags of rice with Enrique Bolaños, Ortega's main opponent, at his side. The Miami Herald reported that "Garza shrugged off reporters' suggestions that the two were out stumping together-even though it was a publicity-generating event held during the home stretch of a heated campaign season and Garza took the opportunity to call the opposing Sandinistas 'robbers'."

Frederick Denton, senior analyst in Nicaragua for pollsters CID-Gallup was moved to declare: "Never in my whole life have I seen a sitting ambassador get publicly involved in a sovereign country's electoral process, nor have I ever heard of it."

Former US president Jimmy Carter was of a like mind. He headed an international delegation of electoral observers and criticized the strong statements coming from Washington. "I personally disapprove of statements or actions by any country that might tend to influence the vote of people in another sovereign nation," he said."

The US also exerted relentless pressure on the Conservative Party and succeeded in making them withdraw from the election so as to avoid splitting the conservative vote against the Sandinistas, Gutierrez personally visiting the country to make this appeal.

Six days before the election, a full-page advertisement appeared in La Prensa, Nicaragua's leading newspaper, signed by First Brother Jeb Bush, governor of Florida; it was laid out thusly: In small blue letters: "The Brother of the President of the United States"., .then a super large headline in blaring red: "GEORGE W. BUSH SUPPORTS ENRIQUE BOLAOS". This was all on white background, and the whole page was bordered in red, white and blue. The effect was to give the impression that the ad was inserted by the US president himself. Among other things, the ad said "Ortega has a relationship of more than thirty years with states and individuals who shelter and condone international terrorism."

At the close of the campaign, Bolaflos announced: "If Ortega comes to power, that would provoke a closing of aid and investment, difficulties with exports, visas and family remittances. I'm not just saying this. The United States says this, too. We cannot close our eyes and risk our well-being and work. Say yes to Nicaragua, say no to terrorism."

In the end, the Sandinistas lost the election by about ten percentage points after steadily leading in the polls during much of the campaign.

For many Nicaraguans, it was a painful reminder of the 1990 election in which Washington had also engaged in serious interference, leading then, too, to a Sandinista defeat. In both elections, the impoverished people of Nicaragua were warned that a Sandinista victory would mean severe economic hostility from Washington; in 1990 they were also warned that it would mean a resumption of US military hostility as well.

It is worth observing that Nicaragua and Haiti are the nations in the Western Hemisphere that the United States has intervened in the most in the 20th and 21st centuries, including long occupations. And they are today the poorest in the hemisphere, wretchedly so.


Bolivia 2002

Running for the Bolivian presidency on an anti-neoliberal, anti-big business, and anti-coca eradication campaign, for a party called Movement Toward Socialism (MTS), former member of Congress Evo Morales was clearly not the kind of Third Worlder the United States takes to its heart. Before the June 30 first round election, US Ambassador Manuel Rocha stated: "The Bolivian electorate must consider the consequences of choosing leaders somehow connected with drug trafficking and terrorism." As seen above, since September 11, 2001, painting Officially Designated Enemies with the terrorist brush was de rigueur US foreign policy rhetoric.

After the first round-in which Morales came in second to Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and thus made it to the congressional runoff vote August 3-US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Otto Reich warned that American aid to the country would be in danger if Mr. Morales was chosen. Then Ambassador Rocha and other US officials met with key figures from Bolivia's main political parties in an effort to shore up support for Sanchez de Lozada. Morales lost the vote.

It should be noted that Bolivia, with 60 percent of its population living in poverty, was not anxious to adhere to the desires of Washington, whose supply-side war on drugs had failed to benefit Bolivian peasants, to whom coca is important both economically and culturally.


Venezuela 2002

Jacobo Arbenz, Cheddi Jagan, Fidel Castro, Jao Goulart, Juan Bosch, Salvador Allende, Michael Manley, Maurice Bishop, Daniel Ortega, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Hugo Chavez... all Latin American leaders of the past half century, all progressive, all condemned to suffer the torments of hell for their beliefs by the unrelenting animosity of the United States.

Chavez had been elected president by a wide margin in 1998, breaking a lock on power by the two establishment parties that had dominated Venezuelan politics for decades. He repeated the strong electoral showing in 2000. But in the eyes of Washington officials, Chavez was no more than a man guilty of the following offenses:

He branded the post-September 11 US attacks on Afghanistan as "fighting terrorism with terrorism," demanding an end to "the slaughter of innocents"; holding up photographs of children said to have been killed in the American bombing attacks, he said their deaths had "no justification, just as the attacks in New York did not, either." In response, the Bush Administration temporarily withdrew its ambassador. When she returned to Venezuela, she had what one US official called a "very difficult meeting" with Chavez, in which she told him "to keep his mouth shut on these important issues."

He was very friendly with Fidel Castro and sold oil to Cuba at discount rates or in exchange for medical and other services. Chavez called for an end to the US embargo against Cuba.

His defense minister asked the permanent US military mission in Venezuela to vacate its offices in the military headquarters in Caracas, saying its presence was an anachronism from the Cold War.

Chavez did not cooperate to Washington's satisfaction with the US war against the Colombian guerrillas.

He denied Venezuelan airspace to US counter-drug flights.

He refused to provide US intelligence agencies with information on the country's large Arab community.

He promoted a regional free-trade bloc and united Latin American petroleum operations as ways to break free from US economic dominance.

Chavez also opposed the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a globalization program high on Washington's agenda.

He visited Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Moammar Gaddafi in Libya. Secretary of State Cohn Powell testified to Congress that Chavez visits "some of the strangest countries," referring to the Venezuelan's visits to Iran, Iraq and Cuba-all on the US list of alleged state sponsors of terrorism. Chavez supporters noted that Libya, Iran and Iraq are members with Venezuela of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), in which Chavez has played a leading role.

And more in the same vein, which the Washington aristocracy is unaccustomed to encountering from the servant class. Uncle Sam has been inspired to topple numerous governments which displayed considerably less disrespect for him than Venezuela did.

Chavez, moreover, had been trying to institute all manner of reforms to relieve the suffering of the poor (who comprise about 80 percent of the population), a program not likely to win favor with a class-conscious, privatization-minded US government and Venezuelan upper and middle classes: restructuring the state-owned oil company, which he regarded as having become a state-within-a-state, to achieve greater national control over oil resources; reinforcing a constitutional ban on the privatization of the oil company; changing the agreements with foreign oil companies that were excessively generous to the companies; establishing a new progressive constitution; numerous ecological community development projects; enrolling over one million students in school who were previously excluded; increasing the minimum wage and public sector salaries; halting the previous government's initiative to privatize Venezuela's social security system; reducing unemployment; introducing a credit program for women and the poor; reforming the tax system to spare the poor; making health care much more available; towering infant mortality; greatly expanding literacy courses; land redistribution in a society where two percent of the population controlled 60 percent of the land.

The coup

On April 11, a military coup toppled Chavez, who was taken to a remote location. Pedro Carmona, the chairman of Venezuela's largest chamber of commerce, was installed as president. He proceeded to dissolve the legislature, the Supreme Court, the attorney general's office, the national electoral commission, and the state governorships. Carmona then decreed that the 1999 constitution, which had been written by a constitutional assembly and ratified by a wide majority of voters, following the procedures outlined in the previous constitution, was to be suspended. On top of all this, the new regime raided the homes of various Chavez supporters.

And what was the reaction of the US government to this sharp slap in the face of democracy, civil liberties and law, that fits the textbook definition of dictatorship?

The Bush administration did not call it a coup. The White House term of choice was "a change of government." They blamed Chavez for what had taken place, maintaining that his ouster was prompted by peaceful protests and justified by the Venezuelan leader's own actions. It occurred, said White House spokesman An Fleischer, "as a result of the message of the Venezuelan people."

The State Department also expressed its support for the coup, declaring that "undemocratic actions committed or encouraged by the Chavez administration provoked yesterday's crisis in Venezuela."

And the US ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Roger Noreiga, declared that "The people of Venezuela, loyal to their republican tradition and their fight for independence, peace and liberty, will not accept any regime, legislation or authority which contradict values, principles and democratic guarantees. "41

But Noriega was ignoring the fact that the previous September the OAS had adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which expressly condemns the overthrow of democratically elected governments among its member states and requires specific actions by all members when this occurs.

The New York Times penned its own love note to the new government. In an editorial, the paper stated: "Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator,.. [because] the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader."

Veritable grass-roots democracy the coup was.

Reversal of the coup

The coupmakers had bitten off more than they could chew by seriously underestimating the opposition to the coup and to the instant totalitarianism which followed; they had believed their own propaganda about Chavez lacking support-huge rallies in his favor erupted-an illusion on their own part no doubt prompted by the heavy concentration of the media in the hands of the opposition, which regularly blacked out news favorable to Chavez. The post-coup support for Chavez induced elements of the military, including some who had taken part in the coup, to step in, retrieve Chavez, and bring him back triumphant to Caracas. He had been gone about 48 hours.

"Decisions to toss out the constitution and hunt down allies of Chavez," wrote the Washington Post, "reinforced lingering fears held by many Venezuelans, including members of the military, that what had occurred was not a popular revolt but a coup by the business elite."

The Bush administration voiced no misgivings about its support of the coup. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice quickly declared: "We do hope that Chavez recognizes that the whole world is watching and that he takes advantage of this opportunity to right his own ship, which has been moving, frankly, in the wrong direction for quite a long time." She added that Chavez "needs to respect constitutional processes."

Or as Monty Python legend, Terry Jones, put it: Chavez was ousted in "a free and fair democratic coup, only to be returned to office two days later on what seems to have been little more than the whim of the people."

Prelude to the coup

Immediately after the coup, members of the military and of the new government said that the decision to force Chavez from power had been made six months earlier by a group of dissident officers in the Venezuelan navy and air force.

As the coup was being hatched, the United States met with all the key players, either in Venezuela or in Washington: Pedro Carmona, who became president; Vice Admiral Carlos Molina, Air Force Col. Pedro Soto, and several others who in February had publicly demanded Chavez's removal; opposition legislators, and others. A US diplomat revealed that Molina and Soto had each received $100,000 from a Miami bank account for denouncing Chavez.

"We felt we were acting with U.S. support," Molina said of the coup. "We agree that we can't permit a communist government here. The U.S. has not let us down yet. This fight is still going on because the government is illegal."

The officers who took part in the overthrow of Chavez "understood the U.S. State Department's repeated statements of concern over the Chavez administration as a tacit endorsement of their plans to remove him from office if the opportunity arose." ... "The State Department had always expressed its preoccupation with Chavez," retired military officer Fernando Ochoa said after the coup. "We interpreted that as" an endorsement of his removal.

However, American officials endeavored to make the point afterward that they had not been encouraging a coup. The White House spokesperson said that such meetings and conversations with dissidents were "a normal part of what diplomats do." And the Washington Post reported:

Members of the country's diverse opposition had been visiting the U.S. embassy here in recent weeks, hoping to enlist U.S. help in toppling Chavez. The visitors included active and retired members of the military, media leaders and opposition politicians. "The opposition has been coming in with an assortment of 'what ifs," said a U.S. official familiar with the effort. "What if this happened? What if that happened? What if you held it up and looked at it sideways? To every scenario we say no. We know what a coup looks like, and we won't support it.

Of course, if the United States had been against the coup it would have informed the Venezuelan government of what was being planned and who was doing the planning and that would have been the end of it. Inasmuch as Washington normally equates democracy with free elections, here was a chance to strike a blow on behalf of democracy by saving a government that came to power through free elections on two separate occasions.

And Washington would not have financed the plotters.

Financing the coup

The National Endowment for Democracy was on the scene, as it has been for so many other Washington destabilization operations. In their reporting year ending September 30, 2000, in a clear attempt to weaken Chavez's federal power, NED gave, amongst other Venezuelan grants, $50,000 to PRODEL, a Venezuelan organization, "To promote and defend decentralization in Venezuela. PRODEL will establish and train a network of national and state legislators and mayors to monitor government decentralization activities, advocate for the rights and responsibilities of state and local government in Venezuela, and analyze and debate pending legislation affecting local government."

The following year, announcing that it was expanding its program in Venezuela in response to "a process of profound political change" embarked on by Chavez. NED channeled more than $877,000 in grants to American and Venezuelan groups, none of whom supported Chavez, including $339,998 to provide training in political party and coalition building, and $154,377 to the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV).

The CTV, long an anti-leftist, Cold War asset of US foreign policy through the AFL-CIO, is run by old-guard, corrupt labor leaders, angered by Chavez's attempt to reform them. The organization was a key force in the work stoppages and protest demonstrations which galvanized opposition to Chavez. As in Chile in 1973, before the overthrow of Salvador Allende, large crowds of civilians were used to create the feeling of chaos, and to establish a false picture of Chavez as a dictator, providing some of the rationale and incitement for the military to then make a coup "for the sake of the country."

As Mr. Chavez's reform programs clashed with various business, labor and media groups, the Endowment stepped up its assistance, providing some $1,100,000 for the year ending September 30, 2002, including $232,526 to the CTV.

CTV leader, Carlos Ortega, worked closely with Pedro Carmona in challenging the government and was invited by a NED affiliate to Washington in February where he met with Otto Reich, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemispheric Affairs, who was likely one of the masterminds of the move to topple Chavez.

Inasmuch as Venezuela is the fifth largest oil producer in the world, and the third largest supplier to the United States, it appears plausible to conclude that oil must be a significant factor in the US drive to effect regime change in the country. Yet Washington has opposed governments and movements throughout Latin America and elsewhere in the world with equal determination, without oil or any other resource being a factor. Hugo Chavez is against the excesses of US foreign policy and globalization and has let the world know this, which makes it plain to Washington that he's not of suitable client material. For the empire to let him get away with this would be to set a very bad example for other non-believers.


Since the debacle of 2002, Chavez's natural enemies at home and in Washington have not relaxed their crusade against him. Opponents have been trying to unseat him through a recall referendum, a drive that is funded in part, if not in full, by, yes, the National Endowment for Democracy. NED gave a grant of $53,400 to an organization called Sümate, which appears to be running the referendum campaign. The NED grant document, after castigating Chavez for polarizing Venezuelan society, specifies that Sümate will "Develop a net of volunteers and [apartidistas] trained to work in elections and in a referendum... [and] promote popular support for the referendum."

Imagine if during the recent referendum in California it was disclosed that the Venezuelan government was funding the movement to recall the governor.

A few weeks before the recall was to take place on August 15, 2004, former president Carlos Andres Perez, a leading member of the old guard, said in a newspaper interview that "the referendum would fail and that violence was the only way for the opposition to get rid of Chavez."


El Salvador 2004

The March 21 election for the presidency had on one side Schafik Handal, candidate of the FMLN, the leftist former guerrilla group, which the previous year had won the largest bloc in Congress with 31 of the 84 seats and held nearly half the offices of mayor in the country. His opponent was Tony Saca of the incumbent Arena Party, a pro-US, pro-free market organization of the extreme right, which in the bloody civil war days had featured death squads and the infamous assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Handal said he would withdraw El Salvador's 380 troops from Iraq as well as reviewing other pro-US policies; he would also take another look at the privatizations of Salvadoran industries, and would reinstate diplomatic relations with Cuba.

If all this wasn't reason enough for the United States to intervene in the election, there was the FMLN's announced opposition to the proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement, that Washington hoped to see become a reality in 2004.

During a February visit to the country, Roger Noriega, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, met all the presidential candidates except Handal. He warned of possible repercussions in US-Salvadoran relations if Handal were elected. Three Republican congressmen threatened to block the renewal of annual work visas for some 300,000 Salvadorans in the United States if El Salvador opted for the FMLN. And Congressman Thomas Tancredo of Colorado stated that if the FMLN won, "it could mean a radical change" in US policy on remittances to El Salvador.

Washington's attitude was exploited by Arena and the generally conservative Salvadoran press, and it became widely believed that a Handal victory could result in mass deportations of Salvadorans from the United States and a drop in remittances. At a rally, Saca asked the crowd to imagine what would happen to their remittances if Handal were to win. "Remittances! Dollars!" he bellowed to the crowd. "The administration that assures tranquility for our brothers in the United States is Arena and Tony Saca, because we have good relations with the United States."

The statistics are remarkable: As many as two million Salvadorans live in the United States, sending home between $1.7 and two billion a year, a significant portion of the country's economy.

"In a political advertisement on Salvadoran television, an elderly woman reads a letter from her son who lives in the United States. He tells her he might not be able to send her more money. The camera focuses tightly on her left cheek. A single tear slowly succumbs to gravity. The son says that if leftist candidate Schafik Handal is elected president on Sunday, Salvadorans living in the United States could lose their work visas."

The scare campaign included warnings that the FMLN would abolish "democracy", institute "communism", and would turn El Salvador into "another Cuba." It was as if the civil war and the Cold War had never ended.

Saca updated the campaign of threats by accusing his rival of links to Islamic terrorists, repeating the story that demonstrators allegedly aligned with the FMLN had burned a US flag and chanted slogans in support of Osama bin Laden just after the September 11 attacks.

Arena won the election with about 57 percent of the vote to some 36 percent for the FMLN.

After the election, the US ambassador, Hugh Douglas Barclay, declared that Washington's policies concerning immigration and remittances had nothing to do with any election in El Salvador. There appears to be no record of such a statement being made in public before the election when it might have had a profound positive effect for the FMLN. Although Barclay said that the embassy had in fact made such a statement before the election, he offered no details, 68 and may have been referring to a comment he made to at least one American journalist whose articles were not published in El Salvador.



Needless Slaughter, Useful Terror

[This essay first appeared in CovertAction Quarterly, Summer 1995]

Does winning World War II and the Cold War mean never having to say you're sorry? The Germans have apologized to the Jews and to the Poles. The Japanese have apologized to the Chinese and the Koreans, and to the United States for failing to break off diplomatic relations before attacking Pearl Harbor. The Russians have apologized to the Poles for atrocities committed against civilians, and to the Japanese for abuse of prisoners. The Soviet Communist Party even apologized for foreign policy errors that "heightened tension with the West."

Is there any reason for the United States to apologize to Japan for atomizing Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Those on opposing sides of this question are lining up in battle formation for the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the atom bombs on August 6 and 9, 1945. During last year's heated controversy surrounding the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit on the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, US veterans went ballistic. They condemned the emphasis on the ghastly deaths caused by the bomb and the lingering aftereffects of radiation, and took offense at the portrayal of Japanese civilians as blameless victims. An Air Force group said vets were "feeling nuked."

In Japan, too, the anniversary has rekindled controversy. The mayors of the two Japanese cities in question spoke out about a wide "perception gap" between the two countries.' Nagasaki Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima, surmounting a cultural distaste for offending, called the bombings "one of the two great crimes against humanity in the 20th Century, along with the Holocaust".

Defenders of the US action counter that the bomb actually saved lives: It ended the war sooner and obviated the need for a land invasion. Estimates of the hypothetical saved-body count, however, which range from 20,000 to 1.2 million, owe more to political agendas than to objective projections.

But in any event, defining the issue as a choice between the A-bomb and a land invasion is an irrelevant and wholly false dichotomy. By 1945, Japan's entire military and industrial machine was grinding to a halt as the resources needed to wage war were all but eradicated. The navy and air force had been destroyed ship by ship, plane by plane, with no possibility of replacement. When, in the spring of 1945, the island nation's lifeline to oil was severed, the war was over except for the fighting. By June, Gen. Curtis LeMay, in charge of the air attacks, was complaining that after months of terrible firebombing, there was nothing left of Japanese cities for his bombers but "garbage can targets". By July, US planes could fly over Japan without resistance and bomb as much and as long as they pleased. Japan could no longer defend itself.

After the war, the world learned what US leaders had known by early 1945: Japan was militarily defeated long before Hiroshima. It had been trying for months, if not for years, to surrender; and the US had consistently ignored these overtures. A May 5 cable, intercepted and decoded by the US, dispelled any possible doubt that the Japanese were eager to sue for peace. Sent to Berlin by the German ambassador in Tokyo, after he talked to a ranking Japanese naval officer, it read:

Since the situation is clearly recognized to be hopeless, large sections of the Japanese armed forces would not regard with disfavor an American request for capitulation even if the terms were hard.

As far as is known, Washington did nothing to pursue this opening. Later that month, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson almost capriciously dismissed three separate high-level recommendations from within the Truman (Roosevelt had just died) administration to activate peace negotiations. The proposals advocated signaling Japan that the US was willing to consider the all-important retention of the emperor system; i.e., the US would not insist upon "unconditional surrender."'

Stimson, like other high US officials, did not really care in principle whether or not the emperor was retained. The term "unconditional surrender" was always a propaganda measure; wars are always ended with some kind of conditions. To some extent the insistence was a domestic consideration-not wanting to appear to "appease" the Japanese. More important, however, it reflected a desire that the Japanese not surrender before the bomb could be used. One of the few people who had been aware of the Manhattan Project from the beginning, Stimson had come to think of it as his bomb-"my secret", as he called it in his diary.' On June 6, he told President Truman he was "fearful" that before the A-bombs were ready to be delivered, the Air Force would have Japan so "bombed out" that the new weapon "would not have a fair background to show its strength."° In his later memoirs, Stimson admitted that "no effort was made, and none was seriously considered, to achieve surrender merely in order not to have to use the bomb."

Meeting at Potsdam

And to be successful, that effort could have been minimal. In July, before the leaders of the US, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union met at Potsdam, the Japanese government sent several radio messages to its ambassador, Naotake Sato, in Moscow, asking him to request Soviet help in mediating a peace settlement. "His Majesty is extremely anxious to terminate the war as soon as possible", said one communication. "Should, however, the United States and Great Britain insist on unconditional surrender, Japan would be forced to fight to the bitter end.""

On July 25, while the Potsdam meeting was taking place, Japan instructed Sato to keep meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Molotov to impress the Russians "with the sincerity of our desire to end the war [and] have them understand that we are trying to end hostilities by asking for very reasonable terms in order to secure and maintain our national existence and honor" (a reference to retention of Emperor Hirohito).

Having broken the Japanese code years earlier, Washington did not have to wait to be informed by the Soviets of these peace overtures; it knew immediately, and did nothing. Indeed, the National Archives in Washington contains US government documents reporting similarly ill-fated Japanese peace overtures as far back as 1943.

Thus, it was with full knowledge that Japan was frantically trying to end the war, that President Truman and his hardline Secretary of State, James Byrnes, included the term "unconditional surrender" in the July 26 Potsdam Declaration. This "final warning" and expression of surrender terms to Japan was in any case a charade. The day before it was issued, Harry Truman had approved the order to release a 15 kiloton atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima."

Many US military officials were less than enthusiastic about the demand for unconditional surrender or use of the atomic bomb. At the time of Potsdam, Gen. Hap Arnold asserted that conventional bombing could end the war. Adm. Ernest King believed a naval blockade alone would starve the Japanese into submission. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, convinced that retaining the emperor was vital to an orderly transition to peace, was appalled at the demand for unconditional surrender. Adm. William Leahy concurred. Refusal to keep the emperor "would result only in making the Japanese desperate and thereby increase our casualty lists," he argued, adding that a nearly defeated Japan might stop fighting if unconditional surrender were dropped as a demand. At a loss for a military explanation for use of the bomb, Leahy believed that the decision "was clearly a political one", reached perhaps "because of the vast sums that had been spent on the project." Finally, we have Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's account of a conversation with Stimson in which he told the secretary of war that:

Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary .... I thought our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of "face". The secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude, almost angrily refuting the reasons I gave for my quick conclusions.

If, as appears to be the case, the US decision to drop the A-bombs was based on neither the pursuit of the earliest possible peace nor it being the only way to avoid a land invasion, we must look elsewhere for the explanation.

Target Soviet Union

It has been asserted that dropping of the atomic bombs was not so much the last military act of the Second World War as the first act of the Cold War. Although Japan was targeted, the weapons were aimed straight to the red heart of the USSR. For more than 70 years, the determining element of US foreign policy, virtually its sine qua non, has been "the communist factor". World War II and a battlefield alliance with the Soviet Union did not bring about an ideological change in the anti-communists who owned and ran America. It merely provided a partial breather in a struggle that had begun with the US invasion of Russia in 1918.18 It is hardly surprising then, that 25 years later, as the Soviets were sustaining the highest casualties of any nation in World War II, the US systematically kept them in the dark about the A-bomb project, while sharing information with the British.

According to Manhattan Project scientist Leo Szilard, Secretary of State Byrnes had said that the bomb's biggest benefit was not its effect on Japan but its power to "make Russia more manageable in Europe.'

General Leslie Groves, Director of the Manhattan Project, testified in 1954: "There was never, from about two weeks from the time I took charge of this Project, any illusion on my part but that Russia was our enemy, and that the Project was conducted on that basis."

The United States was thinking post-war. A Venezuelan diplomat reported to his government after a May 1945 meeting that Assistant Secretary of State Nelson Rockefeller "communicated to us the anxiety of the United States Government about the Russian attitude". US officials, he said, were "beginning to speak of Communism as they once spoke of Nazism and are invoking continental solidarity and hemispheric defense against it."

Churchill, who had known about the weapon before Truman, understood its use: "Here then was a speedy end to the Second World War," he said about the bomb, and added, thinking of Russian advances into Europe, "and perhaps to much else besides .... We now had something in our hands which would redress the balance with the Russians,"

Referring to the immediate aftermath of Nagasaki, Stimson wrote of what came to be known as "atomic diplomacy

In the State Department there developed a tendency to think of the bomb as a diplomatic weapon. Outraged by constant evidence of Russian perfidy, some of the men in charge of foreign policy were eager to carry the bomb for a while as their ace-in-the-hole .... American statesmen were eager for their country to browbeat the Russians with the bomb held rather ostentatiously on our hip.

"The psychological effect on Stalin [of the bombs] was twofold," observed historian Charles L. Mee, Jr. "The Americans had not only used a doomsday machine; they had used it when, as Stalin knew, it was not militarily necessary. It was this last chilling fact that doubtless made the greatest impression on the Russians."

After the Enola Gay released its cargo on Hiroshima on August 6, common sense-common decency wouldn't apply here-would have dictated a pause long enough to allow Japanese officials to travel to the city, confirm the extent of the destruction, and respond before the US dropped a second bomb. At 11 o'clock in the morning of August 9, Prime Minister Kintaro Suzuki addressed the Japanese Cabinet: "Under the present circumstances I have concluded that our only alternative is to accept the Potsdam Proclamation and terminate the war," Moments later, the second bomb fell on Nagasaki." Some hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians died in the two attacks; many more suffered terrible injury and permanent genetic damage.

After the war, His Majesty the Emperor still sat on his throne, and the gentlemen who ran the United States had absolutely no problem with this. They never had.

The United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946 concluded:

It seems clear that, even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion. Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.

It has been argued, to the present day, that it wouldn't have mattered if the United States had responded to the Japanese peace overtures because the emperor was merely a puppet of the military, and the military would never have surrendered without the use of the A-bombs. However, "the emperor as puppet" thesis was a creation out of whole cloth by General MacArthur, the military governor of Japan, to justify his personal wish that the emperor not be tried as a war criminal along with many other Japanese officials.

In any event, this does not, and can not, excuse the United States government for not at least trying what was, from humanity's point of view, the clearly preferable option, replying seriously to the Japanese peace overtures. No matter how much power the military leaders had, the civil forces plainly had the power to put forth the overtures and their position could only have been enhanced by a positive American response.

Freeing the World to Death

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