Bush Administration interventions
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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