Archive for US Intervention

Nicaragua – Recent History

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 10, 2019 by dsmith41

Emma Lightizer

From 1937 until 1979, Nicaragua was politically and militarily controlled by a U.S.-supported dictatorship led by three members of the Somoza family in turn: Anastasio Somoza García, Luis Somoza Debayle, and Anastasio Somoza Debayle. Although they were not formally the only heads of state during that time, the three of them combined held the Presidency for thirty years and worked through puppet leaders during the other thirteen years of their collective control (Brown).

            The dictatorship became more repressive under the leadership of Anastasio Somoza Debayle. In 1967, his regime carried out a massacre in front of the National Assembly building (Arévalo Alemán). It is estimated that at least 200 people were killed and one thousand wounded out of the thousands who were there peacefully protesting the lack of free elections (Arévalo Alemán). In response to attempts by Sandinista (FSLN) revolutionaries to overthrow the dictatorship, Somoza Debayle ruled under martial law from 1974 onward (Encyclopaedia Britannica). Finally, U.S. President Carter withdrew support for the regime, and in 1979 Somoza Debayle was forced by the Sandinistas and the Conservative party to resign from his position; he was later assassinated in Paraguay (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

            When Somoza lost power, the Sandinistas gained control of the country and Daniel Ortega assumed the presidency. He nationalized many businesses and tried to maintain control over the country through the use of force, and despite Carter’s attempts to court favor, Nicaragua was soon aligned with Cuba and the USSR (Brown). When Reagan became president in the U.S., he stopped the policy of trying to appease the Sandinista government and instead helped fund and train Nicaraguan “Contras,” counter-revolutionaries based in neighboring Honduras that wanted to oust the Sandinista party from power (Brown). As interventionary tactics had lost favor with the general populace in the wake of the Vietnam War, the CIA turned to covert and illegal operations, funneling weapons and aid to the Contras through Iran in what became known as the Iran-Contra Scandal (Brown). Although the operation drew massive protest from the U.S. when it came to light, it was successful in aiding the counter-revolutionary cause, such that by 1989 the Sandinistas had all but lost to the Contras. In 1990, Ortega was beaten in an internationally-observed election, and the Sandinistas officially lost power (Encyclopedia.com).

            From 1990 to 2007, Nicaragua had an uneasy democracy that contended with the huge national debt, the downsizing and conversion of the Sandinista military into a national military, and high unemployment (Encyclopedia.com). On top of this, Nicaragua had to confront the historical legacy of the revolution and counterrevolution, which cost a combined estimate of 65,000 lives between 1978 and 1990 (Lacina, 404-6).

            In 2007, Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista party returned to power through an election (Pérez). Since then, Ortega has worked to solidify Sandinista control over all branches of government by appointing members of his own party to several judicial and legislative positions  (Pérez). He has maintained his position through questionable elections, and many criticize him for undermining Nicaragua’s developing democracy. In 2018, popular protests erupted in response to social security reforms that cost people more while giving them worse benefits (Pérez). Ortega’s government responded violently, working with parapolice forces to kill over 200 protesters (Pérez). In the wake of Ortega’s violent tactics of political control, some people have begun comparing him to Somoza, with bad implications for the future of Nicaraguan democracy.

Bibliography:

“Anastasio Somoza Debayle.” Encyclopædia Britannica. April 21, 2019. Accessed May 10, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Anastasio-Somoza-Debayle.

Arévalo Alemán, Raúl. “Hoy Se Recuerda La Masacre Del 22 De Enero De 1967 Por La Dictadura De Somoza Debayle.” La Jornada. January 22, 2016. Accessed May 10, 2019. https://lajornadanet.com/diario/archivo/2016/enero/22/4.php.

Lacina, Bethany. PRIO. September 2009. Accessed May 9, 2019. https://www.prio.org/Global/upload/CSCW/Data/PRIObd3.0_documentation.pdf.

“Nicaragua and Iran Timeline.” Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs. Accessed May 9, 2019. https://www.brown.edu/Research/Understanding_the_Iran_Contra_Affair/timeline-n-i.php.

Pérez, Orlando J. “Can Nicaragua’s Military Prevent a Civil War?” Foreign Policy. July 03, 2018. Accessed May 10, 2019. https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/07/03/can-nicaraguas-military-prevent-a-civil-war/.

“Violeta Barrios De Chamorro.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2019. Accessed May 10, 2019. https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/nicaragua-history-biographies/violeta-barrios-de-chamorro.

Further Reading:

https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/nicaragua-on-the-brink-once-again https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/07/03/can-nicaraguas-military-prevent-a-civil-war/

https://www.brown.edu/Research/Understanding_the_Iran_Contra_Affair/timeline-n-i.php

https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/nicaragua-history-biographies/violeta-barrios-de-chamorro

U.S. Intervention in Latin America 1970-Present

Posted in US-Latin America Relations with tags , , , , , , on April 16, 2019 by dsmith41

David Smith

There have been two phases of United States intervention in Latin America since 1970. The older, first phase is the Cold War in which the United States funded Latin military governments and their wars against communist insurgencies. The second phase is the War on Drugs through which the United States has pressured Latin American states into prohibitionist politics, helping to organize and fund anti-drug efforts across the Western Hemisphere. These two contexts are related to each other, they overlap and interact with each other in complex ways, but the justifications for why the United States has stayed so intimately involved in the domestic affairs of Latin America have changed over time, and it is important to understand the magnitude of impact the US has had on its neighbors to the South.

Cold War interventions in Central America date back to the CIA-sponsored coup in Guatemala in 1954. After what was regarded by the CIA as a massive success, they tried a similar approach with Cuba in 1961 with the Bay of Pigs invasion, this time with disastrous results. The Cuban situation was massively embarrassing, and it became necessary for the US to increase their commitment to fighting communism across the region. In the 1970s, the United States was very involved in aiding Central American militaries in their fight against communism. The United States supplied Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua with direct military aid to help in their dirty wars. The friendly regimes in Honduras and Panama were used as bases of operations to carry out U.S. assistance to these places. The regimes to which the U.S. supplied weapons, training, and financial aid were known to be abusers of human rights, but Cold War hawks in the United States regarded this as a necessary evil in the international war on communism. The Carter administration tried to change course by denying aid to gross human rights violators, but the successful Sandinista Revolution in 1979 and the subsequent election of Ronald Reagan changed this approach.

The Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua was a watershed event, arguably as or more important to modern Central American history as was the Cuban Revolution. The communist insurgencies that existed in Guatemala and El Salvador turned into brutal Civil Wars, and the Reagan administration responded by providing billions in dollars of aid to the governments and paramilitaries fighting these communists. Though the Cold War ended in 1989, the legacy of the wars the United States fought in the name of anti-communism have had far-reaching impacts into today.

In the 1970’s, the United States had begun to get serious about the War on Drugs. In particular, the United States was targeting Mexico and the Sinaloa region that was supplying the marijuana that had fueled the counter-culture revolution. However, as the US targeted Mexico, production shifted to Colombia. The United States then became involved in fighting wars against the newly formed Colombian cartels and continued implementing crop eradication programs that disproportionately harmed poorer indigenous people. In Colombia, we see an acute intersection between the Cold War and the War on drugs. As the United States and the Colombian government fought the communist FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), they also fought the drug cartels who were pumping tons and tons of drugs into the United States. When the United States and Colombia finally defeated Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel, the FARC took over coca-growing operations and made alliances with Mexican cartels, namely the Sinaloa cartel, who now controlled the trade.

The United States has continued to fight the War on Drugs at home and abroad. From discouraging coca production in the Andes to prosecuting corruption in Central America to helping the Mexican government fight a vicious war against the cartels to criminalizing the consumption and distribution of drugs here at home, the United States has remained invested in an expensive and ineffective multi-front war. The War on Drugs is not the only modern example of United States intervention. In 2009, the US was involved in the Honduran coup in which the Honduran military, who has enjoyed a close relationship with Washington over the years, ousted a democratically elected president. Most recently, US Ambassador John Bolton has been considering intervening militarily in Venezuela. The examples that have been discussed have largely been instances where the United States has directly intervened with military and financial aid, but it is also worth considering that the United States has used a variety of political and financial organizations to influence domestic and foreign policies of Latin American governments. A third phase, in addition to the Cold War and the War on Drugs, could be understood as a neo-liberal phase in which the United States ensured loans to governments who would pass more US-friendly laws. Suffice it to say that though the United States does does not completely dominate the hemisphere as they have at different points in history, the US remains embedded in Latin American economies and politics.

Sources:

Stephen Rabe, The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012

Lars Schoultz, Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. policy towards Latin America, Harvard University Press, 2003.

Further Reading:

  1. For a brief history and timeline of US intervention in Latin America, see https://www.apnews.com/2ded14659982426c9b2552827734be83
  2. For more information on the CIA-sponsored coup and the subsequent Civil War on Guatemala, see https://blog.uvm.edu/sosten-centralamerica/2019/03/23/guatemala-recent-history-present/
  3. For more information about the evolution of the drug trade and the war on drugs in Latin America, see https://blog.uvm.edu/sosten-centralamerica/2019/04/11/overview-of-the-drug-trade-1970s-present/
  4. To read more about the United States’ role in the 2009 Honduran coup and subsequent militarization and repression, see https://theintercept.com/2017/08/29/honduras-coup-us-defense-departmetnt-center-hemispheric-defense-studies-chds/
  5. To read briefly about John Bolton’s policy towards Venezuela, see https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2019/01/28/john-bolton-notepad-troops-colombia-venezuela-military-intervention/2705957002/

CIA-Contra Connection

Posted in US-Latin America Relations with tags , , , , , on April 2, 2019 by dsmith41

David Smith

In 1979, the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) overthrew the Nicaraguan government that the United States had supported. Many people in Washington, including the incoming president Ronald Reagan, thought Jimmy Carter had been too soft on communism in Nicaragua. The incoming administration vowed to fight Central American communism much more enthusiastically, and one of their goals was to overthrow the new Sandinista regime. Congress, however, had passed laws prohibiting the government from funding the Contras, the right-wing paramilitary resistance to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. In order to circumvent licit funding from Congress, the Reagan administration devised illegal schemes to provide the funds necessary to continue their proxy war in Nicaragua. The most notable of these illegal schemes is the Iran-Contra affair in which Oliver North and the Reagan administration sold weapons to Iran and then funneled the proceeds to the Contras without any Congressional oversight. The Contras were also linked to selling the first batches of cocaine that were turned into “crack,” or cocaine hydrochloride, in Los Angeles so that they could increase their war chest. Whether or not the CIA organized and directed these drug deals has been the subject of much inquiry and speculation since the Contra-crack connection has been established, and what can be concluded is that the CIA was complicit or extremely irresponsible in the Contras crack cocaine networks in the poorer communities of Los Angeles. The CIA-Contra connection is very important for a few reasons. It reveals truths about the Central American Cold War and the War on Drugs that are difficult to reconcile with the professed morality of such wars. While the Iran-Contra affair is obviously a massive chapter in modern US history, the Contra-cocaine connection has stunning implications for 1980s US-Central America relations.

The only reason we know about the Contra drug ring in Los Angeles is due to the reporting of Gary Webb. In 1995, Webb published a 3-part story in which he detailed the connections between the Contras and a man by the name of “Freeway” Rick Ross. As the story goes, Norwin Meneses and Oscar Blandon, two Contras, came to San Francisco with the direction to sell a bunch of cocaine. The Contras didn’t know how to sell the cocaine, so they tried their luck further south, in Los Angeles. Around the time the Contras were in Los Angeles, some people had begun experimenting with cooking cocaine into “crack,” or adding baking soda to cocaine in order to make a cheaper, smokable form of the drug. When the Contras got to Los Angeles, they encountered a young, street-wise entrepreneur names Rick Ross. Ross bought the Contras’ cocaine, cooked it into crack, and then sold it to gangs in Los Angeles, creating an infamous empire in the process. Thus, the crack cocaine epidemic that ravaged Los Angeles and other black communities across the country was started, in part, by a Central American para-military that was sponsored by the CIA. Webb’s reporting never definitively established that CIA directed these activities or knew about the specific drug ring in Los Angeles, but there is evidence that the Reagan administration knew that the Contras were involved in drug-trafficking operations. There is much speculation as to how these Contras were able to transport the amount of drugs they did with the aircraft that they did and go unmolested by authorities in the United States for decades.

Here, we see what could be considered a paradoxical intersection between the Cold War and the War on Drugs in the 1980s. In one sense, you have the United States funding paramilitary activities against a Communist regime, which is normal and expected. On the other hand, the United States is involved in a regional, even global, War on Drugs in order to stop the flow of illicit substances into the United States. However, with the CIA-Contra scandal, the Reagan administration clearly violates it’s prohibitionist approach towards drugs and drug traffickers and uses them to help fund their unsuccessful war on communism in Nicaragua. At the same time that tens of thousands of black people across the county are suffering from an addiction to crack cocaine and being incarcerated for it by the US government, the CIA was working with the drug traffickers responsible for selling the cocaine that sparked the epidemic. For obvious reasons, this hypocrisy outraged the South Los Angeles community, and the response was so forceful that it required an unprecedented response from the CIA chief.

Source: Scott, Peter Dale and Jonathan Marshall, Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 23-50

Further Reading:

  1. For a history of the Sandinista Revolution and its origins, motives, and consequences, see https://vianica.com/go/specials/15-sandinista-revolution-in-nicaragua.html
  2. For access to an Iran-Contra affairs database compiled by Brown University that explains the facts and Congressional investigations, see https://www.brown.edu/Research/Understanding_the_Iran_Contra_Affair/iran-contra-affairs.php
  3. To see the evidence that supports the conclusion that the US government was aware of the drug trafficking activities of the Contra army and explores memos written by government officials, as well as testimony from Contra drug dealers, see https://www.brown.edu/Research/Understanding_the_Iran_Contra_Affair/iran-contra-affairs.php
  4. To read Gary Webb’s original reporting on the CIA-Contra-Los Angeles crack connections, see https://www.mega.nu/ampp/webb.html
  5. To read about how “Freeway” Rick Ross grew up in Los Angeles and built an empire from crack cocaine, see https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/jpz79y/a-drug-kingpin-and-his-racket-the-untold-story-of-freeway-rick-ross
  6. To read about the meeting between the Los Angeles community and the Chief of the CIA in 1996, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1996/11/16/cia-chief-faces-angry-crowd-at-los-angeles-meeting-on-drug-allegations/d6d7dcaa-c429-4feb-94d6-496717211916/?utm_term=.1f53d93f0a67

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U.S. Drug Policy in Latin America (1970-Present)

Posted in Mexico, US-Latin America Relations with tags , , , , , , on April 2, 2019 by dsmith41

Sarah Tosto

As the global demand for drugs by United States increased, who is now the number one consumer of drugs with 50% consumption of the $150 billion of the world drug supply, came the declaration of the War on Drugs in the 1980’s as drugs became a “national security threat.” Conveniently for the U.S. during this time period, most Latin American countries had been under severe economic stress and were in desperate need of debt relief. In addition to economic stress, these Latin American countries showed similar political instability and lack of government protection from the drug cartels. This failure of government led to the rise of leftist guerilla groups and paramilitaries.  From here on out, the United States implemented drug policies that economically incentivized the crack down of drug production in Latin America and helped Latin American countries fight opposition groups. This supply-side approach to drug eradication, however, resulted in failure due to the idiosyncratic nature of the drug economy in that demand never falters. These policies ended up highly militarizing the War on Drugs in Latin American, bringing unprecedented levels of violence.

Mexico and Colombia are two countries that have become increasingly violent after the United States’ foreign policy and aid. The article The U.S.- Mexico War on Narcotics: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, discusses the introduction of the Merida Initiative in 2007 in which the United States provided over $2.5 billion to the Mexican government for narcotics detection resources, training of justice sector personnel, crop eradication efforts, and other anti-narcotic strategies (Logia, 2017). Between 2008 and 2010 they received over $300 million in foreign military assistance which only moved through the corrupt government into the hands of the cartels (Logia, 2017). In response to this corruption, paramilitaries emerged and acted as a task force to protect citizens from cartel violence. This created a new wave of violence in Mexico after 2007 and has led to the deaths of over 200,000 since the help of the U.S. and the militarization of the drug war.

In Colombia, we see the Andean Initiative taking on a similar role in supply-side policy approach without the acknowledgement of paramilitary groups. The article Andean Regional Initiative: A Policy Fated to Fail discusses the 35-year history of internal conflict from leftist groups (the FARC) and guerilla groups (paramilitaries). The FARC came to power in the 1960’s during times of poverty, political exclusion of the masses, lack of confidence in the state, and violence towards the rural population. They protected the rural population against the government’s eradication efforts. In efforts to fight the FARC, the Colombian military, with the aid of the United States, allowed paramilitaries to escalate the violence and human rights abuses in order to comply with the drug eradication effort. The increased militarization, with the help of the U.S., has led to the doubling of politically motivated homicide between 1998 and 2000—to almost 20 murders per day (Amatangelo, 2005). In 2000, almost 85% of these murders were attributed to state agents and paramilitary groups, with the remaining 15% attributed to guerrilla groups (Amatangelo, 2005).

The United States was able to outsource their anti-drug efforts through economic incentives and increased military aid. These policies, however, proved to be a failure in the eradication of drugs and often led to increased violence, deaths, and human rights violations in Latin American countries. The failures of these policies can be attributed to the supply-side approach used by the United States. In the article US War on Drugs and Its Legacy in Latin America the article goes in depth about the issues created in Andean Countries as well as Mexico and suggests policy reform as a way to diminish violence in these areas.The United States should implement policy that acknowledges human rights violations and the victims of cartel violence (Huey, 2014). The U.S. should also soften their marijuana drug policy so task forces can focus resources on harder drugs (Huey, 2014). Latin American countries could also benefit from the taxation of marijuana for their economies and be less reliant on foreign aid (Huey, 2014). Without policy change, Latin American countries will continue to fight this war at the cost of their citizens.  

Bibiliography

Amatangelo, G. (2005). Andean Regional Initiative: A Policy Fated to Fail. Foreign Policy in

Focus. Retrieved from https://fpif.org/andean_regional_initiative_a_policy_fated_to_fail/

Huey, D. (2014). US War on Drugs and Its Legacy in Latin America. The Guardian.

Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/feb/03/us-war-on-drugs-impact-in-latin-american

Logia, L. (2017). The U.S.-Mexico War on Narcotics: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.

Global Americans. Retrieved from https://theglobalamericans.org/2017/08/u-s-mexico-

war-narcotics-one-step-forward-two-steps-back/

Guatemala: Recent History-Present and Civil War

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 23, 2019 by dsmith41

David Smith

To understand Guatemala’s Civil War, the defining moment in modern Guatemalan history, that officially began in 1960 and ended 36 years later, it is necessary to first explore the economic and social conditions of the country with an indigenous Maya majority. Dating back to Spanish Colonial times, Guatemala’s governments have been racist, elitist, militaristic, and corrupt. Access to land and resources, the lifeblood of the Maya people, has been historically restricted, and the landowners who controlled the agricultural economy have consistently used coercive methods to extract extremely cheap migrant labor from indigenous and mixed-race (ladino) people. In the 20th century, United Fruit Company, now Chiquita, employed what was essentially a monopoly over Guatemala’s economy, acquiring 40% of the arable land in the country through a series of contracts that they signed with dictator Jorge Ubico. In October of 1944, Guatemala’s government changed when the people elected Jose Arevalo, ushering in the “Ten Years of Springtime,” a brief era in which democratic reform in the country blossomed. Arevalo enacted a series of reform that provided basic social services to poor people across the country, but the glaring obstacle to a truly independent Guatemala was United Fruit Company’s concentration of land and their dominance of the economy. Arevalo’s democratically elected predecessor, Colonel Jacobo Arbenz, decided to confront the foreign influence over the nation’s economy by nationalizing the land and re-distributing it, principally to the indigenous Maya.

Arbenz’ move, while perhaps justified, was certainly radical to the United States. What was perhaps even more radical was that Arbenz had legalized the Communist party in Guatemala, and while Arbenz was not himself a Communist, the members of the PGT (Partido Guatemalteco del Trabajo) were active in the government, especially on the issue of land reform. In an Eisenhower administration that was engaged in militant anti-communism around the world, the United States saw the seizure of land, the re-distribution of land, and the existence of an active Communist party as a serious threat to regional security. In 1954, in an operation named PBSUCESS, the CIA planned and executed a coup against Jacobo Arbenz by supporting Colonel Castillo Armas in the first Cold War conflict in the Western hemisphere. In a daring and, perhaps, arrogant display, the United States asserted control over the domestic affairs of Guatemala, ensuring the restoration of United Fruit Company’s landholdings and providing military and economic assistance to a military regime that supported US interests. The consequences of the 1954 coup against Jacobo Arbenz, executed nearly flawlessly from a US perspective, would reverberate around not only Guatemala for the next four decades, but around the entire Western Hemisphere for the duration of the Cold War. The events of 1954 played a direct role in the Cuban Revolution five years later, including that a young Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who was in Guatemala City and an ally of Arbenz when the United States executed the coup, was profoundly impacted by the experience.

The vast majority of the people in Guatemala were opposed to the United States influence in their country, but any outward expression of opposition to the new military regime was met with secret police death squads. Castillo Armas unleashed a repression that murdered thousands of communists, teachers, students, and others who they perceived to be a threat to stability. The armed resistance to the government began in 1959, when some members of the military became angry that the United States had used Guatemala as a launching point for their Bay of Pigs invasion. They launched a coup that failed, but the seeds of revolution had been sown. Members of this attempted coup fled the cities and retreated into the countryside to form the origins of guerilla factions, like the FAR (Fuerzas Armadas Rebeldes), who were determined to lead a communist revolution.

The communists failed miserably in their mission during the 1960s. Superior government forces who had been trained by the United States routed the communists, including a visit from the Green Berets that nearly decimated the communists into non-existence. After their failures, some leaders decided to change strategies. Whereas before the communists had tried to re-create the foco strategy of the Cuban Revolution of the island nation just across the Gulf of Mexico, some of the leaders now believed that they needed more of a prolonged people’s war, similar to the likes of the successful North Vietnamese movement. In Guatemala, the “people” are indigenous, so the communist guerilla Mario Payeras started creating alliances with indigenous people in the remote Western Highlands. Payeras’ band of guerillas, known as the EGP (Ejercito de Guerillas Pobres), built a coalition with the largest indigenous peasant organization in Guatemala, the CUC (Comite de Unidad Campesina). As the road to widespread war became more and more inevitable, the communist guerillas believed they had the support of hundreds of thousands of peasants by 1980.

What followed is one of the saddest chapters in the spiral of violence that encompassed the entire Western Hemisphere through the second half of the 20th century. A difficult question that Guatemalans and historians have to confront is how and why this Civil War, a common experience among Latin American countries at the time, turned to genocide. There are no easy answers. When the communists launched their offensives against the military, the government responded with a scorched-earth campaign that is responsible for the slaughter of 200,000 Mayan people. The government would sweep through the village and murder anyone who was there, regardless of their involvement (or lack thereof) in the guerilla movement. Unarmed women, children, and men were raped, terrorized, tortured, and murdered, their bodies desecrated by soldiers who were often recruited from the same types of communities they were razing. The Reagan regime funded the military’s efforts, afraid of another Nicaragua in Central America.

Following the genocide, the guerilla movement was essentially over. After the Cold War, the military regime was forced to negotiate a peace process and conclude the Civil War. Their crimes against humanity were investigated by the United Nations. Their report details the genocidal terror unleashed upon the Maya people.

Following the peace process, Guatemala dismantled 2/3 of its military. The soldiers who had belonged to one of the most highly trained and organized militaries in the Western hemisphere were largely granted immunity, allowing them to participate in private and public life within Guatemala. Some of these soldiers formed criminal organizations that provided intelligence gathering and hit squads for people willing to pay. Many former officers in the military became high-ranking politicians, ascending to the presidency and the Interior Minister in some cases (Insight Crime investigation). In addition to these criminal organizations who are highly connected to corruption in Guatemala’s government, there has also been the development of a serious gang problem in the country. Thus, a highly complex picture of crime, corruption, impunity, and violence in Guatemala arises. Alliances among criminal organizations can quickly disintegrate, people with enough money and power can bribe judges and dismantle investigations, and  in order for anything to be done, international organizations attempting to bring some semblance of justice to the country must work with government officials who are often profoundly corrupt.

International and domestic attempts have been made to hold high-ranking members of the military accountable for the genocide they ordered and carried out. These efforts have produced mixed results. One such example was the trial of General Efrain Rios Montt. In 2013, a court in Guatemala City convicted Rios Montt of genocide and other crimes against humanity, but, three days later, the Guatemalan Supreme Court nullified the decision on a technicality. Before the re-trial, Rios Montt died. Some military officers and criminals responsible for extraordinary violence have been found guilty, but the reality is that most of the former members of the military and the members of the criminal organizations that exist today live with impunity from their crimes, though it remains a violent, tumultuous, and uncertain impunity.

What is overwhelmingly tragic about the circumstances in Guatemala is the vulnerability of indigenous and mixed-race women and children. Indigenous Maya have faced violent oppression from racist governments for centuries. Now, heavily-armed gangs and criminal organizations control the territories in which these people live and exert a reign of terror over these communities. Over time, these people have responded to this oppression in a variety of ways. Sometimes, they protest non-violently, sometimes they take up arms against those persecuting them, sometimes they co-exist with their enemies and carve out whatever opportunities they can find, and sometimes they flee the violence, seeking a better set of circumstances than those in their home country.

Source: Greg Grandin, The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America and the Cold War. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Menchú, Rigoberta. I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. Edited and Introduced by Elisabeth Burgos-Debray. Translated by Ann Wright. London, UK: Verso, 2009.

Further Reading:

https://thepanoptic.co.uk/2016/11/19/american-intervention-guatemala/

This article offers a detailed description of the Guatemalan Civil war, its origins, and its impact. Beginning with an analysis of the economic and racial conditions that preceded the Civil War in Guatemala, it describes the Arevalo and Arbenz administrations and the land reforms they pursued. The article then offers an account of the CIA-sponsored coup in 1954 and the Civil War that was started in 1960. Finally, the conflict between the government and the indigenous communities that resulted in a genocide is explained. This article focuses on the role of US Intervention and claims the responsibility for the genocide lays in the United States government and the military regime of Guatemala.

https://www.insightcrime.org/guatemala-organized-crime-news/guatemala/

Insight Crime is a fantastic resource for learning more about organized crime in Central America. This Guatemala profile reflects on the history of the Civil War, and connects this history to the modern circumstances in Guatemala. It explains the rise of drug smugglers, or transportistas, and how they established drug transportation networks with the support of corrupt military and police. As the country exited Civil War, it explains that the military and police stayed heavily involved in organized crime, and it also explain the growth of gangs, such as MS-13 and Barrio 18. This profile also seeks to explain the relationship between Mexican cartels and the organized crime networks in Guatemala. Additionally, the profile explores the judicial system and the prison systems in the largest Central American nation. Insight Crime has also conducted numerous investigations about Central American corruption and criminal organizations that offer a clearer picture of organized crime across the region.

https://www.usip.org/publications/1997/02/truth-commission-guatemala

This is to read more about the conclusions of the UN Truth Commission that found evidence of the genocide, find the report here. This also has some information about the prosecutions of war crimes over the last 2 decades.

https://www.thenation.com/article/border-patrol-guatemala-dictatorship/

To read about direct United States intervention in Guatemala and to learn about how Washington trained army commanders that ordered a genocide, see this source.

https://www.thenation.com/article/guatemala-refugee-crisis-jakelin-caal-maquin/

To read a heartbreaking account of what is happening at the border in the Trump administration, and to read about the intersections of race, gender, and age that produce particularly vulnerable migrants, read this source.

El Salvador Civil War

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 21, 2019 by dsmith41

David Smith

Geographically, El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, but it is also the most densely populated. With a population of over six million people in a country the size of the state of Massachusetts, El Salvador has been notorious in recent years for the high levels of murder and violence in the its capital city of San Salvador. About 20% of El Salvadorans live abroad, many of whom reside in the United States, and a significant portion of the El Salvadoran economy relies on remittances from these citizens (CIA World Factbook). Why El Salvadorans immigrate to the United  and why the country experiences such violence in the present can be directly traced to the Civil War in the 1980s.

El Salvador’s Civil War has roots in the conflict in La Matanza (The
Massacre) of 1932 when the military regime of General Maximiliano Martinez repressed a rebellion led by indigenous peasants and communists. Half of the communist party was killed or exiled in the aftermath while tens of thousands of indigenous people were murdered. While the military maintained control of the government for the next 50 years, the historical memory of 1932 would play a decisive role in the Civil war that ravaged the nation in 1980’s.

In addition to La Matanza, the context of the Cold War and the larger regional conflicts is important to understand. While El Salvador is a unique case study with its specific context, the descent into Civil War fits into a larger Central American framework in which the United States funded and trained ethically abhorrent military regimes in an attempt to combat communist insurgents who recruited indigenous people to support a people’s revolution. When the Reagan administration assumed power and took an extremely hard-line stance against communism in Central America, the US increased military aid to a repressive El Salvador regime that ordered and carried out devastating human rights abuses throughout the 1980s, such as executing a thousand unarmed peasants at El Mozote.

The Civil War began in 1980 with the formation of the communist FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front). Previously, there had been a dirty war in which right-wing death squads and the military were fighting the communists. Events that sparked the official Civil War was a right-wing death squad’s assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a figure associated with Catholic Liberation Theology. Military forces assassinated Romero, a popular bishop of the poorer people in El Salvador, while he was saying mass in 1980. From a domestic point of view, this assassination was one of the events that sparked widespread participation in the Civil War. Also of import to this period was the rape and murder of four American churchwomen by the Salvadoran military in late 1980. The FMLN launched their first military offensive in 1981. Realizing they could not out-gun a well-organized, well-armed army in an open war, the guerrillas employed non-traditional tactics that kept the government chasing them into the mountains and across the countryside. In an unexpectedly successful campaign, the guerrillas used hit-and-run attacks to capture and consolidate control over about 1/3 of El Salvador’s territory. The US increased aid in the form of air support that forced the FMLN to go on the run again. A stalemate ensued in which the FMLN could not penetrate further into government territory while the military could not dislodge the FMLN from the regions they controlled. The FMLN launched one last national offensive in 1989, temporarily claiming territories in Salvadoran cities. The government responded to this offensive with panic and murdered six Jesuit priests, drawing heavy international criticism and devastating the military’s image in the eyes of the Salvadoran people. With no clear end in sight and the Cold War now at an end, both sides sat down for a peace agreement.

The violence was staggering. 75,000 civilians died at the hands of
the military, with many more thousand people killed in battle or by FMLN
perpetrators (it is important to note that the UN Truth Commission found the government responsible for 85% of war-time atrocities and the FMLN accounted for 5%). Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, many ending up in the United States. In the peace process, the UN formed a truth commission that detailed the human rights crimes of the government. The Atlacatl brigade, a counterinsurgency force of the military that had been directly trained by the United States at Fort Bragg, had been found responsible for numerous massacres of unarmed peasants, as well as the murder of the six Jesuit priests.

Justice, peace, and democracy is post-war El Salvador have been challenging to achieve. The FMLN transitioned from a guerrilla army to a political party and has won elections in 2009 and 2014. While the UN Truth Commission outlines the crimes committed by the military, the prosecution of people responsible has been impeded by the politics and the courts of El Salvador. Immunity for soldiers following orders was established for people in the military who had been mass executing peoples. When considering the today’s violence and the prevalence of gangs in El Salvador, the legacy of the Salvadoran Civil War cannot be untangled from the present.

Source: Erik Ching, Stories of Civil War: A Battle over Memory. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

Further Reading:

  1. For an overall introduction to El Salvador’s economics, politics, and demographics, see https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/es.html
  2. For more on Oscar Romero’s assassination of Oscar Romero and the profound impact this had on El Salvador’s collective conscience from the Civil War into today, see https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/archbishop-oscar-romero-becomes-a-saint-but-his-death-still-haunts-el-salvador
  3. To read more about the UN Truth commission and the peace process that took place in El Salvador during the mid 1990s and brought the Civil War to an end, see https://www.usip.org/publications/1992/07/truth-commission-el-salvador
  4. To read more about the brutality of the Atlacatl brigade, the death squad that was trained by the CIA and carried out atrocities such as El Mozote and the murder of the Jesuit priests, see https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1992-12-09-mn-1714-story.html
  5. To read more about US involvement and complicity in the El Salvadoran Civil War, see https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/01/trump-and-el-salvador/550955/ and https://medium.com/s/story/timeline-us-intervention-central-america-a9bea9ebc148

El Salvador Recent History-Present

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 21, 2019 by dsmith41

David Smith

In 1932, a loose alliance of rural, indigenous peasants and urban, ladino (mixed race) communists revolted because they were unhappy with the elite landowners’ control of the coffee economy. In a country the size of Massachusetts, land ownership was tightly concentrated into a few families, and these elites used coercive methods to compel the labor of indigenous people and poor ladinos. Economic and social reforms through the electoral process appeared possible in 1931, but visions of change ended with General Maximiliano Martinez’ overthrow of the first democratically elected government in El Salvador’s history. Thus, in response to Martinez’ coup, the peasants and communists executed a poorly organized revolt that resulted in one of El Salvador’s defining historical moments. Though the 1932 revolt lasted a mere three days and killed about 100 people, General Martinez responded by ordering a military repression that beat back the revolutionaries but then continued into the countryside in a quasi-genocidal campaign that slaughtered thousands to tens of thousands of indigenous people not involved in the Revolution in what has come to be known as La Matanza (The Massacre). The military repression left an indelible mark on the nation’s conscience, and it worked to consolidate power into the hands of the military for the foreseeable future. This conflict in 1932 formed the fault lines along which the two armies fought in the Civil War about five decades later.

Authoritarian military dictatorships governed El Salvador from 1932-1979, the longest consecutive stretch of military rule in Latin American history, a region notorious for such governments. These years leading up to the Salvadoran Civil War can be characterized by a tense military-elite alliance that kept the concentration of wealth into the hands of the powerful while trying to institute enough reform for the lower classes to avert general insurrection. These reforms were ultimately not enough to avoid Civil War, and the country, like its neighbors Guatemala and Nicaragua, spiraled into violence.

During the Civil War, hundred of thousands (millions?) fled the violence, with many of these refugees ending up in Los Angeles. There, witnesses of unbridled violence in their home country came into contact with the already established network of gangs in Southern California, one of which was MS-13. Young boys became involved in violent crime, were arrested, put in prisons where gangs flourished, then deported to El Salvador in the early 1990s, around the same time the Civil War was entering a peace process. Due to deportation laws in the United States, the US was not required to tell El Salvador’s government the criminal record of the deportees that were being released back into the war-torn country, and they didn’t. Thus, in the wreckage of post-Civil War society, MS-13 took root and drastically expanded its’ influence across El Salvador.

MS-13, Barrio-18, and other gangs have had a pervasive presence across El Salvador in the 21st century. In recent years, El Salvador has become known worldwide for excessive murder and violence, especially in the capital city San Salvador, which had the highest murder rate in the world per capita in (insert years). In order to address the gangs in the 2000s, El Salvador’s government turned to Mano Dura (Firm Hand) policies that used state force to battle gang members and arrest the leaders. Mano Dura enforcement increased violence in its’ efforts to eradicate the gangs, and though the state was able to imprison many of MS-13’s leaders, the existing body of evidence suggests that imprisonment has done little to hinder the erratic nature of MS-13 and may have even helped to better centralize the leadership’s lines of communication from the prisons. In 2014, the government agreed to negotiate a less hard-line policy and began negotiating with the gang leaders, which temporarily decreased the murder rate, but is unsteady. Extortion, rape, domestic violence, and kidnapping are serious threats to the citizens of El Salvador.

Source: Erik Ching, Authoritarian El Salvador: Politics and the Origins of the Military Regimes, 1880-1940. South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 2014.

Further Reading:

https://cja.org/where-we-work/el-salvador/

This source offers more information on the historical background that preceded the Civil War. It offers an account of the Civil War, and the peace process that ensued. The article concludes by exploring the impunity for military and police personnel that participated in crimes against humanity.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/10/us/el-salvador-ms-13.html

This article from the New York Times explores the relationship between the United States and El Salvador and how interwoven these countries and their circumstances are. It further explores the topic of gang violence in the region and offers perspectives and offers insight as to why migrants flee their home nations.

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