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Mine's report is mistaken in supposing that the murder of priests and human rights campaigners receives notice; that is far from true, as has been amply documented, though too brazen an assault is frowned upon as unwise.5
"The same week the Jesuits were killed," Central America correspondent Alan Nairn writes, "at least 28 other civilians were murdered in similar fashion. Among them were the head of the water works union, the leader of the organization of university women, nine members of an Indian farming cooperative, 10 university students,... Moreover, serious investigation of the Salvadoran murders leads directly to Washington's doorstep."6 All "absolutely appropriate," hence unworthy of mention or concern. So the story continues, week after grisly week.
The comparison between the Soviet and U.S. satellites is so striking and obvious that it takes real dedication not to perceive it, and outside of Western intellectual circles, it is a commonplace. A writer in the Mexican daily Excelsior, describing how U.S. relations with Latin America deteriorated through the 1980s, comments on the "striking contrast" between Soviet behavior toward its satellites and "U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere, where intransigence, interventionism and the application of typical police state instruments have traditionally marked Washington's actions": "In Europe, the USSR and Gorbachev are associated with the struggle for freedom of travel, political rights, and respect for public opinion. In the Americas, the U.S. and Bush are associated with indiscriminate bombings of civilians, the organization, training and financing of death squads, and programs of mass murder" -- not quite the story in New York and Washington, where the United States is hailed as an "inspiration for the triumph of democracy in our time" (New Republic).7
In El Salvador, the journal Proceso of the Jesuit University observed that
The so-called Salvadoran `democratic process' could learn a lot from the capacity for self-criticism that the socialist nations are demonstrating. If Lech Walesa had been doing his organizing work in El Salvador, he would have already entered into the ranks of the disappeared -- at the hands of `heavily armed men dressed in civilian clothes'; or have been blown to pieces in a dynamite attack on his union headquarters. If Alexander Dubcek were a politician in our country, he would have been assassinated like Héctor Oquel¡ [the social democratic leader assassinated in Guatemala, by Salvadoran death squads, according to the Guatemalan government]. If Andrei Sakharov had worked here in favor of human rights, he would have met the same fate as Herbert Anaya [one of the many murdered leaders of the independent Salvadoran Human Rights Commission CDHES]. If Ota-Sik or Vaclav Havel had been carrying out their intellectual work in El Salvador, they would have woken up one sinister morning, lying on the patio of a university campus with their heads destroyed by the bullets of an elite army battalion.8
The comparison was broadened in a seminar on Christian opportunity and mission called by the Latin American Council of Churches in San José, Costa Rica, reported in Mexico's leading daily. Participants contrasted positive developments in the Soviet Union and its domains with the circumstances of Central America, "marked by United States intervention and the rightward turn of control of government power." The pastoral letter "Hope against Hope" announced at the end of the meeting went on to say that in this context, "military, institutional, financial, political and cultural powers, means of communication, as well as the power of some churches `indifferent to social problems' will be deployed with greater force in Central America, `with serious consequences for the impoverished majority'"; the reference is presumably to the fundamentalist churches backed by the U.S. in an effort to divert the poor population from any struggle for amelioration of the conditions of this meaningless life on earth. The decade of the 1980s "was notable in the region for the growth of the gap between rich and poor, a political rightward turn and a conservative offensive on the economic front." The goal of the Central American peace plan was to "put the Nicaraguan revolution on neoliberal-democracy tracks and to defend governments such as the Salvadoran." With these results achieved, the U.S.-backed regimes and their sponsor will "bury the demands" about human rights and social justice.9
The same comparison was drawn by the Guatemalan journalist Julio Godoy after a brief visit to Guatemala. He had fled a year earlier when his newspaper, La Epoca, was blown up by state terrorists -- an operation that aroused no interest in the United States; it was not reported, though well-known. At the time, the media were much exercised over the fact that the U.S.-funded journal La Prensa, which was openly aligned with the U.S.-run forces attacking Nicaragua, had missed an issue because of a shortage of newsprint, an atrocity that led to passionate diatribes about Sandinista totalitarianism. In the face of this crime, Western commentators could hardly be expected to notice that the U.S.-backed security forces had silenced the one small independent voice in Guatemala in their usual fashion. This is simply another illustration of the total contempt for freedom of press in Western circles, revealed as well by the silence that accompanies the violent destruction of the independent Salvadoran press by state terror, the routine closure of newspapers under absurd pretexts and the arrest and torture of journalists in the Israeli occupied territories and sometimes in Israel proper, the storming of the headquarters of a major South Korean broadcasting network by riot police to arrest the leader of the union on the charge that he had organized labor protests, and other such contributions to order and good form.10
Eastern Europeans are, "in a way, luckier than Central Americans," Godoy wrote: "while the Moscow-imposed government in Prague would degrade and humiliate reformers, the Washington-made government in Guatemala would kill them. It still does, in a virtual genocide that has taken more than 150,000 victims... [in what Amnesty International calls] a `government program of political murder'." That, he suggested, is "the main explanation for the fearless character of the students' recent uprising in Prague: the Czechoslovak Army doesn't shoot to kill... In Guatemala, not to mention El Salvador, random terror is used to keep unions and peasant associations from seeking their own way" -- and to ensure that the press conforms, or disappears, so that Western liberals need not fret over censorship in the "fledgling democracies" they applaud. There is an "important difference in the nature of the armies and of their foreign tutors." In the Soviet satellites, the armies are "apolitical and obedient to their national government," while in the U.S. satellites, "the army is the power," doing what they have been trained to do for many decades by their foreign tutor. "One is tempted to believe that some people in the White House worship Aztec gods -- with the offering of Central American blood." They backed forces in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua that "can easily compete against Nicolae Ceausescu's Securitate for the World Cruelty Prize."
Godoy quotes a European diplomat who says, "as long as the Americans don't change their attitude towards the region, there's no space here for the truth or for hope." Surely no space for nonviolence and love.
One will search far to find such truisms in U.S. commentary, or the West in general, which much prefers largely meaningless (though self-flattering) comparisons between Eastern and Western Europe. Nor is the hideous catastrophe of capitalism in the past years a major theme of contemporary discourse, a catastrophe that is dramatic in Latin America and other domains of the industrial West, in the "internal Third World" of the United States, and the "exported slums" of Europe. Nor are we likely to find much attention to the fact, hard to ignore, that the economic success stories typically involve coordination of the state and financial-industrial conglomerates, another sign of the collapse of capitalism in the past 60 years. It is only the Third World that is to be subjected to the destructive forces of free market capitalism, so that it can be more efficiently robbed and exploited by the powerful.
Central America represents the historical norm, not Eastern Europe. Hume's observation requires this correction. Recognizing that, it remains true, and important, that government is typically founded on modes of submission short of force, even where force is available as a last resort.
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6 Nairn, "Murder bargain," Cleveland Plain Dealer, Feb. 16, 1990.
7 John Saxe-Fernandez, Excelsior, Nov. 21, 1989, in Latin America News Update, Jan. 1990; TNR, March 19, 1990.
8 Quoted by Jon Reed, Guardian (New York), May 23, 1990.
9 Guillermo Melendez, Excelsior, April 7, 1990; Central America NewsPak, April 9, 1990. On the efficient demolition of the peace plan by the U.S. government and its media, and the role of Oscar Arias in the operation, see Culture of Terrorism, chapter 7; Necessary Illusions, 89ff. and Appendix IV, sec. 5. Also chapter 2, pp. 77f; chapter 8, section 6; chapter 9, pp. 297f.
10 See Necessary Illusions, 41-2, 123-30; Appendix V, secs. 6, 7. Godoy, Nation, March 5. Korea, AP, May 5, 1990.