Thursday, June 30, 2011

The "Divinely Ordained" Work of the U.S. in Latin America

“Don’t they teach imperial history in American schools?  Why do we Spaniards seem to know more about U.S. history than most Americans?”  Father Ron Hennesey, of the Maryknoll Order, was listening to one of 
the nuns in his Guatemalan countryside parish react to his analysis of international politics in the wake of several murders in his jurisdiction.  This was early in Hennessey’s pastoral career in Guatemala, which would span a total of 34 years, during which he would see the most vicious acts humanity could ever dream of carried out on his parishioners.  Those decades (from the 60’s through the 90’s) would also erase any illusions he had about the reality of America’s role in the Western Hemisphere. 

Hennesey’s awakening from ignorance reminded me of my own.  As a child of the 80’s growing up in a fundamentalist Protestant environment I remember that Pat Robertson’s 700 Club was always on in our home.  If it wasn’t me alongside my parents viewing the show, I would often be content to watch it alone; I was fascinated by Robertson’s “Words of Knowledge”, and that a man should be so blessed of God as to receive them on a regular basis.  I get nauseous and angry as I think about this now, especially given the fact that I used to send this man some of my childhood “tithe” money. 

General Rios Montt
Robertson was an open supporter of Guatemala’s President in the early 80’s, General Rios Montt.  Montt had attracted his support, and the support of President Reagan, by assuming the status of born-again Christian.  Further, he was a vocal opponent of “Communism”, Liberation Theology, and was committed to keeping foreign investment and the ties between American and Guatemalan elites intact.  That was all Reagan and Robertson needed to recognize God’s calling on Montt.  My childhood money was given during the time that Robertson was instituting “love lifts” of food and financial aid to the government of Montt.  What a fucked up version of the love of “god”.  There was no love in the actions of Montt or the U.S. government in Guatemala.  I do not care what ideological excuses they had for the murders that were carried out with the full support of Robertson, Montt and Reagan, there was absolutely no justification for what I’m about to describe. 


Francisco Paiz Garcia was perhaps the most respected man of the San Francisco village in Northwest Guatemala.  He was also one of the oldest.  Garcia’s manner would remind one of a kindly grandfather, who had plenty of time for others, and was always available when wise advice or important community decisions were called for.  On this particular afternoon in 1982, he was the last known living man of his village (outside of the witnesses who recounted the events) and he was having difficulty walking as a stake was driven up his anus and out through his abdomen.  A soldier on either side kept his journey of torture moving along until he finally collapsed, dead, on a trail not far from his home. 

The other members of Garcia’s family and village, and many other villages around him in the previous weeks had all been massacred, with no regard for age, gender or even the courtesy of a kangaroo court to give a false accusation of guilt.  The men had been painfully beheaded with dull machetes, disemboweled, dismembered, forced to smash in the heads of their neighbors and relatives, hung, or thrown off cliffs.  The women and children had been raped, burned alive, disfigured through breast mutilation or hand/genital removal by machete, and in many cases, forced to watch the brutal, remorseless killings of their men by laughing soldiers before they joined them in the mass graves.  The majority of the military orders for these murders can be directly traced to Guatemalan officers trained at the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, GA and/or from those who had the direct support of the CIA.  It was the same tactics that had been incorporated in Operation Phoenix during Vietnam.  All of this is documented, and can be verified by reliable eyewitness reports, from Hennesey, Thomas R. Melville and other members of the Catholic clergy and respected Mayan leaders, or even from de-classified U.S. documents from the time period.  Apologies from the U.S. government, specifically from Bill Clinton, have since been issued for “mistakes” that were made in Guatemala.  That was all that Clinton committed to the decimated population.  No reparations or an attempt at righting past wrongs have even been hinted at.  This seems to be a common pattern in America:  apologies after the fact for “mistakes” and that it won’t happen again.  What precisely “won’t” happen again?  The exact same scenario?  Yes, he’s probably right about that.  The names, tactics and enemies will change, but the policy of advancing American interests at all costs, with no hesitation regarding brutal murders, will always be an option and will always be utilized as long as America is an empire.  It’s a common symptom that empires seem to have.  It’s also a convenient alibi to have others do the dirty work, but more and more torture is becoming overt in American policy, not covert.  Murder?  Well, that’s long been policy in completely unjustifiable warfare. 


It has been estimated that over 200,000 Guatemalans, mostly Mayans, had suffered the above mentioned fate during Ron Hennessey’s time witnessing that horrendous U.S. backed genocide.  Their only crime had been their threat to the status quo of international elitism in their desire to escape from poverty.  They had demanded the right to stay on their land, and for it not to be confiscated by international corporations or landowners.  They were denied any opportunity to gain title, in a racist move reminiscent of what blacks in America experienced in our shameful past.  For centuries, the Mayans have worked the lands of the elite with little to show for it.  Whenever they began to make a stand for themselves, not in the face of some ideology, but through the simple demand for basic living essentials, they were repressed in the brutal manner described above.  These were simple people, almost all of whom were illiterate.  They knew nothing of Communism, they just wanted to live.  Even if they were Communists, should this be the actions of a “Christian” President supported by another “Christian” President, a “Christian” televangelist and “Christians” in America?  The support of successive U.S. administrations never wavered for this Guatemalan repression in the over 40 years that killings have been accounted for, starting in 1954 with the policies of John Foster and Allen Dulles (who now have the distinction of a DC airport named after them for their efforts).  Numbers are numbing unless we start to put some details to the picture.  That was my intention by describing the atrocities above.  It is stories like these that I hear in my work at TASSC (Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition).  This is what it means when people are killed in mass numbers.  This is the reality of the “American way” for so many millions in our world today.  Sadly, for many of them, their only hope of refuge is in the country or region that was the financial and sometimes actual participant in the conditions causing them to leave their homes; if, that is, they’re one of the lucky ones who are able to escape alive. 

These same kinds of atrocities are described by foreigners in our war zones today.  They are described by the victims of torture who come through TASSC.  They have been described by people whom I’ve talked with directly, and sometimes directly experienced themselves.  Dianna Ortiz, the founder of TASSC, has published a book detailing aspects of her torture in Guatemala (her only crime being teaching literacy to Mayans).  Her torture included forced oral sex on her captors, rape, being pissed on (literally) by her attackers, being hung in an open pit of mutilated human flesh, some dead, some alive, for hours at a time, and the forced murder (with her hands being forcibly wrapped around a machete and her aggressor wrapping his hands around hers) of a woman prisoner who had maggots crawling out of the cuts underneath her breasts.  This was all directed by a North American; even though Ortiz was blindfolded, she clearly recognized the accent of the North American, whom she has called Alejandro, and it has since been revealed (these events occurred in 1989), that there was consistent CIA activity in the country at this time.  Ortiz has been discredited, and her perpetrators have never been brought to justice.  Her response has been to form TASSC and help other victims pursue justice much like she has. 

Ortiz has not given up; she has been discouraged at times in a process for justice that has taken years, but she has not given up; she has only learned to re-channel her actions and energies.  She is a huge inspiration to me, as I sometimes wonder if writing about these events really does anything to the American mind.  We are flooded with so much information, and become so complacent, that no matter how horrible things sound, many either do not have the ability to accept that the U.S. could do this, or simply do not care.  It may be a combination of the two.  Just remember that our tax dollars go to pay for all of this.  Even worse, the money you or I send or have sent in the past to religious organizations could have possibly gone to pay for these events.  Where is the sense of responsibility?  Where is the outrage demanding change from our government?  These activities continue to happen, that much can be assured.  We may not know where or how, but undoubtedly we will hear about it someday, when it seems too far in the past, and time to “move on” and some pointless apology will be issued by the powers that be.  We can’t just keep saying “sorry, that was a mistake” if we claim to value and respect human rights in this country.  Human rights in American foreign policy is a joke.  It is our responsibility to change this.  Other countries are starting to rise up and protest for their rights and the rights of all people.  Will we do the same?  How long must we keep asking?  I commit my life to working on these issues as long as I have breath, and I won’t stop talking about it; even if at times it seems like I’m not speaking to anyone who cares.

Note:  All references to events in Guatemala have been taken from first or second-hand accounts of Thomas R. Melville and Ron Hennessey in Melville’s book, Through A Glass Darkly: The U.S. Holocaust in Central America and from Dianna Ortiz’s autobiography The Blindfold’s Eyes. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pierre Teilhard De Chardin: Love, Evolution, Higher Consciounsess, and Convergence

Pierre Teilhard De Chardin is a great example of the ultimate seeker.  Not content to let science or religion stop at their various dogmatic sticking points, he takes things further, much further.  He constantly questions how we can expand not only our minds, but the mind of humanity as a whole.  That collective consciousness we can see reflections of in other intellectuals such as Carl Jung.  But Chardin’s “consciousness” is different than Jung’s.  Whereas Jung sees archetypes in the subconscious that are inherent to everyone, Chardin sees a CONVERGENCE towards a higher human consciousness, ultimately to the point where we can find the totality of love, or in other words, divinity/God. 

I have always hesitated to use the word God in describing my own conceptual construction of a Higher Power, but I don’t believe that we need to subscribe to Chardin’s Christian philosophy to see the logic behind what he presents.  Chardin’s thought, despite all the high rhetoric, is relatively simple to understand.  He takes evolution, which he fully believes in, and broadens it.  No longer do religion and science have to be separate.  Chardin things big, he questions, he seeks, and it is there that I find common ground with his philosophy.  The idea of the soul is portrayed as energy, and physicists are starting to come to the same conclusion.  Consciousness IS energy.  So far, it is the ultimate energy as exemplified in humanity; the being that has the ability to KNOW that it KNOWS.  Reflection.  Evolution has achieved consciousness through complexity.  The being reflecting back on itself through a "crossing over" or one of those points in evolutionary history where a sudden breakthrough has occurred.  Sartre and the existentialists would refer to it as the “pre-reflective cognito”.  However, the existentialists fall short by stopping at the human which at base has nothing as a ground.  NO.  We, as humans, are simply a stage in the progression of evolution; a higher stage to be sure, and a revolutionary stage, but still one level in the process; a process that continues to complexify, unify, and center in on itself.

Everywhere around us, we can see this progression of evolution, and Chardin emphasizes that the more humanity increases, the more we will be pressed in on one another, both physically AND psychically.  Eventually we will converge into an as yet inconceivable higher consciousness, and perhaps millions of years away, we will reach the apex of that consciousness.  To think of it another way:  We as humans are individual (albeit more advanced) molecules combining to create an even more complex and unified convergence past the simply human.  We are but one stage in the process.  Your life as a “molecule” is meant for something higher. 

The patterns of the universe are there for us to see.   Starting with the most basic components of everything that is, the atom, we see the expansion and complexity, through trial and error, that creates greater convergence and intelligence.  There is a unity in this complexity, as more and more individual parts unite to create something greater.  It is the same pattern of unity that we see in all the elements of love.  Connection.  Unity with other human beings.  Acceptance of differences as contributing to the whole.  All of these elements play a key part in the direction of the universe, and where we as humanity are headed. 

The existentialists have failed, as far as Chardin (and I) are concerned in that they present no higher purpose; they present nothing at all.  Literally.  If we have no higher purpose, what is the drive to keep going?  There is not mass suicide among existentialists, so they must see a reason to go on, yes?  Chardin refers to it as the “Activation of Energy” inside of us that shows clearly the divinity/love at play.  It is what we can call the zest of life.  The existential anguish is not a realization of meaninglessness or nothingness, but a level of awareness which presents something unfamiliar, something not yet finalized in its formation.  There is still more trial and error, and most importantly THE UNKOWN to deal with.  However, believing in this higher force, the energy that moves all that is, the energy that is love, is what gives us hope, keeps us moving, knowing that we are contributing to a greater expansion of consciousness and unity. 

I have begun to accept that love IS my idea of “God”.  But I had never heard it articulated in this manner.  Evolution is love in the material world.  It is a unity that progresses into something higher.  As reflective beings, however, we carry a greater ability (and Chardin argues, responsibility) to carry this evolution higher and higher.  It IS up to us, as free-thinking beings to make the most of it.  What will we do with this unique station we’ve been given in the evolutionary process?  Destroy ourselves, or continue the progression to the ultimate convergence that is waiting for humanity?  

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Consistency in American Foreign Policy

The fact that Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer’s book is now 14 years old only serves to illustrate how accurate he was/is about US foreign policy in Latin America and elsewhere.  His details about long-standing US support for torture/terrorism were not surprising, but his information presents a couple of important perspectives that I haven’t heard in the discourse around our foreign policy concerning Latin America in particular, and the world at large generally.

The first is a bit of history on the origins of Liberation Theology, which has a negative connotation for many.  Nelson-Pallmeyer shows that Liberation Theology did not grow directly out of Marxism, but rather out of a concern on the part of the Catholic Church to get back to perhaps the most basic message of the New Testament Jesus:  Concern and love for the poor and dispossessed.  This kind of concern, in practice, always finds itself naturally opposed to oligarchs and the wealthy.  Reducing disparities in wealth is not good for business, and therefore not conducive to keeping a hold on power.  The School of the Americas served as a tool to make sure that this power of the elite was not lost to the "evil" Catholic priests and nuns who sought a better life for the poverty stricken in Latin America.  The fact that the beginnings of Liberation Theology coincided with increased interest in its secular counterpart, Marxism (seen exemplified in the Cuban Revolution) is no accident.  There was vast unrest throughout Latin America, much like we’re seeing today in the Arab world.  Liberation Theology and Capitalism don’t mix well, and the useful/timely association with Soviet influenced Communism created a convenient narrative, and a target for Latin America death squads, helped by the rhetoric of the establishment in the US (both political and religious as well as economic).  For US citizens who have paid attention, this should serve as a call to look at the ways the Western World will attempt to manipulate the economic/political outcomes of a restless Islamic Arab world freshly rejuvenated to take back control of their lives. 

The second perspective is that Western mind control often incorporates admitting to past atrocities or errors in foreign policy once the old practices are no longer useful.  In the case of The School of the Americas, Nelson-Pallmeyer showed several examples of major media outlet criticism of the horrific track record of its graduates.  His argument is that since America’s foreign policy uses for the School were becoming less important by the mid 1990’s, it fit into the American myth for the media to condemn past mistakes and illustrate the “changes” that were being made to ensure that these actions (i.e. the same foreign policy) didn’t occur again.  Never was it necessary to perhaps right those wrongs, but if it made Americans sleep better at night knowing that their government was correcting any wayward elements, then it was not only ok to print, but encouraged.  After all, our government couldn’t have a population too concerned about human rights.  Things could get out of hand.  Meanwhile, our foreign policy continues (with a slight face-lift) just as before.  Different look, maybe a different location, but the same old atrocities, and eventual "apologies" for those atrocities that "obviously came from a few misinterpretations".  

Throughout the book, Nelson-Pallmeyer calls the US to acknowledge its past in Latin America, and to not merely criticize events after the fact, but to work towards reparations and the reduction of blowback.   This sounds great, but is futile in our current system; one that is not transparent enough or even capable of being honest.  To tell the truth and attempt to make things right concerning American foreign policy would create more cognitive dissonance than what our national consciousness is capable of handling.  

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Story of TASSC Founder Dianna Ortiz

I remember, on the ride back from the panel discussion, mentioning to our local DC director of TASSC that it seemed so pointless for Katherine Gallagher of the Center for Constitutional Rights to continue to pursue indictments against American officials in foreign courts.  Gallagher and the CCR have been attempting to prosecute members of the Bush and Obama administrations for their involvement in torture carried out during the 10 year “War on Terror”.  There is a legal opening pertaining to torture that allows international jurisdiction.  But does it really matter?  What is the point of attempting to take down members of the most powerful empire on earth?  Who would enforce it?  The panel discussion was held on June 1 in Washington, and featured the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, himself a survivor of torture from Argentina. 

The pointlessness that I felt, and heard in Gallagher’s tired voice, was the same feeling I had while reading of Sister Dianna Ortiz’s attempts at obtaining justice for her torture in Guatemala in 1989.  She had, unfortunately, been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and had fallen under the dark umbrella of “CIA assets”.  She takes us through an account that undoubtedly has been repeated thousands of times:  the reality of walking through the dog and pony show that victims receive when coming up against a government bent on protecting its controversial “interests”, regardless of who the victims are. 

The US government commits torture today.  We know that now, and official documents state this fact.  I doubt that there has ever been a time when the US has not supported torture in some way.  Any amount of reading and critical thinking will raise questions about our domestic and foreign policy and will uncover nightmares if one digs far enough.  Ortiz own investigation and interviews of Guatemalan and American officials, along with the work of her lawyers and the review of declassified documents was enough to tell her that there was some serious American support of torture and murder going on in Guatemala, and that was continuing to go on when the book was published in 2002.  That is without seeing the many additional classified documents about her case that remain closed to the public. 

Ortiz was subjected to abduction, burns, gang-rape and the forced torture/murder of another woman during her ordeal in 1989.  Her story is only one of thousands quite similar that have come out of Latin America and all over the world.  The question in my mind when reading accounts like this is what can we do about it?  It was the same question that Ortiz struggled with, and the “doing something about it” was for a long time her only motivation to continue living. 

As I was talking about the panel discussion with our director, it seemed to me that the most effective action we could take begins from the ground up, not from the other direction as Gallagher was attempting.  Maybe Katherine Gallagher and others like her are doing some good by continuing to be active on the international level.  However, reading a book written by someone like Dianna Ortiz, and listening to similar tearful accounts in my daily work at TASSC, puts a human face on all of the madness that our government practices in the world today.  It is hard to be involved in this work.  It drains a person emotionally and physically, and will drive one insane with anger if they allow it.  However, the victims more than anything need someone to be there to listen; to validate; to point out the way to healing and purpose.  To simply stand beside them as they try to piece their lives back together.  This is where the real difference can be made:  at the grassroots.  We practice the principles of love in our world through the individual contacts we make.  As power grows, it moves further and further from humanity.  To return to that humanity, we focus on the micro, on the person, the individual.  Then we see our own humanity reflected in the other, and realize, like Ortiz, that power doesn’t have to be all pervasive.  Faith in humanity can be restored in others by the way we choose to live our own lives.