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. 

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