April 21, 2004


The Negroponte nomination: a warning to the people of Iraq (Bill Van Auken, 21 April 2004, World Socialist Web Site)

[N]egroponte will unquestionably play a pivotal role in the elaboration and execution of US policy in Iraq. He brings to his job no direct experience in the Middle East, and, while he reportedly speaks five languages, they do not include Arabic.

The experience he does have, however, prepares him for directing the suppression of the growing Iraqi resistance to US occupation. He has an intimate familiarity with mass killing, covert operations and death squads. Negroponte’s “experience and skill” lie not in spreading “freedom and peace,” as Bush piously declared, but rather in organizing bloody repression—from Vietnam to Central America and elsewhere.

Some of the media reports have stated that among Negroponte’s qualifications is his experience in “running a large embassy.” The most formative experience in this regard was his role as head of the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras at the height of the dirty wars waged by the Reagan administration against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua and the popular insurgency in El Salvador.

As a stereotypical, Washington-dominated “banana republic,” Honduras had been ruled throughout the 20th century by an alliance between the United Fruit Company, the country’s military and the US embassy.

However, in the 1980s, under Negroponte’s stewardship, the situation shifted dramatically, with Honduras becoming a giant base of operations for the CIA-organized Contra war against the Sandinistas, which was to claim some 50,000 lives.

From 1981 to 1985, Negroponte was the US ambassador in Honduras, overseeing operations that included the illegal funding of the Contra mercenaries and a massive buildup of the Honduran armed forces, including the construction of bases, air fields and supply dumps throughout the country.

Among these facilities was the El Aguacate air base, built on the pretext of providing a temporary facility for the thousands of US troops that were rotated through Honduras on “training” exercises. In reality, it was used to provide a permanent facility for the Contras and to funnel aid to these right-wing mercenaries in violation of restrictions imposed by the US Congress.

In 1999, mass graves were discovered at the site, along with blood-stained jail cells.

While he was ambassador to Honduras, Negroponte supervised a 20-fold increase in US military aid to the country, which he aggressively defended as a model of democracy in Central America.

His predecessor as US ambassador warned him that the Honduran security forces were resorting to “extralegal tactics—disappearances and apparently physical eliminations to control a perceived subversive threat,” according to a briefing book obtained by the Baltimore Sun for a detailed investigation it produced in 1995.

Negroponte, however, systematically suppressed any reporting of the human rights violations that escalated substantially after he assumed control of the US embassy. He issued report after report claiming that the country had no political prisoners, torture or extra-judicial executions, and that “student, worker, peasant and other interest groups have full freedom to organize...”

During this same period, hundreds of people were kidnapped and “disappeared,” including a number of union leaders, student organizers and other opponents of the military-dominated regime. Prisoners were routinely tortured on the direct orders of the chief of the Honduran armed forces.

Much of this dirty work was carried out by a unit known as Battalion 316, whose members were trained in the United States and “advised” by the CIA in Honduras. While issuing his glowing endorsements of the Honduran regime’s human rights record, Negroponte was intimately familiar with the grisly work of these killers.

He worked to silence reports of the killings and torture, threatening dissenting Honduran officials by accusing them of aiding “communism.” When the head of Honduran military intelligence fled into exile and publicly warned about the “death squad” activities of Battalion 316, Negroponte dismissed his testimony as unfounded.

At the time of his nomination as US ambassador to the United Nations, Negroponte gave an interview to CNN, in which he said, “Some of these regimes, to the outside observer, may not have been as savory as Americans would have liked; they may have been dictators, or likely to [become] dictators, when you would have been wanting to support democracy in the area. But with the turmoil that [was there], it was perhaps not possible to do that.”

The “turmoil” in Iraq will doubtlessly justify support for similar and even less “savory” measures, under Negroponte’s supervision.

Not even the most enthusiastic supporters of the new Iraqi state imagine that Mr. Negroponte will have as much success as he did in Honduras. That would require, for instance, that the new state be used as a staging ground for a victorious insurgency against Syria's Ba'ath regime and a counterinsurgency that helps Israel to destroy the PLO/Hamas. Then, just twenty years down the road it would be a stable and liberalizing democracy. Those are all worthy goals but too much to ask.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 21, 2004 8:59 PM

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Posted by: HT at April 22, 2004 12:16 AM