Date: Fri, 8 May 98 11:18:35 CDT
Peace activist visits Central America
By John Pappademos, People's Weekly World, 9 May 1998
ST. LOUIS - Last year Friends of Peace Studies named Bud Deraps "Missouri Peacemaker of the Year." Deraps is a member of Veterans for Peace and the Peace and Justice Committee of the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis. He is also a board member of the American Friends Service Committee, the Interfaith Committee on Latin America, and the Lentz Peace Research Association (LPRA).
Deraps visited El Salvador and Guatemala last December as part of a 24-member delegation. The following is based on his report from the trip:
The conquistadors set up a feudal system in these countries in the early 1500s, with a few rich landowners owning the good land and rich bureaucrats owning the businesses. The majority of the population were impoverished small farmers and street peddlers. The situation today is very much the same.
By the late 1940s and early 1950s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank began making loans to Latin America. At about the same time, the School of the Americas (SOA) was set up by the U.S. government with the avowed purpose of helping establish security and stability and to further democracy in the area.
However, SOA was really set up by Allen Dulles, head of the CIA at the time, and his brother John Foster Dulles, to train Latin American officers to fight their own people.
From 1968 to 1981, Robert McNamara, whose idea of development was to finance multi-million dollar projects in developing countries, headed the World Bank. By the early 1980s, these countries were so in debt they couldn't pay the interest on the loans. The IMF and World Bank then imposed "structural adjustments," resulting in further impoverishment as social spending was cut and natural resources, utilities, and state-owned industries were privatized.
Between 1984 and 1990, there was a net transfer of $178 billion from the developing countries to the banks of the U.S., Japan and Europe. In Latin America the number of the poverty-stricken increased from 130 to 180 million during that period.
Armed resistance began to develop in the 1960s, with a guerrilla movement in the highlands of Guatemala. By 1980, the FLMN was formed in El Salvador. As these movements grew in strength, the U.S. increased its military and financial aid to the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala. Repression increased, especially after the formation of "death squads."
By the war's end, 80,000 had been killed in El Salvador and 150,000 in Guatemala, with another 50,000 "disappeared." In El Salvador, Roberto d'Aubuisson, the founder of the ARENA party, was the founder of the death squads as well.
Deraps and his group met with ARENA leaders. One of d'Aubuisson's personal friends said, "We knew Roberto was a killer, and knew of atrocities his death squads had perpetrated."
An example was the 1980 killing of several Jesuit priests three days after an FMLN offensive began. The day before President Cristiani met with the military to plan this atrocity. Following the meeting, military representatives went to the Jesuits to reassure them they would be safe if they stayed in the university.
That night a death squad dragged them out of their beds, took them out in the courtyard and blew their brains out as a lesson to anyone who would support the guerrillas. Another atrocity of the 1980s was the massacre of 900 civilians at El Mozote.
"We stood at the site where the massacre was carried out and talked to Rafina, the sole survivor of this massacre," Deraps said. "She was able to run and hide under some thick bushes, while the killings went on. She could hear her husband and children being killed. They killed the children by smashing them against the rocks. She stayed there three days until she felt safe enough to crawl away into the jungle."
An investigation of the execution of the Jesuit, found that 19 of the 26 officers participating in the atrocity were graduates of the SOA. At El Mozote, 10 of the 12 officers were SOA graduates.
The Salvadoran government not only employed death squads. They went to the villages and forced young men and boys to join "civil patrols" who would be used to massacre villagers in neighboring villages.
Some 440 villages were burned to the ground during this period; there are 6,000 known mass rape sites and an estimated 6,000 more that haven't been found yet.
People fled from all this carnage - from El Salvador to Honduras; from Guatemala to Mexico. Today, there are still over 20,000 Guatemalan refugees in Mexico.
Under the December 1996 peace accords that ended the war in Guatemala, these refugees were guaranteed amnesty when they returned home, as well as possession of their land. Thousands returned, only to find their land had been taken over by others. Many then went back to Mexico.
In El Salvador death squads offer their "service" to whoever will hire them. Companies hire death squads to go after union leaders or members. Death squads murder an estimated 8,000 victims annually.
In Guatemala, the judicial system does not function and death squads are active there, too. Conditions there are actually worse than they were before the offensive of the guerrilla movement (known as the URNG) started.
During the 1980s, General Rios Mont, an SOA graduate, became the leader of the Guatemalan government. One of his generals was Hector Gramajo, an SOA graduate who received a fellowship at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in 1982.
In responding to the award, Gramajo said, "We have adopted a more humanitarian, less costly policy, one that is more compatible with democracy. We now provide development for 70 percent of our people, and kill 30 percent. Before this policy was instituted, we killed 100 percent." Meanwhile, demonstrators against Gramajo's award were being arrested.
The 1996 Guatemalan peace accords gave amnesty to all of the combatants, as was also the case in El Salvador. In Guatemala, 99 percent of the killings were at the hands of the military and the civil patrols. As a result of this amnesty there are many villages today in which women walk streets where they meet the killers of members of their family, or sit in church taking communion with them.
Because of the structural adjustments imposed by the IMF, these countries have given up their national and political sovereignty The U.S. has dumped millions of dollars into Latin American elections in order to ensure that the people with whom the U.S. multinationals are doing business, remain in power. Retired U.S. special service officers form private corporations which are contracted by the CIA to do the training which has been carried out by the SOA. The U.S. will soon set up an "anti-drug" training center in Panama that will train officers from all over South America.
Deraps said there have been some positive developments in the area. The FLMN in El Salvador has 27 elected representatives in government. "But the worse threat, in my opinion, is that of privatization," he said. "If the FMLN could win control of the government, by that time there would be nothing left, its riches having been taken over by rich bureaucrats or by foreign investors."
In such a situation, a people's government would have to carry out extensive nationalization. This is no simple matter, Deraps said, "because the U.S. is making sure that their Latin American friends will always exercise military superiority."
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