New Internationalist

Fighting Talk

issue 130

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CENTRAL AMERICA [image, unknown] Exploding the myths

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Fighting talk
Wars are fought with more than bullets and bodies. In Central America
a propaganda war of words has raged over the last few years with the US
state Department carefully cultivating a one-sided image of the region to
justify growing American involvement there. Here we analyse the war
of words and look behind the rhetoric.

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[image, unknown] POINT 1

Nicaragua. like Cuba, is a Soviet satellite intent on bringing communism to all of Central America, Mexico and eventually the US itself. The Sandinista government is the main arms supplier to the rebels in El Salvador.

COUNTER-POINT
Sandinista political philosophy is a mixture of free enterprise, Christianity and socialism. About 60 per cent of the economy is still privately controlled and state ownership is less than Mexico, Brazil or Argentina. The Nicaraguan revolution’s first concern is solving the problems left by centuries of colonialism and dictatorship, not exporting revolution. Despite repeated charges, the US has yet to produce any firm evidence of Nicaraguan arms exports to El Salvador. Aid from the Eastern bloc is increasing as Western assistance falls. Yet only 20 per cent of Nicaraguan aid comes from the East and 40 per cent from the West. Having fought so hard and long against the former dictatorship and US domination, Nicaraguans are not about to accept dependence on another foreign master so readily.

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[image, unknown] POINT 2

Nicaragua suppresses religious freedom and is a major violator of human rights.

COUNTER-POINT
Religion (especially Roman Catholicism) is an integral part of the Nicaraguan revolution. Three priests are ministers of state and more than 20 others hold key administrative positions. True, some members of the church hierarchy, like Bishop Obando y Bravo, publicly oppose the regime’s politics but not its policy on religious freedom.

Independent human rights organisations like Americas Watch and Amnesty International have complained about press censorship and the treatment of the nation’s Miskito Indians, but agree the country has eliminated the systematic human rights violations found in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Says Americas Watch: ‘There have been a few documented cases of torture but it is not a routine practice’. Capital punishment was outlawed after the revolution; there are no summary murders or disappearances of political opponents. There has also been a new emphasis put on social and economic rights like food, housing, health care, education and jobs.

The Sandinistas have stifled political opposition. They rule without popular support and refuse to hold elections.

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[image, unknown] POINT 3

The Sandinistas have stifled political opposition. They rule without popular support and refuse to hold elections.

COUNTER-POINT
There are 12 opposition parties in Nicaragua, although most outspoken political opponents of the Sandinistas have gone into self-imposed exile. Elections are scheduled for 1985. The government distinguishes between legitimate opposition and counter-revolutionary opposition (contras) that seek, through armed invasion, to return the country to a Somoza-style dictatorship. Support for the Sandinistas is not universal. But there is almost no popular support for the US-supplied contras. That’s why they are based in neighbouring Honduras and Costa Rica. The government is distributing arms to the civilian population so the country can defend itself against invasion. Could a government that lacked popular support arm its citizens?

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[image, unknown] POINT 4

El Salvador is a democracy on the mend. The US presence is needed to support a democratically-elected government being threatened by communist guerrillas and by right-wing extremists.

COUNTER-POINT
El Salvador is a country in the midst of a full-scale civil war. Despite widely-publicised elections in March, 1982, the country is in no sense a democracy. No left-of-centre opposition parties took part for fear of being murdered. Before the election the armed forces publicly stated that as subversives and terrorists opposition politicians were legitimate targets of persecution. The normal rule of law is non-existent. Political murder and torture of suspected opponents by government security forces is routine. According to the Archdiocese of San Salvador there have been 36,000 political murders since 1979. The number of murders by government forces increased by nearly 10 per cent in the first half of 1983. The Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR) opposition represents about 80 per cent of the population, according to ex-US Ambassador to El Salvador Robert White. Guerrilla forces now directly control about 20 per cent of the country.

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[image, unknown] POINT 5

Honduras is a stable country with a democratic government that finds itself an unwilling staging ground for anti-Sandinista forces. By giving military and economic aid to Honduras we can help the country defend itself against Nicaraguan aggression.

COUNTER-POINT
Honduras is becoming the main US military base in Central America. 1982 elections made Roberto Suazo Cordova a figurehead president. Army commander Gen. Alvarez leads the armed forces and US Ambassador John Negroponte runs Washington’s covert war against Nicaragua. According to Time magazine more than 6,000 CIA-directed mercenaries operate out of Honduras backed by American arms, advisors and the Honduran military. The US is currently building new airstrips and a radar installation along the Nicaraguan border to support the contras. A new regional training centre has also been built in Puerto Castilla to train Salvadoran government troops, staffed by more than 100 Green Berets. Far from an innocent bystander, Honduras is spearheading a counter-revolution against Nicaragua in obedience to American wishes.

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[image, unknown] POINT 6

Like El Salvador, Guatemala is under attack by externally-financed Marxist guerrillas attempting to use widespread social problems as a pretext for revolution and totalitarian rule. There has been a genuine effort to improve the human rights situation in that country and the government deserves more Western aid.

COUNTER-POINT
Guatemala has been universally condemned as the worst human rights violator in the region. Former US State Department official Wayne Smith says the government’s atrocities make the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut pale by comparison. According to the Americas Watch human rights group torture and murder by government troops of Indian peasants amounts to ‘a policy of extermination’ by a government ‘engaged in a level of barbarism that shames human society’. There are an estimated 1 million internal refugees and more than 100,000 refugees outside the country. Guerrilla forces are estimated to number no more than 2000-3000. The country has been ruled by a series of right-wing civilian presidents and military dictators since 1954. Those who challenge the status quo (two per cent of the population control nearly 80 per cent of the farmland) have been murdered or exiled. Despite continuing atrocities and a recent coup, the Reagan administration has pledged increased military aid to Guatemala - $50 million has been promised for 1984...


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