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Chomsky salvador { December 7 1990 }

El Salvador
Noam Chomsky
Lies of Our Times, January 1991

Letter from Lexington

Dear LOOT,

On December 7, 1990, the Bush administration announced "that it would rush $48.1 million in military aid to the government of El Salvador" (Clifford Krauss, New York Times, December 8, 1990). The aid is largely drawn from 1991 appropriations, which means that Congress may soon be pressured to provide new funding to maintain the projected 1991 level. In the background lies the October 19 congressional vote to withhold 50 percent of planned military aid, in protest against the failure to prosecute those responsible for the assassination of six leading Jesuit intellectuals and two of their employees in November 1989 by a US-trained elite battalion. As the new aid was announced on December 7, the judge closed the investigation into the assassination. Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas told reporters that the decision meant that the "masterminds" were now free from punishment (Boston Globe, December 10, 1990, World Briefs, from Associated Press; ignored in the New York Times).

The Times report on the accelerated aid is confined to administration propaganda, with no attempt at evaluation. The White House decision is presented as a response to the guerrilla offensive with new and more advanced weapons, which "almost surely come from either Cuba or Nicaragua or both," a state department official says, though "hard evidence" is still lacking; the story, repeated two days later by Lindsey Gruson, has a familiar ring. The "overall picture," the same official adds, "remains one of a movement toward democracy and an end to conflicts," but the Salvadoran rebels "have found it a little difficult to adjust to reality."

The "overall picture" portrays reality as understood by the US government and the New York Times. But, merely out of idle curiosity, one might want to inquire further. How does the FMLN perceive reality? What do the Jesuits who survived have to say about these matters, and how do other Salvadorans view them? Those who might be curious about such questions will have to look elsewhere.

The factual content of the Times report has to do with the accelerated aid. Even on this narrow point, there is an intriguing tale, well concealed. In October, Congress voted to hold back $42.5 million in military aid to El Salvador. The administration objected, but not too vociferously. Why?

The IMF Role
A possible answer is provided by the Guatemalan journal, Central American Report (September 21, 1990). It reports that in August, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $50 million loan to El Salvador. The joint effect of the decisions by Congress and the IMF was to increase aid to El Salvador; the new funding increases the level again. This was the first IMF loan since July 1982, when US funding for El Salvador moved into high gear. As Congress voted to restrict funding, the IMF (largely under US influence and control) expeditiously moved back in.

Theoretically, the IMF is providing "economic aid," but that should cause no problems. The IMF loan to El Salvador would be hard to justify under the IMF technical criteria. Under Reagan administration pressures, however, the organization (like others) was hopelessly politicized and pursued the economic agenda of the rich industrial powers in terms of strictly "economic" criteria (themselves hardly neutral, but that is a different matter).

More information appears in an important November 7 release of the Center for International Policy in Washington, distributed to the media, to no avail. The Center was able to obtain IMF staff reports and adds other information about the August 27 IMF decision and its significance. On May 3, President Alfredo Cristiani had announced that any economic aid would be reallocated as necessary for "defense purposes"; in short, economic aid is military aid. On October 13, with the congressional vote pending, Cristiani's defense minister, Col. Rene Emilio Ponce, announced that "the government will seek alternative means of financing the military so as not to affect the military budget, and thus the armed forces' actions." Ponce did not add that the "alternative means" had already been provided by the dirty tricks department.

The August IMF grant, of which $32 million has already been disbursed, springs loose other funds, the Center report continues. In September, El Salvador was granted a debt-rescheduling agreement worth over $100 million, amounting to another loan. The IMF says that apart from its own aid (the largest component provided by the US taxpayer) and the bilateral agreements of the US and its allies, another $60 million is expected from multinational sources in 1990, increasing to $100 million in 1991, along with a World Bank loan of $40 million. European Community loans are linked to advances in peace negotiations; the IMF, under US domination, is free from this impediment.

US actions are also free from the impediment of exposure. I have found no reference to any of this, apart from a mention in the last paragraph of a Boston Globe news report (Pamela Constable, "Jesuit case has sharpened US dilemma in Salvador," November 18, 1990, p.4). The US clients are therefore free to continue their grim work and impose "democracy," Washington-style.

What the Jesuits Have to Say
An independent press would also pursue other questions: Given our show of anguish over the assassination of the Jesuits, we might begin with what the Jesuits themselves had to say. The Jesuit journal, Proceso, published by the University of Central America, where the priests were murdered, condemns the "gigantic and infamous web of complicity" that blocks the investigation of the massacre, "entrenched in the desks of the Ministry and Vice-Ministries of Defense and behind the walls of the US Embassy." It reviews evidence of the "conspiracy of silence and cover-up," which has "now landed on the doorstep of the State Department." Commenting on the congressional aid cut, the journal observes that "the Bush administration can manipulate and even violate at its discretion the conditions contained in the [congressional] vote and / or continue to use its vast resources to keep providing military support to the Salvadoran government" -- exactly as it has done. It alleges further that "the Bush administration has sent over $100 million in military aid to El Salvador in the last ten months in unspent funds appropriated during previous years," citing evidence that $50 million of such funds were provided from August through November (editorials, Proceso, October 31 and November 7, 1990).

Here we have further leads for enterprising news bureaus. If correct, these reports indicate that while the coverup of the assassination was under way, steps were being taken to ensure that any emotional reactions to these atrocities would be ineffectual.

I stress these atrocities. Labor leaders, human rights activists, students, peasants, and other low-life are fair game, and their slaughter and torture leads to no calls for reduction of aid. But the Salvadoran Jesuits fail to comprehend the norms of civilized society. At a mass in San Salvador (unreported, to my knowledge), commemorating the assassinations, the Central American head of the Jesuit order, Rev. Jose Maria Tojeira, said that "The developed world's solidarity will not be authentic as long as it is limited to supporting us, the Jesuits . . . while alienation, poverty and injustice continue to batter the disenfranchised" (AP, November 17, 1990). Could there be a message here?

It would not be too difficult to unearth the FMLN conception of reality, as expressed, for example, in their "Proclamation to the Nation" of September 24, 1990, calling for "the end of militarism, a new social and economic order, the democratization of the nation, and the restoration of our sovereignty and independent foreign policy" -- all spelled out in some detail. Nor would it be a hopeless task to discover the published records of the National Debate for Peace, bringing together under Church auspices virtually all organized groups in the country. These records tell us much about how Salvadorans see reality. The participants, from a broad range of social sectors, express nearly unanimous condemnation of "the enormous interference of the US in El Salvador's national affairs," of US military aid in any form, of military interference in state and society "in support of the oligarchy and dominant sectors, and thus in support of North American interests" as the country is "subjugated to the interests of international capital," and so on. The concern for our little brown brothers is attested by the zero attention given this illuminating study, readily available in Washington (see my Necessary Illusions [Boston: South End Press, 1989], pp. 243 ff.).

Other Questions
The Central American Report provides further information on the questions left unexplored. The government of Costa Rica reported an increase in arms shipments entering the country through 1990: "most of the weapons are believed to originate from contra stockpiles not handed over to the UN and destined for Colombia and El Salvador." The journal also reported an inquiry of the Socialist International into the assassination of Salvadoran socialist leader Hector Oqueli and Guatemalan lawyer Hilda Flores in Guatemala on January 12, 1990. The inquiry, conducted by Professors Tom Farer and Robert Goldman of American University, concluded that they were probably murdered by the Salvadoran right, perhaps in an effort to undermine peace negotiations. Mexico's leading daily reports further that President Cristiani's intelligence services are now operating in Nicaragua, "as confirmed by the recent raid and search of the offices of a Salvadoran refugee religious organization in Managua," the Ecclesiastical Ecumenical and Service Base Communities, by armed men, some in uniform (Central American Report, October 5, 26; Excelsior, November 5, 1990).

One of the crimes of the Sandinistas was that Nicaragua became a refuge for writers, human rights activists, priests, peasants and others who escaped from the death-squad democracies, much as France served as a refuge for victims of fascist terror in Spain 50 years ago. It is safe to assume that the US will seek to overcome such failures to "adjust to reality." There were other crimes that have not yet been rectified. The US terror operations were set in motion as popular organizations began to take root, in part inspired the "preferential option for the poor" adopted by segments of the Church. While US terror has largely succeeded in restoring the traditional and more satisfactory preferential option for the rich, there still remain unwelcome residues of these and other efforts, posing a continued threat of democracy and justice. In Nicaragua, the goal of restoring the security forces to US control has not yet been achieved. The UNO government has not yet proved sufficiently harsh and brutal for official US tastes, nor has it yet recognized adequately the priorities of traditional wealth, including returning exiles. And despite US pressures -- among them, withholding of the trickle of promised aid -- the UNO government has not abandoned the World Court case and its call for reparations for the huge disaster inflicted by the US in the course of its "unlawful use of force" and illegal economic warfare in the last decade. The US of course has no intention of adhering to the judgement of the World Court, but the lingering annoyance is a bit of an embarrassment amidst the current posturing about the sanctity of international law. There is, then, much to be done.

It is likely that it is being done. The eyes of the public are focused on the Gulf, but the state has many eyes, and many busy hands, and the present moment is an opportune one to pursue its goals without fear of exposure. The El Salvador shenanigans are a case in point. There is also circumstantial evidence that clandestine operations may be under way in Nicaragua to remove the Chamorro government in favor of more obedient and vicious clients, who will also return the security forces to US control, as the Carter administration vainly tried to ensure in 1979. It has been a leading principle of US policy for many decades, spelled out in the internal planning record and consistently pursued in practice, that the means of violence must be in the hands of the US and its clients so as to ensure that any failure to "adjust to reality" will be properly terminated. Perhaps a decade hence, some enterprising journalist will discover that there is more than a little truth to the statement of Violeta Chamorro and Interior Minister Carlos Hurtado that "dark forces" are manipulating the current unrest and disorder (AP, Boston Globe, November 16) -- not merely Virgilio Godoy as the scant reporting here assumes, but more traditional and powerful forces.


Noam Chomsky

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