Background to a Humanitarian Crisis: U.S. Terror in Central America

June 16, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


The U.S. has long been the dominant imperialist power in Central America. For centuries it has, through coups, invasions, military training of assassins, and other murderous means, maintained control over countries contemptuously referred to by some Americans as "banana republics." It has installed a series of puppets loyal to the U.S. as rulers. U.S. corporations have reaped obscene fortunes from brutal exploitation of the peasantry of Central America, while the people, especially the peasants, have lived in poverty.

During the 1980s, the U.S. directly and through its flunky governments waged and led genocidal campaigns in several Central American countries to quell rebellions influenced by its imperialist rival, the Soviet Union. It turned these countries into hellish cauldrons of blood. The butchers who led these murderous campaigns were hailed as "freedom fighters" and "champions of democracy" by U.S. leaders.

Revolution wrote last year that in three years of the rule of the U.S.-backed mass murderer Efraín Ríos Montt as President of Guatemala, "the Guatemalan army destroyed 626 villages, killed or 'disappeared' more than 200,000 people—mostly indigenous Mayan people—and displaced an additional 1.5 million people, about a fifth of the entire population. The Guatemalan government had a 'scorched earth' policy—destroying and burning buildings and crops, slaughtering livestock, fouling water supplies, and violating sacred places and cultural symbols." U.S. President Ronald Reagan described Ríos Montt as "a man of great personal integrity and commitment."

In the same time period, Honduras became a major focus and base of U.S. efforts to topple the Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua. The U.S. poured in money, military equipment, and "advisors," and helped the Honduran military set up base camps throughout the country. General Gustavo Alvarez Martínez, a graduate of the U.S. Army's School of the Americas, advocated what he and his American backers called the "Argentine approach" against their opponents—"disappearances" torture, death squads, genocidal rampages through villages and farmlands of the peasants.

Over two dozen Honduran Army officers were trained in these techniques on a U.S. military base. These officers, who continued to receive CIA direction when they returned to Honduras, became the core in the formation of the infamous "Battalion 316." Certain units of the battalion were put in charge of torture, others were responsible for abduction and kidnapping, still others disposed of the dead bodies. The U.S. consistently denied any responsibility. John Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to Honduras during the Reagan presidency, wrote in a 1982 magazine article, "It is simply untrue to state that death squads have made their appearance in Honduras." It was a complete and utter lie, and a cover up of mass murder.

The U.S. waged and backed a bloody, genocidal war in El Salvador during these same years. Based on training and instruction from their American "advisors," the Salvadoran military carried out a scorched earth policy against the peasantry. They carried out massacres and "disappearances" in the cities, especially of people suspected of being politically opposed to them. The U.S. sent tens of millions of dollars, heavily armed helicopters, Green Beret and CIA "advisors" to the Salvadoran military. In 1980 alone, almost 12,000 people were killed by U.S.-supported and trained death squads. In one particularly bloody massacre along the Sumpul River in May 1980, about 600 Mayan peasants, most of them women and children, were slaughtered by the U.S.-supported Salvadoran National Guard and a paramilitary group called Orden. During the 12 years of this onslaught, about one-fifth of the population of El Salvador was displaced, and at least 75,000 people were killed by the death squads.

More recently, in 2009 the Honduran government of Manuel Zelaya was overthrown in a coup. Zelaya had aligned himself with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and other opponents of U.S. domination of Latin America. In the years following this coup, there have been hundreds of murders and disappearances of political opponents by Honduran security forces. The response of the Obama administration has been to ask Congress for an increase in financial support for the Honduran military. Both these developments received little or no coverage in the U.S. media.

The above examples only touch on and outline the deadly onslaught U.S. imperialism has inflicted upon people in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The violence people of Central America are fleeing today, whatever its immediate source may be in any particular situation, has its ultimate source in the capitalist-imperialist system that has feasted on them for a century, and murdered them in the hundreds of thousands. It is the utmost hypocrisy for U.S. politicians and journalists to talk of the violence ripping at these countries, and to feign sympathy with its young victims, without addressing at all the economic, social, and political roots of the conditions ensnaring people, and without addressing the genocidal horrors committed and directed by the U.S. government.

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