The Doctrine of National Security -- Terror:
The United States Teaches
Latin America How

excerpted from the book

Cry of the People

The struggle for human rights in Latin America
and the Catholic Church in conflict with US policy

by Penny Lernoux

Penguin Books, 1980, paper

The stories [of government atrocities] ... in Central America are not bizarre instances of cruelty but common occurrences in Latin America, endured by thousands of innocent people. The more industrially advanced the country, the more sophisticated the form of torture and death: in Ecuador, a horse bridle, in Honduras, a bread oven; in Brazil, computerized terror, truth serum, and electric shock. So systematized is torture that it has become a way of life in many Latin-American countries. Yet these countries claim to share the cultural values of the Western world, to show the same respect for liberty and human rights.

There have been many explanations for this situation. Some said it was a collective sickness in the land; others, a return to the bloodthirsty lawlessness of the early conquistadors. Still others claimed that, just beneath the cultured surface, Latin America has always been a brutal continent. There may be some truth in all these explanations, but the key to the current terror and repression lies elsewhere-in the values of the Western world itself.


The sickness that has engulfed Latin America, that endorses torture and assassination as Y routine in most of these countries, was to a significant extent bred in the boardrooms and military institutes of the United-States. _ Americans who once shook their heads in disbelief at the idea of CIA agents overthrowing a democratically elected government were shocked into some awareness of the truth when the CIA's role in the downfall of Salvador Allende was thoroughly documented by the United States Congress And Chile was but part of the story. However the Department of Defense may try to duck its responsibility, the Pentagon's courses for Latin-American military officers were instrumental in formulating the Doctrine of National Security, and it was this doctrine that gave rise to totalitarianism ; in eleven Latin-American countries. Even the RAND Corporation, the State Department's think tank for Latin America, worried about what the Pentagon had done.*

*[Reported RAND: "United States preconceptions about the seriousness of the Communist threat and about the subsequent need for counterinsurgency and civic action for the Latin-American military are producing undesired results. Paradoxically, U.S. policies appear simultaneously to encourage authoritarian regimes and to antagonize the military who lead them." (Luigi R. Einaudi, Richard L. Maullin, and Alfred C. Stephan III, "Latin-American Security Issues" [Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, Apr. 1969], p. v.)]

While Defense Department officials could not be accused of deliberately encouraging the emergence of Latin-American Hitlers, - and while no one was suggesting an international conspiracy, cause and effect worked as they had during United Brands' long history of corruption of Central American governments: United Brands did not itself put the peasants in the Honduran bread oven, but it helped create the political conditions necessary for such atrocities.**

**["We must produce a disembowelment of the incipient economy of the country in order to increase and help our aims," a United Fruit (Brands) manager wrote a company lawyer about Honduras. "We have to prolong its tragic, tormented, and revolutionary life; the wind must blow only on our sails and the water must only wet our keel." (Richard J. Barnet and Ronald E. Muller, Global Reach [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974], p. 87.)]

At the Nuremberg trials in postwar Germany, a number of individuals and companies were found guilty of crimes against humanity. It was no defense to say, "I was only following orders, I didn't know what was going on," or "I was just doing what everyone else did"; that was judged morally indefensible. Three decades after World War II, it must again be asked if the support by bribery of right-wing totalitarian governments that have killed thousands of innocent people is morally defensible because "if I don't do it, my competitor will." Or whether it is acceptable to teach Latin-American paramilitary organizations how to make bombs or to instruct governments in press censorship and the persecution of the Catholic Church. That is the United States' record in Latin America since World War II, and there is not even the weak excuse that the Americans responsible for this immorality were acting in the greater cause of their country. Unlike the Germans, these people cannot possibly claim that the American people have gained anything from the repression and poverty of their Latin-American neighbors-only a few companies have done so.

Certain ideals, such as freedom and respect for the individual's rights, form part of the United States' heritage, but how is anyone to respect that heritage when Americans say one thing at home and do another in the poorer countries? "In the face of the facts, it must be said that our recent performance has been high on rhetoric but poor in real terms," said Archbishop Peter L. Gerety, of Newark, New Jersey. "Whether the case cited is the Soviet Union, Korea, Chile, South Africa or Rhodesia, the actual influence of human-rights considerations in U.S. policy-making does not appear to be substantial or sustained."

The Catholic Church has been severely persecuted in Latin America for denouncing the Defense Department and the immoral business practices of a host of U.S. corporations, yet it is merely asking the American people to respect their own ideals. "We only want for ourselves what you want for yourselves," Nicaraguan Jesuit Fernando Cardenal told the U. S. Congress. "If you don't want dictators in this country, do not support them in other countries. What is good for you is also good for US."

Creole Fascism

Ever since 1823, when the Monroe Doctrine became the cornerstone of U.S. policy for Latin America, Washington has befriended dictators. Before World War II these were usually yes-men who identified with U.S. interests, an example being Anastasio Somoza, who held Nicaragua in reserve for the United States in case Washington should ever want to build a second transisthmian canal in Central America. (One of Somoza's predecessors was booted out of office for opening canal negotiations with the Japanese.) After World War II U.S. interests were broadened to include cold-war priorities. Even when no specific economic or political advantage was to be gained, Washington supported Latin-American dictators who claimed to be anti-communist, as in the case of General Stroessner in Paraguay. But the result of this preoccupation with communism was the revival of another monster: a creole version of European fascism.

A latent force in several of the most important South-American countries, fascism - particularly Mussolini's corporate state-had long attracted certain military and civilian sectors. During the 1930s it was also popular within an influential wing of the Catholic Church because of its virulent anti-communism and emphasis on "God, Fatherland, and Family." Called "integralism" in South America, this creole brand of European fascism made its greatest impact on Argentina, although the Brazilian populist dictator Getulio Vargas (president 1930-45, 1951-S4) also flirted with integralism, especially after 1937, when he seized total power and established his Estado Novo. Chile and Paraguay were also influenced by fascism.

Based on a rigid hierarchical society in which people are departmentalized according to social class and productive function, the integralist corporate state was well suited to Latin America's older feudal order and also accommodated economic and political changes brought about by industrialization. While all sectors of society theoretically have equal political representation in a corporate state, integralism as it evolved in Latin America essentially meant that the military, large landowners, and industrialists tightened their control over the government and the economy.

In contrast to Brazil's armed forces, which took a technological approach to totalitarianism, the Argentine military reverted to the mysticism and fervor of the medieval Christian knights to justify fascism. Though both see Catholicism as a necessary component of military dictatorship, Argentina's generals, with their Augustinian vision of a world of order and discipline ruled by God's chosen few in the Argentine military, are more sincere and therefore more dangerous Catholics than their Brazilian counterparts. General Juan Carlos Ongania's 1966-70 dictatorship, the forerunner of Argentina's virulently right-wing regimes in the late seventies, was a clear example of this mystical, barracks-born corporate state, with its emphasis on the "Christian and military virtues" of Spanish knighthood. Ongania felt himself "personally called" to shape the country's destiny during a religious retreat he made shortly before his mid-1966 coup, and many of the generals and industrialists appointed to his Cabinet shared his belief that these "virtues" would restore mental, cultural, social, and political discipline to Argentina. The feudal aspects of integralism particularly appealed to these men, who were convinced that God had ordained an obedient, hierarchical society in which everyone knew his place. It was natural that they should think so, for many of these values, particularly obedience and loyalty to the chain of command, formed part of the military mentality. Ongania's notion of an elite corps of rulers called by God to serve and save the nation was totally out of step with a modern Argentine society searching for more democratic forms of government, and popular discontent eventually forced the military to replace him with a less dogmatic ruler. Nevertheless, many ideas survived and thrived in the right wing of the Argentine armed forces, particularly among the hard-liners in the Army and the Navy because these men had been influenced by U.S. counterinsurgency courses that polarized the world forever between Western capitalism and Eastern communism. Ongania converted this into a medieval-like crusade against communism, which he called the "West Point Doctrine" in honor of the academy where his ideas were first formulated.

Although Ongania and his military successors harped constantly on the Christian nature of their dictatorships, only far-right wings of the Argentine Church took their claims to God-given superiority seriously, in part because the Church itself was undergoing a social revolution, and in part because the "saviors of the nation" frequently turned out to be bloodthirsty crooks whose real ambitions were power and money. The military's principal support within the Church came from another throwback to the Middle Ages known as "Tradition, Family, and Property" (TFP), whose knights errant go forth in flowing red capes to do battle with the communist dragon.

There was no such confusion of medieval mysticism with twentieth-century totalitarianism in Brazil, although the results were similar. Brazil's military also views itself as the "chosen few," but less on religious than on technological grounds, the Brazilians believing themselves "nation builders"; the Argentines, "nation saviors." Like Hitler, Brazil's generals view Catholicism as a useful weapon to control the masses, but they neither expect nor accept active participation by the Church in the field of social action or human rights. As in Argentina, however, the Brazilian branch of TFP was a useful ally of the military, particularly during the period leading up to the coup against President Joao Goulart.

Whereas Argentina's generals want to drag the bishops physically into the crusade against communism, the Brazilian military considers the critical, post-Conciliar Church a political nuisance because it won't restrict itself to its nineteenth-century role as caretaker of souls or fit in with the military's new scheme to replace God with a bank of computers. General Golbery do Couto e Silva, the principal ideologist of Brazil's Doctrine of National Security, believes that Catholicism, though outdated as a faith, still has its social uses-in teaching children, for example, to respect their parents, or discouraging them from killing one another. This essentially materialistic view of religion is to a degree an extension of the military's consuming faith in technology as the solution to all mankind's problems and its commitment to the welfare of the amoral multinationals. But there is also a strong streak of the superiority complex so obvious in Argentina's armed forces: Brazil's generals are devout in one respect-they sincerely believe that they know better than anyone else, bishops included, what is good for Brazil.

A basic difference between the two armed forces is that the Argentines needed very little outside help to convince themselves of their natural superiority, since they had run the country for most of this century, whereas it is unlikely, in view of Brazil's democratic traditions, that its military would even have viewed itself with such satisfaction had it not been for the influence of the U. S. Department of Defense. The American brass not only taught their Brazilian counterparts to see themselves as the chosen few, but also encouraged them to resurrect and update integralism as part of the great cold-war anti-communist crusade. Because of Peron's lasting influence, fascism never died in Argentina and could be revived with little or no outside prompting; in Brazil it was reborn thanks largely to Brazil's "greatest friend," the United States. And today Brazil, not Argentina, calls the shots in Latin America.

Grad School for Juntas

Ironically, Brazil's modern military state had its origins in the Allied invasion of fascist Italy in 1945, when a number of Brazilian officers participating in the campaign were exposed to American military ideas and tactics. General Humberto de A. Castelo Branco, who was to lead the 1964 coup against Joao Goulart, returned to Brazil with a lasting admiration for U.S. military methods, as did General Golbery do Couto e Silva, the Brazilian military's grey eminence. Castelo Branco's roommate in Italy, General Vernon Walters, later deputy director of the CIA, was also to play an important role in the 1964 putsch.

Couto e Silva, who served two Brazilian military rulers and at one time was head of Dow Chemical's Brazilian division, was particularly influential in the formation of Brazil's Advanced War College, popularly known as the "Brazilian Sorbonne," which is responsible for national security studies, the development of military strategy, and a variety of specialized courses for officers and businessmen. Founded in 1949 during the height of the cold war, the War College incorporated many of the Pentagon's ideas on national security and nation building, the latter an outgrowth of the U. S. Army's experience in reconstructing postwar Japan.

The cornerstone of United States-Latin American military cooperation had already been laid in 1947 at Rio de Janeiro with the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, itself the culmination of a series of bilateral military pacts that were signed during World War II to combat the Axis powers. It was under the Rio treaty's umbrella that the Defense Department in 1951 set up its Military Assistance Program (MAP) to arm and train Latin America's armies. Although MAP, like the treaty, was conceived as a defense against external military threat, it soon became a mechanism to promote U.S. military strategy and the "American way of life," one of the principal goals being to keep the hemisphere safe from internal subversion of the sort that occurred in Guatemala, where in 1954 the Arbenz government was overthrown for its temerity in trying to expropriate some United Fruit lands. By 1959, when President Eisenhower convened the Draper Committee to evaluate MAP's effectiveness, the pretense of external threat had been dropped: the principal objective of U.S. military assistance was to influence the region's future military leaders. "There is no single aspect of the military assistance program that produced more useful returns for the dollars expended than these training programs," the committee found, adding that the relations developed with Latin-American military officers would help instill in them a sense of U.S. priorities and policies.

MAP became yet more important after Castro's successful 1959 revolution, not only in developing counterinsurgency programs but also in encouraging Latin-American military officers to look upon themselves as an elite. As Defense Secretary Robert McNamara explained to a House Appropriations Committee:

Probably the greatest return on our military-assistance investment comes from the training of selected officers and key specialists at our military schools and training centers in the United States and overseas. These students are hand-picked by their countries to become instructors when they return , home. They are the coming leaders, the men who will have \ the know-how and impart it to their forces. I need not dwell '~ upon the value of having in positions of leadership men who | have firsthand knowledge of how Americans do things and l how they think. It is beyond price to us to make friends of such men. [Emphasis added.

Professor Lucian Pye, one of MIT's cold-war social scientists, was even more specific about U.S. military goals, arguing that the armed forces "have been consistently among the most modernized institutions in their society" and that therefore the United States should support military governments. Poorer countries, he said, should not "be deprived of the developmental value of the military organizations simply because the ideological basis of the military in advanced societies rejects the appropriateness of the military openly touching upon essentially civilian functions," adding that this was particularly true "in countries faced with serious insurgency or subversion." Pye's ideas, published in 1961, were echoed almost word for word by Nelson Rockefeller eight years later, when, after his historic tour of Latin America, he announced that the military was "the essential force of constructive social change."

The United States fostered the idea of armies as nation builders in several ways, including civic action programs in which the Latin-American military took over a number of civilian functions, such as building roads. The purpose was to improve relations with the local populace, but such projects were never popular with the military, which felt it had been reduced to the status of a local Peace Corps, or with the civilians, who, quite properly, suspected the military's motives. More to the point, courses designed to give the Latin-American military officers a broader background in government were introduced at U.S. military schools and academies. Explained the Department of Defense:

Normally the subjects available in United States institutions denote a degree of academic sophistication far beyond that achieved in the schools of the less developed countries. Yet in these countries . . . the need for training in management, economics, public administration, the social sciences, and related fields is most critical. In many of these countries where the military plays a predominant role in national development, the collateral benefits accruing from the training of senior officers are obvious.

At the Inter-American Defense College (IADC) at Washington's Fort McNair, for example, Latin-American officers study industrial and financial management, transportation, trade, agriculture, energy, communications, and international finance. "The college is training people to more efficiently manage a government," said Admiral Gene LaRocque, IADC director from 1969 to 1972. Although he admitted that "it's unhealthy to build up a cadre of military governors all over the world and this is what we do to some extent," he immediately added that in Latin America "the more efficient the military are, the more powerful the military are, and the more powerful our military are. These days when you need a problem solved, you go to the Pentagon. The admiral there knows the admiral in Latin America.'' (Someone, perhaps, like Admiral Emilio Massera, an IADC graduate and ultra-rightist, who used his position as head of the Argentine Navy to set up a network of torture and terror in Buenos Aires).*

*[LaRocque's successor, Air Force General Kermit C. Kaericher, took a more optimistic view of dictatorship m Latin America, stating that "if problems were left to the military, we would have a lot less war and problems." Asked what sort of model government he had in mind, General Kaericher said he certainly had been impressed by Paraguay. Recalling a visit to that impoverished South American country, Kaericher said he had told President Stroessner that he had "never been to a place where the people were so poor and looked so happy. (Jeffrey Stein, "Grad School for Juntas," The Nation [May 21, 1977], pp. 621-24.)]

But undoubtedly the Pentagon's strongest motive for pushing its idea of nation building was its reliance on the -military as the "guardian of national security" in the ongoing crusade against communism. Almost all the courses, whether in ballistics or communications, were, and still are, heavily laden with pro-United States, anti-communist propaganda that encourages the Latin Americans to abhor as subversive anything that seems to run t_ counter to U.S. interests. Moreover, as builders-and saviors-of the nation, only the armed forces can judge what is and is not subversive. As evolved in Latin America, these ideas led the military to believe that their job was to defend traditions and the status quo; any suggestion of change, whether agrarian reform or a return to democratic government, was per se subversive of the established order. It was but a short step from this definition to the use of terror and torture in defense of the "need for order," and here again the United States provided the necessary training and arms. Among the subjects taught Brazilian officers in U.S. military courses, according to information supplied to a U. S. Senate Committee, were the following:

... censorship, checkpoint systems, chemical and biological operations, briefings on the CIA, civic action and civil affairs, clandestine operations, counter-guerrilla operations, cryptography, defoliation, dissent in the United States, electronic intelligence, electronic warfare and countermeasures, the use of informants, insurgency, intelligence, counterintelligence, subversion, counter-subversion, espionage, counterespionage, interrogation of prisoners and suspects, handling mass rallies and meetings, nuclear weapons effects, intelligence photography, polygraphs, populace and resources control, psychological operations, raids and searches, riots, special warfare, surveillance, terror, and undercover operations.

According to U.S. government officials, these courses, and $4 billion in aid, served the national interests of the United States in Brazil. But when questioned more closely about exactly what those interests were, the AID director, William A. Ellis, admitted to the U. S. Congress that they were "the protection and expansion, if possible, of our economic interests, trade, and investment.'' Yet a multitude of independent surveys, including those made by the State Department's think tank at the RAND Corporation, have shown that the only economic interests at stake were, and are, those of a few large U.S. corporations.

Belgian theologian Jose Comlin

"Not merely do [the Latin-American elites] reject the genuine origins of their nations -- African, Indian, and Iberian -- but they regret that they themselves are not French, English or North American: this is alienation of a kind to be found nowhere else.''

80 percent of the officers who carried out the 1964 coup against President Goulart [Brazil] had been trained by the United States.

AIthough Brazil's apparatus of repression resembled that of European fascism, its lack of popular support distinguished it from its German and Italian counterparts and made it intrinsically Latin-American. Brazilian economist Helio Jaguaribe described it as `'colonial fascism"-fascism because it was "a model for promoting economic development without changing the existing social conditions"; colonial, because it depended on "the West in general, and the United States in particular, due to its need for foreign assistance and foreign markets." Far from encouraging social mobility, capitalism's marriage to "colonial fascism" only intensified class differences as the rich grew richer and the poor, poorer. The development promoted by such foreign aid programs as the Alliance for Progress was as much a farce as the periodic elections staged by the Brazilian military. The rich local elites refused to accept change, and Washington was unwilling to do anything that might adversely affect U.S. corporate interests. As U.S. political scientist James Petras pointed out, "By building up and indoctrinating the Latin-American armed forces to the point where they influence policy and exercise a personal veto and then using them to protect U.S. economic interests, Washington's military has gone straight to the heart of the hemisphere political system." Because the rulers of Brazil, the "privileged satellite," were economically and militarily dependent on the United States, Washington was able to do away with the outdated military intervention implicit in the Monroe Doctrine.

Underpinning Brazil's repressive apparatus was a series of "institutional acts" decreed between 1964 and 1971 that allowed the regime, when it saw fit, to suspend Congress, habeas corpus, civil rights, unions, student federations, and freedom of the press-all in the name of national security. The death sentence, abolished in 1922, was reintroduced for political crimes, and a number of common crimes, such as armed robbery, became political ones. Heads of university faculties were given police powers to bar professors from teaching for five years and students from studying for three years, and to order their arrest and trial by military tribunal. Any Brazilian whom the armed forces considered undesirable could be banished from the country, which amounted to "civil death." And the President of Brazil was authorized to draw up a series of secret decrees in the area of national security.

Under the Code of Military Penal Procedure, Brazilians and foreigners could be arrested by the military police of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or one of the many special paramilitary groups that "assisted" in security operations, such as "Operacao Bandeirantes," a right-wing vigilante force created by the Second Army Command in Sao Paulo and responsible for the deaths of five hundred to one thousand people between 1964 and 1970. Prisoners could be held incommunicado indefinitely until they confessed under torture. According to Amnesty International, prisoners "who attempt to rescind testimony given under torture, and refuse to sign the statements given to them during the police inquiry phase of the proceedings against them, are tortured again until they agree to do so." All political crimes are judged by military tribunals, and, reported Amnesty International, "numerous cases are known of last-minute shifts of both military and civilian personnel, when the authorities feared that the verdict would not go as the government wished. Although the trial, including the hearing before the military tribunal, should be completed within a maximum time limit of seventy days, hundreds of cases are known where prisoners have awaited trial for more than three years."

Under Brazil's Doctrine of National Security, all power rests in the executive branch, which is composed of the military community, represented by the general staff of the armed forces; the organs of intelligence and repression such as the National Information Service; and an alliance of the military with the business community in the National Security Council. The executive branch is not only responsible for enforcing the institutional acts; it also has the power to ensure that the Brazilian people "think correctly" in Orwellian fashion. Under the Moral and Civic Education Program created in 1969, for example, all schoolchildren spend two hours a week studying courses designed to "promote a regard for obedience to law, fealty to work, adjustment to the community, and the responsibility of every Brazilian for national security." Children are encouraged to "denounce enemies of the fatherland," with specific instruction on how to identify and report such traitors, including their parents. Religion's importance is instilled, in a step-by-step progression, from a correct "scale of values" to the legitimization of the military government and its "present development effort" and "Brazil's membership in the Western bloc." Any teacher who refuses to sign a written agreement to support the goals of this indoctrination program can be barred from teaching.

Cultural repression ranges from censorship and blacklisting (the works of two Latin-American Nobel Prize winners are banned) to imprisonment of writers, actors, and journalists. A partial count by the influential, pro-business daily Estado in Sao Paulo showed the banning in 1976 of seventy-four books, seven theater scripts, thirteen films, five TV series, and various TV documentaries. In addition, a "freeze" was placed on one hundred films and plays, meaning they were neither banned nor approved. Eight newspapers were subject to prior censorship.

In that repressive a society, atrocities proliferate. The "dragon chair," for example, is a device invented in the Rio military police barracks whereby the prisoner receives electric shocks while a dentist's drill shatters his or her teeth; after which, if the prisoner is a man, he is held upside down while his testicles are crushed. Parents are tortured in front of their children, or vice versa, as in the case of a three-month-old baby who was tortured to death by police in Sao Paulo's notorious Tiradentes Prison. After a while, reported U.S. Methodist missionary Fred Morris, who himself was tortured for seventeen days at Recife in northeastern Brazil, such horrors become routine. "These people had a nine-to-five job, except that their job was to torture for a living." (Chilean prisoners described a similar attitude, their inquisitors calling for a prisoner with the phrase "It's time to go to work.") According to one European psychiatrist, Brazil's hierarchical, authoritarian order is eminently suited to attract the type of mentality that can be developed into an efficient torturer, one who seeks and accepts authority and obeys orders without question, who is fanatically patriotic and self-righteous but unbalanced and vindictive toward anyone who does not share such views.

It was people of this sort whom the United States trained in its ten-year public safety program in Brazil, the largest in Latin, America and the most costly, with over one hundred thousand federal and state police and six hundred high-ranking officers.

" A great blind spot'"

After reading case after nauseating case of the atrocities committed in the name of national security, and after recognizing the United States' involvement in the creation of military, police, and paramilitary agencies responsible for these horrors in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia-seventeen Latin-American countries in all-one comes to the conclusion either that the Americans who helped to establish and run these military and police training programs were deranged or that they never considered the predictable results of their work-possibly didn't want to consider them. For any normal person, the idea of torturing a three-month-old baby to death or putting a human being through the torments of the "dragon chair" is so appalling that it does not bear thinking about. In the words of AID Administrator David Beli, trying to justify the police assistance programs to the U. S. Congress: "It is obviously not our purpose or intent to assist a head of state who is repressive. On the other hand, we are working in a lot of countries where the governments are controlled by people who have shortcomings." In other words, better stick to the nine-to-five job and not ask too many questions. This was relatively easy to do, since very few U.S. personnel ever bothered to study the real causes of popular discontent or repression in Latin America. Few could speak Spanish or Portuguese with any fluency, and for most of them Latin America was merely a two- or three-year tour en route to some other part of the globe. The majority lived and worked exclusively with Latin America's social and military elites, feeding each other's fears and rationaiizations, unable or unwilling to penetrate the slums or rural villages where most Latin Americans live, because they could not communicate with the people or because it was just too uncomfortable. The rich Latin Americans, in contrast, were well educated, well mannered, eager to please their friends the Americans, and of course spoke English. Four decades after Secretary of State Henry Stimson appointed Anastasio Somoza to head the National Guard in Nicaragua on the sole qualification that he spoke English, many Americans still judge this to be the primary qualification for a leader, or a business partner. But however much U.S. historians try to explain the United States' behavior in Latin America as "inadvertently misguided" or "unthinking"-Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., called it "a great blind spot"-there is no way they can avoid their country's responsibility for the results of that behavior.

When did it all begin? Although the groundwork was laid in the 1940s and 1950s under the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, it was during the years of John F. Kennedy's Camelot that the terms of traditional U.S. military and political strategy were redefined. After France's defeat at Dien Bien Phu and the Bay of Pigs disaster in Cuba, classic military strategy was replaced by counterinsurgency methods to contain and destroy guerrilla or popular insurrections and provide the necessary "security for development." As Secretary of Defense McNamara explained, "The goals of the Alliance [for Progress] can only be achieved within a framework of law and order."

The factor missing in this dual strategy-and the cause of so much subsequent suffering and bloodshed in Latin America-was any appreciation of the political and social conditions responsible for popular discontent, or indeed any reference to the U.S. military's own definition of insurrection as a revolution or uprising against a constituted government. All the Latin-American Presidents overthrown with U.S. help in recent years represented constituted governments: Arbenz in Guatemala (1954), Goulart in Brazil (1964), Allende in Chile (1973). It mattered not whether the perceived threat was a democratically elected government or a guerrilla group; it was a dangerous precedent to be eliminated by military force. As General Maxwell Taylor told Third World police graduates of AlD's International Police Academy in Washington:

The outstanding lesson of the Indochina conflict] is that we should never let another Vietnam-type situation arise again. We were too late in recognizing the extent of the subversive threat. We appreciate now that every young, emerging country must be constantly on the alert, watching for those symptoms which, if allowed to develop unrestrained, may eventually grow into a disastrous situation such as that in South Vietnam. We have learned the need for a strong police force and a strong police intelligence organization to assist in identifying early the symptoms of an incipient subversive situation.

The cost-conscious Secretary of Defense put it another way: It was cheaper politically and economically to let the Latin Americans put out local fires. The United States could not be everywhere at once, said McNamara, and, besides, it cost a lot less to keep a Latin-American soldier than an American-$540 per year against $4,400. Neither Taylor, McNamara, nor anyone else in the Kennedy administration ever stopped to think that there might be good reasons for the local fires, such as decades of dictatorship. It was much easier to explain the appearance of Marxist guerrillas in Latin-American countries as part of an international communist conspiracy, although most guerrilla uprisings in Latin America have occurred in response to internal influences, Castro's insurrection against the corrupt, repressive Batista dictatorship being the obvious example. It is quite possible that had Cuba enjoyed more social mobility, a better distribution of wealth, and less repression, Castro would never have carried off his revolution. Costa Rica, the only stable democracy in Central America, has no recent experience of insurrection. In contrast, its neighbors, governed by military or quasi-military regimes, have long histories of guerrilla movements, some of them, as in Nicaragua, dating back to the 1920s.

Because it was beyond the capacity of the Pentagon's counterinsurgency strategists to grasp the real causes of popular discontent in Latin America-and because Washington would not have sanctioned meaningful social change if they had-every potential disturbance had to be met with military and police tactics. Moreover, to recognize that there were legitimate causes for revolution would have cost the counterinsurgents their reason for being. Long hours were spent in study of the writings of Mao Tse-tung, General Vo Nguyen Giap, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, and other Marxist revolutionaries, the idea being to beat the revolutionaries at their own game by adopting guerrilla tactics, though these writings had no meaning to the average Latin American or practical application to his problems. Liberated zones became strategic hamlets; a political organization, psychological warfare; and guerrilla units, Special Forces. Frequently unable to communicate with or understand the people, U.S. military advisers assumed that the guerrillas could win over the people only by terror; therefore they responded in kind. But for every peasant shot by guerrillas, at least fifteen were killed by U.S.-supported government forces.

Thus the counterinsurgents' preoccupation with military and police techniques, with repression and terror, became an end in itself. As I. F. Stone put it:

In reading the military literature on guerrilla warfare now so fashionable at the Pentagon, one feels that these writers are like men watching a dance from outside through heavy plate glass windows. They see the motions but they can't hear the music. They put the mechanical gestures down on paper with pendantic fidelity. But what rarely comes through to them are the injured racial feelings, the misery, the rankling slights. So they do not really understand what leads men to abandon wife, children, home, career, friends, to take to the bush and live gun in hand like a hunted animal; to challenge overwhelming military odds rather than acquiesce any longer in humiliation, injustice, or poverty....

Course 0-47 on urban counterinsurgency operations, taught at the U. S. Army School of the Americas in the Panama Canal Zone... It suggests ways whereby the presence of communist guerrillas may be detected:

a. The disappearance or movement of youths possibly indicates the recruitment to form guerrilla bands in the area. You should report the reluctance of families of said missing youths to speak about them.

b. The refusal of peasants to pay rents, taxes, or agricultural loans or any difficulty in collecting these will indicate the existence of an active insurrection that has succeeded in convincing the peasants of the injustices of the present system, and is directing or instigating them to disobey its precepts.

Hostility on the part of the local population to the government forces, in contrast to their amiable or neutral attitude in the past. This can indicate a change of loyalty or of behavior inspired by fear, often manifested by children refusing to fraternize with members of the internal-security forces.

d. Short, unjustified, and unusual absences from work on the part of government employees.

e. Networks of police and informants don't provide the kind of reports they should. This could indicate that the sources of information have become allied with the insurgent .movement, or that they fear the retaliation of the insurgents or their sympathizers.

f. A growing hostility against governmental agencies and agencies of public order.

Subversion, according to Course 0-47, is not limited to armed insurrection; it can also take the form of nonviolent action, such as consciousness-raising work (as promoted by the Catholic Church), demonstrations, strikes, "compromised social sciences," and so on, that "attract the discontented among the populace, at though those who protest are not the people themselves but an atomized group of malcontents and adventurers." Anyone who differs with the established order must be obeying foreign, communist influences. Such is the case of intellectuals or students who are "manipulated by insurgent theses" that "deform" history and speak of imperialism. Any attempt to get at the real historical, sociological, or economic causes of poverty and injustice in Latin America is judged "subversive." A number of methods are suggested to deal with such `'subversion," as in the Pentagon's course on "Utilization and Containment of Rumors," which teaches the student how to use white or black propaganda.

More than 64,000 Latin-American soldiers and officers, including 170 heads of state, ministers, commanding officers, and directors of intelligence, were exposed to such methods and ideas between 1950 and 1973 in the School of the Americas, better known as the "School of Coups." Similar ideas were drummed into the heads of Latin-American police agents during psychological operations courses (PSYOPS) at the U. S. Army Institute for Military Assistance at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In one symposium euphemistically described as "Population Protection and Resources Management," the Latin Americans were taught such techniques as a national identity card system, search operations, checkpoints, curfews, and block controls to monitor the movement of people and goods. The semester concluded with a discussion of the role of the mass media and propaganda in building support for the government, "since by their nature most [of these] measures are rather harsh . . . [and] they should be coordinated with an intense PSYOPS campaign to convince the population that these harsh methods are for their own good."

In the School of the Americas and other U. S. Army training centers [General Carlos Prats, who was commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army under the Allende government] wrote, Chilean officers have learned to respond "to the stereotypes and reflexes of those courses." "While thinking they were liberating the nation from 'the enemy within,"' Prats added, "they have committed a crime that can be explained only in terms of their ingenuousness, ignorance, and political shortsightedness." Proof of the "simplicity" of Chile's military mentality, he said, was its exclusive concern with "activities and terrorism of the left, while the right was just as dangerous and stockpiling more arms."

In Central America ... the Defense Department brought the armies of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama and the Costa Rican police force together under the umbrella of the Defense Council of Central America (CONDECA). It had fourteen thousand soldiers, trained in the Panama Canal Zone, and served as a mutual-aid society for the region's dictators.

"A real good, close relationship"

While Nicaragua's Somoza was the most infamous case of a Central American dictator set up and financed by the U. S. Government, plenty of lesser-known strongmen came to power because of U.S. support. Such a one was Colonel Carlos Arana of Guatemala, who was tapped by the U. S. Military Mission to head the country's counterinsurgency program. A former military attaché in Washington, [Colonel of Guatemala] Arana had "a real good, close relationship" with U.S. military personnel, according to a Special Forces adviser. He soon revealed his abilities by organizing the slaughter of eight thousand Guatemalans between 1966 and 1968.48 Some one thousand Green Berets were on hand to help him, accompanying Guatemalan patrols on counterinsurgency raids. Official denials notwithstanding, U.S. pilots flew U.S. planes to drop napalm on the peasants, and under the leadership of the U.S. military attaché, Colonel John Webber, paramilitary groups composed of large landowners were encouraged to collaborate with the Army in hunting down "subversive" peasants. These groups were the forerunner of the White Hand, a right-wing vigilante group responsible for thousands of deaths. According to Amnesty International, most of the bodies were so severely mutilated that identification was impossible.

When Arana became President in 1970, a second reign of terror was unleashed, this time with the help of thirty-two thousand Guatemalan policemen trained by AlD's public safety program. Some seven thousand people were murdered or "disappeared" between 1970 and 1971, most of them killed by the White Hand. In all, fifteen thousand people died during the first three years of the Arana government. For every Guatemalan murdered by the extreme left, fifteen were killed by the extreme right.

Guatemala is but one example of U.S. involvement with repressive police and military agencies. In the Dominican Republic, Kennedy's ambassador, John Bartlow Martin, strongly encouraged the police and military to adopt terror tactics. "I found myself urging . . . methods once used by the police in Chicago," he said. "There, if a policeman saw an ex-convict or a known hoodlum on the street, he picked him up 'on suspicion,' took him to the station, held him the legal limit, then released him only to raid his fiat that night, rout him out of bed, and start all over; time after time harassing him, hoping finally to drive him out of town. It was illegal detention, and often worse-prisoners were sometimes beaten." After the 1965 Marine invasion of the Dominican Republic, Martin's suggestions were enthusiastically adopted by the local police, who had the benefit of an eighteen-man public safety program, one third of whom were CIA agents, according to David Fairchild, an AID official who worked in the Dominican Republic in 1966 and 1967. The police organized the Dominican Republic's equivalent of the White Hand, called "La Banda," whose victims were averaging fifteen to twenty a month by 1971, most of them inconspicuous, apolitical people, including five young men who were brutally murdered although they had no known political connections. When six members of La Banda sought asylum in the Mexican Embassy, they claimed to have worked with the police and been threatened with death by high-ranking police officers when they refused to carry out orders. They named Lieutenant Oscar Nunez, chief bodyguard of Police Chief Enrique Perez y Perez, as the leader of the gang.

Police officers also used terror to ensure the reelection of the country's perennial President, Joaquin Balaguer, who had run the Dominican Republic with U.S. support ever since the 1965 invasion. As Balaguer assured the American Chamber of Commerce in Santo Domingo, "We cannot allow ourselves the luxury taken by other countries in Latin America, of shaking off the so-called yoke of North American imperialism to accept others that are, indeed, ignominious." Activities by opposition parties, such as street meetings, were violently suppressed by the police; opposition leaders were beaten up, arrested, and, in a number of documented cases, killed or kidnapped and never seen again. Particularly vulnerable were members of the Dominican Revolutionary Party of Juan Bosch, who was overthrown in 1963 for attempting a few mild reforms. According to a Wall Street Journal report, "The U.S. embassy has done nothing publicly to dissociate itself from the terror. The United States continues to provide substantial aid, including training, equipment, and arms, to the Dominican police and Army."

U.S. public safety advisers and CIA agents were also instrumental in the formation of Uruguay's para-police and military organizations.

I stood there watching the flames consume the bus. It was, I guess, the moment of truth. What did a busload of burning people have to do with freedom? What right did I have, in the name of democracy and the CIA, to decide that random victims should die?" (As quoted in Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence [New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1974], p. 125.)

As a result of mounting evidence linking the public safety program to such terror squads, the U. S. Congress voted to phase out the program in 1974. Military grants to purchase arms met a similar fate, but the training programs were continued. By this time, however, there was less need for such assistance, because Brazil had taken over many of the United States' functions as regional policeman in training and arming its neighbors.

A Brazilian bishop
"Were it not for the guns, for the torture, and the terror, Brazil's military regime could not survive. And were it not for this regime, foreign corporations could not continue to make enormous profits at the expense of the people. The government has all the legal instruments necessary to control these companies, and so has the United States, but the military ignores them."

Cry of the People

Latin America Watch

Index of Website

Home Page