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Israel: Merchant of Death in Central America

SYNOPSIS: President Reagan's policy objectives in Central America circumvent Congressional objections with quiet help from Israel.

Israel, now the fifth biggest exporter of arms in the world, is the largest supplier of weapons to Latin America. It is also a major source of training in intelligence and counterinsurgency techniques. Israel sustains Reagan's Latin America policies by supporting the "contras" fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua; aids El Salvador's leaders despite continuing human rights violations and right-wing death squads; turns Honduras into the chief gendarme of Central America; builds up Costa Rica's security forces; and supplies Guatemala's repressive military forces with weapons to fight increasing internal opposition.

Israel's support for repressive regimes in Central America is not new. After Somoza's National Guard killed journalists in 1978, President Carter cut off all U.S. aid to Nicaragua. However, Israel, bolstered by U.S. aid, picked up the slack and provided 98 percent of Somoza's arms until July 2, 1979, just two weeks before the Sandinistas won the final battle.

Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, receiving about one third of all U.S. foreign aid in the last ten years.


UPDATE: Israel's reputation as a "merchant of death" has not diminished since 1983. Agence France Presse (7/15/94) reported that between 1975 and 1992, Israeli arms exports leapt 75 percent in a world market that had contracted by 45 percent. Israel was the sole country to increase arms exports during the world arms market recession.

During the 1970s, Latin America was Israel's largest market for arms, accounting for 50 to 60 percent of its total military exports. An estimated one-third of its total arms exports of $1.2 billion went to Argentina and El Salvador alone. In a report on "the Israel/Latin American connection," the Journal of Electronic Defense (March 1994) described Israel as "a faithful if pricey arms supplier during the years when Chile faced an embargo because of the armed forces' human-rights abuses."

From 1979 through 1994, after the Latin American market dried up, China became the biggest customer for Israel's arms export industry, according to a Los Angeles Times report (12/28/94). Meanwhile, Israel remains the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, receiving $3 billion out of the estimated $12.2 billion fiscal 1997 U.S. foreign aid budget (Reuters, 7/25/96).



Journalist Challenges Press Coverage of Central America

SYNOPSIS: We are still not getting the full story of what is happening in Central America. There are a variety of explanations for this, not the least of which is the intimidation and assassination of journalists. In addition, there is the misinformation disseminated by our own State Department and the confusing and complex political situation in that region.

The range of obstacles to reliable press coverage in the area is well documented by Michael Massing's Columbia Journalism Review article which suggested that the recall of a New York Times reporter seemed to send a signal to the rest of the press to go soft on El Salvador. However, not all journalists were confused by the political situation, intimidated by the terrorists, manipulated by the Reagan Administration, nor transferred home by their newspapers.

One such journalist is Peter D. Fox, city editor of the Billings Gazette in Montana. After a 12-day study mission to Central America, he wrote a series of articles with revelations which were cited by one observer to be "as important to Central America as Harrison Salisbury's 1966 New York Times revelations were to Vietnam." In his lead article, Fox reported "what we saw and learned during our time in Managua and the countryside was alarming because it did not correspond with what we had been reading in U.S. newspapers, seeing on U.S. television, and hearing from our U.S. government."

Fox cannot be easily accused of being a "bleeding heart liberal journalist taken in by Communist propaganda." Rather, he is a conservative, former U.S. intelligence officer, who supported President Reagan's Central American policy until he went there himself. Then Fox was so outraged over what he saw his country doing that he publicly resigned his commission in the U.S. Army National Guard.


UPDATE: Peter D. Fox subsequently left the Billings Gazette and is now the Director of Public Information for the University of Wisconsin System. While his 1983 transformation created some problems, he never regretted his decision to tell it the way it was, and would do it again. He particularly recalls the support he received from his colleagues at the Gazette and in the National Guard. In 1995, he was invited to rejoin the Guard and is now a Lieutenant Colonel in the Wisconsin National Guard. While the mainstream press ignored his story in 1983, Fox was gratified that some ten small-town, middle-America newspapers in the Lee Enterprises News Corporation, which owned the Gazette, reprinted his series on El Salvador.



U.S. Media Neglect South Africa Politics

SYNOPSIS: In 1983, most Americans had heard of Lech Walesa and Poland's Solidarity movement, but few Americans knew about Nelson Mandela and South Africa's African National Congress.

The U.S. media provided substantial coverage to Walesa's heroic fight against a communist government; however, they provided little coverage of Mandela's equally heroic fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa-a symbol of racist oppression for many Americans and other people throughout the world.

Despite international ostracism of South Africa's racist policies, some 600 North American companies continue to do business with South Africa and at the time, U.S. investments were estimated at about $10 billion. Disregarding a 1982 U.N. resolution outlawing export of dangerous products to other countries, the Upjohn Company reportedly still provided the South Africa regime with Depo Provera-a drug outlawed in the U.S.

Ignoring the potential for nuclear confrontation and holocaust, West Germany, Israel, and the U.S. provided South Africa with nuclear technology. In September 1983, the State Department approved an application by Westinghouse to bid on a $50 million ten-year contract to maintain and supply South Africa's two nuclear stations. Western intelligence sources believed that South Africa was capable of producing nuclear weapons and that it may have tested a nuclear device in the South Atlantic in 1979.

One reason few Americans may have heard about Nelson Mandela, the widely respected political leader in South Africa, may be because of the official and unofficial relationship between South Africa and Washington, D.C. South Africa spent considerable sums of money on Capitol Hill and the Reagan White House to maintain those relationships.


UPDATE: Lech Walesa, the darling of the U.S. press in the early eighties, turned out to be a Cinderella story that went full circle: from electrician at the Gdansk shipyard, to leader of the Solidarity Movement which ultimately brought down Poland's communist government, to Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1983, to Poland's first democratically-elected president, to a failed attempt at re-election, and finally back to Gdansk as an electrician. Ironically, on August 8, 1996, the Gdansk shipyard went bankrupt, rendering the birthplace of Solidarity a victim of the free-market economy it helped create (Memphis Commercial Appeal, 8/9/96).

After spending 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, who was ignored by the press in the early eighties, went on to become the leader of South Africa's African National Congress (ANC). On May 10, 1994, following the ANC victory in the country's first universal-suffrage election, Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa's first black president. He subsequently became one of the world's best known and most respected political leaders. Few men have been so widely admired in their own lifetime. In 1993, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Frederik W. de Klerk, who had helped engineer the transition from apartheid to democracy.

Meanwhile, in 1995, under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, South Africa helped to broker an agreement making the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty permanent and, with other African nations, established a nuclear weapon-free zone on the African continent. South Africa dismantled its unacknowledged nuclear weapons in 1991 (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 1996).

Finally, on May 8, 1996, South Africa adopted a new constitution that guarantees equal rights for all and completes the country's official transformation to democracy (USA Today, 5/9/96).

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