1987 Censored

Foreign Policy News Stories


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The United States and its Contra-Drug Connection

SYNOPSIS: Though mounting evidence, with substantive and alarming implications in terms of U.S. foreign policy and the Reagan Administration's propriety, pointed to a large-scale contra/CIA drug smuggling network, most of the major U.S. media under-reported it in 1987. Testimony by convicted drug smugglers as well as private citizens for CBS's West 58th Street program, along with the Christic Institute's federal lawsuit under the RICO statute and before congressional committees, provided a startling picture of large-scale drug trafficking under the auspices of the U.S. government/contra supply network.

According to the Christic Institute (a Washington, D.C., based interfaith legal foundation), "Contra narcotics smuggling stretches from cocaine plantations in Colombia, to dirt airstrips in Costa Rica, to pseudo-seafood companies in Miami, and finally, to the drug-ridden streets of our society." The Christic Institute's investigation, sanctioned by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami, provided evidence supporting allegations that

1) a major "guns-for-drugs" operation existed between North, Central, and South America that helped finance the contra war;

2) the contra leadership received direct funding and other support from major narcotics traffickers;

3) some contra leaders were directly involved in drug trafficking;

4) U.S. government funds for the contras went to known narcotics dealers; and

5) the CIA helped Miami-based drug traffickers smuggle their illicit cargo into the U.S. in exchange for their help in arming the contras.


UPDATE: Despite nearly a decade of charges about the CIA and its contra drug smuggling connection, mainstream media failed to put the issue on the national agenda. Finally, starting on August 18, 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published an extraordinary three-part series that confirmed the story.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, newly declassified federal reports, court testimony, and interviews, investigative journalist Gary Webb of the Mercury News, revealed the contra drug smuggling network, exposed the CIA's role, and made an important connection between the flawed foreign policy of Reagan and Bush in the 1980s and America's drug-devastated streets of today.

Anyone who wants to understand how crack cocaine became the scourge of America's urban centers during the greatest crackdown on drugs in history, is urged to read the Mercury News series, available in libraries and on the Internet at www.sjmercury.com/drugs/. The Mercury News series prompted long overdue investigations by the CIA, Justice Department, Congress and the mass media. Not surprisingly, three of the nation's largest newspapers-The New York Times (10/21/96), the Washington Post (10/4/96), and the Los Angeles Times (10/20/96)-which hadn't investigated and reported the original charges by the Christic Institute, were quick to investigate and report the Mercury News charges in a transparent effort to discredit them. The old "not exposed here" process is embarrassingly evident in these belated efforts.

Ironically, on May 11, 1997, Jerry Ceppos, executive editor of the Mercury News, published a column saying the paper made mistakes in its "Dark Alliance" series and that he did "not believe that top CIA officials knew of the relationship." Series author Webb disagreed and said he stood by his stories (San Francisco Examiner, 5/12/97). The Internet series is now prefaced by a statement directing readers to the May 11 column for "an understanding of this document or story." In July 1997, Webb told Project Censored he was taken off investigative reporting and exiled to Cupertino, a small community west of San Jose.



Biased Coverage of the Arias Peace Plan by America's Press

SYNOPSIS: On August 7, 1987, five Central American nations-Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua-made international history when they signed a regional peace proposal that was authored by Costa Rican president, Oscar Arias.

The proposal, known as the Arias Peace Plan, set specific guidelines and target dates for each nation to comply with in order to stabilize Central America and bring peace to the region.

Two separate studies monitoring U.S. press coverage of the Arias plan revealed a startling bias in how America's leading newspapers covered the region following the historic August 7 pact.

The Media Alliance, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization of media professionals, monitored stories about the peace plan that appeared in seven major dailies-The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and the Oakland Tribune. More than 80 percent of the articles published during the first six months after the pact focused almost entirely on Nicaragua-the Reagan Administration's demands on Nicaragua's Sandinista government, the prospects for renewed contra aid, or the extent to which Nicaragua was abiding by the Arias plan. Mean while serious human rights problems and violations of the plan by the governments of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala went largely unreported.

The other study by the New York-based Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), a national media watchdog group, concluded the peace accord set off a U.S. media reaction that "showed once again the extent to which White House assumptions are shared by the national press corps" and how "Reagan's obsession with Nicaragua has turned into a media obsession." FAIR's 90-day analysis of The New York Times found that The Times devoted three times as many column inches of news space to events in Nicaragua than it did to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador combined.


UPDATE: The mainstream American news media did not provide adequate coverage of Oscar Arias and his peace plan for Central America. Nevertheless, Arias, who served as president of Costa Rica from 1986 until 1990, gained international prominence for his efforts at conflict resolution in Central America. The Arias Peace Plan set in motion the process by which cease-fire talks were started and rebels laid down their arms in exchange for amnesty in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

The Arias plan was criticized by the Reagan Administration, which called it "fatally flawed." The Nobel prize committee didn't think so and awarded Arias the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 (The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 4/19/94). Since leaving office, Arias has worked as president of the Fundacion Arias which is dedicated to promoting world peace.



Dumping Our Toxic Wastes on the Third World

SYNOPSIS: Exporting our hazardous and toxic wastes to Third World countries is a growth industry. The exported material includes heavy metal residues and chemical-contaminated wastes, pharmaceutical refuse, and municipal sewage sludge and incinerator ash. The risks involved for countries that accept our wastes range from contamination of groundwater and crops to birth defects and cancer.

Traditionally, the majority of U.S. toxic waste exports have gone to Canada, where regulations are less stringent than in the U.S. But now the most abrupt increase is in shipments to the Third World where the regulations are either nonexistent or loosely enforced.

Creating the search for new overseas markets is an explosion in the volume of recorded hazardous wastes being produced in the U.S. According to the General Accounting Office, the amount rose from about nine million metric tons in 1970 to at least 247 million in 1984; other experts place the current figure closer to 400 million metric tons.
U.S. officials, aware of the sensitive legal and foreign policy questions involved, are reluctant to crack down on illegal dumpers and, in fact, the government itself is responsible for generating a significant portion of the hazardous waste exports. One large illegal operation broken up last year received more than half its toxic wastes from various branches of the federal government, mainly the military.

The key U.S. government officials responsible for monitoring waste traffic claim they are powerless, saying that once the waste leaves the country they can't do anything about it.


UPDATE: When the United States stopped shipping toxic wastes to Canada, it looked to Africa and Central America as new dump sites for its waste. However, as the Singapore Straits Times reported (6/21/95), these Third World countries became aware of the potential hazards of importing toxic wastes and started fighting back. In 1986, only three countries had banned waste imports; by 1989, the number had risen to 103. As a result, Asia became the final frontier for the West to dispose of its waste. Between 1990 and 1993, the U.S., Australia, Canada, Germany, and Britain shipped more than 5.4 million tons of toxic wastes to countries in Asia.

On May 31, 1996, the Xinhzla News Agency reported that China accused the United States of illegally dumping trash near Beijing and filed a protest to the secretariat of the Basel Convention, the body that monitors the international agreement on the transfer of hazardous wastes. Xing Demao, director of the Bureau for Inspection for Shandong province, asked, "Why do some countries strictly control export of their advanced technology and equipment but openly permit the export of harmful waste they produced?" (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/1/96)

In 1995, the United Nations approved amendments to the 1989 Basel Convention that will bar export of hazardous waste from industrial to developing countries by the end of 1997. The ban was enacted despite protests from the U.S. and some other industrialized countries (Journal of Commerce, 9/25/95).



Torture in El Salvador: A Censored Report from Mariona Prison

SYNOPSIS: In late 1986, a 165-page report was smuggled out of the Mariona men's prison in El Salvador. The report was compiled by five imprisoned members of the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador (CDHES). The report documented the "routine" and "systematic" use of at least 40 kinds of torture on political prisoners in El Salvador.

The report made three main points: first, torture is systematic, not random; second, the methods of torture are becoming more clever; and finally, it is part of the U.S. counterinsurgency program there-with U.S. servicemen often acting as supervisors.

The Marin Interfaith Task Force of Mill Valley, California, assembled the smuggled report from Mariona prison into a document titled "Torture in El Salvador" and distributed it to major newspapers and other mainstream media nationally.

Only one newspaper gave the actual report substantial coverage. The San Francisco Examiner ran two articles by freelance journalist Ron Ridenhour, who quoted State Department spokesman James Callahan as saying the CDHES, the only Salvadoran human rights group recognized by the United Nations, is a communist "front organization. '


UPDATE: Herbert Anaya, the head of El Salvador's nongovernmental Human Rights Commission (HRC) and one of the five prisoners who compiled the Mariona Prison report, was assassinated on October 26, 1987. He was the fourth member of the HRC to be killed since it was founded in 1978; at least three others have disappeared and are presumed dead (Washington Post, 10/28/87). During the civil war there were a number of efforts by the guerrillas to storm Mariona Prison in an effort to release political prisoners. One of the most successful occurred June 17, 1991, when rebels blasted a huge hole in the side of the prison allowing 132 prisoners to escape (Chicago Tribune, 6/19/91). Unfortunately, the end of El Salvador's civil war on January 16, 1992, did not end the horrors of Mariona Prison. A recent report by Human Rights Watch cites "horrendous overcrowding, rampant violence, insufficient food, and primitive sanitary conditions." Mariona Prison, built to house 800 prisoners, now holds 2,381 and has taken on the look of a crowded slum (The Washington Post, 6/25/96).

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