by Murtaza Hussain Guardian/UK March 9, 2013
In one of the fiery oratories the late Hugo Chávez once stated his belief that "the American empire is the greatest menace to our planet." While his detractors have often sought to paint his rhetorical flourishes as unpopular extremism, to his death Chávez remained extremely popular with most Venezuelan people.
Indeed, his beliefs and worldview regarding US interventionism fitted well within the spectrum of both Central and Latin American popular opinion were reflected in other leaders throughout the region. From overthrowing democratically elected leaders, operating death squads, and torturing civilians, the history of US involvement in the region has understandably helped create a widespread popular backlash that persists to this day.
The primary theatre of war has since switched from Latin America to the Middle East, but many of the same tactics of that period seem to have been redeployed on the other side of the world. Recent investigations have suggested that Pentagon officials at the highest levels oversaw torture facilities during the war in Iraq. Most chillingly, a veteran of the United States' "dirty war" in El Salvador was reported to have been brought in to personally oversee the interrogation facilities. As described by Iraqi officials this program was condoned at the highest levels of the US military and utilized "all means of torture to make the detainee confess …
At the now infamous School of the Americas, thousands of Latin American "special forces" were explicitly trained in torture techniques by US handlers. Many of those SOA graduates took their new training home to El Salvador, where they waged a war that killed an estimated 80,000 Salvadoran civilians. Similar "trainees" were sent out in the thousands to kill and maim on behalf of US interests in wars from Honduras to Guatemala. In the latter alone, US-supported death squads murdered over 50,000 civilians suspected of holding sympathies with leftist rebels
The policy of proxy warfare against civilian populations in Latin America over time provoked sufficient revulsion among the US political establishment to outlaw it. Prompted by revelations of US covert support for Columbian military atrocities in the 1990s, a bill sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat, Vermont) was passed to prohibit the patronage of militant groups known to violate human rights. Though imperfect and unevenly applied, the Leahy Law in itself represents a commendable effort to prevent the abuses and the consequent rise in anti-American sentiment witnessed in places like Latin America.
This week, however, US Admiral William McRaven undertook an effort to roll back the earnest accomplishments of Senator Leahy and others. The Leahy Law was passed before the onset of the "war on terror", and it would appear that whatever lessons had been learned in Latin America are now slipping from memory. Today, public opinion in the continent is aligned firmly against US interests. The legacy of the "dirty wars" are reflected in the popularity of leaders such as Chávez, whose denunciations of alleged US imperialism made him a heroic figure far beyond the borders of his own country.
Yet, the same discredited US policies of that era are now being repeated within the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. The use of torture, the patronage of sectarian proxy forces, and the facilitation of widespread human rights abuses all characterize US policy in the "war on terror". Indeed, many of the same actors complicit in past crimes have returned to help develop and implement present US policy.
Today, Latin America and the Middle East are bound in blood by the experiences of American military intervention and covert warfare. The "dirty wars" of the recent past are playing out once again; time will tell what type of political alignment they will give rise to in response. © 2013 The Guardian [Abridged]
NOTE: This abridged version omits the more gruesome reports of torture, and also some history of events. The full unabridged article can be read on my blog, Arthurspeace.blogspot.co.nz.