John D. Negroponte's track record in Central America

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The following is about John D. Negroponte's track record in Central America.


During his tenure as US ambassador to Honduras, Jack Binns, who was appointed by President Jimmy Carter, made numerous complaints about human rights abuses by the Honduran military. In one cable, Binns reported that General Alvarez was modeling his campaign against suspected subversives on Argentina's 'dirty war' in the 1970s. Indeed, Argentine military advisers were in Honduras, both advising Alvarez's armed forces and assembling and training a contra army to fight in Nicaragua.

When the Reagan administration came to power in 1981, Binns was replaced by Negroponte, who has consistently denied having knowledge of any wrongdoing. Binns claimed he fully briefed Negroponte on the situation before leaving the post.

In These Times writer, Terry Allen described Negroponte as a "zealous anti-Communist crusader in America's covert wars against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua and the FMLN rebels in El Salvador."

In a biographical profile Foreign Policy In Focus reported that "on Negroponte's watch, diplomats quipped that the embassy's annual human rights reports made Honduras sound more like Norway than Argentina. Former official Rick Chidester, who served under Negroponte, says he was ordered to remove all mention of torture and executions from the draft of his 1982 report on the human rights situation in Honduras. In a 1982 letter to The Economist, Negroponte wrote that it was 'simply untrue to state that death squads have made their appearance in Honduras.' The Country Report on Human Rights Practices that the embassy submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took the same line, insisting that there were 'no political prisoners in Honduras' and that the 'Honduran government neither condones nor knowingly permits killings of a political or nonpolitical nature.'"

As ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, Negroponte played a key role in US aid to the Contra death squads in Nicaragua and shoring up the brutal military dictatorship of General Gustavo Alvarez Martínez in Honduras. Between 1980 and 1994 U.S. military aid to Honduras jumped from $3.9 million to $77.4 million. Much of this went to ensure the Honduran army's loyalty in the battle against popular movements throughout Central America. [1]

"The high-level planning, money and arms for those wars flowed from Washington, but much of the on-the-ground logistics for the deployment of intelligence, arms and soldiers was run out of Honduras - So crammed was the tiny country with U.S. bases and weapons that it was dubbed the USS Honduras, as if it were simply an off-shore staging ground. The captain of this ship, Negroponte was in charge of the U.S. Embassy when, according to a 1995 four-part series in the Baltimore Sun, hundreds of Hondurans were kidnapped, tortured and killed by Battalion 316, a secret army intelligence unit trained and supported by the Central Intelligence Agency," Allen wrote. [2]

According to the New York Times, Negroponte was responsible for "carrying out the covert strategy of the Reagan administration to crush the Sandinistas government in Nicaragua." Critics say that during his ambassadorship, human rights violations in Honduras became systematic.

Negroponte supervised the creation in 1984 of the El Aguacate air base, where the US trained Nicaraguan Contras and which critics say was used as a secret detention and torture center during the 1980s. [3]

In August 2001, excavations at the base discovered 185 corpses, including two Americans, who are thought to have been killed and buried at the site. [4]

Records also show that a special intelligence unit of the Honduran armed forces, Battalion 3-16, trained by the CIA and Argentine military, kidnapped, tortured and killed hundreds of people, including US missionaries. Critics charge that Negroponte knew about these human rights violations and yet continued to collaborate with the Honduran military while lying to Congress.

In May 1982, a nun, Sister Laetitia Bordes, who had worked for ten years in El Salvador, went on a fact-finding delegation to Honduras to investigate the whereabouts of thirty Salvadoran nuns and women of faith who fled to Honduras in 1981 after Archbishop Oscar Romero's assassination. Negroponte claimed the embassy knew nothing.

But in a 1996 interview with the Baltimore Sun, Binns, said that a group of Salvadorans, among whom were the women Bordes had been looking for, were captured on April 22, 1981, and savagely tortured by the DNI, the Honduran Secret Police, and then later thrown out of helicopters alive.

In early 1984, two American mercenaries, Thomas Posey and Dana Parker, contacted Negroponte, stating they wanted to supply arms to the Contras after the U.S. Congress had banned further military aid. Documents show that Negroponte brought the two with a contact in the Honduran armed forces.

The operation was exposed nine months later, at which point the Reagan administration denied any US involvement, despite Negroponte's participation in the scheme. Other documents uncovered a plan of Negroponte and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush to funnel Contra aid money through the Honduran government.

Speaking of Negroponte and other senior US officials, an ex-Honduran congressman, Efrain Diaz, told the Baltimore Sun, which in 1995 published an extensive investigation of US activities in Honduras "Their attitude was one of tolerance and silence. They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent people being killed." [5] [6] [7]

The Sun's investigation found that the CIA and US embassy knew of numerous abuses but continued to support Battalion 3-16 and ensured that the embassy's annual human rights report did not contain the full story.

When President George W. Bush announced Negroponte's nomination as Ambassador to the UN shortly after coming to office, it was met with widespread protest. Questioned at the time about whether he had turned a blind eye to human rights abuses in Honduras, Negroponte rejected the suggestion. "I do not believe then, nor do I believe now, that these abuses were part of a deliberate government policy - To this day, I do not believe that death squads were operating in Honduras," he said. [8]

Despite the protests, the Bush administration did not back down and even went so far as to try to silence potential witnesses.

On March 25, 2001, the Los Angeles Times reported on the sudden deportation from the United States of several former Honduran death squad members who could have provided damaging testimony against Negroponte in his Senate confirmation hearings.

One of the deportees was General Luis Alonso Discua, founder of Battalion 3-16. In the preceding month, Washington had revoked the visa of Discua who was Honduras' Deputy Ambassador to the UN. Nonetheless, Discua went public with details of US support of Battalion 3-16.

Upon learning of Negroponte's nomination, Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch in New York commented: "When John Negroponte was ambassador he looked the other way when serious atrocities were committed. One would have to wonder what kind of message the Bush administration is sending about human rights by this appointment".

In interviews recorded with CNN in September and October 1997, Negroponte argued the case that events in Central America at the time needed to be seen in the context of the cold war. "It was a central American domino theory if you will: so that if it happened at first in Nicaragua then in El Salvador and if they (communists) succeeded in El Salvador, then presumably they would try to finish off the situation in Guatemala, which was rather ripe at the time, you may recall. And then maybe Honduras would have fallen of its own volition, without necessarily even having to make that much effort. That was the theory in any case, and it seemed a plausible hypothesis at the time," he said. [9]

He insists that US officials were advocating democratic reforms even though they had to work with repressive regimes. "We were all extremely focused on encouraging the electoral process in each of these countries. Certainly in El Salvador. ... Some of these regimes, to the outside observer, may not have been as savory as Americans would have liked; they may have been dictators, or likely to [become] dictators, when you would have been wanting to support democracy in the area. But with the turmoil that [was there] it was perhaps not possible to do that," he told CNN.

"So I don't think there was any thought on our part of supporting authoritarian behavior for some short-term expediency. To the contrary, I think we bent over backwards to press for elections and for democratic reform," he said.

He also argues that claims that he and others ignored human rights abuses is a case of people rewriting history. " - Frankly I think that some of the retrospective efforts to try and suggest that we were supportive of or condoned the actions of human rights violators is really revisionistic," he claimed.

Negroponte not only defends the actions of the US at the time but argues that the alternative was worse. "But I think on balance if you look back at what we did, I think a good case can be made that there was actually less suffering in Central America as a result of the actions the United States took than there would have been if we had just folded our arms and done nothing," he told CNN.


As for his role in or knowledge of the invasion of Grenada, Negroponte claims that he only became aware of it after it had occurred. "I was not involved and I don't remember much, but I remember one thing very vividly, which was that I basically learned about the invasion of Grenada from the president of Honduras," he told CNN'.

"In 1987, during the administration of Bush the elder, Negroponte returned to the NSC to work under Colin L. Powell as deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs. Within two years, he was back in Latin America; Bush appointed Negroponte ambassador to Mexico, where he served from July 1989 to September 1993. There, he officiated at the block-long, fortified embassy and directed, among other things, U.S. intelligence services to assist the war against the Zapatista rebels of Chiapas," Foreign Policy In Focus reported. [10]

"In 1996, when Negroponte was sent to Panama as the U.S. negotiator regarding military bases, the Human Rights Research Center of Panama objected. Negroponte, they said, covered up human rights abuses and, according to the BBC, 'knew about the CIA-trained Honduran army unit that tortured and killed alleged subversives.' In a 1997 roundtable gathering at the Center for International Policy, Sun reporter Cohn noted that Negroponte was central to the human rights violations. Said Cohn, "He was ambassador when the worst of the abuses were taking place. He knew everything that was going on."

Since 1997 Mr. Negroponte had been Executive Vice President for Global Markets of The McGraw-Hill Companies. [11]

Right-wing defenders of Negroponte argue that he was correct, claiming that the defeat of leftist insurgencies has lead to more than a decade of stable democracies in Central America that today right-wing death squads are only to be found in countries like Colombia, where violent and terroristic left-wing insurgencies continue. But in fact Colombia has one of the longest histories of Negroponte-style counterinsurgency operations in the western hemisphere. If brutal repression were indeed likely to breed stability, Columbia should be expected to be "more" stable than other countries. Moreover, the "stability" that prevailed in Central America during the 1990s may have been merely a pause in the long history of cyclical political violence that has characterized Latin America for more than a century. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development:

Over the past several years, the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region, encompassing Central and South America and the Caribbean, has faced increasing development challenges that threaten the national security and economy of the United States. Contracting economic growth rates, extensive poverty, unemployment, skewed income distribution, crime and lawlessness, a thriving narcotics industry and a deteriorating natural resource base continue to undermine the stability of the region. Civil unrest due to poor economic conditions threatens countries in Central and South America while political instability in Colombia, Venezuela, and Haiti continues unabated. Mediocre economic performance has caused per capita income in LAC countries to decline significantly since 1998 while poverty has increased. Roughly 44% of Latin Americans are now poorer--up from 40% in 1999, while 20% suffer extreme poverty. Unemployment has risen to more than 9%, higher than the 1980s level. These woes have brought discontent and political turbulence, raising questions about the health of democracy in the region, investment priorities, social sector policies, and the benefits of a decade of liberal reforms. [12]

Recent examples of political and institutional instability in Latin America and the Caribbean include the following:

  • In January 2000, Ecuadoran President Jamil Mahuad was overthrown by the military after six days of Indian demonstrations against the country's economic and social crises. Its successor government has also been unstable.
  • In November 2000, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was driven from office after ten years in power. His successor, Alejandro Toledo, went through five cabinet reshufflings in two years and saw his popularity fall to 7% because of his inability to satisfy powerful social demands.
  • Following an unprecedented economic implosion in Argentina, President Fernando de la Rua fled the presidential palace in a helicopter in December 2001 after a bloody repression of social unrest, which had left about thirty dead. A series of presidents succeeded one another, none of whom has been able to restore stability.
  • In April 2002, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was briefly overthrown in an attempted coup d'etat but managed to regain power. Chavez, a leftist who was elected and re-elected, has presided over an increasingly polarized society, with an active right wing mobilized to demand that he leave office before his current term expires.
  • In October 2003, Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada resigned after the harsh repression of a strong popular movement against natural gas exports through Chile.
  • In February 2004, armed groups linked with Haiti's country's former dictatorship forcibly overthrew the government of Bertrand Aristide.

Also see Iran-Contra scandal.

The section of this article on Negroponte's role in Honduras reproduces part of the Wikipedia profile of Negroponte. ambassador iraq