[News] The Salvador Option: the US is Once Again Supporting Death Squads in Central America

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jun 5 13:14:46 EDT 2018


  The Salvador Option: the US is Once Again Supporting Death Squads in
  Central America

by Brett Wilkins <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/l2l4l54ldlc/> - 
June 5, 2018

The United States has been quietly funding and equipping elite 
paramilitary police units in El Salvador accused of extrajudicially 
murdering suspected gang members, according to a forthcoming United 
Nations report reviewed in advance by CNN 

Beginning with George W. Bush in 2003, successive US administrations 
have provided tens of millions of dollars in aid for Salvadoran military 
and police in support of the government’s “Mano Dura” (“Firm Hand”) 
security program, an aggressive campaign to combat out-of-control gang 
violence in a country with one of the world’s highest homicide rates.

“Mano Dura” aid increased significantly during the Obama administration, 
which compared the effort to Plan Colombia 
<https://nacla.org/news/2015/07/17/rewriting-history-plan-colombia>, the 
decades-long anti-drug campaign in which billions of US aid dollars 
funded mafia-like army units that, along with allied paramilitary death 
squads, kidnapped, tortured and murdered thousands of innocent civilians 
with impunity. As was the case with Plan Colombia, the new UN report 
will accuse Salvadoran security forces, in this case some of its elite 
police units, of “a pattern of behavior by security personnel amounting 
to extrajudicial executions” and a “cycle of impunity” in which such 
killings go unpunished.

One police unit, the Special Reaction Forces (FES), killed 43 suspected 
gang members during the first half of 2017, according to the UN report. 
While FES officers were executing suspects in the streets, the US 
government continued to fund and equip the unit. Washington’s total 
assistance increased from $67.9 million in 2016 to $72.7 million last 
year. The deportation of members of MS-13 — formed in Los Angeles 
by young Salvadoran refugees fleeing civil war in a homeland ruled by a 
US-backed military dictatorship — and other gangs has further 
exacerbated the crisis.

A spokesman for the US Embassy in San Salvador assured CNN that “the US 
government takes allegations of extrajudicial killings extremely 
seriously,” that it has “consistently expressed concerns” regarding 
human rights abuses and that it heavily vets units receiving aid. These 
assurances ring hollow to many Salvadorans who recall how the Ronald 
Reagan administration covered up 
horrific human rights violations in order to keep military aid flowing 
to the anti-communist military regime during the 1980s civil war.

That aid, which included forming, training, funding and arming military 
death squads, began during the Carter administration and dramatically 
increased under Reagan. Officers, troops and police were trained 
in kidnapping, torture, assassination and democracy suppression at the 
US Army School of the Americas 
<http://www.soaw.org/about-the-soawhinsec/what-is-the-soawhinsec> (SOA), 
also known as the School of Coups and School of Assassins because it 
produced so many of both.

SOA graduates and other US-backed Salvadoran security forces planned, 
ordered and committed the most heinous atrocities of the 12-year civil 
war, including the kidnapping, torture, rape and murder 
of four American nuns and church volunteers in 1980, the assassination 
of the country’s beloved Catholic archbishop, Oscar Romero, that same 
year and themassacre 
of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in 1989. After 
the four churchwomen were slain, the Reagan administration undertook a 
shameful effort 
to place blame on the victims.

The most notorious Salvadoran army unit, the Atlacatl Battalion, was 
created in 1980 at the SOA and hailed as “the pride of the United States 
military team in El Salvador.” As a rite of passage its new troops 
collected roadkill carcasses — “dogs, vultures, anything,” according to 
one former member — and boiled them into a soup they all drank. Atlacatl 
Battalion’s human victims fared even worse than the dead animals its 
recruits consumed. The unit committed countless massacres, including the 
of 117 men, women and children at Lake Suchitlan in 1983 and the mass 
of 68 civilians, many of them children, at Los Llanitos the following year.

But even these massacres paled in comparison to Atlacatl’s deadliest 
crime, the wholesale slaughter of more than 900 villagers, mostly women, 
children and the elderly, at El Mozote 
<http://www.markdanner.com/articles/the-truth-of-el-mozote> on December 
11, 1981. There, soldiers shot, stabbed, hacked, smashed, and hung 
helpless villagers to death. They gang-raped women and girls before 
killing them. They skewered babies on bayonets. They dropped large rocks 
on the bellies of pregnant women. When the raping and murdering 
finished, they burned El Mozote to the ground, reducing the village to 
what one witness called “a moving black carpet” of scavenging vultures, 
flies and dogs feasting on the victims.

The day after El Mozote made front page headlines in the US, President 
Reagan officially certified that El Salvador was “making a concerted and 
significant effort to comply with internationally recognized human 
rights,” and was working to “bring an end to the indiscriminate torture 
and murder of Salvadoran citizens.” Meanwhile, Elliott Abrams, then a 
State Department human rights official who was later convicted in the 
Iran-Contra scandal before serving as a special assistant to President 
George W. Bush, helped lead an effort to deny the El Mozote massacre 
ever happened.

US aid to El Salvador was doubled, and heinous atrocities continued 
through the end of the civil war.

It wasn’t just El Salvador. The United States also supported or covered 
up death squad activity throughout Central and South America in the 
1970s and ‘80s. In Guatemala, it backed right-wing military dictators 
including Efraín Ríos Montt 
who recently died facing genocide charges, as well as brutal death 
squads like the army’s elite Kaibiles unit, which tortured, raped and 
murdered more than 200 villagers at Dos Erres 
<https://iachr.lls.edu/cases/las-dos-erres-massacre-v-guatemala> in 
December, 1982.

In Honduras, Reagan’s ambassador, John Negroponte 
supervised the creation of the notorious Battalion 316 
which was tasked with eliminating students, academics, labor unionists, 
clergy, journalists, indigenous rights activists and others deemed a 
threat to the dictatorship. Negroponte also played a key role in 
supporting the US-backed Contra army as it waged a terrorist war 
against the people of Nicaragua.

It also wasn’t just in the past. After a 2009 military coup deposed the 
progressive Honduran president José Manuel Zelaya, Obama and his 
secretary of state Hillary Clinton backed 
the repressive right-wing regime even as reports of its brutality, which 
included forced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions of 
opponents, were revealed. Despite the assassination of high-profile 
critics including the environmental activist Berta Cáceres 
the Obama administration lavished 
the Honduran coup regime and its murderous security forces with  tens of 
millions of dollars in military and other assistance.

The United States has long operated or supported death squads, from the 
CIA’s Phoenix Program 
in Vietnam (40,000 killed) through the implementation of the “Salvador 
option” during the recent invasion and occupation of Iraq. The latter 
effort was run by Col. James Steele 
a decorated veteran of Central America’s dirty wars, including a stint 
training Salvadoran death squad units during the civil war. 
Unsurprisingly, secret prisons, torture and extrajudicial killings 
became commonplace throughout occupied Iraq.

It now appears that the “Salvador option” has made its way back home 
from halfway around the world, further terrorizing guilty and innocent 
alike in what was already one of the most frightful corners of the planet.

/*Brett Wilkins* is editor-at-large for US news at Digital Journal. 
Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human 
rights and war and peace. /

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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