Who Killed Guatemala’s Leading Anthropologist?

Original article can be found here.

The Chief Investigator Is Dead, Key Testimony Has Been Recanted, and the Primary Suspect Is Missing, but American and Guatemalan Officials Promise Justice

GUATEMALA CITY — Myrna Elizabeth Mack Chang was Guatemala’s most respected anthropologist. Her work with the country’s indigenous refugees — displaced by the military’s severe counter-insurgency practices — was internationally renowned. But on September 11, 1990, the petite, 40-year-old ethnic Chinese woman was attacked upon leaving her office here. Her assailants had been conspicuously watching her for at least a week. One or her attackers, cleaned his weapon, described in one account as a “Rambo” knife, in her blouse, before leaving her with 27 deep puncture wounds.

The crime’s investigation has become a test case to see whether the rule of law can be applied in Guatemala. Both American and Guatemalan officials recognize that its outcome is likely to determine future foreign aid relations. ‘When President [Jorge] Serrano came to office [in January] he did promise that he would do something, and I think he’s beginning to deliver on the promise, and we are very, very pleased,” U.S. ambassador Thomas Stroock said in taped interview on July 4.

When she was killed, Mack had been collaborating with Georgetown University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Ford Foundation. The grisly crime produced outrage worldwide. Guatemalan newspapers still regularly receive paid ads from social scientists and human rights organizations in Canada, Europe, and the United States demanding a serious investigation. President Serrano, also on July 4, assured an American congressional delegation about the Mack case, “We are doing things, not just saying things.”

But one month later, on August 5, the chief homicide investigator, Jost Miguel Merida Escobar, himself was gunned down. His own criminal report on the Mack case — obtained by the Voice — he inexplicably never ratified. Witnesses he interviewed have since recanted their testimony. A suspect that he first identified is believed to be dead or out of the country. And an alleged military intelligence file on the murdered anthropologist is being withheld from court authorities.

As a result, non-American Western diplomats and investigators from Guatemala’s semiautonomous Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman say that many obstacles remain to solving the Mack murder. As in the November 1989 Jesuit murder case in neighboring El Salvador, military and other government officials are actively undermining the Mack investigation, they say.

Mack’s colleagues in Guatemala believe she was murdered on the orders of Guatemala’s notorious military intelligence apparatus. “We have no doubt that this was the work of the G-2, the counterintelligence body of the army,” attorney Ronalth Ochaeta, from the Catholic archdiocese’s human rights office, told a visiting congressional delegation shortly after the murder.

Mack’s work was highly controversial in Guatemala. The country’s displaced population was created by the army’s “scorched earth” counterinsurgency campaign, which began in the early 1980s. Tens of thousands of people — mostly Indians of Mayan descent — were killed. Up to one million more, in a country of fewer than 9 million, were uprooted. The government has been reluctant even to recognize the existence of the country’s own displaced population; Mack’s research began to document their numbers and conditions.

Independent investigators recognize that they face an uphill battle: Guatemala holds one of Latin America’s worst records for human rights-related murders. No military officer and only a handful of soldiers have been convicted of human rights violations. Government officials admit that the military enjoys impunity even when compared to El Salvador and other Central American nations. Even cases involving American citizens — the November 1989 abduction of Ursuline sister Diana Ortiz and the June 1990 kidnapping/murder of rancher Michael Devine, for example — remain unsolved.

On August 5, chief investigator Merida was shot to death only 150 yards from his own Police Headquarters in Guatemala City. Merida had already assumed a controversial role in the investigation. In the original criminal report compiled last September, Merida, along with another police detective, implicated undercover military units in the Mack murder. One witness quoted in their original report testified that he recognized one of the assailants as being from an intelligence office attached to the military high command. The witness had worked for 23 years in the state security forces, independent investigators say. But this testimony was omitted from the police report before being sent to the court. The witness has since recanted his own statement — and, before he died, Merida refused to ratify his own report.

At the time, American and Guatemalan officials dismissed these irregularities, arguing that the anthropologist’s murder was most likely a “common crime.” Ambassador Stroock — a political appointee of the Bush administration who was a school chum of the president’s at Yale — wrote personal letters to American academics who had denounced the Mack murder in the Guatemalan press, asserting that the crime was not politically motivated. President Serrano, on March 1, 1991, circulated an official report to members of the European diplomatic corps that suggested that Mack “had done some hard-currency business on the black market and had been the target of persecution by delinquents.”

But few if any diplomats were persuaded. Said one, “The [government’s] whole description of that case was scandalous.”

Three months later, under intense international pressure, the government officially reversed its position, and American officials have since followed suit. On June 17, 1991, Guatemalan attorney general Aciscio Valladares officially acknowledged that the crime had a “political” motive and that it had been “programmed,” or premeditated. The attorney general added, “Within the next few days, the results of the developments in this process will be made public, which will clarify the crime.”

On July 4, the government announced — via a newspaper report — that it was issuing an arrest warrant for a suspect in the case Noel de Jesus Beteta Alvarez, a special sergeant major with the Security Section of the Presidential High Command. Strangely, the basis for the charge was the same police report rejected by its own authors. Although Beteta is not mentioned by name in the original report, the testimony that implicated him was recorded September 17, 1991, just six days after the Mack murder.

So far, the government has not explained why it waited up to nine months before trying to arrest Beteta. In interviews the week before Beteta was publicly named, independent investigators and other sources said his identity was already well known. They believe the government intentionally orchestrated the delay. “The fact of too much publicity has made a witness willingly disappear,” noted an investigator from the ombudsman’s office.

Beteta was relieved of his post with the Presidential High Command less than 12 weeks after the Mack murder, according to military documents filed with the court. The documents state that as of November 30, 1990, Beteta “does not enjoy military privilege.” Within a month after being relieved, Beteta mysteriously disappeared. Family members have said they believe he is dead. Others suspect he has fled. Regardless, it seems unlikely he will be prosecuted.

Rather than lead to Beteta’s apprehension, the issuing of a warrant for his arrest seemed more intended to affect international opinion. The day before the arrest order was announced, 16 U.S. congresswomen called for a full investigation in a paid ad in the Guatemalan press. On the morning the arrest order was issued, a prearranged meeting between President Serrano and U.S. senator James Jeffords (Republican, Vermont) and Representative Jim McDermott (Democrat, Washington), who had traveled to Guatemala specifically to monitor progress on the Mack and other human rights cases, was scheduled.

“To find that the name [of the person] had been announced at least at the execution level was very interesting,” Jeffords said in an interview. “[It] indicated that whoever was putting things together did an excellent job to reach what we thought was a significant break in the Myrna Mack case.”

Witnesses quoted in the murdered investigator’s original report indicate that Beteta may very well have been one of Mack’s assassins. However, it is unlikely that Beteta — even if he could be located and tried — acted alone.

The presence of a personal file on Mack compiled by Guatemalan military intelligence suggests that higher authorities may be involved, according to human rights ombudsman Ramiro de Leon Carpio. Carpio has publicly complained that the government is not committed to defending human rights. In July, his investigators made the existence of the Mack file known to a visiting U.S. congressional delegation.

Court officials have formally requested all information on Mack from the Guatemalan ministry of defense. But no military intelligence file on Mack has been turned over, according to court sources.

Senator Jeffords said he raised the file in the July 4 meeting with President Serrano. “We pointed out to the president that the investigator from [the ombudsman’s office] announced that they had found a detailed file on Myrna Mack in the army. It indicated that obviously [the investigation] should go higher.”

In his official response, Serrano told Jeffords, “if there is anyone involved in the higher-ups, we are going to know it through the process. And if there is one, he is going to be punished.” Serrano, as well as senior presidential aides, made it clear that authorities do not now plan to press the investigation any higher. They also failed to explain how they intend to apprehend Beteta — the only suspect currently charged in the crime.

The failure to achieve justice in such cases “demonstrates a lack of political will or sympathy,” said Ombudsman Carpio. “The reign of impunity goes on.””

Who Are Those Guys? How Intelligence Agents Are Trying to Remake the Iraqi Opposition

Beirut — While Secretary of State James A. Baker III made his official visit to the Middle East, the broadest spectrum ever of Iraqi opposition forces met in the small Bristol Hotel in West Beirut. Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other nationalists, Communists and ex-monarchists, and even former members of Saddam’s own ruling Ba’ath party and the Iraqi army were represented. After three days of talks, they — on paper, at least — formally joined forces to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

But already, serious divisions were deepening behind the scenes. A major battle for the future of a post-Saddam Iraq is underway. Although a loose coalition of Shiite, Kurdish, and independent nationalists comprised the majority camp at the Beirut conference, a smaller group, dominated largely by self-described “liberal figures” of the Western-oriented Free Iraqi Council (FIC), is trying to usurp control of the opposition movement, Islamic as well as independent nationalist sources say.

Each side accuses the other of being puppets of foreign backers. The top Shi’ite Islamic leaders from Iraq are currently based in Tehran, while leaders of the FIC admit they enjoy the backing of both Saudi Arabia and the United States.

During the conference in Beirut, an individual who identified himself as a liaison for the U.S. government approached members of existing parties and groups, according to both Islamic and independent nationalist sources. Offering promises of American backing — an offer of some importance, given the more than 100,000 U.S. troops currently occupying 15 percent of Iraqi soil — he encouraged them to form splinter, breakaway organizations and join the FIC. These various sources, who were interviewed separately and without each other’s knowledge, gave nearly identical accounts of these attempts.

The liaison also met directly with Islamic leaders to deliver a message, according to the same sources. “He said, ‘You can do want you want now, but there will be no ayatollahs in power,”‘ one Islamic source said.

The U.S. government’s liaison is an Iraqi exile based in London, according to sources present who know him, including a relative who was also at the Beirut meeting as a member of one of the Islamic opposition groups. “He’s a businessman. He made his money selling oil,” said the relative. “His brother-in-law was involved in a coup [against the regime] in 1970.”

“We know him. He’s trying to organize something here,” said one source.

Other Islamic and independent nationalist sources described the liaison as working for the CIA. But his Islamic cousin said it would be more accurate to say he maintained — a “business relationship” with the agency. “He works along with [several Western intelligence agencies],” he said. When pressed for the liaison’s name, he added, “Stay away from that, man. It could be dangerous for you.”

The liaison had come to the conference from Washington, DC, and his next destination was Riyadh, said several other sources. “He came to this conference without an invitation,” one added.

The liaison delivered his message that the United States would not tolerate Islamic clerics in power last Tuesday in the Bristol Hotel. Just over two years ago, at a smaller meeting of Iraqi opposition leaders in Tehran, the same intelligence liaison now trying to organize support for the FIC against Saddam was advocating a policy of cooperation with the very same regime, according to sources who were present at both meetings. That was shortly after the Iran-Iraq War, at a time when the United States still saw Iraq’s ruling Ba’ath party as a buffer against the fundamentalist Islamic revolution in Iran.

The United States went to war to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. But having done so, the original policy of containing Shiite fundamentalist influence in the region has reasserted itself, and the preferred means appears once again to be the manipulation of internal political disputes by secret intelligence agencies. Whether the United States will succeed in doing so in a country on the verge of insurrection — with a majority Shiite population — remains to be seen. But the same policy carried out by the same means has been tried once before, in Iran under the Shah, with disastrous results. American interests in the region have yet to recover from that effort.

“There has been a miscalculation on the part of the West that they do not trust the Iraqi opposition as a replacement for the Iraqi regime,” said Sheik Mohsen Husseini, a clerical leader from the large Islamic Action organization. “We will respect each other as long as each group shows us the same respect.”

As the liaison’s relative, who has spent the past decade in the West, put it, “This is not the way to deal with us.”

Voodoo Politics

Both Shi’ite Islamic and FIC leaders deny that their respective groups are subject to any form of foreign manipulation. “They are like scorpions,” said Dr. Saad A. Jaber, president of the FIC, of his accusers. “This is the first thing that any one of them would say that we are spies, and traitors.”

The FIC is a hastily assembled coalition formed two months ago in London. Most of its leaders have been living in exile in the West for decades. “Each representative of the Iraqi Free Council has been in opposition to the regime for about 30 years,” explained one. Many previously supported the Iraqi royal family, which was deposed in 1958.

The FIC is nonetheless confident that it stands to form the basis for a new Iraqi government after Saddam falls, even though it has no identifiable rebel forces or zones of control inside Iraq, and no seriously defined constituency among the civilian population.

Kurdish guerrillas in the north and Shiite rebel forces in the south, on the other hand, compose the largest and best-organized wings of the resistance. Having fought for greater autonomy and political rights against both Turkey and Iraq for decades, the Kurdish guerrilla movement has long awaited the opportunity provided by Baghdad’s defeat in Kuwait. But the Kurds are suspicious of the Americans, who abandoned their insurgent guerrilla movement in the 1970s when the Shah made a deal with Iraq. The Shiite lslamic movement in the south of Iraq, with long-standing ties to Iran, already has an extensive political infrastructure and is now actively organizing rebel forces.

To counter Iranian influence, nationalist party sources say that Syria and especially Saudi Arabia are actively involved with the Iraqi opposition. The Saudis in particular support the FIC, they say.

FIC president Jaber confirmed that there is fierce competition for control of the opposition movement. “We represent the most dangerous element for the other parties,” he said, arguing that the FIC is more truly representative of the Iraqi people. “Our major strength is that we are the only organization that is truly Iraqi. Sunni, Shiite. Kurdish, Christian — they are all represented.”

But when pressed to identify their resistance base inside Iraq, FIC leaders said it was a military secret. And when asked to define their political base, they produced only one name, Sheik Sami Azara Al-Majoun of the Beni ljim tribe in the south of the country.

Sheik Al-Majoun later became a major subject of controversy in Beirut. In the conference’s final session, when his tribe’s name was omitted from the final declaration, he became irate and temporarily stormed out. Other leaders said the mistake was unintentional, and that organizers had simply forgotten the Beni Ijim tribe because it is so small. “I never heard of it before today,” explained one delegate shortly after the incident.

FIC president Jaber Freeiv admits that he personally enjoys the support of both the Bush administration and the Saudi royal family. “We think King Faisal [of Saudi Arabia] can play a major role for Iraq. We the people of Iraq are calling on him.”

Jaber’s supporters like to boast that he is close personal friends with many current and former U.S. officials, including House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Lee Hamilton and former Reagan administration chief of staff Donald Regan.

“I did meet many people in the State Department,” Jaber told the Voice. But he was also aware that the association could have its down side. “People say that the State Department would like to cooperate with people like Saad Jaber.”

No Turbans in Riyadh

The formal position of all Iraqi Islamic organizations is that they support the establishment of some form of democratic government after Saddam. However, at the same time they still profess their desire that the new Iraq should be an Islamic state.

“It would be wrong to see the situation in Iraq as an exact copy of another Islamic revolution,” said Mohamed Taki Al-Moudarissi, who sits on the supreme umbrella coalition of Islamic opposition forces. Nevertheless, “the Iraqi people are a Muslim people, and they would therefore act on the basis of their values,” he added.

Both FIC and some nationalist representatives pointed out that Iran is behind Iraq’s Islamic forces. “Their leadership takes direct orders from Iran,” one source said.

FIC leaders said there was too much Islamic influence at the Beirut conference. The FIC is the driving force behind the effort to organize a second opposition conference near the end of this month in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Both the Beirut and the Riyadh events are being paid for by the Saudi government; but most Islamic leaders and even many nationalist leaders in Beirut said they will not go to Riyadh.

“I have received three invitations,” said one nationalist leader, who added that he would only attend if the event in Riyadh promises to be democratic.

“We are not going there,” said one Islamic delegate, reflecting the mood of nearly all Islamic organizations.

Their absence does not deter supporters of the FIC in the least.

“Look around you,” said one FIC delegate, noting the many Shiite clerics wearing long brown robes and while turbans. “The conference in Riyadh will be our conference,” he added, saying the “Iranian-backed mullahs” will not attend.

In fact, many FIC leaders already seemed to be regarding last week’s meeting as a sideshow, saying they came to Beirut on the condition that no major agreements would be reached. “We said we (would) only attend this conference if there are no major decisions voted on,” said one FIC source. If the delegates had formed “a government-in-exile here, you would have 10 turbans in it,” he added. “Right now, the leadership (of the opposition) is unbalanced.”

FIC delegates say a “secret” will be unveiled in, Riyadh. “I can’t tell you because that might destroy it,” said one. Other sources indicated the alleged secret is most likely an attempt by the FIC to form a government-in-exile, which it intends to control.

Islamic and independent nationalist leaders say they are fearful of how a Riyadh conference will be presented to the outside world. “This conference [in Beirut] definitely is more representative,” said nationalist party delegate Dr. Farka Ramadini.

“Here you have some press. There you will have a thousand reporters and [in Riyadh] they will say that everybody [of the opposition] is here,” feared one source from the large Islamic Action organization.

On Monday, opposition leaders — without the FIC — held a press conference in Damascus and said there would be no conference in Riyadh, and that a second conference would take place only when the entire opposition deems it appropriate.

The Once and Future Dictatorship

For now, the FIC’s offers of alliance do not appear to have fallen entirely on deaf ears in Beirut. “Our offer is really spreading,” the FIC’s Jaber said. “They are all coming to us.” The FIC did pick up a few new additions in Beirut. A small group of individuals associated with the powerful Islamic Dawa party are now cooperating with the FIC, according to Islamic and nationalist sources. And a small, previously unassociated liberal party is also negotiating a relationship, they said. These sources added that the liaison from Washington met directly with both before their switch.

But who will ultimately dominate the opposition remains to be seen. Independent nationalist leaders said that it would difficult for the FIC to succeed. “Even within [these breakaway] groups there are good people. We are talking to them now,” said Dr. Ramadini. “If they find out that the man in charge is with the CIA, I don’t think they will go with them.

“You can isolate him. People know,” he added.

And it remains unclear how the FIC expects to someday govern Iraq without a concrete internal base. Instead, foreign interference threatens to permanently rupture the opposition, and thereby delay the ultimate ouster of Saddam. In addition, at least 55 percent of Iraq’s population identify themselves as Shi’ite Muslims. Any attempt to exclude Islamic representation is likely to trigger a backlash, which might result in the very same radicalization of Iraq along fundamentalist and anti-Western lines that such meddling is designed to avoid.

“There is no chance [the intelligence agency meddling will work],” said the nationalist Ramadini. “I think the overwhelming majority have a consensus in trying to avoid the pitfalls of being backed by foreign powers. You can buy people. You can pay them dollars, houses — all that. But all you gain is people in whom no one believes.”

Hassan Al-Alowi, a major independent leader within the opposition said, “This is the first phase of a new dictatorship.”

Release the Jesuit Tapes

Original article can be found here.

by Thomas Long & Frank Smyth

The FBI Has Videotaped Testimony That Accuses the Salvadoran Army of Killing Six Jesuits—and Proves the U.S. Knew in Advance

SAN SALVADOR—American officials in both San Salvador and Washington claim that they have cooperated “intensely” with the investigation into the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter last November. Yet even though State Department officials finally yielded to pressure from Congress to turn over the sworn testimony of a U.S. military adviser—who said he knew of the murder plan in advance—they have continued to withhold key evidence. For 10 months the FBI has kept a videotape of the adviser’s testimony, which suggests there was a conspiracy to murder the Jesuits that included several top Salvadoran army officers, in their Washington headquarters.

Two weeks ago U.S. Embassy officials delivered to a Salvadoran judge three cursory sworn affidavits given by U.S. Army Major Eric Warren Buckland to the FBI in January. But they did not turn over the videotape or a transcript of a detailed discussion between Buckland and FBI examiner Paul Cully.

The recorded discussion is vital. Cully based his own conclusion that Buckland had prior knowledge of a plan to kill the Jesuit priests on the videotaped interview. It also contains information that Buckland recanted—with only a sketchy explanation—one week later.

“There is no way to analyze his statements and his supposed retraction without having the videotape—or at least a transcript—to know exactly what he said and what he was trying to recant,” said Antonio Cañas, a senior political analyst at the Jesuit-run University of Central America.

American officials have yet to explain why this evidence has not already been volunteered to investigating Salvadoran authorities. In fact, U.S. officials in San Salvador have received strict instructions from Washington not to comment on Buckland’s testimony at all.

Nevertheless, the videotape was entered into evidence at FBI headquarters in Washington. Logged, according to official FBI documents, under case title “Shooting of Six Jesuit Priests,” subject “Murder,” it has been “maintained” at the Polygraph Unit, section GRB, Suite 2, under the file number #00116093 PQ1X0.

“Why is the Embassy being so fucking tight-lipped?” asked a non-American Western official, who has been independently monitoring the investigation. “Somewhere somebody is lying through their back teeth within the U.S. hierarchy.”

According to Jesuit academic Michael Czerny, “The United States government from very early on has been acting in a very irregular if not criminal manner.”

Major Buckland has offered two clearly conflicting stories. First he said he had prior knowledge that senior officers were planning to murder the priests. Then he said that he only learned of the Jesuit murders after the fact.

But his recantation is less than weak. “It’s absolutely nonsensical,” said one Western diplomat. In both versions, Buckland says that some time before the Jesuits were killed he accompanied a senior Salvadoran army officer, Colonel Carlos Avilés, to the country’s military academy to “solve a problem” with the school’s director, Colonel Guillermo Benavides. Benavides was later charged with ordering the Jesuit murders.

Buckland says he shared a close working and personal relationship with Colonel Avilés, his Salvadoran counterpart in developing psychological operations for the war. He also says that Avilés was his chief source of information on the murders. According to both Buckland’s original and revised testimonies, on the day of their visit to the academy, Avilés was acting as a special envoy of then army chief of staff Colonel René Emilio Ponce.

In a sworn handwritten statement given to the FBI on January 11, Buckland says Avilés told him that Benavides, the military school’s director, and other unnamed officers were planning to kill Ignacio Ellacuría, the rector of the University of Central America and the most prominent of the murdered priests. The adviser says he waited while Avilés went to talk with Benavides:

“Aviles appeared very uncomfortable about talking to Benevides. Upon returning to the vehicle Aviles called me back to the vehicle and told me that he had to work something out; ‘Colonel Benavides is from the old school, he liked to handle things in his own way, in the old style.”…

“Benevides told Aviles that Ella Coria [sic] was a problem. Aviles told me they wanted to handle it the old way by killing some of the priests. I asked what happened when you (Aviles) talked to him. Aviles told me that Benavides was old school and was still the ‘rammer.’ ”

In his January 18 retraction one week later, Buckland describes the same visit in even greater detail. He recalls, for instance, Avilés telling him “about the fine quality of the bread baked at the military school.” At the same time, however, Buckland curiously claims not to remember anything about his conversation with Avilés concerning Benavides—which was, according to the adviser’s own testimonies, the purpose of the trip:

“After we both got into the vehicle, I asked him words to the effect of what was going on and I do not remember his reply or specifically what “we talked about.” According to this revised version, the major still claims Avilés told him about Benavides’s involvement in the murders—but on another occasion, six weeks after the crime took place.

In explaining the switch, Buckland implies that his initial version was given under duress, and that he became confused during the FBI examination. But it does seem odd that Buckland could have invented the information that Benavides wanted to murder Father Ellacuria—and even write it down himself—and then recall nothing a week later. What’s more, Buckland’s first account is rich, in its particulars, with little hint of confusion under stern FBI examination. It seems unlikely, for example, that Buckland could have remembered all the details like the little-known nickname, “the rammer,” when Benavides is more commonly referred to by fellow officers as “Virgin Boots.”

U.S. officials back up Buckland’s claim that he lost control of his faculties in his initial testimony—even though the veteran Green Beret and army Special Forces Psychological Operations major was under routine questioning as a friendly witness.

Even more convincing, a lie detector test directly contradicts Buckland’s retraction. In answer to the question, “Did you have prior knowledge that the Jesuits would be killed?” Buckland said no, and the polygraph indicated “deception,” according to official FBI documents.

Based on this and the subsequent videotaped interview, FBI examiner Cully concludes: “Buckland admitted that he obtained prior knowledge that the [priests at the university] were going to be killed, specifically Ellacoria [sic], through conversations with Colonel Avilés. According to Major Buckland, Colonel Avilés told him of the intent of certain officers of the El Salvadoran Army to conduct a military operation against the University of Central America. Major Buckland became aware of this information several weeks before the Jesuits were murdered.”

But Colonel Avilés, Buckland’s main source, denies telling the adviser anything. Avilés denies even his former friendship with Buckland—a relationship of which both Salvadoran and Americans were well aware. Indeed, Avilés claims that he was not even in El Salvador when the alleged trip took place.

Buckland, in his initial statement, says the pair made the visit “approximately 10 days before the killings (circa November 6, 1989).” But in his later version, the adviser says the trip was made in late October, recalling that Avilés left for vacation at the beginning of November.

Colonel Ponce, on whose orders Avilés was allegedly sent to the military school, also denies knowing of the murders in advance. He bases his denial on a selectively narrow reading of Buckland’s testimony (Ponce has since been promoted to the military’s top post as minister of defense).

Last month Ponce sent a letter to Massachusetts congressman Joe Moakley, who chairs a special task force on the investigation. Ponce points out that Avilés passport indicates he was not in El Salvador in early November. “That should be sufficient to demonstrate with facts the falsehood of Major Buckland’s declaration,” he says in the letter.

Only Buckland’s revised testimony, which U.S. officials now claim is the truth, establishes the date of the visit in late October.

The newest revelations do not mark the first time Avilés and Buckland have given widely disparate versions of their activities together. Buckland first came forward in early January, telling his superiors that Aviles informed him in December that the military school director had ordered the killings. Avilés categorically denies revealing any information.

Both men were given lie detector tests at that time. Congressman Moakley and other officials concluded that it was the Salvadoran colonel who was lying.

Avilés would have had good reason. To be branded a snitch within the most exclusive and powerful men’s club in El Salvador—the senior officers’ corps—is akin to blowing the whistle on the Mafia. At the very least, “his career is over,” said one Western official. Not surprisingly, Avilés has since said he’s planning to retire.

“It is a very grave sin among them [to snitch],” said a chief prosecutor from the office of the Salvadoran attorney general. “But they can’t get rid of him now, because it would be too obvious.” Portions of the affidavits which Buckland does not retract reveal that both men feared for their lives because of what they knew of the murders.

The many inconsistencies between Buckland’s original and revised testimonies clearly indicate that key pieces of the puzzle are still missing. For one thing, much of the information he recants in his revised affidavit never actually appeared in his previous sworn statements.

What’s more, the FBI examiner’s report draws heavily on evidence that has never been made available to Salvadoran judicial authorities. The most complete record of what Buckland may have known and when he knew it is likely to be found in the videotaped FBI interview.

The Bush administration has never been notably openhanded about information concerning the Jesuits’ murder. The January affidavits were released only after Congressman Moakley publicly complained in mid-October. The Salvadoran judge on the case has now asked for the videotaped interview; U.S. officials refuse to comment on the matter, saying they have not yet received a formal diplomatic request.

Such behavior leads Jesuit leaders and other observers to question the administration’s true intentions. “The U.S. Embassy did not provide the evidence, and they have not yet explained why,” said Father Jose Maria Tojeira, the Jesuit Provincial for Central America. “They are either inept, or acting in bad faith.”

Sources say that Buckland’s January testimony was “discovered” by U.S. officials in San Salvador in late September. Yet they refuse to say who in the federal government might be responsible for their mysterious discovery or even which agency channeled the evidence from the FBI headquarters in Washington to the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador. They also fail to explain why it took nearly a month to pass the evidence to Salvadoran authorities— at the same time that they deny that Moakley’s prodding played any role.

Non-American officials and other observers say that the U.S. government’s blatant discrepancies warrant an inquiry. “There are too many agencies involved,” said one Western diplomat. “They [should] be called to testify under oath.”

Officials of the Jesuit university agree.

“There has always been passive complicity [by U.S. officials] in human rights abuses in the past; now the complicity has become active,” said the university’s Cañas. “It is not only a question of how far does this complicity reach, but where did it begin?”

The Truth Will Out

San Salvador — The official purpose given for Assistant Secretary of State Bernard Aronson’s visit here two weeks ago was to express support for negotiations between El Salvador’s U.S.-backed government and the leftist guerrillas. But the real reason the ranking state department policymaker for Latin America traveled to El Salvador was to give a scathing lecture to the High Command of the Salvadoran Army over their suspected involvement in the murders of six Jesuit Priests last November.

Aronson gave the High Command a dressing down that differed markedly from his public comments on the U.S. ambassador’s lawn. Sources present at the meeting said Aronson lambasted the assembled officers about the Jesuit investigation, and demanded that those responsible be brought to trial.

U.S. officials here admit to being terrified at what they might find if they press the government to get to the bottom of the case. They have begun to realize that not only a few lower-ranking officers, but several members of the senior High Command may be complicit in planning the murders. U.S. officials also fear the embassy’s favorite son, armed forces chief of staff Colonel Rene Emilio Ponce, may be involved.

So far, no definitive evidence to link specific senior officers to the actual ordering of the crime has come to light — presumably because individual officers have closed ranks to protect one another. But a mounting body of evidence points increasingly to the complicity of the High Command.

Military intelligence sources as well as Catholic Church officials say that prior to the Jesuit murders, the military conceived of “Plan Djakarta” a term coined after the brutal 1965 anti-communist campaign in Indonesia that led to the wholesale slaughter of leftists and ethnic Chinese in that country. Sources say the military’s Plan Djakarta, which was developed in the midst of the major offensive by leftist guerrillas last November, targeted dozens of prominent religious, labor, and other popular leaders for assassination. The Plan Djakarta strongly suggests that the Jesuits were not killed in isolation, but as part of a broader, preconceived plan.

Under strong pressure from Congress, the [George H. W.] Bush administration has been forced to make the infamous massacre of six Jesuit priests and two women a test case for U.S. policy. But various diplomatic and other sources say the Salvadoran military High Command is actively blocking the investigation. Unless the crime is successfully prosecuted and its “intellectual authors” within the military are tried, U.S. officials admit they will have little remaining justification to defend against serious cuts in U.S. aid.

It’s now become apparent that the dilemma has frozen U.S. policy in its tracks. At the very least, even if Ponce was not involved in the killings, given his sway over the rest of the rest of the High Command, diplomats suspect the chief of staff is collaborating in a cover-up. The High Command’s failure to demand accountability in the case demonstrates that U.S. attempts to “professionalize” the Salvadoran Armed Forces have been in vain. Though it has been financed and supported by U.S. tax dollars over the past 10 years, the Salvadoran military is now thumbing its nose at its backers, and the senior officers that currently dominate the High Command have become Washington’s Frankenstein — or Noriega — in yet another Central American nation.

The High Command remained politely silent during Aronson’s address, and at the end gave him an ovation. But sources present said they doubted that his words were well heeded. One observer said, “It was like telling sharks not to eat sardines.”

Wearing a standard dark-blue suit, white shirt, and red tie, the assistant secretary looked a little out of place before the camouflage-clad Salvadoran High Command, according to one observer present. “He was like a Dutch uncle,” he said. “But I don’t know if they got the [message].”

Aronson’s visit came in the wake of heavy pressure from U.S. officials here. Diplomats say the embassy’s military attaché, Colonel Wayne Wheeler, has lobbied the High Command almost daily to cooperate with the investigation. Frustrated with the lack of progress in the case, U.S. ambassador William Walker — conscious that his own diplomatic future may be hanging on the outcome — recently gave what officials described as the “toughest speech of his 30-year career.” But the High Command didn’t budge. Aronson was called in to up the ante.

Five soldiers and three junior officers have been charged with carrying out the murders, and Colonel Guillermo Benavides has been charged with ordering them. But diplomats and other observers here are almost unanimous that Benavidcs, who has been referred to as “Virgin Boots” could not have ordered a crime of such magnitude on his own. “I know Benavides,” said a senior U.S. official directly involved in the case. “I don’t believe he did it,” he said flatly.

For a time, U.S. officials entertained the thought that the lower-ranking officers charged in the assassination of some of El Salvador’s most prestigious Catholic clergy and respected academic critics on their own. But both the severity of the crime and the number of troops involved make that highly unlikely. Besides, the High Command’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation puts that scenario further in doubt. “Why would a lieutenant decide to do that?” said a non-American Western diplomat. “It had to come from higher up.”

Speculation revolves around two now well-known meetings. The first took place in the High Command headquarters the evening of November 15, just hours before the Jesuit murders. The second occurred in the military’s National Directorate of Intelligence (which shares facilities with the CIA) several hours after the deaths. Earlier this year, military sources told reporters that officers at the first meeting decided to use air power to put down the mounting guerrilla offensive, and to try to assassinate suspected rebel leaders in the capital. Sources also said that at the second meeting, officers clapped in approval upon hearing of the Jesuits’ deaths.

One Salvadoran Army officer present at that second meeting, Colonel Pineda Guerra, took issue with his fellow officers for applauding, according to diplomatic and military sources. Pineda argued that the Jesuit murders were a mistake, and predicted that the case would be a terrible scar on the military as an institution. Other officers, especially Colonel Guzman Aguilar, argued that the Jesuits deserved what they got. “[Pineda] made a real impression on people present,” said a U.S. official — implying that either American officials or sources were also represented.

But it still remains unclear who ordered the killings — and who knew about them, and when. On the morning the Jesuits were killed, Army soldiers raided the headquarters of the Lutheran Church and were also seen at the homes of several other antigovernment politicians and activists. All but the Jesuits had already gone into hiding. That the actions all occurred at about the same time led to speculation among Church officials and others that the military had drawn up a list, identified to the Church as “Plan Djakarta.” Several members of the High Command confirmed the existence of the Plan Djakarta, according to an individual with long-standing access to the military and official intelligence information. The purpose of the list was “to decapitate” the antigovernment movement, he said. “There were lots of religious and other people on it.” When asked how many, he said, “at least a hundred.”

El Salvador’s Catholic archbishop, Rivera y Damas, told an audience in Europe that he believes his name and that of Auxiliary Bishop Rosa Chavez were included: “Bishop Rosa Chavez and I could have died too on that night (the Jesuits were killed). Our names were on the list of Plan Djakarta, whose aim was the physical elimination of all of those of us who denounce human rights violations and the system of injustice here in El Salvador.”

“What we do know, we have from sources which the Archbishop sees as worthy of belief,” Rosa Chavez later told an American reporter. “The plan you mention did exist.” Two days after the Jesuits were killed, El Salvador Attorney General Eduardo Colorado sent a letter to Pope John Paul II, warning him that the bishops were in danger. The Salvadoran AG encouraged the Pope to temporarily withdraw the bishops for their own protection.

The Jesuits’ deaths make it inconceivable that they would not have been on the list. The testimony of one the lieutenants charged with killing them is also telling. According to the testimony recorded by El Salvador’s Fourth Penal Court, Benavides told three of his subordinates, “This is a situation where it’s them or us; we’re going to begin with the ringleaders. And within our sector, we have the university and Ellacuria [the most prominent of the murdered priests) is there.”

Nevertheless, judicial authorities have not even begun to seriously investigate the High Command. Actually, fewer than a dozen officers have provided even peripheral testimony in the case. Ponce, for example, took responsibility for ordering a search of the Jesuits’ residence less than three days before they were killed. But he has only provided a judge with prepared statements, limited largely to the search itself. Only one senior officer besides Benavides has been called before the judge. Other key senior officers whom diplomats strongly suspect, such as Vice-Minister of Defense Juan Orlando Zepeda, have yet to be even seriously questioned. El Salvador’s Fourth Penal judge, Ricardo Zamora [no relation to leftist politician Ruben Zamora] is genuinely pursuing leads. But his efforts are, predictably, limited mostly to the execution of the crime, not to who gave the order.

The investigation itself has taken a number of strange turns. “Every time they get one thing straight, they come to something else,” said a non-American diplomat. “They keep incriminating more people.” The burning of more than 7O log books from the Military Academy — which might have indicated who directed the unit that killed the Priests — is one example. Military officers said that all the books from 1989 were burned as standard routine, though the books for 1987 and 1988 are, oddly, still on file.

In another bizarre twist, Judge Zamora ordered the arrest of Lieutenant Colonel Camilo Hernandez for having allegedly ordered the books to be burned. But three weeks passed before Hernandez was actually arrested, and consigned to a judge. The High Command says it was a misunderstanding; a non-American Western diplomat independently monitoring the case describes the military’s attitude toward the investigation as a “joke.”

Other diplomats say the Bush administration has wanted to get — or has needed to get in order to pacify Congress– at least one officer above Benavides to take responsibility for ordering the assassinations. But the problem is whether one senior officer can be singled out from the rest. “They were looking for one other name besides (Benavides),” said a non-American diplomat. “They (thought) someone higher up was involved, but what if they were all involved?”

Secret Warriors: U.S. Advisers Have Taken Up Arms in El Salvador

Original story found here.

MR. NIELDS: Well, you put in some blanks. You said “blank” in two places. There’s nothing classified about either of these words. One of them is CIA—
MR. NIELDS: —and the other is Southern Command. “Delicate state of transition from CIA run op to Southern Command run op.”
LT. COL. NORTH: That’s referring to the country in which FR [Felix Rodriguez] was living, and I though that was a classified program. It has nothing to do with the Nicaraguan resistence.

El Salvador was the country in question, not Nicaragua. Chief House Counsel John Nields was quoting from notes that North had taken on a conversation with then U.S. Southern Command head General Paul Gorman; the brief exchange between Nields and North, on the afternoon of July 8, went largely unnoticed in the voluminous Iran-contra press coverage. But they shed dirst light on the participation of U.S. military and paramilitary personnel in combat in El Salvador.

Fighting in El Salvador has been more intense and claimed more lives than the better-known “contra war” in nearby Nicaragua. El Salvador has been a laboratory for the post-Vietnam Pentagon, which has been trying to figure out how to run a massive counterinsurgency program without committing U.S. troops. Judging from death tolls, the Pentagon’s efforts have been quite “successful.” But in another sense, the plan has gone awry. A military counterinsurgency specialist notes that the U.S. never intended to implement some “Machiavellian plan.” That, however, is exactly what the Salvador counterinsurgency has turned out to be.

The U.S. has backed the Salvadoran government in its war against leftist insurgents for the past seven years. The Reagan administration has provided El Salvador with over $1.5 billion in war-related aid since 1981, and has assigned a group of U.S. military advisers to the country. The advisers, limited by a White House-Congress agreement to no more than 55 at a time, are prohibited from entering combat.

Yet U.S. advisers have engaged in combat in El Salvador, according to interviews with military sources.

The exchange between Nields and North refers to a secret military operations involving both the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces of the Southern Command. Following the initial exposure of this operation during the July 8 hearings, CIA officials quoted in The Los Angeles Times admitted that the agency’s operatives had trained and led military teams in El Salvador. These officials would not say whether the units sough out the enemy or willingly engaged in combat. The purpose of these missions, CIA officials said, was to collect intelligence information on guerilla movements in order to call in air strikes.

Documents obtained from the War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, however, indicate that “Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols,” trained and led by the CIA with assistance from the U.S. Army Special Forces, were heavily engaged in combat. The documents, dated January 1, 1985, state: “One of the more gratifying improvements was the establishment of a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (PRAL) capability….This unit, operating in small teams, has accounted for hundreds of guerilla casualties and has been instrumental in disrupting guerrilla combat operations, logistical nets and base camps.”

These teams consist of two to seven specially trained Salvadoran troops, led by a CIA paramilitary operative. It is inconceivable that the CIA operatives who accompanies and led these united did not engage in combat. The War College report, for example, which is entitled “El Salvador: Observations and Experiences in Counterinsurgency,” describted the PRAL teams as one of the most effective components of the government’s counterinsurgency. “The unit has proven that El Salvadoran troops, with the proper training and leadership, can operate effectively in small groups and they have set a standard of valor for the rest of the [Armed Forces]” (emphasis added).

The War College documents state that PRAL units were first trained by the Third Battalion of the U.S. 7th Special Forces in Panama. Former 7th Special Forces advisers with experience in El Salvador and Central America reveal that U.S. military advisers, in addition to CIA paramilitary operatives, engaged in combat operations in El Salvador and neighboring countries.

Many of these advisers are from Puerto Rico, where the U.S. military recruits heavily with an eye towards Central America operations. A former Special Forces operative from Puerto Rico, who participated in the 1968 Bolivian campaign that resulted in the death of Che Guevera, was called back from retirement to aid in counterinsurgency training.

The bulk of this covert involvement, former Special Forces operatives say, occurred from 1982 to 1984, when U.S. military aid and assistance to El Salvador was highly controversial .

When the Reagan administration first came to power in 1981, El Salvador, not Nicaragua, was its primary concern in Central America. Leftist guerilla forces of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) was growing and by 1982 controlled up to one-third of the country’s terrain. There was great fear in Washington of a leftist takeover, and the administration was and still is committed to preventing the “loss” of a second Central American nation after Nicaragua.

The Salvadoran armed forces were plagued by incompetence, corruption, and poor leadership. In the early stage of the conflict, the military and the extreme right committed some of the worst human rights atrocities in the region’s history. More than 28,000 people were killed by 1982, according to the San Salvador archdiocese’s human rights office, most of them at the hands of Salvadoran armed forces.

The U.S. began to equip and train the Salvadoran military in 1981, at a time when their repressive activities were most out of control. The U.S. Army’s Mobile Training Team began by creating Atlacatl Immediate Action Battalion. A second Immediate Action Battalion, Atonal, was trained in 1982. A third battalion, Ramon Belloso, was trained at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in the same year. Brought to the U.S. to overcome the limitations imposed by the 55-adviser limit, the Belloso battalion cost $8 million to train.

In a similar effort to overcome the 55-man limit, small marine-commando units were trained by elite U.S. Navy SEAL unites in Panama, Additional marine commandos were trained in El Salvador. In 1983, the very successful and feared Arce Cazador or “hunter” patrols, were trained in El Salvador and Honduras by the U.S.

Eventually, these elite units and battalions began to make a difference in the war, but a chronic shortage of competent and specifically trained battle officers contined to complicate operations in the field. “Souble or tripple hatting,” for example, where a company commander might also take on the duties of an operations officer or an intelligence officer, was common.

As a result, military sources say, U.S. advisers were forced to take a more active role in the filed. The air force representative of the U.S. Military Group, for example, was moved from the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador to the air base in Ilopango. The U.S. Military Group consists of about 13 midranking officers, whom the Department of Defense does not clarify as advisers. According to the January 1985 War College report, the senior air force representtive became a “full-time advisor” to Salvadoran Air Force commander Colonel Bustillo.

Former Special Forces advisers say tht U.S. advisers were also assigned as Combat Brigade Officers to advise and assist Salvadoran battle operations in the field. Providing full-time advice to Salvadoran colonels, these Special Forces advisers functioned as intelligence or operations officers for infantry brigades. Intelligence officers attempt to predict enemy movements; operations officers plan and coordinate attacks.

U.S. advisers are, of course, prohibited from participation in combat manuevers and are told not to discuss the nature of their assignments with these brigades. A brigade consists of two to four battalions, which are the principal combat units in countering a guerilla war. A former Special Forces adviser says these assignments were spontaneous and erratic, due to the highly secretive nature of this operation and the U.S. government’s attempt to keep it concealed.

Smaller team-size units of independent Special Forces troops, a U.S. military officer says, were also deployed in Honduras along the Salvadoran border in 1982 and 1983. It is not clear that they engaged in combat. The Reagan administration hoped these teams could stop the overland arms flow from Nicaragua through Honduras to El Salvador. But another goal of this operation, military sources say, was to find and produce evidence of such a flow to further the administration’s overall policy aims. The administration has repeatedly accused the Sandinistas of aiding the leftist rebels in El Salvador and has advanced this argument to justify military aid to both the contras in Nicaragua and the government in El Salvador. Reliable U.S. military intelligence sources say the FMLN does receive weapons from abroad, but the flow has decreased substantially since 1982. The guerillas are generally able to get what they need on the Salvadoran black market, including U.S.-supplied M-16s. A year ago, I was quoted a prie of $2000 for an M-16 in San Salvador; bulk prices would presumably be lower.

Overall, the counterinsurgency effort in El Salvador represents the largest commitment of U.S. resources to a developing country since the Vietnam War. Unlike Vietnam, the Pentagon has been unable to run this war without using large numbers of troops; the assigning of CIA operatives and Special Forces advisers to patrol behind enemy lines has been crucial to the new, scaled-down strategy. Nevertheless, though direct participation by U.S. resouces has been markedly low, in the past few months a number of Special Forces personnel have been wounded or killed.

Many Salvadoran officers and units singled out by the War College for their effectiveness, such as former lieutenant colonel Sigfrido Ochoa, are some of the worst known violators of human rights. Elite U.S.-trained battalions such as Arce, Atonal, and Atlacatl are favorite sons of the U.S. Department of Defense. But these same battalions have been responsible for a host of massacres since 1981.

For example, the Atlacal battalion massacred 700 people in a “search and destroy” mission in El Mozote in northeast Morazán in 1981. More recently, the Arce Battalion killed five suspected “subversives” last May. The victims, who were peasants, were shot and dumped in a well at Los Palitos in the eastern province of San Miguel. Colonel Mauricio Staben, the commander of Arce battalion, is believed to have overseen the killing of hundreds of suspected leftists or sympathizers. Last sprin, the U.S.-trained colonel was also implicated in a kidnapping-for-profit ring, but no charges were brought after fellow officers came to his defense.
Although the conflict in Nicaragua has domintated U.S. attention in the past six months, measured in terms of resource commitment the war in El Salvador is the Reagan administration’s primary concern. The administration claims that most of its assistance is development-related. But three-fourths of U.S. aid to El Salvador goes either directly or indirectly to the war.

The Salvadoran armed forces have expanded from 14,000 in 1981, when the U.S. began to play an active role, to 54,000 troops last year. El Salvador’s leftist guerillas , on the other hand, have decreased from 10,000 to less than 6000 combatants, many of whom have been fighting throughout the last seven years. The War College documents state that one goal of the adminstration’s policy is “neutralization of the guerillas.” As a result, U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Edwin Corr predicts that war will drag on another seven to 10 years. Already 60,000 people have died; 25 per cent of the popuation is displaced.

The CIA no longer leads PRAL missions in El Salvador, as coordination of that and other Salvadoran military efforts have been handed over to the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces of the Panama-based Southern Command. The Special Forces’ goal is to “professionalize” the Salvadoran military, and according to the War College documents, “sensitize” them to the issue of human rights. Even the Pentagon realizes the war will not be won by “simply killing guerillas.” Yet, despite administration claims to the contrary, killing is the only thing the Salvadoran military does well.

Duarte’s Secret Friends

Original article found here.

José Napoleón Duarte has completed the first half of his five-year term as President of El Salvador, and his position has never been weaker. In the past year Duarte has seen a serious erosion of his formerly solid peasant and working-class support. Once the strongest in Central America, Salvadoran labor unions were decimated by state repression in the early 1980s. But they have steadily regrouped and now confront Duarte’s U.S.-backed government with its fiercest political challenge yet.

Classified documents from the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador reveal that the Reagan Administration has responded by trying to divide and destroy the new independent labor movement. The Administration’s main instrument has been the American Institute for Free Labor Development, a branch of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. Created in 1962, in the wake of the Cuban revolution, AIFLD receives more than 90 percent of its funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Its 1986 budget for operations in El Salvador was $3.5 million, and documents obtained by The Nation show that some of that money was used to entice the Popular Democratic Union (U.P.D.), an important formerly pro-Duarte federation, away from an influential new grouping sympathetic to the guerrilla opposition. Reached for comment on March 2, AIFLD spokesman Jack Heberie denied that the organization has any role in the U.P.D.’s defection from the new coalition. He also denied AIFLD involvement in furthering any aspect of U.S. policy in El Salvador.

According to a memorandum dated November 22, 1986, classified “secret” and addressed from AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR to SECSTATE (Secretary of State George Shultz), U.S. officials were “overjoyed” by the success of their attack on the opposition labor movement and intend to continue to “pick off” further independent unions “one-by-one. ”

AIFLD claims that it is an independent labor organization created to promote the growth of democratic trade unions in Latin America. In fact, it regularly functions as a surreptitious tool of U.S. foreign policy. According to official sources, classified U.S. documents are routinely circulated to AIFLD’s offices in both San Salvador and Washington, and AIFLD regularly reports on its activities to U.S. government officials in San Salvador.

For the past year AIFLD’s country director for El Salvador, the Cuban-born Clemente Hernández, has collaborated with the U.S. labor attaché for El Salvador, Francis (Paco) Scanlan, to ruin the opposition trade union movement in El Salvador. Following a pattern that is typical of AIFLD tactics in Latin America, in November 1986 the organization lured U.P.D. Secretary General Ramon Mendoza away from the opposition camp with an initial payment of $3,000 and the promise of more.

The trade union organizations that AIFLD successfully bought off last fall are particularly crucial to the Reagan Administration’s plan. Although its membership has shrunk in recent years, the U.P.D. carries great symbolic weight, both inside the country and, crucially, in the international arena. The U.P.D. was originally a coalition of nine labor groups, five of which in 1983 signed a historic “social pact” with Duarte, then a presidential candidate. Drafted with the help and support of AIFLD, the social pact was considered a monumental step in the Reagan Administration’s strategy of “nation building” for El Salvador.

In return for electoral support from the U.P.D. in the May 1984 elections, Duarte promised to implement a series of programs and reforms designed to benefit the working class. He pledged to pursue negotiations with the guerrillas of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front-Democratic Revolutionary Front (F.M.L.N.-F.D.R.) and seek a political solution to the war; to prosecute human rights violators and enact judicial reforms; to appoint U.P.D. labor officials to prominent positions in the government; and to expand El Salvador’s political space to allow for the participation of opposition groups associated with the left.

According to Salvadoran labor activists, Duarte kept only one of those promises, naming several labor officials to government posts. The government has been unwilling to negotiate with the F.M.L.N.-F.D.R.; human rights violators have not been brought to trial; and parties to the left of Duarte’s Christian Democratic Party remain excluded from effective political participation. In addition, opposition trade union leaders are still regularly detained and harassed by security forces. Because of Duarte’s inability and unwillingness to make changes and pursue reform, the U.P.D. leadership grew disaffected with the President by mid-1985.

For most of El Salvador’s trade union leaders, however, the turning point came in January 1986, when Duarte abandoned the populist rhetoric of his earlier presidential campaign and introduced el paquetazo, or “the package” — a severe and far-reaching program of economic austerity. He had long been under pressure from the Reagan Administration to do so.

The austerity plan deeply affected El Salvador’s peasant and wage-earning class. Since Duarte came to office, the cost of living in El Salvador has more than doubled, and following the imposition of austerity measures, the cost of essential consumer services, such as bus transportation, went up 20 percent. Even more disturbing, the price of food staples almost tripled over the course of one year.

Soon after the announcement of el paquetazo, most of the groups affiliated with the formerly pro-Duarte and AIFLD-supported U.P.D. allied themselves with El Salvador’s more militant labor organizations to form the National Union of Salvadoran Workers (U.N.T.S.). It is the largest expression of above ground dissent in El Salvador since 1980, and on February 21, 1986, it organized the biggest demonstration since the outbreak of the civil war, bringing thousands into the streets of San Salvador to demand peace, reforms and an end to el paquetazo. Another U.S. Embassy memorandum, this one dated December 31, 1985, also classified “secret,” and signed by Ambassador Edwin Corr noted: “The worst in terms of labor unrest is probably still to come, and the developments on the labor front in the first quarter of 1986 could present the president with the most serious challenge to his power to date.”

Most analysts agree that Duarte’s political power waned significantly in the second year of his term and that the President has neither the will nor the power to pursue populist reforms. He is increasingly stymied by the Reagan Administration, which opposes a negotiated settlement of the seven-year civil war, and by a resurgent right, which controls the Supreme Court and has begun to boycott sessions of the National Assembly. In addition, most observers agree, Duarte is not willing to take the political risk entailed in seeking peace talks. Pressure from the labor movement to enact meaningful reforms, therefore, threatens to corner the already weakened President.

To preserve the rule of Duarte, whose continuation as President has so far been essential for annual Congressional approval of U.S. military aid, the Reagan Administration and AIFLD set out to undermine the threat represented by organized labor. In particular, they have aimed to separate Mendoza’s moderate labor groups from the militant organizations allied in the U.N.T.S.

Membership in the U.P.D. had been reduced from a peak of 150,000 in 1984 to only 1,500 in 1986. In the spring of 1985 the organization split to support two rival labor federations, one pro-Duarte, the other anti-Duarte. Ramon Mendoza kept control of the U.P.D.’s headquarters and brought the organization’s still important name to opposition labor, giving it considerable international prestige. “The vestiges of the U.P.D. (1,500 members) joined U.N.T.S.,” the embassy noted, “in effect, giving the Left a democratic facade to manipulate international labor and opinion.”

The uniting of centrist unions and radical ones sympathetic to the F.M.L.N.-F.D.R. alarmed Reagan Administration officials, who saw a revival of activities in urban areas as a key element of rebel strategy. Last September a secret C.I.A. report stated: “Even though their initial gains have fallen short of their objectives, the rebels have built a substantial foundation in the labor sector.”

Just two months later, however, the secret embassy memorandum to Secretary Shultz was hailing the U.P.D.’s withdrawal from the new coalition as a great U.S. success. The split was “especially timely,” the embassy said, “as it comes on the eve of the November 22-23 CISPES-U.N.T.S. ‘Conference for Peace’ which over 100 Americans are expected to attend.” The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, which the embassy identifies as “a U.S. F.M.L.N. support group,” says it had no role in organizing the event. The memorandum also complained that “strong support” from U.S. unions was helping to make U.N.T.S. “a threat to democratic labor,” and acknowledged frankly that the Administration’s goal was to “destroy” unions of the left:

U.N.T.S. unions have accused U.P.D. Secretary General Ramon Mendoza of “selling out,” and have charged AIFLD, the Embassy, and the P.D.C. [Christian Democratic Party] with attempting to destroy U.N.T.S. (a charge we accept).

Sources in the embassy say that the U.P.D.’s departure came after months of secret negotiations between the U.P.D. and U.S. officials. In late 1985 and early 1986, before Mendoza helped found the opposition labor coalition, the disaffected U.P.D. leader had been quietly trying to cut a deal with the U.S. camp. On January 11, a month before the U.N.T.S. was established, Mendoza’s personal representatives met with U.S. Ambassador Corr. A letter written to Corr by a close associate of Mendoza indicates that the U.P.D. was seeking to establish a rapprochement with AIFLD “in accordance with the Embassy’s wishes.”

Much to the U.S. Embassy’s chagrin, however, relations between AIFLD and Mendoza turned sour. The U.P.D. leader played his trump card in February, when he allied himself with the militant anti-Duarte forces in the U.N.T.S. In turn, AIFLD, and in particular its hard-line leadership in Washington, embarked on a full-scale propaganda campaign to discredit the U.P.D.’s dissident leadership. Published AIFLD “briefs” described the formerly “democratic” union as having been infiltrated by the Marxist-Leninists and having been steered away from the Duarte camp.

In June, official U.S. sources say, labor attaché Paco Scanlan initiated a new series of meetings, this time between Mendoza and AIFLD. According to these sources, Scanlan was personally committed to drawing Mendoza and his union away from the opposition camp and was supported in that endeavor by Hernández, AIFLD’s El Salvador country director. The talks between Hernández and Mendoza bore fruit when the U.P.D. pulled out of the U.N.T.S., on November 16.

The classified U.S. Embassy memorandums show that there were sharp disagreements between U.S. officials in San Salvador and AIFLD’s Washington headquarters. The December 1985 memorandum laid part of the blame for the U.P.D.’s declining numbers on AIFLD:

By the end of 1985, the U.P.D. had been reduced to an emaciated shadow of its former organization. Internal power struggles and personality clashes together with deliberate AIFLD policy to supplant the U.P.D. with a non-political labor central … were the main reasons for the U.P.D.’s decline.

The November 1986 memorandum reported that Scanlan had become initiated by the apparent vendetta being conducted against the U.P.D. by AIFLD’s Washington office. It commented sharply:

AIFLD, which had great misgivings in Washington about the U.P.D. strategy, should direct its policy at holding our side together, while continuing to pick off U.N.T.S. member unions one-by-one.

The documents reveal that in exchange for his formal departure from the U.N.T.S., Mendoza received “initial assistance” of $3,000 from AIFLD. The secret agreement stipulated that neither AIFLD nor the other Salvadoran labor groups that the institute supports would attempt to steal union members from the U.P.D. At the same time it left open the possibility that by working closely with AIFLD and El Salvador’s ruling Christian Democratic Party, Mendoza might be able to poach on other member unions from the opposition labor camp.

AIFLD lavishes money on unions other than the U.P.D. in El Salvador. The largest recipient is the peasant-based Salvadoran Communal Union (U.C.S.), to which Mendoza himself once belonged. The U.C.S. receives $30,000 a month from the institute, and its leaders have often been accused of pocketing AIFLD funds. According to reliable union sources, after Mendoza broke from the united opposition, he told other labor leaders that if they followed his lead in breaking from U.N.T.S. he could secure payments for their organizations equivalent to $160 per member.

The embassy appears well pleased by its efforts. “The bottom line of this process is that things are going our way,” the memorandum to Shultz concluded:

In the past 12 months U.S. interests have been greatly served by the overall trends in Salvadoran labor. U.N.T.S. now stands denuded of its democratic facade and we have about as clean and neat a division between democratic and communist labor as we are ever likely to get in El Salvador. We have 250,000… on our side, they have 55,000 or Isici theirs. In the past 12 months, U.S. interests have been greatly served by the overall trends in Salvadoran labor. U.N.T.S. now stands denuded of its democratic facade and we have about as clean and neat a division between democratic and communist labor as we are ever likely to get in El Salvador. We have 250,000 … on our side, they have 55,000 or [sic] theirs.

The embassy documents make it clear that AIFLD and the U.S. labor attaché have now targeted other labor leaders to be lured away from the opposition camp. To protect President Duarte’s eroding position and “U.S. interests,” they appear ready to do whatever is necessary to rend El Salvador’s organized labor movement.