The ‘80s War in Central America Never Ended: Today’s Refugees Are the Result

CIA Drugs

Yesterday, on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” I heard an interview with Jennifer Harbury. She’s a lawyer and human rights activist whose husband was tortured and murdered by the Guatemalan military during its 1980s war against that country’s own population. In that U.S.-supported conflict, more than 200,000 mostly Mayan indigenous were slaughtered. In 1999, President Clinton apologized to the world for what has been described as U.S. support of genocide.

In the clearest of terms, Ms. Harbury described not only her husband’s torture and the Guatemalan catastrophe. Even more importantly, she explained in the clearest of terms, the connections between our current refugee and immigrant crisis on the one hand and the war against the drug trade on the other.

The story goes like this.

During the 1980s the Reagan administration followed by the Clintons waged illegal wars against Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras. The ostensible idea was to stop the spread of communism in tiny countries whose brutal military dictatorships the U.S. had supported for decades. Atrocities by the Guatemalan army prevented starving poor people from trying a way other than obeisance to dictatorships in order to feed, nourish and educate their children.

To fund those illegal wars, the CIA sold drugs. They got them from places like Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico. They peddled them through street gangs located in the United States. In the process, Central American military intelligence officers – “assets” trained in the School of the Americas and equipped by the CIA – got very rich.

When the 1980s wars in Central America officially ended, the now-unemployed CIA assets wondered how to continue raking in their money. The obvious solution was to keep doing what they had done as long as they could remember – to terrorize, torture and slaughter their own people. But this time they did it without the benefit of the anti-communism fig leaf. They committed mayhem without lofty pretense – just for the money and to protect the drug trade. The profits remained huge.

In other words, the former CIA assets never finished their U.S.-funded wars against their own. They just formed drug cartels – brutal gangs exquisitely trained in torture and armed to the teeth by the United States. And the kicker was, they enjoyed virtual immunity from prosecution by the U.S. government and its celebrated “War on Drugs.” That’s because the latter’s policy is always (when possible) to protect assets who in the past have served it well.

That’s right: contrary to what Attorney General Sessions tells us, the cartels are not apolitical “street gangs.” They’re not super-predator kids. They are business men with military training and friends in very high places. Their identities are well-known and documented in U.S. government files. But those records remain closed to the public.

So, instead of prosecuting the legally invulnerable drug king-pins, the United States has decided to prosecute their victims – the Central American and Mexican refugees stuck on the border between Mexico and the United States. These include farmers who refuse to grow drugs, young men opting out of membership in drug gangs, businesses owners choosing not to cooperate, people who “know too much,” social-justice activists, women who object to their husbands’ or sons’ involvement, reporters documenting the cartels’ atrocities, academics and researchers – and all the consequently endangered families, along with those “tender age” children stuck in border concentration camps, black sites, and baby jails.

All of them should be protected by laws shielding such refugees. The United States is signatory to many such provisions.

So, what should be done in the face of these clear facts? It’s not as hopeless as you think:

• Begin by observing the law: take in those refugees as stipulated by U.S.-sanctioned international law.
• Release the documents identifying the CIA assets-turned-cartel-gangsters.
• Arrest, try and imprison them.
• Using the same documents, identify the CIA and other government officials responsible for funding the 1980s Genocide Wars with drug money.
• Arrest, try and imprison them as well even if they once held (or even now hold) the highest of offices.
• Defund the drug war.
• Instead, spend its plenty on rebuilding the countries the United States has destroyed by more than a century of supporting dictators, genocidal wars, and by its tolerance and protection of drug cartels and lords.
• In so doing, remove the cause of the current “refugee and immigrant crisis.”

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

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