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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2004

27 December 2004

Terrorists were murdering politicians, police and prominent citizens, kidnapping entire families for huge ransoms, blowing up power stations, blocking main roads. Major urban areas were thrown into chaos and paralysis.

Iraq 2004? No. Latin America in the late 1960's and 1970's, an era most people seem to have forgotten. In those years, Marxist urban guerillas were destabilizing Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia, and fighting savage wars in Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Chile's current center-left democratic government has attempted to lay renewed charges against its bete noire, retired Gen. Augusto Pinochet, that nation's 89-year old former military ruler who crushed Marxist rebels in the 1970's. The Pinochet era is a vivid reminder of what happens when `wars on terror' are declared and armed forces given a free hand to win them.

Latin American Marxist guerillas — Argentina's Montoneros, Peru's Sendero Luminoso, and Uruguay's Tupamaros — nearly brought those nations to their knees. Tupamaros became a role model for West Germany's murderous Bader Meinhof group and Palestinian Marxists like George Habash and Nayef Hawatmeh.

These Latin communist groups were supported, to varying degrees, by Cuba's DGI intelligence service and its Soviet big brother, KGB as part of a campaign to undermine US influence over Latin America. Powerful leftwing factions within the Catholic Church and foreign sympathizers also aided the insurgents in their campaign to communize South America.

Facing internal chaos and economic collapse caused by the Marxist guerillas, Latin American governments declared a `war on terrorism' and ordered their armies and security forces to crush the rebels by any necessary means — no questions asked.

Chile's armed forces overthrow the Cuban and Soviet-backed Marxist president, Salvador Allende, who had been elected with only 36% of the popular vote, arrested thousands of leftists, tortured many, and killed 3,000 or more. In Argentina, the army killed or `disappeared' 20,000 leftists and tortured thousands more in what became known as the `Dirty War.' Some 200,000 peasants died in Guatemala's brutal civil war.

The intelligence agencies of Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia jointly launched `Operation Condor' to root out Marxists at home and abroad. CIA helped plan, coordinate, and provide targeting information to `Condor.' This notorious campaign of assassination, torture and mass arrests was patterned on CIA's `Operation Phoenix' during the Vietnam War in which 30,000 Vietnamese communists and sympathizers were `taken out,' to use the current North American euphemism for cold-blooded murder.

The hard-core Latin American communists were not gentle, guitar-strumming social reformers, as their leftist supporters in North America and Europe pretended, but ruthless, ideological killers whose heroes were mass murderers Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and Stalin. Right wing regimes and their middle class supporters knew they would face firing squads or gulags if the left won. Stalinist Cuba provided a vivid example.

After a decade of killing, torture, disappearances and mass arrests, Latin America's military crushed the Marxist `terroristas.' Military regimes eventually gave way to democratic governments which, in the 1990's, began prosecuting military officers for crimes committed during the `Dirty War.' Gen. Pinochet, who, ironically, opened the way for democracy and prosperity in Chile, became an icon of military brutality.

The same `dirty war' process has been happening in the United States since 9/11. That attack, a massive criminal-political act, quickly led to a militarized response. President George Bush ordered US armed forces to invade Afghanistan, then Iraq, and attack Muslim militants and mujihadeen around the globe by fair means or foul.

FBI documents recently revealed by the American Civil Liberties Union show the White House apparently gave the military and intelligence agencies carte blanche to use any means, including torture, to crush Islamic militancy. International and US domestic laws were to be ignored.

Many senior Latin American officers have been jailed or now face prison for massive human rights violations. Having been ordered to win the dirty wars, no questions asked, they are now paying the price for the shame and guilt felt by their homelands for using illegal tactics against Marxist rebels that were almost as vicious and murderous as those used by communist regimes against their opponents. Gen. Pinochet, the Great Satan of the world's left, is exhibit A.

Senior members of the White House, Pentagon and national security agencies should think hard about the last `war on terrorism,' how it corrupted Latin America, and brought patriotic, well-meaning soldiers and politicians to be charged as war criminals.

FBI agents, who are trained in law, wrote the Pentagon and White House to protest torture of Muslims they witnessed in American-run prisons. They were clearly preparing for the day when those in Washington who authorized torture and murder are brought to book.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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