U.S. Needs to Listen to Arias on Latin American Issues

Oscar Arias

Oscar Arias

Oscar Arias, the president of Costa Rica and the man who will serve as mediator of the crisis in Honduras, writes in an OpEd piece this morning (July 10th) in the Miami Herald, “This coup demonstrates, once more, that the combination of powerful militaries and fragile democracies creates a terrible risk.”

Arias never once mentions the role of the United States in destabilizing democracy across Latin America but he doesn’t have to. Uncle Sam is the world’s Numero Uno arms dealer. What Arias does say is: “This year alone, the governments of Latin America will spend nearly $50 billion on their armies. That’s nearly double the amount spent five years ago, a ridiculous sum in a region where 200 million people live on fewer than $2 a day and where only Colombia is engaged in an armed conflict.”

The Pentagon’s Latin influence, always powerful, has been gaining steadily for years and few Americans appear either to know, or to care, what’s been going down the tubes South of the Border. In the five years ended in 2003—under both Presidents Clinton and Bush—U.S. military aid to the region more than tripled, Jim Lobe wrote on “Common Dreams.” “While the militarization of U.S. aid in Latin America actually began under former President Bill Clinton….trends established then have become more pronounced under Bush,” Lobe wrote, citing a report by the Latin America Working Group Education Fund. “Despite pervasive problems of poverty in Latin America, the United States’ focus on military rather than economic aid to the region is increasing,” he quoted Lisa Haugaard of LAWGEF as stating.

You can get the Pentagon’s slant on why Latins must be armed to the teeth from Stephen Johnson, installed two years ago by the Bush regime as Assistant Defense Secretary for the Western Hemisphere. Reuters quotes him as saying (May 21, 2007): “Right now funds for security assistance are slim and what programs we can offer are limited by complicated sanctions. That leaves a vacuum for powers like China and Russia to fill.” This statement is fairly hilarious considering that Russia can scarcely defend its borders and the sinister Chinese are keeping the U.S. economy afloat by lending us billions. (And what’s “slim?”)

President Arias, who doesn’t dwell on the negatives, writes, “More combat planes, missiles and soldiers won’t provide additional bread for our families, desks for our schools or medicine for our clinics. All they can do is destabilize a region that continues to view armed forces as the final arbiter of social conflicts.” If he wasn’t so darned positive, this Nobel Peace Prize winner might have pointed out the Pentagon historically has been funding those responsible for shredding Latin societies by terror and violence.

The investigative reporting non-profit Center for Public Integrity found that “in three of the four Latin American countries examined, (Colombia, El Salvador, and Peru) U.S. military and intelligence aid was implicated in human rights abuses.” The CPI reported the U.S. “helped Colombia set up intelligence networks that employed right-wing hit squads against unionists and human rights workers.” Much of this mayhem was spread by Latin military trained in the infamous School of the Americas, initially in Panama and later at Ft. Benning, Ga., a school which stoutly denies any responsibility for the scummy work many of its graduates did later.

Arias doesn’t write about this “school” but he does say, “we have seen far too many stories of tyranny, violations of human rights and political instability—stories traced in the dust by the boots of our militaries.” (Militaries that overwhelmingly got their training from the Pentagon.) Arias condemns his fellow Latins for their “reckless military spending,” words millions of peace-thirsty Americans would love to hear from the lips of their own president who, this year, will lavish about as much in tax dollars on the Pentagon War Machine as all the rest of the world spends on arms.

“The liberating army we need in the Americas today is one of leaders who come together in peace, in the spirit of cooperation,” Arias continues. “We need an army of doctors and teachers, of engineers and scientists. We need a force that recognizes that only through development and liberty, through education and health care, through better priorities and wiser investments, can we achieve the stability we seek.”

And he concludes: “I urge all leaders in the Americas to see the Honduran crisis for what it is: an urgent call for the profound social and institutional changes our region has delayed for far too long.”

Quite right! And those changes need to begin in America, with Americans. Tough as it may be, Americans building war machines and munitions need to start retooling themselves for peace work. Young people who are considering the military need to think instead about hooking up with the Peace Corps and finding jobs with non-profits and church missions.

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The U.S. Congress needs to stop unequivocally spending a dime on Latin militaries and instead divert those monies to the areas Arias outlined. And after years of spreading terror and death across Latin America, the CIA needs to be removed from that continent and dissolved. If the American people tried this approach, their reputation and standing would soar across Latin America. Powerful militaries do not make good neighbors.

Sherwood Ross

Published by the LA Progressive on July 12, 2009
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About Sherwood Ross

Sherwood Ross has worked as a publicist for Chicago; as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and workplace columnist for Reuters. He has also been a media consultant to colleges, law schools, labor unions, and to the editors of more than 100 national magazines. A civil rights activist, he was News Director for the National Urban League, a talk show host at WOL Radio, Washington, D.C., and holds an award for "best spot news coverage" for Chicago radio stations for civil rights reporting. He is the author "Gruening of Alaska,"(Best Books)and several plays about Japan during World War II, including "Baron Jiro," and "Yamamoto's Decision," read at the National Press Club, where he is a member. His favorite quotations are from the Sermon on The Mount.