Truth commission causes U.S. admission
Joe Courter
April 1999

The remarks were amazing to hear. On March 10th during the broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered, came a report of President Clinton's trip to Central America. The quotes came from his remarks to an informal gathering of leaders in Guatemalan society-prominent Indians, women, Government officials and representatives of the Truth Commission that a week earlier had issued its report on the 36-year civil war. This was a war of genocidal proportions on Mayan Indians, on union organizers and students, or anyone else who challenged the military-allied government, which in turn was being armed, trained, and funded by the US.

Clinton's words: "For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake." Those words, for those who heard or read them (the New York Times ran them on page A2 on March 11 paper but the Gainesville Sun, a NYT affiliate, didn't.) must have elicited varied responses. Many Americans may have said, "What repression, what civil war?" Die-hard anti-leftists were probably (further) scandalized by the conduct of the President they despise. But for many others, peripherally or intimately familiar with the general level of repression that US fosters in support of right-wing governments-in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, among others-it was a rare moment of executive honesty.

This newsletter had its start in 1986 as an outgrowth of organizing against the Reagan administrations' repressive policies toward Central America. The CISPLA in our address stands for the Committee in Support of the People of Latin America, our local solidarity group whose P.O. Box we inherited for use with the Iguana. Even the paper's name was related to self-determination in a weird sort of way: Iguanas are eaten in Central America, even prized as a delicacy. US people may not want to eat Iguana, but we shouldn't determine others' eating habits or their governments.

I'd love to believe Clinton's promise, but as sure as you're reading these words the US currently IS "support(ing) military forces and intelligence units engaging in violence and repression." It may not be as "widespread" in 1999 (the left is the second strongest party and actively participates in the current El Salvadoran and Nicaraguan governments) but if the left wins or appears poised to win, watch the repression rise.

In southern Mexico, where the Zapatistas are challenging the racism and exploitation of the indigenous people of Chiapas, the repression, were it more reported on, would probably be considered "widespread."

When Jennifer Harbury (see adjoining article) was asked about the similarity of what Mexico is going through now and what Guatemala was going through then (or even now), she pointed out the similar language used to explain the Acteal massacre (when 45 women , children, and some men were killed in December 1997) by the Mexican government; that these were the "local civil defense who were scared of the guerrillas-'those terrorists'-they just got a little carried away and killed those villagers. That's what they used to say in Guatemala." To Harbury it seems there's tactical collusion between the Mexicans and the Guatemalans, and probably with the US government, too.

The Truth Commission report on Guatemala was simply too strong and too accurate for President Clinton to deny-thus his admission of his country's "mistakes." People of conscience must always work to shine a light on such repression, and put the heat on the powers that be to cease, and demand they be brought to justice. The Pinochet example is hopeful; unless those high up the command structure are brought to justice, the repression will continue.

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