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VOLUME 2, NUMBER 20    <>  MONDAY, MAY 21, 2001


George W. Bush has nominated veteran diplomat John D. Negroponte as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

The following account of Negroponte’s career appeared as a posting on the Labour Left Opposition list:

New ripples in an evil story

A nun recalls meeting Bush’s proposed ambassador to the U.N.

John D. Negroponte, President Bush’s nominee as the next ambassador to the United Nations? My ears perked up. I turned up the volume on the radio. I began listening more attentively. Yes, I had heard correctly.

Bush was nominating Negroponte, the man who gave the CIA-backed Honduran death squads open field when he was ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. My mind went back to May 1982 and I saw myself facing Negroponte in his office at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa. I had gone to Honduras on a fact-finding delegation. We were looking for answers. Thirty-two women had fled the death squads of El Salvador after the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980 to take refuge in Honduras. One of them had been Romero’s secretary. Some months after their arrival, these women were forcibly taken from their living quarters in Tegucigalpa, pushed into a van, and disappeared. Our delegation was in Honduras to find out what had happened to these women.

John Negroponte listened to us as we exposed the facts.

There had been eyewitnesses to the capture and we were well read on the documentation that previous delegations had gathered.

Negroponte denied any knowledge of the whereabouts of these women. He insisted that the U.S. Embassy did not interfere in the affairs of the Honduran government and it would be to our advantage to discuss the matter with the latter. Facts, however, reveal quite the contrary.

During Negroponte’s tenure, U.S. military aid to Honduras grew from $4 million to $77.4 million; the U.S. launched a covert war against Nicaragua and mined its harbors, and the U.S. trained Honduran military to support the Contras.

John Negroponte worked closely with General Alvarez, Chief of the Armed Forces in Honduras, to enable the training of Honduran soldiers in psychological warfare, sabotage, and many types of human rights violations, including torture and kidnaping. Honduran and Salvadoran military were sent to the School of the Americas to receive training in counterinsurgency directed against people of their own country. The CIA created the infamous Honduran Intelligence Battalion 3-16 that was responsible for the murder of many Sandinistas. General Luis Alonso Discua Elvir, a graduate of the School of the Americas, was a founder and commander of Battalion 3-16. In 1982, the U.S. negotiated access to

airfields in Honduras and established a regional military training center for Central American forces, principally directed at improving fighting forces of the Salvadoran military.

In 1994, the Honduran Rights Commission outlined the torture and disappearance of at least 184 political opponents. It also specifically accused John Negroponte of a number of human rights violations. Yet, back in his office that day in 1982, John Negroponte assured us that he had no idea what had happened to the women we were looking for.

I had to wait 13 years to find out. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun in 1996 Jack Binns, Negroponte’s predecessor as U.S. ambassador in Honduras, told how a group of Salvadorans, among whom were the women we had been looking for, were captured on April 22, 1981 and savagely tortured by the DNI, the Honduran Secret Police, before being placed in helicopters of the Salvadoran military. After take-off from the airport in Tegucigalpa, the victims were thrown out of the helicopters. Binns told the Baltimore Sun that the North American authorities were well aware of what had happened and that it was a grave violation of human rights. But it was seen as part of Ronald Reagan’s counterinsurgency policy.

Now in 2001, I’m seeing new ripples in this story. Since President Bush made it known that he intended to nominate John Negroponte, other people have suddenly been “disappearing,” so to speak. In an article published in the Los Angeles Times on March 25, Maggie Farley and Norman Kempster reported on the sudden deportation of several former Honduran death squad members from the United States. These men could have provided shattering testimony against Negroponte in the forthcoming Senate hearings. One of these recent deportees just happens to be General Luis Alonso Discua, founder of Battalion 3-16. In February, Washington revoked the visa of Discua, who was Deputy Ambassador to the U.N. Since then, Discua has gone public with details of U.S. support of Battalion 3-16.

Given the history of John Negroponte in Central America, it is indeed horrifying to think that he should be chosen to represent our country at the United Nations, an organization founded to ensure that the human rights of all people receive the highest respect. How many of our Senators, I wonder, let alone the U.S. public, know who John Negroponte really is?

Sister Laetitia Bordes, s.h.

The following, published by the National Security Archive of George Washington University, records some of John Negroponte’s evaluations of his own actions. The National Security Archive is a non-governmental, non-profit organization founded in 1985 by a group of journalists and scholars who sought a centralized home for formerly secret U.S. government documentation obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Interview with John Negroponte

INTERVIEWER: tape number 10840, and we’re beginning the interview with Mr. John Negroponte. Ambassador, could you tell me something of your CV, especially relating to the period of the late 70s to the middle 80s.

JOHN NEGROPONTE: Right, well I am, I was a career diplomat for 37 years from 1960 until 1997. During the early 1980s, from 1981 to 1985, I was the United States Ambassador to Honduras.

INTERVIEWER: When you took up that position, how did you perceive, what was your briefing about the state of the country you were going to and its neighbors.

JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well, my briefing was that Honduras was a small and vulnerable country just back on the path towards democracy; it was about to have, just before I arrived, the first elections for a civilian president in more than 9 years. But that while it was on the right politically, it was surrounded by trouble. Literally surrounded by trouble. There was the situation in Nicaragua where the Sandinistas had taken over a couple of years earlier. There was a civil war going on in El Salvador and there was a similar situation in Guatemala. So Honduras was in a rather precarious geographic position indeed.

INTERVIEWER: Wasn’t there then evidence of Soviet/Cuban infiltration into these disputes?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: No, I don’t think there was any doubt of Cuban involvement. There was evidence of that, of people being trained in Cuba recruited in those countries, be it Nicaragua, or El Salvador in particular, trained in Cuban training camps and then re-infiltrated back into their, those countries. I think there, there also had been just before I got to Honduras a rather spectacular capture of an arms shipment that from Nicaragua across Honduran test, territory, destined for El Salvador, and I think that some of that equipment had been also to Cuba and the Soviet bloc. But I, certainly in my own mind, I had no doubt that these conflicts were being fueled by Cuba and, I think by implication, by the Soviet Union.

INTERVIEWER: Could you talk to me in, I find it fascinating because there is sort of a double-edged sword here, because you have the Monroe Doctrine which America has, certainly in terms of its, what we call its backyard. The Monroe Doctrine has affected a lot of American policy for hundreds of years but with the coming of the Cold War and indeed in this period the heating of period that there is quite a hot war. How did you and your colleagues react given there was, it wasn’t just an infringement or something of a challenge to your own Monroe Doctrine, it was you were coming up against representatives of the enemy. Marxist, communism, whatever you want to call it. How did that affect the way you approached the policy of what you were going to do in the area?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well, I think we were influenced a lot by the context of what else was going on in the world at the time. You gotta remember and you yourself mentioned this question of the Reagan administration having inherited a situation from President Carter before him. The experience of the late 1970s was for the United States I think a very sobering one indeed as far as the Cold War is concerned. You have, and I’m thinking in particular of two events, I’m thinking of the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1978 and the ensuing Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. So viewed in that context, what then started to happen in El Salvador, or was happening in El Salvador and in and in Nicaragua were I think of considerable concern to Washington. Well, gee, is this, you know, all a part of a pattern and if it is, or if as that appears to be the case, then we really have to do something about it, and it wasn’t Reagan who started this process. I think it was clearly Mr. Carter himself who at first very sympathetic to the Sandinista takeover, but then just before leaving office, I think, becomes rather concerned about what’s happening in El Salvador, lifts the suspension literally hours, days if not hours, before leaving office, lifts the suspension on providing aid, military aid, to El Salvador and initiates a program to bolster that country. So, and perhaps not so much the Monroe Doctrine as yes, this is a ramification if you will of the cold war. Not as alarming as and not as dramatic if you will as Cambodia or Afghanistan, but of concern nonetheless because of its proximity to its own country.

INTERVIEWER: There was a period when you were very concerned that El Salvador actually might fall, is that true?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, I would say it was. It was after I got to Honduras. I would say it’s in 1982. I got there in November of 1981, but I think during the course of 1982, the course of the battles and the engagements were such that the Salvadoran government was progressively losing control of more and more territory. The FMLN were winning victories, and we had imposed these, we had these self-imposed restrictions on what our own people could do, the level, the extent of our presence, and so forth. And so we were very mindful of that in Honduras because we ended up serving as sort of a rear area for our presence in El Salvador. We established, we negotiated during 1982 with Honduras, access to air fields in that country so that we could do some logistical and other training and other kinds of support for what was happening in El Salvador. But I think by the end of 1982 and early 1983 there was real concern as to whether El Salvador would make it. It manifested itself in another way. We established a regional military training center in Honduras. We negotiated with the Honduran government the establishment of a regional military training center for training Central American forces, but the primary motivation for doing that was to be able to bolster the quality, improve the quality of the El Salvadoran fighting forces.

INTERVIEWER: So in that context and alarm bells ringing in Washington and you receiving the necessary information, what do you think in the hypotheses would have happened if Salvador had fallen to the FMLN?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well you would have, you could perhaps have gone through another Nicaraguan type situation. That government’s similar to that of the Sandinistas. And then what we visualized at least was the prospect was that they would systematically then try to explore that kind of model to the neighboring countries, that seemed to be what was happening. So that if it was a Central American domino theory if you will, so that if it happened at first in Nicaragua, then in El Salvador. And if they succeeded in El Salvador, then presumably they would try to finish off the situation in Guatemala, which was rather ripe at the time, you may recall. And then maybe Honduras would have fallen of its own volition, without necessarily even having to make that much effort. That was the theory in any case, and it seemed a plausible hypothesis at the time.

INTERVIEWER: Even Cuban gentlemen and some Soviets that we have interviewed in the course of this series have admitted that in terms of looking at Central America, it was obvious to them it was the weak link and a good place to try and exert some influence. Your colleagues and the people in the State Department and the various agencies that worked whether they be secret or overt or covert. Was that of real American concern during your period of office there? That this was a weak link, this was a dangerous place.

JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well I think we’ve always, as long as I’ve been focused on these questions or been aware of them, I think it’s been recognized that Central America had vulnerability both politically and economically because of their social structure, because of their excessive dependence on a very small number of products for export. Because of the disparities in wealth between the rich and the poor, and so forth. So they were vulnerable societies. Tthey were both so small, as you know. The populations of Central America are very, very small indeed, so that while no one was denying, and this was one of the great debates we used to have, whose fault was it that there were communists were able to do so well down there, well, that wasn’t the point. There, there is no question that these societies were vulnerable politically and socially. The point was whether just because of these vulnerabilities, should we allow external forces such as the Cubans or the Soviets to come in and try to take advantage of those situations. That was the issue. And that was what we were reacting to, and that is why we put so much effort into Central America. But let me be clear about one thing, because I think it was much misunderstood at the time, and I don’t know how well it is understood now. President Reagan, I, I know from my subsequent service with him as the Deputy National Security Advisor, and I knew at the time also, did not want to send U.S. troops into those situations. He wanted to achieve our objectives by providing support to the governments’ concern and definitely did not want to involve U.S. forces directly. This was sort of a Vietnam syndrome, the Vietnam lesson if you will. And I mention that because I recall at the time Speaker of the House — who was of course a Democrat speaker — O’ Neill saying President Reagan won’t be happy until he has American troops in there. And that was absolutely wrong, there was no intent to involve no effort, no intent as far as I could tell to involve American forces.

The remainder of the interview can be found at www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/coldwar/interviews/episode-18/negroponte1.html