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Lest we forget: Ronald Reagan at 100

12 February 2011

Ronald Reagan would have been 100 this past Sunday. In fitting tribute, I’m happy to except from Dennis Hans (Counterpunch) a summary of the Gipper’s contributions to  Mesoamerica:

In January 1981, the newly inaugurated Reagan inherited Jimmy Carter’s policy of supporting a Salvadoran government controlled by a military that, along with the security forces and affiliated death squads, killed about 10,000 civilians in 1980. In the first 27 months of the Reagan administration, perhaps another 20,000 civilians were killed. El Salvador’s labor movement was decimated, the opposition press exterminated, opposition politicians murdered or driven into exile, the church martyred.

"Open Veins" Unidentified Nicaraguan work. Photo by Florence Babb.

In April 1983, seeking to shore up shaky public and congressional support for continued aid to El Salvador, Reagan went on national television before a joint session of Congress and — with a straight face — praised the Salvadoran government for “making every effort to guarantee democracy, free labor unions, freedom of religion, and a free press.” The Great Communicator/Prevaricator achieved his objective; aid — and blood — continued to flow.

In neighboring Nicaragua, the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship slaughtered perhaps 40,000 civilians from 1977 to 1979 in a desperate bid to hold power. Candidate Reagan was sad to see Somoza go, and once in office his administration turned to officers from Somoza’s hated National Guard to spearhead a “liberation” movement. Known as the contras, they never managed to hold a single Nicaraguan town in their eight years as Reagan’s proxy army, though they were quite proficient at raping, torturing and killing defenseless civilians. Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans died in a war that never would have been were it not for good ol’ Dutch.

In Guatemala in 1982, the dictator Efrain Rios Montt — an army general and evangelical minister branded by critics the “born-again butcher” — launched his “beans and guns” scorched-earth counterinsurgency campaign. The army destroyed hundreds of villages and slaughtered thousands of civilians. Reagan was furious. Not at our blood-soaked ally, but at Amnesty International and others who documented his depridations. Rios Montt was getting a “bum rap,” Reagan whined.

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