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By John Grant
I saw the masked men
Throwing truth into a well.
When I began to weep for it
I found it everywhere.
By Kathy Kelly
On August 9, 1983, three people dressed as U.S. soldiers saluted their way onto a U.S. military base and climbed a pine tree. The base contained a school training elite Salvadoran and other foreign troops to serve dictatorships back home, with a record of nightmarish brutality following graduation. That night, once the base's lights went out, the students of this school heard, coming down from on high, the voice of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
"I want to make a special appeal to soldiers, national guardsmen, and policemen: each of you is one of us. The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear a man telling you to kill, remember God's words, 'thou shalt not kill.' No soldier is obliged to obey a law contrary to the law of God. In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people, I beseech you, I implore you; in the name of God I command you to stop the repression."
The three in the tree with the loudspeaker weren't soldiers – two of them were priests. The recording they played was of Archbishop Romero's final homily, delivered a day before his assassination, just three years previous, at the hands of paramilitary soldiers, two of whom had been trained at this school.
Fr. Larry Rosebaugh, (who was killed in Guatemala on May 18, 2009), Linda Ventimiglia, and Fr. Roy Bourgeois, (a former missioner expelled from Bolivia who was later excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church because of his support for women’s ordination) were sentenced to 15 -18 months in prison for the stirring drama they created on the base that night. Romero's words were heard loud and clear, and even after military police arrived at the base of the tree and stopped the broadcast, Roy Bourgeois, who would later found a movement to close the school, continued shouting Romero's appeal as loudly as he could until he was shoved to the ground, stripped, and arrested.
As we approach the nightmare of renewed, expanded U.S. war in Iraq, I think of Archbishop Romero’s words and example. Romero aligned himself, steadily, with the most impoverished people in El Salvador, learning about their plight by listening to them every weekend in the program he hosted on Salvadoran radio. With ringing clarity, he spoke out on their behalf, and he jeopardized his life challenging the elites, the military and the paramilitaries in El Salvador.
I believe we should try very hard to hear the grievances of people in Iraq and the region, including those who have joined the Islamic State, regarding U.S. policies and wars that have radically affected their lives and well-being over the past three decades. It could be that many of the Iraqis who are fighting with Islamic State forces lived through Saddam Hussein’s oppression when he received enthusiastic support from the U.S. during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Many may be survivors of the U.S. Desert Storm bombing in 1991, which destroyed every electrical facility across Iraq. When the U.S. insisted on imposing crushing and murderous economic sanctions on Iraq for the next 13 years, these sanctions directly contributed to the deaths of a half million children under age five. The children who died should have been teenagers now; are some of the Islamic State fighters the brothers or cousins of the children who were punished to death by economic sanctions? Presumably many of these fighters lived through the U.S.-led 2003 Shock and Awe invasion and bombing of Iraq and the chaos the U.S. chose to create afterwards by using a war-shattered country as some sort of free market experiment; they’ve endured the repressive corruption of the regime the U.S. helped install in Saddam’s place.
The United Nations should take over the response to the Islamic State, and people should continue to pressure the U.S. and its allies to leave the response not merely to the U.N. but to its most democratic constituent body, the General Assembly.
But facing the bloody mess that has developed in Iraq and Syria, I think Archbishop Romero’s exhortation to the Salvadoran soldiers pertains directly to U.S. people. Suppose these words were slightly rewritten: I want to make a special appeal to the people of the United States. Each of you is one of us. The peoples you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear a person telling you to kill, remember God's words, 'thou shalt not kill.' No soldier is obliged to obey a law contrary to the law of God. In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people, I beseech you, I implore you …I command you to stop the repression.
The war on the Islamic State will distract us from what the U.S. has done and is doing to create further despair, in Iraq, and to enlist new recruits for the Islamic State. The Islamic State is the echo of the last war the U.S. waged in Iraq, the so-called “Shock and Awe” bombing and invasion. The emergency is not the Islamic State but war.
We in the U.S. must give up our notions of exceptionalism; recognize the economic and societal misery our country caused in Iraq; recognize that we are a perpetually war-crazed nation; seek to make reparations; and find dramatic, clear ways to insist that Romero’s words be heard: Stop the killing.
This article first appeared on Telesur English.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He writes columns for Al Jazeera and the Guardian. We discuss the leftward movement of Latin American governments, and the unsuccessful efforts of the U.S. government to overthrow those governments. Read Mark's columns at http://www.cepr.net/index.php/clips/mark-weisbrots-op-eds
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Freedom’s just another word: US Launches Wars and Backs Coups in the Name of Democracy, but Won’t Back Real Democracy Activists
By Dave Lindorff
The US claims to be supporting democracy from Ukraine to Cuba, and from Somalia to Iraq, often by bombing the alleged opposition, or by supporting proxy wars and subversion. But one place where real democracy activists are battling against the forces of repression they are curiously getting no backing from the United States: Hong Kong.
By Dave Lindorff
The US corporate media are awash in fevered articles and news stories about a Russian “invasion” of Ukraine, as though it was 1938, with German troops marching into Sedetenland and Austria. But let’s step back and look at what’s going on, calmly and rationally.
By John Grant
All we are saying is give peace a chance
By Dave Lindorff
There’s an old adage that goes: “You can judge a man by the company he keeps.”
If that’s the case, then applying it to nations, the world has to judge the US to be a truly wretched and repugnant country, and should be steering clear of it.
By John Grant
In Spanish, the word hondura means “depth; profundity.” The related word hondomeans “deep, low; bottom.” Hondon means “dell, glen, deep hole.” An example given in my dictionary is meterse en honduras, “to go beyond one’s depth.”
By John Grant
When lo! An angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, . . .
By Dave Lindorff
I was shocked to find myself in almost perfect agreement today with a recent column by the neoconservative pundit Charles Krauthammer.
Usually Krauthammer has me groaning, but yesterday his column nailed it.
By John Grant
I don’t believe in the dogmatic postulates of Marxist revolution. I don’t accept that we are living in a period of proletarian revolutions. Reality is telling us that every day. But if I am told that because of that reality you can’t do anything to help the poor, then I say, “We part company.”
-Hugo Chavez, 2004
The hypocrisy of the government of the United States seems to know no limits. The current posture it’s taking toward the elected government of Venezuela is simply shameful.
Look who’s calling voting ‘divisive’ and ‘illegal’: The Blood-soaked US Has No Business Opposing Sovereignty Plebiscites
By Dave Lindorff
The rot at the core of US international relations, domestic politics and the corporate media is evident in the American approach to the Ukraine crisis.
By Medea Benjamin
Sometimes it just takes one person with a creative mind to shake up the entire legal system. In the case of Costa Rica, that person is Luis Roberto Zamorra Bolaños, who was just a law student when he challenged the legality of his government’s support for George Bush’s invasion of Iraq. He took the case all the way up to the Costa Rican Supreme Court—and won.
Today a practicing lawyer, Zamorra at 33 still looks like a wiry college student. And he continues to think outside the box and find creative ways to use the courts to fuel his passion for peace and human rights.
During my recent visit to Costa Rica, I got a chance to interview this maverick attorney about his past victories, and his brilliant new idea to seek compensation for Iraqis.
Let’s start out recalling the key moment in Costa Rica’s pacifist history.
That was 1948, when Costa Rican President Jose Figueras declared that the nation’s military would be abolished, a move that was ratified the following year by the Constituent Assembly. Figueras even took a sledgehammer and smashed one of the walls of the military headquarters, announcing that it would be turned into a national museum and that the military budget would be redirected toward healthcare and education. Since then, Costa Rica has become renowned for its peaceful and unarmed neutrality in foreign affairs.
So fast forward and here you are in law school, in 2003, and your government joined George Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing”—a group of 49 countries that gave their stamp of approval for the invasion of Iraq. On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart joked that Costa Rica contributed “bomb-sniffing toucans.” In reality, Costa Rica didn’t contribute anything; it simply added its name. But that was enough to get you so upset that you decided to take your government to court?
Yes. Bush told the world that this was going to be a war for peace, democracy and human rights. But he couldn’t get a UN mandate, so he had to create a coalition to make it look like the invasion had global support. That’s why he pushed so many countries to join. Costa Rica—precisely because it abolished its military and has a history of peace—was an important country to have on his side to show moral authority. Costa Rica is listened to when it speaks at the UN. So in this sense, Costa Rica was an important partner.
When President Pacheco announced that Costa Rica had joined this coalition, the vast majority of Costa Ricans were opposed. I was really upset about our involvement, but I was also upset that my friends didn’t think we could anything about it. When I proposed suing the president, they thought I was crazy.
But I went ahead anyway, and after I filed a lawsuit, the Costa Rica Bar Association filed a suit; the Ombudsman filed a suit—and they were all combined with mine.
When the ruling came out in our favor in September 2004, a year and a half after I filed, there was a sense of relief among the public. President Pacheco was depressed because he’s really a nice guy who loves our culture and he probably thought, “Why did I do this?” He even considered resigning over this, but he didn’t because so many people asked him not to.
On what basis did the court rule in your favor?
One of the most significant things about this ruling was that it recognized the binding character of the UN Charter. The court ruled that since Costa Rica is a member of the United Nations, we are under the obligation to follow its proceedings and since the UN never authorized the invasion, Costa Rica did not have the right to support it. I can’t think of another case in which the Supreme Court has annulled a government decision because it violates the UN charter.
The ruling was also extremely significant because the court said that the support for the invasion contradicted a fundamental principle of “the Costa Rican identity,” which is peace. This makes us the first country in the world to recognize the right to peace, something that was made even more explicit in another case that I won in 2008.
Can you tell us about that case?
In 2008 I challenged a decree by President Oscar Arias that authorized the extraction of thorium and uranium, nuclear fuel development and the manufacture of nuclear reactors “for all purposes.” In that case I again claimed a violation of the right to peace. The court annulled the president’s decree, explicitly recognizing the existence of a right to peace. This means the State must not only promote peace, but must refrain from authorizing war-related activities, like the production, export or import of items intended to be used in a war.
So this meant that companies like Raytheon, which had purchased land here and intended to set up shop, is now not operational.
What are some of the other lawsuits you’ve filed?
Oh, many of them. I filed a case against President Oscar Arias (the Nobel Peace prize winner) for authorizing the police to use military weapons against demonstrators. This case also went all the way to the Supreme Court and won.
I sued the government for signing the Central America Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA, which includes weapons forbidden in Costa Rica. I sued the government twice for allowing the U.S. military, under the pretext of the war on drugs, to play war games on our sovereign land as if they were a game of chess. Our government gives 6-month permits for up to 46 military vessels to dock in our ports, with over 12,000 troops and equipped with180 Blackhawk helicopters, 10 Harrier II airfighters, machine guns and rockets. Everything on the approved list of ships, aircraft, helicopters and troops is designed and intended to be used in a war—a clear violation of our Right to Peace. But the court has not heard this case.
A big problem for me is that now the Supreme Court is not taking any more of my cases. I have filed 10 cases with the Supreme Court that got rejected; I have filed suits against Costa Rican police training at the infamous US military School of the Americas. This case has been pending for over 2 years. When the Court finds it difficult to reject one of my cases, they delay and delay. So I have to file suit against the court for delaying, and then they reject both cases.
I realize that I can’t use my name to file anymore, or even my writing style because they know my writing.
At an international gathering in Brussels in April marking the 11th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, you came up with another brilliant idea. Can you tell us about it?
I was in town for another meeting of international lawyers, but the Iraq Commission organizers found out and asked me to speak. There was a brainstorming meeting afterwards and people were bemoaning the fact that the US does not follow international law, that it isn’t party to the International Criminal Court, that it will not hear cases related to reparations for Iraqis.
I said, “If I may, the Coalition of the Willing that invaded Iraq was not just the United States. There were 48 countries. If the US is not going to compensate Iraqis, why don’t we sue the other members of the coalition?”
If you were able to win a case on behalf of an Iraqi victim in the Costa Rican courts, what level of compensation do you think you could win? And then wouldn’t there be another case and another case?
I could imagine winning perhaps a few hundred thousand dollars. Perhaps if we could win one case in Costa Rica, we could start the lawsuits in other countries. I certainly don’t want to bankrupt Costa Rica with case after case. But we have to look at how to seek justice for Iraqis, and how to prevent this sort of coalition from forming again. It’s worth a try.
Do you think there is something that we could be doing in court to challenge drone killings?
Certainly. I think the people pressing the kill button should be held personally responsible for criminal acts because the drone is an extension of their body, used to perform actions they cannot do personally.
There is also the fact that if an innocent person gets killed or hurt by a US drone in Afghanistan, the family is entitled to compensation from the US military. But that same family in Pakistan would not be compensated because the killing is done by the CIA. Can you see some legal challenge there?
Victims of the same unlawful act should get the same treatment; I would think there would be a way to hold the government liable, but I don’t know enough about US law.
Have you had personal repercussions for taking on such sensitive issues?
I have friends in the phone company who told me I was being tapped. But I don’t really care. What can they do if I talk on the phone about filing a suit?
Yes, you have to take risks, but you can’t be afraid of the consequences. The worst thing that can happen is that you get shot. (He laughs.)
Why don’t more lawyers around the world challenge their governments in the creative ways you do?
Lack of imagination perhaps? I don’t know.
I am surprised that so many good lawyers oftentimes just don’t see the obvious. I encourage students to be creative, to use international law domestically. It’s weird because nothing I’ve done has been extraordinary. These are not really great ideas. They are just a bit different, and instead of just talking about them, I move them forward.
I also encourage students to study a second profession so they start thinking differently. I studied computer engineering as my second major; it taught me to be ordered and structured in my thinking.
I would have guessed that if you had a second major, it would have been something like political science or sociology.
No. As a computer programmer you have to be totally focused--structured, ordered and deep. That is very helpful in the legal world. At law school students would hate to debate me. They’d try to move the discussion off track, to veer into a side issue, and I would always bring them right back to the core theme. That comes from my training as a computer engineer.
I suppose another consequence of your work for peace is that you don’t make much money.
Look at me [he laughs]. I’m 33 years old and I live with my parents. That’s how wealthy I am after 9 years of practice. I live simply. The only things I have are a car and three dogs.
I prefer to work by myself--no firm, no partners, no strings. I am a trial lawyer and make some money with individual clients, including labor unions. I make about $30,000 a year. I use it to live on, to try cases pro bono at the Inter-American Commission and to pay for international trips, like going to peace forums, world forums, disarmament conferences or the trip I made to Gaza. Sometimes I get assistance from the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.
I love my job because I do what I want to do; I take on the cases I am passionate about. I am fighting for my country and for my personal freedom. I don’t think of this work as a sacrifice but as a duty. If we want peace to be a fundamental right, then we have to institutionalize it—and protect it.
Medea Benjamin is cofounder of the peace group www.codepink.org and the human rights group www.globalexchange.org. She was in Costa Rica with retired Colonel Ann Wright at the invitation of the Friends Peace Center to speak about her book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.
By Michael Uhl
They haven't killed him yet.
Paulo Malhaes, the confessed Brazilian torturer whose death I recently reported on this site may not have been murdered after all. At least that’s what police investigating the case have been loudly proclaiming for the past week.
By Michael Uhl
At approximately four o’clock this past Thursday afternoon, Paulo Malhaes, a retired officer who served in the ‘70s during the years of Brazil’s military dictatorship, was murdered at his small farm outside of Rio de Janeiro.
By Michael Uhl
“The Face of Evil,” flashed the eye catching headline in Brazil’s major daily on a morning late this March, and the accompanying photo of Army lieutenant-colonel Paulo Malhaes, retired, could not have portrayed a more convincing ogre had it been photo shopped by central casting. Malhaes, a self-described torturer and murderer operated in the early 1970′s, the most repressive period in Brazil’s harsh era of prolonged military rule,
By Michael Uhl
Humanity Versus a Corrupt State:
Coups and Cash Machines in Rio de Janeiro
By John Grant
By Alfredo Lopez
For two years, starting in 2010, the United States Agency for International Development ran a social networking service -- similar to Twitter -- for the Cuban people. Its long-term objective was to forment popular revolt against the government and de-stabilize the country.
By John Grant
Making political sense out of the events in Ukraine and Crimea has become great sport. Does it mean a new Cold War? Is Vladimir Putin a better, more “potent” man than Barack Obama? Who has bigger balls?
Not funny, but it’s still hard not to laugh: How Can the US Accuse Russia of Violating International Law?
By Dave Lindorff
If you want to make moral or legal pronouncements, or to condemn bad behavior, you have to be a moral, law-abiding person yourself. It is laughable when we see someone like Rush Limbaugh criticizing drug addicts or a corrupt politician like former Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) voting for more prisons, more cops, and tougher rules against appeals of sentences.
The same thing goes for nations.
By Bud Alcock
Panchimalco, El Salvador-- Thirty years ago, on a miserably hot and humid July day in 1983, I went to Washington DC with my wife and two-year-old son in his stroller. We were there with tens of thousands to protest US involvement in civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Last month, I became re-acquainted with the political struggle of El Salvador as a member of an international delegation to observe the first round of their presidential election on February 2nd.
Proclamation of Latin America and Caribbean as a zone of peace
(Original signed by the Heads of State and Governmenent of the Community of Latin American and Caribbeans States)
The Heads of State and Government of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) gathered in Havana, Cuba on January 28 and 29, 2014 at the Second Summit, on behalf of their peoples and faithfully interpreting their hopes and aspirations,
Reaffirming the commitment of member countries with the Purposes and Principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter and International Law, and aware of the fact that prosperity and stability in the region contribute to international peace and security,
Mindful that peace is a supreme asset and a legitimate aspiration of all peoples and that preserving peace is a substantial element of Latin America and Caribbean integration and a principle and common value of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC),
Reaffirming that integration consolidates the vision of a fair International order based on the right to peace and a culture of peace, which excludes the use of force and non-legitimate means of defense, such as weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons in particular,
Highlighting the relevance of the Tlatelolco Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean establishing the first nuclear weapon free zone in a densely populated area, this being a contribution to peace and to regional and international security,
Reiterating the urgent need of General and Complete Nuclear Disarmament, as well as the commitment with the Strategic Agenda of the Organization for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL), adopted by the 33 Member States of the Organization in the General Conference held in Buenos Aires in August, 2013.
Recalling the principles of peace, democracy, development and freedom underlying the actions of countries members of SICA,
Recalling the decision of UNASUR Heads of State of consolidating South America as a Zone of Peace and Cooperation,
Recalling the establishment, in 1986, of the Zone of Peace and Cooperation of the South Atlantic,
Recalling also our commitment, agreed in the Declaration of the Summit of Unity of Latin America and the Caribbean, on 23 February 2010, to promote the implementation of our own mechanisms for the for peaceful conflict resolution,
Reiterating our commitment to consolidate Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, in which differences between nations are peacefully settled through dialogue and negotiations or other means, fully consistent with International Law,
Cognizant also of the catastrophic global and long-term humanitarian impact of the use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, and the ongoing discussions on this issue,
1. Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace based on respect for the principles and rules of International Law, including the international instruments to which Member States are a party to, the Principles and Purposes of the United Nations Charter;
2. Our permanent commitment to solve disputes through peaceful means with the aim of uprooting forever threat or use of force in our region;
3. The commitment of the States of the region with their strict obligation not to intervene, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any other State and observe the principles of national sovereignty, equal rights and self-determination of peoples;
4. The commitment of the peoples of Latin American and Caribbean to foster cooperation and friendly relations among themselves and with other nations irrespective of differences in their political, economic, and social systems or development levels; to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors;
5. The commitment of the Latin American and Caribbean States to fully respect for the inalienable right of every State to choose its political, economic, social, and cultural system, as an essential conditions to ensure peaceful coexistence among nations;
6. The promotion in the region of a culture of peace based, inter alia, on the principles of the United Nations Declaration on a Culture of Peace;
7. The commitment of the States in the region to guide themselves by this Declaration in their International behavior;
8. The commitment of the States of the region to continue promoting nuclear disarmament as a priority objective and to contribute with general and complete disarmament, to foster the strengthening of confidence among nations;
We urge all Member States of the International Community to fully respect this Declaration in their relations with CELAC Member States.
In witness of the undersigned having duly signed this Proclamation in Havana, on the 29th day of the month of January of 2014, in a copy written in the Spanish, English, French and Portuguese languages.
Looking for clues, not 'sacred' relics: NY Times admits Exhumation Proves Ex-Brazilian President Murdered
By Dave Lindorff
A few weeks ago, WhoWhatWhy ran a piece of mine criticizing a subtly deceptive article in the New York Times that made light of a wave of exhumations of popular leftist figures in Latin America. Quoting unnamed “scholars,” the paper’s Latin American correspondent Simon Romero suggested the forensic digs may be the secularized continuation of customs from the time of early Christianity, when a vibrant trade involved the body parts of saints.
That, in fact, is nonsense. The purportedly “natural”, “accidental”, or “suicide-related” deaths of such important left-leaning figures as Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda, Brazil’s President Joao Goulart and Chile’s President Salvador Allende all occurred during the rule of various rightist dictators.
The re-examination of evidence in these cases is based therefore on strong skepticism about the “official” narratives of their deaths. This skepticism, in turn, is based on a well-documented history of thousands of cases of political murder in the region.
Far from looking for relics to sell, investigators are looking for evidence that these deaths were actually assassinations, the work of fearful tyrants anxious to prevent the victims’ return to power. Now one result is in, and it’s explosive.
Truth Commission: Juscelino Kubitschek Assassinated
Investigators from Brazil’s Truth Commission, looking into the 1976 car crash of former leftist Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek and his limo driver, have discovered a bullet fragment lodged in the driver’s skull. This finding, the Commission ruled, along with other evidence, suggests that Kubitschek was murdered—most likely at the behest of the leaders of the CIA-backed military coup that also ousted his successor Joao Goulart.
A Pre-Conspiracy Theory: What If Our Premature Nobel Laureate President’s Having a ’63-Style Kennedy Moment?
By Dave Lindorff
I’m going to engage here in a thought experiment which may make some readers a little queasy, but bear with me.
It’s been half a century since the wrenching experience of having a charismatic young president cut down by bullets in what most Americans apparently still believe was a dark conspiracy by elements of the US government unhappy with the direction he was taking the country in international affairs.
By Dave Lindorff
Like an obnoxious drunk harassing everyone and spilling drinks at a party, the US has continued to make itself both loathed and laughed at in the wake of the revelations about the National Security Agency’s global spying program as revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
By Dave Lindorff
Ah, the rule of law. How often we hear our government leaders angrily demand that the rest of the world adhere to this sacred stricture, most recently as it demands that countries -- even countries with which the US has signed no extradition treaty like Russia or China -- honor the US charges leveled against National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and send him to the US for trial.
His 'Crime' is Patriotism, not Betrayal Like Hale's Philip Nolan, Snowden has Become a 'Man Without a Country'
By Dave Lindorff
In Edward Everett Hale's short story "The Man Without a Country," US Army Lt. Philip Nolan, following a court-martial, is exiled from his country, his citizenship snatched away, leaving him doomed to sail the seven seas confined to a Navy vessel, unable to make any country his home. His crime: being seduced by a treacherous leader to betray the US of A, the country of his birth.