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Selective Idealism/Selective Indignation: Double-Standards and Inconsistencies Persist in U.S. Foreign Policy

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  • The case against CISPES
  • The case against the Department of Justice
  • The ad hoc war on terror

A few days ago, Washington purged North Korea from its ‘terrorist’ list after Pyongyang demolished a cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear plant, symbolizing an end to the country’s nuclear program and its being out in the cold for a half century. Still, over seven years of President Bush’s “War on Terror” have passed, but the American public has yet to see much consistency in this country’s anti-terrorist practices. Some would contend that the term “war on terror” has proven to be an overused misnomer – often employed to bolster arbitrary U.S. foreign policy initiatives. Recent events have exposed the continuing disparity between the Bush administration’s high-flying ideological rhetoric and the practical results of its day-to-day policies.

The Department of Justice routinely uses intimidation tactics, and the pursuit of national security objectives to suppress a solidarity organization not in line with current U.S. policy. Meanwhile, the self-identified bomber of a Cuban passenger jet was allowed to hold a May fundraiser for his proudly violent cause in Miami – where he lives as a free man. Clearly, the current administration’s pursuit of national security through the war on terror has been selective, often tolerating evil at the expense of justice. If the war on terror is to be viewed as a just mission, and if other states are to join its cause to end such global violence, the White House must pursue clear goals which remain consistent with its proclaimed strategy.

Grassroots Organization Targeted for Conspiring with Foreign Agents
The Committee in Solidarity with People from El Salvador (CISPES) is a US-based grassroots organization dedicated to promoting left-wing Salvadoran interests often neglected by U.S. mainstream media. In January of this year, CISPES received a communication from the Department of Justice (DOJ) accusing CISPES of having illegal ties to the Salvadoran political party, Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) – an accusation which, if proven true, would give the DOJ access to information regarding CISPES’ internal activities. The DOJ cited the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) when it accused CISPES of sponsoring a public relations and fundraising campaign on behalf of the FMLN in the U.S. According to the terms and conditions of the FARA, which first came into effect in 1938, any person or group acting as an agent for foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity must make periodic public disclosure of its relationship and transactions with its foreign beneficiary.

In response, CISPES insists that is has no contractual relationship with the FMLN: “CISPES solidarity with the FMLN began in 1980 and continues today. It is based on a shared vision of a more just world; there is no financial or contractual agreement…What we have in common is a commitment to building a cross border movement that will unite the poor and working people of the U.S. and El Salvador in our struggle for social justice.” On June 10, members of the Latin American Solidarity Coalition, an umbrella organization to which CISPES belongs, vehemently denounced the DOJ’s actions, claiming that Washington uses intimidation to protect U.S. interests in Central America. This might not be surprising, given the recent internal investigation of the DOJ that has discovered it to be in violation of federal law due to its politically biased hiring practices in favor of more right-leaning applicants. While CISPES aligns itself with social goals similar to those held by the FMLN, it maintains that registering with the FARA is unnecessary since no formal collaboration exists.

This investigation into CISPES activities, however, does not come as a shock to the organization’s supporters or staff, as the FBI thoroughly vetted the organization in the 80s for “opposing the Reagan Administration’s policies in Central America” (NYT 1988). CISPES’ position during the Salvadoran civil war during that period – which was strongly anti-interventionist – was unwelcome in Washington, which publicly opposed the FMLN and backed the country’s repressive military regime. The current DOJ petition is unpleasantly familiar, as the series of FBI investigations beginning in 1981 was initiated on the same grounds and line of thinking – that CISPES must register with the FARA as an agent of the FMLN. The focus of the 1981 investigation quickly shifted from a FARA mandate to an anti-terrorist effort aimed at protecting national security, a move which Margaret Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights (as quoted in The Public Eye) noted occurred “even though no basis for such existed.” This new direction of the investigation allowed the FBI to justify the use of wiretapping, informants and undercover agents to keep a close watch on CISPES. It is no wonder, then, that the solidarity organization has decided to resist a new investigation that may bring upon CISPES the same invasive and unjustified and brusque surveillance methods, which the organization already has experienced.

The White House anticipates that a victory by the FMLN in El Salvador’s March 2009 elections would further embolden Venezuela’s Chávez because of his close ties with the Salvadoran left. Such a victory would fuel the politically leftward movement now sweeping parts of Latin America, as well as weaken the White House’s bid for increased regional influence. El Salvador’s government as well as its current ruling party, the right-wing ARENA, is extremely close to the Bush administration. For several decades it has adhered to a strict code of neo-liberal reforms that follow a faithful Washington Consensus regimen. Reforms such as the proposed privatization of health care and water resources have met strong opposition within the country. Furthermore, as Sha Grogan-Brown of CISPES told COHA, the failed policies in El Salvador such as “dollarization” of the currency and the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which has not triggered the desired job creation, have prompted calls for a step away from such neo-liberal programs. An electoral victory by the FMLN could kindle widespread interest in alternative trade policies –– such as Chávez’s ALBA initiative1 – which CISPES supports. Furthermore, CISPES unreservedly opposes the establishment of the US-proposed International Law Enforcement Academy in El Salvador, and criticizes Washington for allegedly interfering with elections in that country and elsewhere in Central America.

The Bush administration has hailed President Saca as a strong and durable ally in fighting the war on terror. In 2006, El Salvador’s government instated a harsh anti-terrorism law – modeled after the USA PATRIOT Act – which in effect allows lawful dissent to be easily upgraded to terrorism charges. The absurdity of this anti-terrorism measure was clearly exhibited in the arrest of fourteen demonstrators at a non-violent protest against water privatization in the city of Suchitoto in July 2007. The dissenters were charged with terrorism, an indictment which was later dropped after seven months of detention due to lack of evidence. One of the fourteen was gruesomely stabbed to death a few days after he agreed to speak publicly about his experiences. If this is the type of war on terror that the Bush administration welcomes, then it is not surprising that the DOJ would again target CISPES and other likeminded groups who adamantly oppose such misuses of power.

As in the 1980s, it seems the DOJ is attempting to stifle CISPES’ contentions with U.S. foreign policy goals as well as the administration’s efforts to deflate any public support and media attention given to the FMLN in the U.S. or among CISPES’ Salvadoran audience. However, it is once again unwarranted to invoke the FARA as a legitimate charge against CISPES for its trying to achieve these ends, since the organization has not violated any of the act’s provisions. The White House may not agree with CISPES’ ideology, but it cannot invoke the war on terror and the pursuit of national security to justify its partisan goals for Central America.

Terrorist Finds Safety in Miami
In juxtaposition to the U.S. government efforts to target CISPES on the grounds of national security, Washington allows Cuban-exile Luís Posada Carriles, a known terrorist, to roam free on U.S. soil. On May 2, Posada was honored at an extravagant banquet in Miami by a Cuban-American audience for his lifetime efforts to overthrow Cuba’s Fidel Castro. The lavish soiree would hardly suggest that Posada is an internationally wanted terrorist in at least Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Posada also was responsible for several Havana hotel bombings in the late 1990s, and various coup and assassination attempts against Castro and other Cuban officials. Most notoriously, Posada was behind the 1976 bombing of Cubana flight 455 en route from Caracas to Havana, in which 73 people died, including Cuba’s youth fencing team.

In 1976, the CIA, under then director George H. W. Bush, discovered that Posada and several of his compatriots were the masterminds behind the bombing – a discovery corroborated by evidence found in Posada’s apartment as well as by the testimony of two of his accomplices. He subsequently was charged with terrorist activity by a Venezuelan court, but escaped in 1985 from a Caracas jail before he could be forced to stand trial. After travelling throughout Latin America, promoting violence to further his hostile agenda for the region, Posada arrived in the U.S., where he was later arrested in Texas in 2005 for entering the country illegally. He served a short sentence for violating immigration law and was subsequently released on appeal in May of 2007. Venezuela and Cuba continuously have petitioned Washington for his extradition to stand trial on terrorism charges. However, he has been allowed to stay in the U.S. based on its torpid claim that he would be tortured and killed if made to return to any of the petitioning countries. Peter Kornbluh, with the National Security Archive, cites Posada’s safe haven in Miami as “a direct challenge to the Bush administration’s terrorism policy…[The evidence] leaves no doubt that Posada has been one of the world’s most unremitting purveyors of terrorist violence.”

Why Not Posada?
Complicating the matter of Washington’s reluctance to extradite Posada is the fact that before the 1976 bombing, he aided the CIA in multiple covert operations in Latin America. He also has been linked to Oliver North’s illegal funding of the right-wing Contras in Nicaragua, which fueled the US-backed civil war in that country throughout much of the 1980s. Preceding this, Posada attended the notorious U.S. military training academy, the School of the Americas – now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (based at Fort Benning, GA) – which offered U.S. training to Latin American military officers. Some alumni later went on to commit major human rights violations throughout the region. Posada was later involved with the CIA in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, after which he stayed in close contact with agency insiders up until the 1976 plane bombing. Therefore, as Venezuelan-American attorney Eva Golinger has described, “If [the US] grants asylum to Posada Carriles, it negates its universal declaration of a ‘war on terrorism’ that includes ‘those who harbor or refuge terrorists.’” On the other hand, if Washington extradites Posada, it will have turned its back on a former “servant of the country,” handing a victory to Venezuela’s Chávez, and risk further implicating U.S. officials in past and current government-sanctioned illicit activities.

Faced with the aforementioned dilemma, Washington has turned to inaction, barely acknowledging Posada’s presence in the U.S. During the May fundraising event – which Venezuela’s ambassador in Washington described as “outrageous” and a “mockery of justice” – Posada assured his audience that the current struggle against Fidel was almost over, pending the Cuban leader’s death, but asked “God to sharpen our machetes because difficult times are arriving.” In this case, sadly, the administration opts to ignore its international responsibilities in order to save face, thereby neglecting its mission to authentically fight global terrorism.

Abandoning Ideology
The war on terror is failing as it is invoked on an ad hoc basis to rationalize certain U.S. government practices and is neglected at other times when it no longer benefits U.S. interests. The contradictions are blatant, as Luís Posada Carriles – lionized by right-wing Cuba-America – escapes adjudication by legal subterfuge, while the White House relentlessly hounds those who, like CISPES, vocalize the often neglected interests and perspectives of Latin America. Former DOJ Associate Attorney General, Joe D. Whitley, aptly noted, “We must look on terrorism as a universal evil, even if it is directed toward those with whom we have no political sympathy.” If it is the policy of the United States to combat terrorism in all forms, then U.S. practices must reflect this credal belief with consistency and not with a yawning exemption offered to the likes of Posada, or as an unwarranted hectoring of solidarity organizations like CISPES.

1 The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) is a Latin American trade conglomerate created as an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas proposed by the US.