America’s ‘Wretched Record’ of Military Proxies

John Glaser, April 10, 2013

Training at the School of the Americas

In a discussion at The New York Times, Kate Doyle, a senior analyst of U.S. policy in Latin America at the National Security Archive, delivers a strong critique of one of America’s greatest pastimes: arming and training foreign militias, often to bolster brutal authoritarian governments.

Her particular focus is Latin America. It is worth quoting at length:

During the cold war, the United States poured millions of dollars into arming and training militaries in Central America to serve U.S. strategic goals – in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua before the 1979 Sandinista revolution. Washington wanted to stop what it perceived to be the threat of communist domination in its own “backyard.” As a result, the United States supported the armed forces of brutal authoritarian governments that shared the same vehement anti-communist ideology.

But the policy ignored the regimes’ complicity in murdering tens of thousands of their own citizens.The most infamous among the training centers was the School of the Americas (created in Panama and moved in 1984 to Fort Benning, Ga.), which graduated hundreds of officers who went on to become documented human rights abusers. But visiting officers attended dozens of other institutions as well, including the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, N.C., and the intelligence school at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

The courses they took were not directed toward protecting national borders but crushing an “internal enemy” that sought to compel political and economic change through armed revolution.

The concept of “internal enemy,” as defined in U.S. doctrine and training manuals from the era, included civilian political opponents as well as armed guerrilla forces. Politicians, indigenous farmers, labor leaders, lawyers, students and human rights activists were considered equally legitimate targets by U.S. military allies. The death tolls were staggering. In El Salvador, the army killed an estimated 75,000 unarmed civilians during its 12-year civil war. Guatemala’s security forces were responsible for 93 percent of more than 200,000 civilians murdered between 1960 and 1996, according to a United Nations truth commission.

Instead of helping secure just democratic institutions, U.S. aid left countries with a legacy of repression and violence that the region still struggles to overcome today.

So much for exporting democracy.

Washington has had a voracious appetite for fueling proxy wars and aiding state militias all over the world. Sadly, the region in which these policies have cropped up most often, Latin America, is also one in which the history has been virtually erased from Americans’ minds.

Also largely unknown to the public, is that these policies are continuing to a lesser extent today in virtually all the same countries. Most notably is Honduras, where the drug war is used to justify deploying commando-style DEA warriors and training “death squads” that are abusing the citizenry.

See some recent coverage of US support for death squads in Honduras here, here, and here.