To the editor:
As my concerns mount that the Obama administration's approach to the so called "war on drugs" may turn Central America into a battlefield the likes of which the region has not seen since the 1980s, I can't help but be struck by just how little so many people here know about our often sordid and shameful history in Latin America and, even more troubling, how little they seem to care.
That apathy calls to mind an anecdote about a meeting between President Richard Nixon and a young Donald Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld had left Congress to join Nixon's staff at the White House.
Hungry for power even then, Rumsfeld was trying to carve out a foreign policy niche for himself with which to impress the president. Rumsfeld decided to focus on Latin America. When Nixon heard of his decision, he is said to have asked Rumsfeld why he would want to focus on Latin America when, in Nixon's words, "... nobody gives a (expletive) about Latin America."
Nixon was wrong. The United States had been active in Latin America for a very long time, and much of that U.S. interest resulted in some of the most egregious human rights violations and bloody violence in the modern history of the Western Hemisphere.
One example of that reality is in the news.
Former Guatemalan President and army Gen. Efrain Rios Montt was put on trial last week for genocide for his oversight of the Dos Erres massacre in which more than 200 Guatemalan civilians were killed. Rios Montt was already facing a trial for genocide and crimes against humanity trial for the massacre of more than 1,700 indigenous Maya, and the killing of as many as 17,000 political opponents and dissidents during his 18-month tenure following his taking power in a U.S.-backed coup in 1982.
Rios Montt was closely aligned with the Reagan administration, but after World War II, a succession of bipartisan administrations saw establishing U.S.-controlled governments in Latin American countries as crucial to preventing the former USSR from making strategic and economic inroads in this hemisphere. U.S. voters were told that Latin governments aligned with the U.S. were bulwarks against Soviet communism, but the truth was many of those Latin governments were little more than right-wing, often murderous, dictatorships that suppressed political opposition and dissent every bit as ferociously as anything going on in the USSR, and people of Latin America have not forgotten.
As I see more and more Obama 2012 bumper stickers on Cape Ann, I think it is crucial that serious questions be asked of the administration as to where it is headed in regard to its strategy for combating narco-trafficking in Central America.
All the signs point to the administration pursuing a militaristic approach to the problem and, already, that approach is resulting in claims of human rights abuses being carried out by U.S. drug enforcement agents, members of the U.S. military, and their host counterparts in several Central American countries, most notably Honduras.
The irony that this is happening at the same time a man who benefitted financially and politically from a past U.S. administration's militaristic approach to Central America is on trial for genocide should be lost on no one — least of all, the current president of the United States.