Surprise -- The Very Dark Side of U.S. History

 Many Americans view their country and its soldiers as the “good guys” spreading “democracy” and “liberty” around the world. It just ain't so.

Brief Background

from Tom Barry, Central America Fact Book (Grove Press, 1986), pp.4-6. 

The United States began meddling in Central American affairs soon after the Mexican-American War in the
mid-1800s when politicians and investors looked to the region as the next U.S. frontier.

By the 1900s U.S. gunboats were dashing in and out of Central American ports to enforce political order and
“protect U.S. property.”

  • 1927 Marines fought against the guerrilla forces of Augusto Cesar Sandino in Nicaragua
  • 1954 Washington toppled the elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala which had infringed upon the domain of the United Fruit Co. 

After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Washington developed a new approach to military and economic aid for Latin America: the Alliance for Progress: economic aid which would promote reform and afford better
living conditions and encourage top-down reforms. However, the Alliance for Progress was based on the belief that U.S. aid could promote reform as a remedy for revolution if it were accompanied by military
counterinsurgency programs. So we saw: 

  • 1961 marked the failed invasion of Cuba attempting to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro
  • 1973 the CIA participated in the coup which overthrew the elected socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile. 
  • 1983 the “Contra War” against the revolutionary government of Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista Movement. 
  • 1980s U.S. military advisors and massive military aid to the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras fueling wars that lasted into the 1990s

Intervention Today 

Following the Peace Accords signed in the 1990s, a plan similar to the Alliance for Progress in vision but not in name was put forward: Economic control of the hemisphere with security against terrorism, drugs and gangs required to “protect our interests.”


  • Coup in Honduras - June 28, 2009 (see Honduran Working Group
  • US bases in Colombia - October, 2009 [rejected by Colombian Supreme Court] and the Continental Campaign Against the Bases
  • 4th Fleet and Marines to Costa Rica
    • FOURTH FLEET REACTIVATED George W. Bush reactivated the US Fourth Fleet in 2008, and a $500 nuclear docking facility is planned in Jacksonville to accommodate the new nuclear powered aircraft carrier that will  serve as the 4th Fleet's flagship. There can be no more potent symbol of US military domination of Latin America than a nuclear-armed naval flotilla patrolling the waters of the Caribbean, Central and South America. We need to demand that Obama pull the plug on this obscene throwback to “gunboat diplomacy.” 
  • Attempted Coup in Ecuador – September 30, 2010


1. The School of the Americas (SOA), in 2001 renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC,” is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia. Initially established in Panama in 1946, it was kicked out of that country in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Former Panamanian President, Jorge Illueca, stated that the School of the Americas was the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.”
     The SOA, frequently dubbed the “School of Assassins, has left a trail of blood and suffering in every country where its graduates have returned. Over its 59 years, the SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence, and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, ?disappeared,? massacred, and forced into refuge by those trained at the School of Assassins. []
2. IFCLA sponsors a bus to the annual vigil and protest in Columbus, GA where we join with thousands of people who oppose the U.S. training of Latin American soldiers and officers at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. This happens the weekend before Thanksgiving around the anniversary of the assassinations of the six Jesuits and two co-workers at the University of Central America on Nov. 16, 1989. [click here for information]
3. IFCLA supports legislation to end funding for the school. Representative Jim McGovern reintroduced the Latin America Military Training Review Act (HR 2567) on May 21, 2009. This legislation would have suspended operations at the SOA/ WHINSEC, investigated torture manuals and human rights abuses associated with the school, and conducted an assessment of military training in Latin America. This did not become enacted. Work continues.


1.  The government of Tony Saca in El Salvador agreed to allow the U.S. to open an International Law
     Enforcement Academy in his country. Currently, classes are being held at the Military Airport of Illopongo. 

2.  The difficulty with this plan is the merging of military training and civilian police. Faculty have been guaranteed
     immunity from prosecution. 

3.  U.S. to resume training militaries (news report) -- Barbara Slavin/USA Today/November 10, 2006

          WASHINGTON - Concern about leftist victories in Latin America has prompted President Bush to quietly
          grant a waiver that allows the United States to resume training militaries from 11 Latin American and    

          Caribbean countries. The administration hopes the training will forge links with countries in the region and

          blunt a leftward trend. 

          Daniel Ortega, an American nemesis in the region during the 1980s, was elected president in Nicaragua this

          week. Bolivians chose another leftist, Evo Morales, last year. 

          A military training ban was originally designed to pressure countries into exempting American soldiers from

          war crimes trials. The 2002 U.S. law bars countries from receiving military aid and training if they refuse to

          promise immunity to U.S. service members who might get hauled before the International Criminal Court. 

          The White House lifted the ban on 21 countries, about half in Latin America or the Caribbean including

          Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico and Peru, through an Oct. 2 presidential memorandum. 

          The ban remains in effect for some countries. Venezuela, whose President Hugo Chavez is a critic of the

          Bush administration, remains ineligible because it is on a State Department list of countries alleged to have

          permitted the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation and forced labor. 

          The official explanation: The ILEAs serve a broad range of foreign policy and law enforcement purposes for

          the United States and for the world. In addition to helping protect American citizens and businesses through

          strengthened international cooperation against crime, the ILEAs' mission is to buttress democratic

          governance through the rule of law; enhance the functioning of free markets through improved legislation

          and law enforcement; and increase social, political, and economic stability by combating narcotics trafficking

          and crime.


  1. Allegedly intended to fight the production of coca and cocaine in Colombia, the $2 billion-U.S. "Plan Colombia" assistance package (currently renamed "Andean Initiative") has 80% of its aid going to the Colombian police and military for weapons, training and helicopters. While this policy meant huge contracts for U.S. defense contractors paid for by U.S. tax-payers, it translated into abruptly stopping a peace and dialogue process between then Colombian President Andres Pastrana and the leftist rebel groups, stepping up the war in the country's 50-year civil struggle. Recently elected Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has actually intensified the fighting against the two main rebel groups, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (Army of National Liberation) with newly delivered U.S. weapons and helicopters.  Colombia is now sinking into a hellish spiral of violence with more bombings and kidnappings, more disappearances and murders of opposition figures and union leaders and intensified warfare by the Colombian military. Plan Colombia is helping to combat the leftist guerilla-movements, not the narco-traffickers.
  2.  While the U.S. Congress had demanded that U.S. military assistance be used only to fight drug-trafficking and not to meddle in the Colombian civil war, the U.S. State Department has found a way to sidestep this issue by officially announcing a shift in priority from fighting drugs to fighting so-called "terrorism". This makes it easier to target the actions of irregular armed groups in Colombia with a focus on leftist groups controlling territories rich in natural resources, oil in particular.
  3. The area of focus for Plan Colombia is the oil rich area of the country. Surprise?



The Mérida Initiative is a security cooperation between the United States and the government of Mexico and the countries of Central America, with the aim of combating the threats of drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and money laundering. The assistance includes training, equipment and intelligence.

 In seeking partnership with the United States, Mexican officials point out that the illicit drug trade is a shared problem in need of a shared solution, and remark that most of the financing for the Mexican traffickers comes from American drug consumers. U.S. law enforcement officials estimate that US$12 to 15 billion per year flows from the United States to the Mexican traffickers, and that is just in cash, i.e., not including the money sent by wire transfers.  Other government agencies, including the Government Accountability Office and the National Drug Intelligence Center, have estimated that Mexico's cartels earn upwards of $23 billion in illicit drug proceeds from the United States.

 U.S. State Department officials are aware that Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s willingness to work with the United States is unprecedented on issues of security, crime and drugs,[4] so the U.S. Congress passed legislation in late June 2008 to provide Mexico with $400 million and Central American countries with $65 million that year for the Mérida Initiative. The initiative was announced on 22 October 2007 and signed into law on June 30, 2008.

 More than $1.4 billion of our taxes have already been dumped into this losing war.  Despite a nearly tenfold increase in U.S. funding for Mexico's military and police, drug-related violence in Mexico continues to soar, claiming over 20,000 lives since 2006.

 Has a single person been spared Mexico's drug violence because we bought 8 Black Hawk helicopters for the Mexican military?  Conversely, how many lives have been ruined by that same military, which committed a reported 3,388 human rights violations in the last three years while receiving over $1 billion of U.S. tax dollars?

 Mérida's failure to curtail drug-related violence stems from a failure to recognize the drug trade's roots: U.S. demand and Mexican poverty.  As long as addicts in Los Angeles continue to provide an ample market for cocaine, cartels in Tijuana will kill to control that market.  As long as Mexican youth see no legitimate employment alternatives, they will continue to work for those cartels.  No one in the U.S. has been weaned off of cocaine addiction by Mérida's gift of night vision goggles to Mexico's police.  No one in Mexico has found viable alternatives to drug-running because Mérida bought the Mexican Navy two surveillance planes.

 The peaceful future that violence-stricken Mexicans seek cannot be found in the barrel of a gun, but in well-funded Mexican schools and well-stocked U.S. drug rehab clinics.



John Negroponte launched the Merida Initiative in 2008 when he served as Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere.  Initial coordination in Central America took place during Negroponte’s official tour of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in June of 2008 to promote the initiative.

 Later CARSI, the Central America Regional Security Initiative, and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) were divided off from the Merida Initiative, which now refers exclusively to the Mexican portion of the program.

 In the 2008, 2009 and 2010 appropriations bills, a total of $258 million dollars were appropriated for Central America, $1,322 million for Mexico and $32 million for the Caribbean.

 Merida Initiative funds are coordinated by the State Department via three bureaus within the State Department.  The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs administer the majority of the funds, appropriated to the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) account.  The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs administers funds appropriated as part of the Economic Support Fund, and funds appropriated to the Foreign Military Financing account are administered through the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

 However, the actual implementation of activities is carried out by other agencies, such as U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).  Significant coordination is also carried out with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice (DOJ), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), among others.

 The Merida Initiative promotes inter-agency coordination and particularly joint national security actions by police and military. Central America nations have been struggling for over 20 years to remove militaries from internal security functions following the genocide and massive human rights violations carried out in the 1980’s by Central American militaries, with strong U.S. support.



Levels of violence in Guatemala, Honduras and EL Salvador have grown over the past decade to such an extent that United Nations statistics demonstrate that the level of killing is higher than even during the internal armed conflicts of the 1970s and 1980s, and are among, if not the, highest murder rates in the world.

 It is interesting to note that while the Sandinista government in the early 1980s dismantled the corrupt security forces in Nicaragua, which currently enjoys a lower murder rate than Washington, DC, no such process occurred in other Central American nations.  In El Salvador and Guatemala, in theory, new civilian police forces were constructed following the “peace processes” of the 1990s, however many military personnel were simply shifted directly into the police, and parallel death squad structures were immediately articulated within the police forces.

 It is worth noting that the militaries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have been heavily implicated in drug trafficking.  In the case of the Honduran and El Salvadoran militaries, they undertook extensive collaboration with the covert Contra supply network operated by White House aid Lt. Col. Oliver North out of the Ilopango air base in El Salvador, at a time when internal Central Intelligence Agency reports, a Department of Justice report and a Congressional report all document that the Medellin drug cartel contributed cash to the Contra effort in exchange for accommodation of their activities by CIA and other US authorities.

 US Ambassador to Honduras at the time, John Negroponte, was a key bulwark of support for the Contra support.

 The 1980’s set the stage for the growth of organized crime in the region and the creation of the mechanisms for impunity that allow them to flourish, including the structuring of the justice system in the current and 16th Honduran constitution, approved during a military government in 1982.

 It is also interesting to note that in the recent coup attempt in Ecuador it has been alleged that police anti-narcotics units that took over control of the airports had been trained by and maintained close relations with the US embassy.

 On October 19th, 2010 David T. Johnson, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, visited Guatemala focusing on reviewing the International Commission Against Impunity and Corruption, a United Nations sponsored effort to prosecute organized crime networks through the Guatemalan justice system with the assistance of international lawyers.

 Currently there is an effort to regionalize CICIG, creating similar programs in Honduras and El Salvador.  Though debate is ongoing, Honduran human rights organizations fear that the ongoing control of the justice system by the authors of the June 2009 military coup will make it impossible for a CICIG type program to effectively combat impunity, and that such a measure, structurally ineffective from the start, would lend legitimacy to the coup government currently engaged in massive human rights violations, which is anxious to gain reentry to the Organization of American States (OAS).

 The Honduran pro-democracy, coup resistance movement, born in the wake of the June 2009 military coup, hopes to convoke a National Constituent assembly to create a new constitution that would restructure the justice system.  Members of the Resistance explain that structural weaknesses in the justice system can only be addressed through the drafting of a new constitution.

 Colombian security forces, especially during the Uribe administration, have committed massive human rights violations including the kidnapping and killing of urban youth, transporting them the jungle and dressing them as guerrilla combatants to demonstrate to the press as victories in Colombia’s internal armed conflict, a practice known as “false positives.”



          1.  NAFTA, CAFTA, FTAA, etc.  This alphabet soup really is about opening markets for U.S. goods and services

               in Central and Latin America and getting cheap labor in free trade zones.
          2.  The agreements are signed by the Presidents of the countries without consultation with the people.  Most are

               ratified in the middle of the night, sometimes with a police or military encirclement of the building where the

               Assembly is voting.
          3.  Preliminary studies by economists are showing that the effects of the agreements will be devastating for local




          Plan Puebla Panama, a project of the Inter-American Development Bank, The seven central American countries

          signed this agreement to implement the plan promoting trade, tourism, education, the environment and a single

          power grid across nine southern states of Mexico and central America. 


           1.  The Millennium Challenge Corporation is a United States government-owned corporation responsible for the

                stewardship of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA).   MCC is designed to promote, support and ensure

                accountability for the innovative foreign aid strategies it administers with the following principles:

                    · Reduce Poverty through Economic Growth: focus on agriculture, education, private sector development,

                      capacity building…

                    · Reward Good Policy: assistance given to those who govern justly, invest in their citizens, encourage

                      economic freedom…

                    · Operate as Partners: the countries will be responsible for identifying the greatest barriers to their own

                      development, ensuring civil society participation, and developing an MCA program

                    · Focus on Results: clear objectives, benchmarks to measure progress, procedures to ensure fiscal

                      accountability and sustainability. 
            2.  At the present, the communities affected by projects funded by the MCC have not been included in the design

                 or impact process.                                                                                                                                                         



          1.  A pattern of intervention in Latin American elections

               · Public statements by U.S. Ambassadors claiming candidates on the left would end remittances, bring disaster

                 to the country…

               · Envoys from Washington campaigning for the rightist candidate

               · National Endowment for Democracy funding campaigns

           2.  A disregard for self-determination especially in campaigns against the elected leaders of Venezuela, Bolivia,

                Nicaragua, Honduras, Ecuador…


           1.  Pressure for anti-terrorism policies and laws to make El Salvador “safe” for investment
           2.  Mines in El Salvador anti-mining community leaders killed
           3.  Unsuccessful support for Guatemala on the Security Council of UN
           4.  Impunity for Human Rights violators under the guise of reconciliation
           5.  More than ten Journalists killed in Honduras since January 2010, hundreds of people killed or disappeared since

                the coup in 2009.                    


Throughout South and Central America transnational corporations are investing in projects without any regard for the environment or for the health and safety of the inhabitants of the regions where they work.  The long-term effects will be devastating.  Communities are organizing in opposition to the destruction of their homes and farms, the contamination of their land and water, and the end of their culture and way of life.

  5. FREE TRADE ZONES           

Barrick Gold Strikes Opposition in South America
by Glenn Walker, Special to CorpWatch
June 20th, 2005

“Barrick! Listen! Chile will not surrender!, No to Pascua Lama!,” roared a crowd of protestors as they paraded through the streets of Santiago, Chile. The crowd was addressing Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold, in response to the company's proposed bi-national “Pascua Lama” open-pit mine on the border of Chile and Argentina. 

In what has so far been the climax of a campaign that is quickly gaining momentum, the protestors gathered on June 4th, 2005 in both Santiago, Chile's capital city, and in the northern city of Vallenar, near the Pascua Lama site. Each protest drew an estimated 2,000 people in a lively atmosphere of carnival and traditional dance and ritual. The groups condemned Barrick Gold’s plans as greedy, heavy-handed, and called the proposed mine an environmental and social nightmare, shouting, “We are not a North American colony!” 

Barrick Gold, a powerful multinational already notorious for its dealings in North America, Australia and Africa, plans to extract an estimated 500,000 kilograms of gold (along with silver, copper and mercury) from the site over a 20 year period. Before doing so, however, the company will relocate significant parts of the Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza, three giant Andean glaciers. Barrick hopes to transfer the three glaciers to an area with similar surface characteristics and elevation by merging the three into the larger Guanaco glacier. 

The anticipated environmental impact, coupled with the removal of a major source of water for surrounding communities, has local Chileans up in arms. But Barrick Gold appears un-phased by the opposition. After all, Pascua Lama is one of the largest foreign investments in Chile in recent years, totaling US$1.5 billion. 

As with many gold mines, the Pasuca Lama mine would employ cyanide leaching for on-site processing of the ore. Cyanide is a chemical compound which, even in very small quantities, is extremely toxic to humans and other life forms. If leaked from a mine site or spilt during transportation, it can quickly cause massive toxicity problems for an entire ecosystem, while mobilizing other persistent and toxic heavy metals, as well. 

For this reason the people of the Huasco Valley – the area where the headwaters of the mine site flow – are extremely anxious about the risk of poisoning their water source, along with the significant problem of large dust plumes released by mining activity. 

“The air we breathe, the water we drink and the land we cultivate have more value than the gold coveted by multinationals,” wrote the people of the Huasco valley and a number of environmentalists recenly in a letter to the Chilean president that pleaded for a halt to the project.

Barrick's plans to “relocate” three glaciers – 816,000 cubic meters of ice – by means of bulldozers and controlled blasting, is seen by mine-opponents as symbolic of the company's utter insensitivity to the environment. As headwaters for a water basin in an arid region receiving very little rainfall, many opponents are gravely concerned for the ice. They say the mechanical action involved in moving the glaciers will irreversibly melt much of it, jeopardising a delicate ecological balance further downstream. 

“A glacier isn’t just a chunk of ice you can pick up and move,” says Lucio Cuenco, from Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts (OLCA). “It’s part of a water basin, and if you move it, you’ll disrupt that ecosystem”. 

The three glaciers also constitute a precious source of environmental knowledge. Ice is a natural preservative and glaciers this large undoubtedly carry information on the flora and fauna of the area and the history of many thousands of years of the South Andes. 

There are also severe occupational health and safety issues with the mine. According to Cesar Padilla, also of OLCA, several deaths have already been reported as part of the initial construction.

Nataneal Vivanco, an organic farmer from the Huasco Valley, also voices deep worries about the safety of the mine workers. 

“They say they are a “responsible” company but I don’t know to what level because right now, although they haven’t even started to work fully, there’s been 15 deaths,” Vivanco says. 

Vivanco’s claim is echoed by activist groups campaigning against the mine, who allege that at least 15 workers have been lost. But details of exactly how the deaths occurred are unclear and the municipal councillor who is said to have an official list of the deaths was unavailable for comment. 

Barrick Gold did not wish to comment on the issue to CorpWatch, but has consistently denied the potential scale of their effect on the Huasco Valley and its inhabitants. They maintain that the project is good for the region in that it will generate thousands of local jobs, that safety standards are high, and that the environmental effects of the mine are negligible. 

“The impact on water quantity is minimal, the impact of water is none,” claimed Vince Borg, Barrick Gold’s vice president of communications last month in a statement to the Dow Jones Newswire. 

“We're not surprised at all by a number of activists coming out and offering their view and distorting some facts rather than focusing on reality,” he added. 

Despite the company's claims, the regional environmental commission CONEMA, in a recent report, has expressed concern that the company has shown little consideration for the possibility of down-stream pollution and that there is “inconsistency” in their related figures. 

The CONEMA report has called for the glacial relocation plans to be scrapped and for the mine to instead be downsized or established underground so as to lessen potential environmental impacts. Barrick Gold is still compiling a response. 

In the meantime, in an effort to stymie the growing opposition to the project, Barrick Gold has released a major TV ad campaign championing “responsible mining.” The company has also offered US$10 million to fund local educational and cultural community projects. 

The fund has been dismissed as an attempt to buy silence by mine-opponents who claim the money offered is miniscule in comparison to the profits that will be made and the damage that will be done. 

Indeed, as the world’s second biggest gold producer with 13 major mine operations worldwide, and another five in development, Barrick Gold is certainly not short on cash. What’s more, they are not required under Chilean law to pay taxes on their takings and have so far avoided having to pay a bond as insurance if something were to go terribly wrong. 

These fierce accusations of corporate irresponsibility and greed are certainly not the first the massive mining company has had to handle. In the past they have been accused of burying alive 50 miners in Tanzania (through a company they now own), of playing a heavy-handed role in attempting to silence opposition through expensive libel cases, and of blatantly disregarding community and environmental concerns all over, from the US, to Latin America, Africa and Australia. 

George W Bush Sr. also appears in the long list of grievances about the company. From 1995 to 1999 he was the "Honorary Chairman" of Barrick's "International Advisory Board," during which time he was said to have forced laws favourable to the company. 

Barrick Gold expects to have full approval for their Pascua Lama project by the end of the year. Meanwhile opposition continues to swell. 

Nataneal Vivanco says that on top of the safety problems and potential contamination to water (which he worries could ruin his chance at organic certification), Barrick's presence has caused another kind of contamination.

“The conflict that we are having -- one against the other, those in favor and those against the mine -- is a type of contamination, a social contamination."