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Morning Report 4/13/05 Bush’s Papal Bull


The neocons sure loved that dead pope. Now about those murdered nuns in Honduras . . .

THE BUSH REGIME fawns over the dead pope in Rome, but what about those dead nuns in Honduras in the ’80s?

Apparently, there are dead Catholics, and then there are dead Catholics.

The timing—not the content—of yesterday’s hearing on future Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte‘s Senate confirmation hearing was striking.

It came right on the heels of George W. Bush‘s head-over-heels lovefest in Rome at Pope John Paul II‘s funeral, at which Bush family chum Cardinal Bernard Law was honored with a starring role.

Speaking of confessions, we’ve never heard one from Negroponte regarding the ’80s Central American right-wing death squads like Battalion 316 that were accused of murdering and torturing people—including nuns and priests—while the U.S. government—including Negroponte—protected them and the corrupt dictators who ordered them to kill.

People are still demanding that Negroponte be held accountable. That won’t happen. He’s sure to be confirmed by the Senate, despite the shadows that follow him a quarter of a century later—like at yesterday’s hearing, as reported by the Washington Post:

Tension arose over Negroponte’s defense of his role as U.S. ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, when critics say he played down human rights abuses by militias allied with the Honduran government. Negroponte said that “whatever activities I carried out, whatever courses of action I recommended in Honduras, were always entirely consistent with applicable law at the time.”

A protester yelling, “We need a truth commission to show the U.S. supports torture!” was escorted from the chambers and warned not to return.

This is the 21st century, and after a brief hiatus, cold warriors like Negroponte are in control. And the neocons are hardly known for their catholic tastes. They like big-C Catholics, people who hide what’s going on in big, conservative institutions—people like Cardinal Law, who was outed as one of the Church’s chief coverup artists in its monumental sex-abuse scandal in Boston.

Springtime is the season for Weads and cardinals to pop up, but let’s stick to Negroponte.

Dig into the history of Negroponte’s ’80s Central American tour by browsing the Baltimore Sun‘s dynamite package of stories from 1995 on, starting with “Unearthed: Fatal Secrets.” The pungent sub-headline on the story by Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson said it all:

When a wave of torture and murder staggered a small U.S. ally, truth was a casualty. Was the CIA involved? Did Washington know? Was the public deceived? Now we know: Yes, yes and yes.

Here’s more:

At the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, U.S. officials were confronted with personal and written appeals for help from relatives of the disappeared. Former Honduran Congressman Efrain Diaz Arrivillaga said he spoke several times about the military’s abuses to U.S. officials in Honduras, including Negroponte. “Their attitude was one of tolerance and silence,” he said. “They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent people being killed.”

Later in ’95, Negroponte finally agreed to talk to the Sun reporters and insisted that he tried to help during those dark days in Central America.

But for an up-close and personal look at Negroponte, read Sister Laetitia Bordes‘s account of her 1982 encounter with Negroponte while she was trying to find out what happened to nuns who had disappeared. In “Facing the Nightmare of Negroponte,” she recalls Negroponte as “the man who gave the CIA-backed Honduran death squads open field when he was ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985.” Here’s an excerpt:

Thirty-two women had fled the death squads of El Salvador after the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980 to take refuge in Honduras. One of them had been Romero’s secretary. Some months after their arrival, these women were forcibly taken from their living quarters in Tegucigalpa, pushed into a van and disappeared. Our delegation was in Honduras to find out what had happened to these women.

John Negroponte listened to us as we exposed the facts. There had been eyewitnesses to the capture, and we were well read on the documentation that previous delegations had gathered.

Negroponte denied any knowledge of the whereabouts of these women. He insisted that the U.S. Embassy did not interfere in the affairs of the Honduran government and it would be to our advantage to discuss the matter with the latter.

To try to make a long, sad story short, here’s another excerpt from the nun’s piece:

In 1994, the Honduran Rights Commission outlined the torture and disappearance of at least 184 political opponents. It also specifically accused John Negroponte of a number of human-rights violations. Yet, back in his office that day in 1982, John Negroponte assured us that he had no idea what had happened to the women we were looking for.

I had to wait 13 years to find out. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun in 1996, Jack Binns, Negroponte’s predecessor as U.S. ambassador in Honduras, told how a group of Salvadorans, among whom were the women we had been looking for, were captured on April 22, 1981, and savagely tortured by the DNI, the Honduran Secret Police, before being placed in helicopters of the Salvadoran military. After take-off from the airport in Tegucigalpa, the victims were thrown out of the helicopters.

Binns told the Baltimore Sun that the North American authorities were well aware of what had happened and that it was a grave violation of human rights. But it was seen as part of Ronald Reagan‘s counterinsurgency policy.

Timing is everything. Just this week, the National Catholic Reporter, the excellent independent weekly covering the Church, devotes its cover to the martyred Salvadoran archbishop Romero, more popular than ever on the 25th anniversary of his assassination—while he was saying Mass—by a government-sanctioned death squad.

Paul Jeffrey‘s cover story from San Salvador notes:

Why Romero—25 years after his death—is growing in popularity here must be understood against a background of deteriorating economic conditions for the country’s poor. Globalization has made some Salvadorans even wealthier than before; the traditional landowning rich have been replaced by new financial sector elites who benefited from extensive privatization and the 2001 “dollarization” of the country’s economy.

The 43 percent of the population that lives on less than $2 per day faces difficult times, and the looming approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) promises only to deepen the crisis for the poor. Were it not for the more than $2 billion received every year in family remittances from outside the country, and particularly from the United States, the feeling of hopelessness would be even worse.

As I said earlier, there are all kinds of Catholics. Some get blessed by Bush and the neocons; others don’t. Bernard Law is one kind. And María Julia Hernández, director of the human rights office of the Archdiocese of San Salvador, is another. Jeffrey quotes her as saying:

“At a time when our reality is deteriorating rather than improving, we need Monseñor Romero’s testimony in defense of human rights and in favor of a consecrated life of service to others. He’s the model, the paradigm for us in these times.”

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