VOLUME 2, NUMBER 20
<> MONDAY, MAY 21, 2001
George W. Bush has nominated veteran diplomat John
D. Negroponte as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The following account of Negroponte’s career
appeared as a posting on the Labour
Left Opposition list:
New ripples in an evil story
A nun recalls meeting Bush’s proposed ambassador
to the U.N.
John D. Negroponte, President Bush’s nominee as
the next ambassador to the United Nations? My ears perked up. I
turned up the volume on the radio. I began listening more
attentively. Yes, I had heard correctly.
Bush was nominating Negroponte, the man who gave
the CIA-backed Honduran death squads open field when he was
ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. My mind went back to May
1982 and I saw myself facing Negroponte in his office at the U.S.
Embassy in Tegucigalpa. I had gone to Honduras on a fact-finding
delegation. We were looking for answers. 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
There had been eyewitnesses to the capture and we
were well read on the documentation that previous delegations had
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. Facts, however,
reveal quite the contrary.
During Negroponte’s tenure, U.S. military aid to
Honduras grew from $4 million to $77.4 million; the U.S. launched a
covert war against Nicaragua and mined its harbors, and the U.S.
trained Honduran military to support the Contras.
John Negroponte worked closely with General
Alvarez, Chief of the Armed Forces in Honduras, to enable the
training of Honduran soldiers in psychological warfare, sabotage,
and many types of human rights violations, including torture and
kidnaping. Honduran and Salvadoran military were sent to the School
of the Americas to receive training in counterinsurgency directed
against people of their own country. The CIA created the infamous
Honduran Intelligence Battalion 3-16 that was responsible for the
murder of many Sandinistas. General Luis Alonso Discua Elvir, a
graduate of the School of the Americas, was a founder and commander
of Battalion 3-16. In 1982, the U.S. negotiated access to
airfields in Honduras and established a regional
military training center for Central American forces, principally
directed at improving fighting forces of the Salvadoran military.
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
Now in 2001, I’m seeing new ripples in this
story. Since President Bush made it known that he intended to
nominate John Negroponte, other people have suddenly been “disappearing,”
so to speak. In an article published in the Los Angeles Times on
March 25, Maggie Farley and Norman Kempster reported on the sudden
deportation of several former Honduran death squad members from the
United States. These men could have provided shattering testimony
against Negroponte in the forthcoming Senate hearings. One of these
recent deportees just happens to be General Luis Alonso Discua,
founder of Battalion 3-16. In February, Washington revoked the visa
of Discua, who was Deputy Ambassador to the U.N. Since then, Discua
has gone public with details of U.S. support of Battalion 3-16.
Given the history of John Negroponte in Central
America, it is indeed horrifying to think that he should be chosen
to represent our country at the United Nations, an organization
founded to ensure that the human rights of all people receive the
highest respect. How many of our Senators, I wonder, let alone the
U.S. public, know who John Negroponte really is?
Sister Laetitia Bordes, s.h.
The following, published by the National
Security Archive of George Washington University, records some
of John Negroponte’s evaluations of his own actions. The National
Security Archive is a non-governmental, non-profit organization
founded in 1985 by a group of journalists and scholars who sought a
centralized home for formerly secret U.S. government documentation
obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Interview with John Negroponte
INTERVIEWER: tape number 10840, and we’re
beginning the interview with Mr. John Negroponte. Ambassador, could
you tell me something of your CV, especially relating to the period
of the late 70s to the middle 80s.
JOHN NEGROPONTE: Right, well I am, I was a career
diplomat for 37 years from 1960 until 1997. During the early 1980s,
from 1981 to 1985, I was the United States Ambassador to Honduras.
INTERVIEWER: When you took up that position, how
did you perceive, what was your briefing about the state of the
country you were going to and its neighbors.
JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well, my briefing was that
Honduras was a small and vulnerable country just back on the path
towards democracy; it was about to have, just before I arrived, the
first elections for a civilian president in more than 9 years. But
that while it was on the right politically, it was surrounded by
trouble. Literally surrounded by trouble. There was the situation in
Nicaragua where the Sandinistas had taken over a couple of years
earlier. There was a civil war going on in El Salvador and there was
a similar situation in Guatemala. So Honduras was in a rather
precarious geographic position indeed.
INTERVIEWER: Wasn’t there then evidence of
Soviet/Cuban infiltration into these disputes?
JOHN NEGROPONTE: No, I don’t think there was any
doubt of Cuban involvement. There was evidence of that, of people
being trained in Cuba recruited in those countries, be it Nicaragua,
or El Salvador in particular, trained in Cuban training camps and
then re-infiltrated back into their, those countries. I think there,
there also had been just before I got to Honduras a rather
spectacular capture of an arms shipment that from Nicaragua across
Honduran test, territory, destined for El Salvador, and I think that
some of that equipment had been also to Cuba and the Soviet bloc.
But I, certainly in my own mind, I had no doubt that these conflicts
were being fueled by Cuba and, I think by implication, by the Soviet
INTERVIEWER: Could you talk to me in, I find it
fascinating because there is sort of a double-edged sword here,
because you have the Monroe Doctrine which America has, certainly in
terms of its, what we call its backyard. The Monroe Doctrine has
affected a lot of American policy for hundreds of years but with the
coming of the Cold War and indeed in this period the heating of
period that there is quite a hot war. How did you and your
colleagues react given there was, it wasn’t just an infringement
or something of a challenge to your own Monroe Doctrine, it was you
were coming up against representatives of the enemy. Marxist,
communism, whatever you want to call it. How did that affect the way
you approached the policy of what you were going to do in the area?
JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well, I think we were influenced
a lot by the context of what else was going on in the world at the
time. You gotta remember and you yourself mentioned this question of
the Reagan administration having inherited a situation from
President Carter before him. The experience of the late 1970s was
for the United States I think a very sobering one indeed as far as
the Cold War is concerned. You have, and I’m thinking in
particular of two events, I’m thinking of the Vietnamese invasion
of Cambodia in 1978 and the ensuing Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
in 1979. So viewed in that context, what then started to happen in
El Salvador, or was happening in El Salvador and in and in Nicaragua
were I think of considerable concern to Washington. Well, gee, is
this, you know, all a part of a pattern and if it is, or if as that
appears to be the case, then we really have to do something about
it, and it wasn’t Reagan who started this process. I think it was
clearly Mr. Carter himself who at first very sympathetic to the
Sandinista takeover, but then just before leaving office, I think,
becomes rather concerned about what’s happening in El Salvador,
lifts the suspension literally hours, days if not hours, before
leaving office, lifts the suspension on providing aid, military aid,
to El Salvador and initiates a program to bolster that country. So,
and perhaps not so much the Monroe Doctrine as yes, this is a
ramification if you will of the cold war. Not as alarming as and not
as dramatic if you will as Cambodia or Afghanistan, but of concern
nonetheless because of its proximity to its own country.
INTERVIEWER: There was a period when you were very
concerned that El Salvador actually might fall, is that true?
JOHN NEGROPONTE: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, I
would say it was. It was after I got to Honduras. I would say it’s
in 1982. I got there in November of 1981, but I think during the
course of 1982, the course of the battles and the engagements were
such that the Salvadoran government was progressively losing control
of more and more territory. The FMLN were winning victories, and we
had imposed these, we had these self-imposed restrictions on what
our own people could do, the level, the extent of our presence, and
so forth. And so we were very mindful of that in Honduras because we
ended up serving as sort of a rear area for our presence in El
Salvador. We established, we negotiated during 1982 with Honduras,
access to air fields in that country so that we could do some
logistical and other training and other kinds of support for what
was happening in El Salvador. But I think by the end of 1982 and
early 1983 there was real concern as to whether El Salvador would
make it. It manifested itself in another way. We established a
regional military training center in Honduras. We negotiated with
the Honduran government the establishment of a regional military
training center for training Central American forces, but the
primary motivation for doing that was to be able to bolster the
quality, improve the quality of the El Salvadoran fighting forces.
INTERVIEWER: So in that context and alarm bells
ringing in Washington and you receiving the necessary information,
what do you think in the hypotheses would have happened if Salvador
had fallen to the FMLN?
JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well you would have, you could
perhaps have gone through another Nicaraguan type situation. That
government’s similar to that of the Sandinistas. And then what we
visualized at least was the prospect was that they would
systematically then try to explore that kind of model to the
neighboring countries, that seemed to be what was happening. So that
if it was a Central American domino theory if you will, so that if
it happened at first in Nicaragua, then in El Salvador. And if they
succeeded in El Salvador, then presumably they would try to finish
off the situation in Guatemala, which was rather ripe at the time,
you may recall. And then maybe Honduras would have fallen of its own
volition, without necessarily even having to make that much effort.
That was the theory in any case, and it seemed a plausible
hypothesis at the time.
INTERVIEWER: Even Cuban gentlemen and some Soviets
that we have interviewed in the course of this series have admitted
that in terms of looking at Central America, it was obvious to them
it was the weak link and a good place to try and exert some
influence. Your colleagues and the people in the State Department
and the various agencies that worked whether they be secret or overt
or covert. Was that of real American concern during your period of
office there? That this was a weak link, this was a dangerous place.
JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well I think we’ve always, as
long as I’ve been focused on these questions or been aware of
them, I think it’s been recognized that Central America had
vulnerability both politically and economically because of their
social structure, because of their excessive dependence on a very
small number of products for export. Because of the disparities in
wealth between the rich and the poor, and so forth. So they were
vulnerable societies. Tthey were both so small, as you know. The
populations of Central America are very, very small indeed, so that
while no one was denying, and this was one of the great debates we
used to have, whose fault was it that there were communists were
able to do so well down there, well, that wasn’t the point. There,
there is no question that these societies were vulnerable
politically and socially. The point was whether just because of
these vulnerabilities, should we allow external forces such as the
Cubans or the Soviets to come in and try to take advantage of those
situations. That was the issue. And that was what we were reacting
to, and that is why we put so much effort into Central America. But
let me be clear about one thing, because I think it was much
misunderstood at the time, and I don’t know how well it is
understood now. President Reagan, I, I know from my subsequent
service with him as the Deputy National Security Advisor, and I knew
at the time also, did not want to send U.S. troops into those
situations. He wanted to achieve our objectives by providing support
to the governments’ concern and definitely did not want to involve
U.S. forces directly. This was sort of a Vietnam syndrome, the
Vietnam lesson if you will. And I mention that because I recall at
the time Speaker of the House — who was of course a Democrat
speaker — O’ Neill saying President Reagan won’t be happy
until he has American troops in there. And that was absolutely
wrong, there was no intent to involve no effort, no intent as far as
I could tell to involve American forces.
The remainder of the interview can be found at www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/coldwar/interviews/episode-18/negroponte1.html