Visions Of Life
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2004-06-17 01:11:02 (UTC)

Reagan's Bloody Legacy

Reagan's Bloody Legacy
David Corn
June 09, 2004

Aren't we mature enough as a democracy to memorialize our
leaders with clear eyes? While the nation mourns one of
its most popular presidents, it must be truthful in
assessing his leadership. The very resolve being
celebrated on op-ed pages across the country also led
Reagan to ignore and sometimes sanction the brutality
being committed in the name of fighting the "evil empire."

David Corn writes a twice-monthly column for
Corn is the Washington editor of The Nation and is the
author of The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the
Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers).

I have a vision. On the day that Ronald Reagan's remains
are transported from the U.S. Capitol to the National
Cathedral for the funeral services, the hearse will pass
800 black crosses.

Each cross will represent one of the men, women and
children who were killed by the Salvadoran military in the
village of El Mozote in December 1981. Each would be a
reminder that the dead man now celebrated in the media as
a lover of freedom and democracy oversaw a foreign policy
that empowered and enabled murderous brutes and thugs in
the name of anti-Sovietism. Many innocents in other lands
paid dearly for Reagan's crusade.

Throughout his presidency, Reagan made nice with dictators-
no matter how nefarious-as long as they parroted his
opposition to communism. As soon as he entered the White
House, his administration tried to normalize relations
with Augusto Pinochet, the dictator of Chile, who was
responsible for a bloody coup that overthrew a
democratically elected (but socialist) government. The
Reaganites also cozied up to the fascistic and anti-
Semitic junta of Argentina, which tortured, slaughtered
and disappeared its political opponents. And don't forget
Reagan's attempt to woo Saddam Hussein, even after it was
known that Hussein had used chemical weapons. (Reagan
assigned this task to Donald Rumsfeld.)

Reagan may have pushed for democracy and human rights in
the Soviet bloc, but he cared little for these values
elsewhere. He dramatically urged the destruction of the
Berlin Wall and supported the Solidarity movement in
Poland. But he sent money and assistance to regimes that
repressed and murdered their people. While visiting
Ferdinand Marcos, the Filipino dictator, Reagan's vice
president, George H.W. Bush, toasted Marcos' "adherence to
democratic principles." People lost their freedom or died
because Reagan and his lieutenants could not see beyond
their ideological blinders and cut deals with miscreants
who shared their anti-Moscow mantra. Not only did Reagan
embolden torturers and murders, but the CIA-following his
order to support the contra rebels in Nicaragua (who were
trying to oust the socialist Sandinistas)-worked with
suspected drug traffickers. Who said so? Not conspiracy-
theory nuts, but the inspector general of the CIA. Years
after the contra war, the agency's IG produced two reports
that conceded the CIA had enlisted the assistance of
alleged drug runners. At the same time Nancy Reagan was
preaching "Just Say No" to drugs.

As I noted in this column a few months ago-when there was
a media hullabaloo over a schlocky biopic of Reagan-Reagan
was AWOL on one of the important battles for freedom and
democracy in the 1980s: South Africa. He defended the
racist apartheid government there and claimed-as wrongly
as could be-that South Africa had "eliminated the
segregation that we once had in our own country." And when
Republicans and Democrats joined together in Congress to
impose economic sanctions on the government of South
Africa, Reagan vetoed the measure. In response to that
veto, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a leader of the anti-
apartheid movement in South Africa, said, "Apartheid will
be dismantled, and its victims will remember those who
helped to destroy this evil system. And President Reagan
will be judged harshly by history." Not this week.

The El Mozote episode is, sadly, only one example of
violence borne of Reagan's foreign policy. The troops that
did the killing were supported by his administration
because they were fighting leftist rebels. A 1992 report
produced by a UN-sanctioned truth commission described the
awful event:

"On 10 December 1981, in the village of El Mozote in the
Department of Morazan, units of the Atlacatl Battalion
detained, without resistance, all the men, women and
children who were in the place.... Early next morning, 11
December, the soldiers reassembled the entire population
in the square. They separated the men from the women and
children and locked everyone up in different groups in the
church, the convent and various houses."

"During the morning, they proceeded to interrogate,
torture and execute the men in various locations. Around
noon, they began taking the women in groups, separating
them from their children and machine-gunning them.
Finally, they killed the children. A group of children who
had been locked in the convent were machine-gunned through
the windows. After exterminating the entire population,
the soldiers set fire to the buildings."

The report noted that "the Atlacatl Battalion was a 'Rapid
Deployment Infantry Battalion' or BIRI,' that is, a unit
specially trained for 'counter-insurgency' warfare. It was
the first unit of its kind in the [El Salvadoran] armed
forces and had completed its training under the
supervision of United States military advisors, at the
beginning of that year, 1981."

When two reporters-Raymond Bonner of The New York Times
and Alma Guillermoprieto of The Washington Post -reported
the massacre in January 1982, the Reagan administration
denied it had occurred. Reagan's point-man on Latin
America, Elliott Abrams, told Congress that these reports
were no more than commie propaganda. That is, he lied.
(Today, Abrams, that lover of truth and human rights, is a
staff member on Bush's National Security Council
responsible for Middle East matters.) A forensic
investigation conducted in the early 1990s proved that the
massacre had happened. And the truth commission's report
noted that "two hundred forty-five cartridge cases
recovered from the El Mozote site were studied. Of these,
184 had discernable headstamps, identifying the ammunition
as having been manufactured for the United States
Government at Lake City, Missouri. ...All of the
projectiles except one appear to have been fired from
United States-manufactured M-16 rifles."

Thanks to Ronald Reagan, American tax dollars supported
the murder of hundreds of El Salvadoran villagers. And the
UN-backed commission, after examining 22,000 atrocities
that occurred during the 12-year civil war in El Salvador,
attributed 85 percent of the abuses to the Reagan-assisted
right-wing military and its death-squad allies. Similar
patterns transpired in Guatemala and Honduras in the

The El Mozote massacre, though perhaps the largest
massacre in modern Latin American history, is a minor
footnote in the history of the Cold War, but it is, as
writer Mark Danner, author of The Massacre at El Mozote ,
observed, "a central parable of the Cold War." It is also
a telling tale of Reaganism. The lives of the people
butchered in this small village by U.S.-trained troops
were worth as much of that of the man whose body now lays
in a casket draped with the Stars and Stripes. Media
commentators have been hailing Reagan as heroic, iconic,
patriotic and optimistic figure who led an "American
life." It was indeed an American life, but one with lethal
consequences for others. That is as important a piece of
the Reagan story-if not more so-as his oh-so-sunny and
cheery outlook.

I doubt the villagers of El Mozote were thinking about
Reagan's wonderful disposition when made-in-the-USA
bullets supplied to their killers by the U.S. government,
in accordance with Reaga'?s foreign policy, were piercing
their bodies and ending their non-American lives.