U. S. A

Pieces in a Latin puzzle

A diplomatic hit list - and a movie that puts Reagan on the side of repression

Anne Nelson January 12 1981
U. S. A

Pieces in a Latin puzzle

A diplomatic hit list - and a movie that puts Reagan on the side of repression

Anne Nelson January 12 1981

Pieces in a Latin puzzle

A diplomatic hit list - and a movie that puts Reagan on the side of repression

U. S. A

Anne Nelson

The scene was jubilant—even raucous—as several hundred businessmen, officials and military in mufti crowded into San Salvador’s Hotel Presidente, gulping Cuba Libres and celebrating Ronald Reagan’s Nov. 4 election-night victory. Well before midnight, U.S. Ambassador Robert White made an announcement that almost sounded like his own good-natured concession speech. “I am very hopeful that the new administration will have a consensus to carry out his policy,” he said. “I do want to add one word about the foreign service of the United States. Our mandate is to carry out the policies of the president of the United States, and that is what we will do.” Within a few weeks, however, White was finding it harder to be such a good sport, as he and other key figures of Carter’s human rights team became a target for Reagan’s transition team officials and their right-wing think-tank associates.

The trouble began in early December when Reagan’s transition team member Pedro San Juan and Frank Carbaugh, aide to Senator Jesse Helms, avowed critic of White, leaked a report recom-

ATTACK ON THE AMERICAS! .4 25-minute color film documentary mending that the new administration dispense with “social reformers” in the state department—White, Ambassador Lawrence Pezzullo in Nicaragua and Ambassador George Landau in Chile, among others. It was a hit list that recalled the post-war purge of the “China Hands”* because of their belief that the U.S. policy of blind support for Chiang Kai-shek was simply unrealistic in view of the rise of Mao Tse-tung. Meanwhile, in Central America, former CIA officer Cieto di Giovanni put himself forward as a Reagan spokesman and assured military hard-liners that Reagan would encourage a right-wing coup in El Salvador and increase military aid to the dictatorships of Guatemala and Honduras.

Such revelations threatened to become so embarrassing that Reagan staff were forced to disown them—for

*John Paton Davies Jr. and a number of other state department officials stationed in China were hounded from the service and humiliated by the hearings of Senators Joseph McCarthy and Pat McCarran in the 1950s merely for their suggestion that Mao’s China should be recognized. Failure to take it up, however, put Sino-American relations on ice for 30 years.

public consumption at least. But remarkably, Reagan has done nothing to prevent the making of a blatantly propagandist film on Latin America, for which the American Security Council was buying television time last week. The 25-minute film, Attack on the Americas, features Henry Kissinger, retired general Gordon Sumner and recently named United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, who maintains that “our policy has brought us from a situation in which we live in marvelous security in our own hemisphere to a situation in which we could very well be surrounded by Soviet bases on our southeastern and southern flanks.”

The American Security Council, which describes itself as the “educational secretariat” of “The Coalition for Peace Through Strength”—an organization whose founders must have been unaware of the old Nazi slogan STRENGTH THROUGH JOY—has budgeted $1.5 million for the film’s television distribution. The connection between Reagan and the coalition is left deliberately murky, but is strongly implied. “The Communist attack on the Americas is not over,” viewers are told. “What is at stake is more than the freedom of our neighbors to the south____Today El Sal-

vador, Guatemala; tomorrow Honduras, Costa Rica, Belize, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Mexico . . . the United States____” The film cuts to Rea-

gan, who declaims, “Peace is made by the fact of strength____” The film narra-

tor has the last word. “It is time now for the people of the United States to unite—with Ronald Reagan—to reverse the trends in Central America.” This they can do, the narrator continues, by signing a resolution —and by contributing $15 to the American Security Council Foundation.

In part, the movie is a monstrous fake: it attacks the “bloodthirstiness” of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas by showing footage of bomb damage in Managua caused, in fact, by their adversary, ex-dictator Anastasio Somoza’s airforce. It attacks the Salvadorean opposition by blaming it for bloodied bodies that clearly bore signs of the torture that is the trade mark of the National Guard; and it makes an oblique argument for U.S. military intervention. Says Kirkpatrick, Reagan’s chosen envoy to a body dedicated to the cause of world peace, “Persons trying to defend themselves against Marxist-Leninist insurgencies, depending upon the United States for supplies, are given neither the arms, nor the advice, nor the training, nor the logistical support which they need.”

Most people who have seen the film have been stunned, but the leak of the hit list provoked strong reactions from Ambassadors White and Pezzullo, as well as from Carter’s assistant secretary of state for human rights, Patt Derian. It had done considerable harm, said Derian. “In El Salvador, the boldness of those on the right has shown a marked increase, demonstrated in the deaths of the six Salvadorean leaders (Maclean’s, Dec. 8, 1980) and the four American women. That’s one of the dangers of this kind of manipulation ... people can die in consequence.”

Reagan’s state department transition team head, Robert Neumann, was quick to deny that the transition report was official policy. He added that di Giovanni “certainly wasn’t sent by us.” Yet the author of the report was a transition team member and di Giovanni has been a Reagan team consultant. He also collaborated with Roger Fontaine, a top Reagan adviser, over a recent article on Central America published by the Washington Quarterly.

If the Reagan team is embarrassed by the doings of San Juan, di Giovanni and the American Security Council, the credibility of all three goes unchallenged in Latin America, where the council sponsors Radio Free Americas in imitation of Radio Free Europe, and is billed, accidentally or not, as the National Security Council. Meanwhile, the starring roles accorded Kirkpatrick and Reagan in the American Security Council’s film do nothing to dispel notions of a tie. If the signs are accurate, Ambassador White and his colleagues may not just find themselves in difficulty carrying out the new administration’s policy—they may not be given the chance to try.