May 01, 2004

At that point, he stood up and, in a determined voice, said: ''There is no sovereignty, Mr Ambassador, if the U.S. continues to exercise security. Senators, please ask the ambassador about Battalion 316. Ask him about a death squad in Honduras that he sup

The incredible shrinking _resident says he "shares" in
the "disgust" generated by the photos of US soldiers
torturing Iraqis in one of the very prisons in which
Saddam used to tortured them. Does he really care?
Consider some other recent developments...One of
Saddam's generals, in his Republican guard uniform,
has just been hired to take control of Fallujah...And
then there is the incredible shrinking _resident's
choice for the first US ambassador to the new Iraq...

Jim Loeb, Inter Press: ''When it comes to issues like
(the siege of) Fallujah'', said Negroponte, currently
Washington's ambassador to the United Nations, ''I
think that is going to be the kind of situation that
is going to have to ... be the subject of real
dialogue between our military commanders, the new
Iraqi government, and, I think, the United States
mission as well''. That was too much for Andres Thomas
Conteris, a human rights and peace activist who was
sitting in the hearing room. At that point, he stood up and, in a determined voice, said: ''There is no sovereignty, Mr Ambassador, if the U.S. continues to exercise security. Senators, please ask the ambassador about Battalion 316. Ask him about a death squad in Honduras that he supported''.

Restore the Timeline, Show Up for Democracy in 2004:
Defeat Bush (again!)

http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0430-03.htm

Published on Friday, April 30, 2004 by the Inter Press
Service
Congress Ignores 'Dirty War' Past of New Iraq Envoy
by Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - John Negroponte, the Bush
administration's nominee to become Washington's first
ambassador to Iraq since last year's invasion, was
talking about how much ''sovereignty'' the country's
new government will enjoy after Jun. 30, when U.S.
military forces will remain in control of security.

''When it comes to issues like (the siege of)
Fallujah'', said Negroponte, currently Washington's
ambassador to the United Nations, ''I think that is
going to be the kind of situation that is going to
have to ... be the subject of real dialogue between
our military commanders, the new Iraqi government,
and, I think, the United States mission as well''.

That was too much for Andres Thomas Conteris, a human
rights and peace activist who was sitting in the
hearing room.


John Negroponte

At that point, he stood up and, in a determined voice,
said: ''There is no sovereignty, Mr Ambassador, if the
U.S. continues to exercise security. Senators, please
ask the ambassador about Battalion 316. Ask him about
a death squad in Honduras that he supported''.

Security personnel quickly confronted Conteris and
escorted him from the room, while Senate Foreign
Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar gaveled the
hearing back to order, and Negroponte, the
smooth-as-silk career diplomat fluent in five
languages, went on as if nothing had happened.

And, while everyone in the hearing room knew exactly
what Conteris was referring to, the senators also
ignored the interruption, repeatedly praising
Negroponte for his distinguished career and his
courage in taking on such a challenging and
potentially dangerous assignment. Only two senators
alluded to Honduras, albeit obliquely, suggesting they
may have had some differences with the nominee in the
distant past, but that it was all behind them now.

With the committee's approval in hand, Negroponte, by
all accounts an accomplished diplomat who has held
senior posts in the White House and the State
Department and headed U.S. embassies in Quito,
Tegucigalpa, Mexico City and Manila, will direct the
world's largest U.S. embassy when it opens its doors
in Baghdad on Jul. 1, the day after ''sovereignty'' is
to be transferred from the Coalition Provisional
Authority (CPA) to a yet-to-be-chosen new Iraqi
government. He will be in charge of nearly 2,000
employees, most of them Americans.

A long-time friend of Secretary of State Colin Powell,
Negroponte is generally considered to be a pragmatist
-- rather than an ideologue -- albeit one with a
hawkish reputation that dates to his work as a young
diplomat in Vietnam in the 1960s. Some describe him as
a low-key version of CPA chief Paul Bremer.

But Bremer did not work in Honduras.

''I spoke up because Negroponte at that moment was
talking about sovereignty'', Conteris, whose mother is
Uruguayan and who has lived in Bolivia and Honduras,
told IPS later. ''I lived in Honduras for five years,
and I know the impact Negroponte's policies had there
in the early 1980s (when) Honduras was known as the
USS Honduras, basically an occupied aircraft
carrier''.

Negroponte was sent by the incoming administration of
then President Ronald Reagan (1981-89) to Tegucigalpa
in early 1981 to transform Honduras into a military
and intelligence base directed against Nicaragua and
the left-wing insurgents in neighboring El Salvador --
a mission he largely accomplished in the four years he
spent running what at that time was Washington's
biggest embassy in the Americas.

To do so, he and the station chief of the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) Donald Winter, formed a
close alliance with Gen Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, the
army's ambitious and murderous commander who admired
-- and implemented -- the ''dirty war'' tactics that
he had learned from the Argentine military in the late
1970s.

The Argentine junta sent advisers to Honduras at
Alvarez' request to begin building what would become a
U.S.-backed contra force against Nicaragua.

Until Negroponte's arrival, Honduras was a sleepy,
relatively untroubled backwater in the region whose
military, unlike those of its neighbors, was seen as
relatively progressive, if corrupt, and loathe to
resort to actual violence against dissidents. But with
the support of the CIA and the Argentines, Alvarez
moved to change that radically, according to
declassified documents as well as detailed and
award-winning reporting by the 'Baltimore Sun' in the
mid-1990s.

A special intelligence unit of the Honduran Armed
Forces, called Battalion 316, was put together by
Alvarez and supplied and trained by the CIA and the
Argentines. It was a death squad that kidnapped and
tortured hundreds of real or suspected
''subversives'', ''disappeared'' at least 180 of them
-- including U.S. missionaries -- during Negroponte's
tenure. Such activities were previously unknown in
Honduras.

At the same time, Negroponte, who was often referred
to as ''proconsul'' by the Honduran media, oversaw the
expansion of two major military bases used by U.S.
forces and Nicaraguan contras, and, after the U.S.
Congress put strict limits on the training of
Salvadorian soldiers in-country, he ''persuaded'' the
government to build a Regional Military Training
Center (RMTC) on Honduran territory, despite the fact
that Honduras and El Salvador were traditional enemies
who had fought a bloody war less than 15 years before.


Throughout this period, Negroponte steadfastly
defended Alvarez, at one point calling him ''a model
professional'', and repeatedly denied anything was
amiss on the human rights front in Honduras despite
rising concern in Congress about reports of
disappearances and killings by death squads.

In a 1982 letter to 'The Economist' magazine, he
asserted it was ''simply untrue to state that death
squads have made their appearance in Honduras''. He
said much the same in testimony before Congress at the
time.

Embassy employees were told to cleanse their reports
about rights abuses, even as the military's role in
the killings and disappearances became widely known --
and reported by Honduran newspapers -- within the
country. One exiled colonel living in Mexico denounced
Alvarez for creating a death squad: Negroponte denied
the charge.

Alvarez's excesses, the unprecedented human rights
abuses and the country's total alignment with U.S.
plans eventually became too much for the Honduran
military itself. In a move that caught Negroponte and
Winter completely by surprise, his fellow-officers
deposed the armed forces chief in a barracks coup in
1984. Negroponte, whom the insurgents reportedly
wanted to have declared persona non grata, was back in
Washington within the year.

As more details about Battalion 316 have come to light
in the 20 years since, Negroponte has continued to
deny any knowledge of its existence or activities. As
late as 2001, when President George W Bush nominated
him as United Nations ambassador, Negroponte insisted,
''To this day, I do not believe that death squads were
operating in Honduras''.

Negroponte's protests of innocence are simply not
credible to many observers, including his predecessor
in Tegucigalpa, who claims to have personally briefed
him about Alvarez and his murderous plans. Rights
groups have also pointed out he successfully
intervened with the army to gain the release of at
least two people who had been abducted, suggesting
that he must have known who was responsible.

Activists and some senators with whom he had tangled
over Honduras in the past had hoped his record would
have been closely scrutinized by the Senate when he
was nominated to the U.N. ambassadorship, but his
nomination was rushed to the floor for confirmation in
the immediate aftermath of the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks
on New York and the Pentagon, when the administration
argued there was no time for extended hearings given
the urgency of directing the U.S. response at the
world body.

Now he goes to Iraq to oversee its democratization.

Copyright 2004 IPS-Inter Press Service.

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Posted by richard at May 1, 2004 10:37 AM