Monthly Archives: March 1981

1981.03.10: Why is the US in El Salvador? (Mass Media, UMass-Boston)

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Mass Media (UMass-Boston)
March 10, 1981

Why is the US in El Salvador?
by Michael Letwin

Why is the US government backing a brutal and unpopular regime in El Salvador? Why didn’t it “learn its lesson” in Vietnam? Why is it always on the “wrong side?”

The string of US covert and military interventions in the six short years since the end of the Vietnam war (e.g., Chile 1973, Angola 1975-6, Iran) make it hard to argue that the escalating US intervention is an exception, or an “illogical mistake.”

In fact, one doesn’t have to look far to see that the US government is protecting the economic interests of based multinational corporations who depend on making profits in other countries, particularly in those offering cheap labor, raw materials, and markets for US goods.

In El Salvador alone, US corporations had invested at least $55 million by 1975 (NACLA Reports, March-April 1980). By corporate standards, however, this amount is relatively small, and cannot by itself explain the lengths to which the US government is willing to go to prevent a revolution in El Salvador.

What makes the El Salvadorean revolution so frightening to American corporations and the US government is its potential to encourage revolution in other, equally impoverished and exploited parts of the Caribbean, Central and South America, where by 1975, US corporations had an investment of $22.1 billion, and billions of dollars more in outstanding, high-interest loans (London Financial Times, 6/30/80).

In a broader sense, the “instability” of revolution in this region demonstrates the vulnerability of US control in more far-flung corners of the empire where North American corporations compete with other imperial powers, and where the people of these regions themselves are unwilling to remain victims of US economic exploitation and brutal US backed dictatorships.

This is the background to US intervention in El Salvador. Reagan, looking out for the interests of the US international corporate empire in a time of international economic crisis, is determined to put an end to the growing “instability” which threatens the empire’s profits.

To accomplish this, particularly after the widespread revulsion in this country to the Vietnam war, the US government has had to go to great lengths to win support at home for the renewed use of US military forces abroad.

In the Middle East, this was accomplished by encouraging racism and nationalism every night on the CBS Evening News and ABC’s “Nightline” during the Iran hostage crisis. The result is that there is today a sizable US naval fleet in the region, US military bases are being constructed throughout the area, and the long­-planned Rapid Deployment Force has been readied for use.

Now, the Reagan Administration hopes that a campaign of hysteria over supposed Russian/Cuban “aggression” in El Salvador will convince us to support US military intervention there, and a reassertion of US gunboat diplomacy in the Caribbean and Latin America in general, including the use of US troops.

The campaign is designed to convince us that the entire Western Hemisphere, along with the Middle East, is the legitimate empire of the US, just as the Russian rulers claim Afghanistan and Poland.

Corporate America has an interest in defending its empire — we do not. Leaving aside the horrors being committed against the people of El Salvador, courtesy of US arms and “advisers,” there are many reasons why US intervention is directly and completely opposed to the interests of working, poor and third world people in this country:

1. In a Vietnam or El Salvador, black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American poor and working class people will kill and be killed by other poor people.

2. The threatened US action against Cuba raises the menace of a direct superpower nuclear confrontation.

3. Militarism and intervention has a directly negative effect on our lives at home. On a national scale, the 1982 military budget of over $200 billion will be paid for by cutting our services by about $50 billion. Think about that when you can’t come back to school because of the next tuition hike, financial aid or food stamps cut.

In Boston today, 750 MBTA workers are being laid off, with a resulting 25 percent cut in service in order to save $13 million (Boston Globe, 3/4/81). 400 school employees, many of them third world, are losing their jobs to save $3 million (Boston Globe, 3/2/81, 3/8/81).

Contrast these cuts to the $25 million in additional military aid that Reagan has just approved for the El Salvadoran junta to make it more effective in murdering workers and peasants.

4. The racism and nationalism which the government and media whips up to justify its foreign interventions (remember Iran) misdirects the frustration and anger which many working and poor people in this country feel about their lives.

Instead of taking out our frustration against poor people in other countries, we need to break down the racial, sexual and regional barriers which are so effective in keeping us apart from each other and unable to defend ourselves when we are being butchered by the economy, the service cuts and the rise of racism and sexism.

5. A victory for the revolution in El Salvador benefits us here because we share the common enemy of corporate America. The weaker the system of American imperialism abroad, the greater is our opportunity to organize ourselves at home.

A Vietnam in El Salvador isn’t inevitable. The Vietnam War was ended by an alliance between the armed resistance of the people of Vietnam, the eventual refusal of American GIs to fight, and the mass anti-war movement in the US.

Such a movement today, linked with the battle to defend ourselves against our real enemy the system of capitalism responsible for war at home, can prevent US intervention in El Salvador, and allow the people of that country to determine their own fate, as we attempt to determine ours.

1981.03.09: Meaning of the vote Against Military Recruitment (UMass-Boston Antiwar Committee)

Meaning of the vote Against Military Recruitment (UMass-Boston Antiwar Committee, March 9, 1981), by Michael Letwin
1981.03.09 — Meaning of the vote Against Military Recruitment — ML flyer — UMB AWC

1981.03.03: Junta in El Salvador is the right ­wing (Mass Media, UMass-Boston)

Mass Media (UMass-Boston)
March 3, 1981

Junta in El Salvador is the right ­wing
by Michael Letwin

In recent weeks, the US government has declared that it will do “whatever necessary” to protect the ruling military junta in El Salvador from popular insurrection.

The US has provided $35 million in military aid to the ruling junta in 1981 alone. It has “loaned” helicopters to the junta for an unlimited time. There are, according to the administration, 54 military advisers aiding the junta in a “non-combatant” capacity

Further, steps being considered by the Reagan administration include $25-80 million more in military aid, additional military advisers, a naval and/or air blockade of El Salvador and neighboring Nicaragua, and perhaps even actions against Cuba. Reagan and his spokesman declare that they “do not rule out anything” in their attempts to save the junta, including the use of US combat troops.

The administration is attempting to justify this budding Vietnam with two arguments. The first is that the El Salvadoran junta is really a “moderate,” “democratic,” and “reformist” government, under attack from “terrorists” of the extreme right and left.

The second argument is that the revolutionary movement is only a puppet of Russian and Cuban “aggression,” a claim based on what the administration claims are captured guerrilla documents which, it says, show that Russia and its allies are supplying large quantities of arms to the El Salvadoran guerrillas.

You’ve heard it before: The “Free World” vs. the “International Communist Conspiracy.”

Although faithfully and uncritically repeated by the US media, these arguments don’t stand up to reality.

First of all, the junta in El Salvador is the right­wing in the country, representing the interests of the traditional landowning oligarchy known as the “14 Families,” and those of American and other foreign corporations who for decades have plundered El Salvador.

Traditionally, 2% of the population has owned 60% of the land, while American companies such as Exxon, International Basic Coffee Co., Western Electric, Alcoa, Texaco, US Steel and Bank of America have controlled the country’s natural resources and industry, reaping enormous profits based on the low wages paid to peasants and workers (NACLA Report, March-April 1980).

The conditions for the people of El Salvador, on the other hand, have been among the worst in Latin America.

In the mid-70’s, the UN and other organizations reported that 75% of the children under 5 were malnourished, 50% unemployed, 50% illiterate, 33% living in one-room shacks, 63% without running water, and 90% earning less than $100 a year (fact sheet, Boston Coalition in Solidarity With the People of El Salvador).

The situation has been maintained by US­-backed military dictatorships without interruption since 1932, and despite the administration’s claims to the contrary, the current junta is no exception.

According to Amnesty International, the Catholic Church of El Salvador, the El Salvador Human Rights Commission, and on occasion, the US press, the current junta is responsible for the murder of the vast majority of the 10,000-15,000 people killed in 1980 alone (see, for example, New York Times Magazine 2/22/81.)

The much mentioned economic reforms of the junta are a pretense. Less than 2% of the agricultural land has been affected by the government’s land reform program, and peasants who try to take land promised them are murdered by the junta’s securithy forces. Moreover, the junta’s formal proclamations don‘t even pretend to put the country’s industrial enterprises into the hands of the people who work them (Newsletter of the Religious Task Force in El Salvador, Washington DC, Nov.-Dec. 1980).

It’s not surprising, therefore, that the only people who support the El Salvadoran junta are the 14 Families, the foreign corporations, and the US government, whose creation the junta is.

Reagan’s claims of International Communist Conspiracy are equally suspicious. To begin with, we have only the administration’s word as to the authenticity of the documents the US claims to have captured. Given the widespread falsification of documents and outright lies by the US government during the Vietnam War, its present claims should be viewed with great skepticism (see the Pentagon Papers).

Secondly, it is more than a little hypocritical for the US government to denounce foreign arms shipments to El Salvador, since for decades it has armed a series of military regimes there. And although the Reagan administration recently claimed that no US arms have gone to El Salvador between 1977-81, the facts are otherwise.

For example, in 1979, the Carter Administration sent the junta $205,000 in anti­riot equipment and $300,000 in military training credits. In April 1980, the US sent $57 million in so-called military assistance, including trucks, riot­ control gear, grenades, communications equipment, and transport vehicles.

The only foreign military advisers in El Salvador are from the US; the guerrillas claim they number over 100 and have participated in the fighting.

In addition, the junta has been well supplied by US allies, including Israel, France and Brazil (NACLA Reports, March-April 1980; The Militant, 7/25/80).

Finally, if for some self-serving reason the USSR and its allies are supplying arms to the guerrillas, it is the conditions in El Salvador itself, and not the assistance, which is responsible for the revolution there. As an American diplomat in El Salvador said recently, “Even if it were not for Cuba and the Soviet Union, we’d have a revolution here.” (New York Times Magazine, 2/22/81.)

Whatever the intentions of the Russian government, there is no evidence the revolution in El Salvador is in any way controlled by it.

And where the guerrillas will use whatever arms they can get to overthrow one of the most brutal regimes in existence, US aid go to the forces responsible for the mass slaughter.

The Reagan administration is employing the “Big Lie” method of persuasion, just as the US did in Vietnam. Such a maneuver is necessary today because of the great amount of skepticism and even growing opposition that exists in this country to the re-creation of a Vietnam in El Salvador.