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13 March 1997 Edition

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Nicaragua's counter-revolution

By Dara MacNeil

Last October, Arnoldo Aleman defeated Daniel Ortega in the Nicaraguan presidential elections. Aleman was the candidate of the hastily-contrived Liberal Alliance, a crude union of new wealth, former contras and shady remnants of the Somoza regime the Sandinistas overthrew in 1979.

While Aleman's father was a government official during the Somoza regime, his links with the seedier side of Latin American politics run far deeper. Chief among his backers were: Miami's anti-Castro lunatics (they provided finance); one Byron Jerez, a Nicaraguan who reputedly participated in Somoza's infamous Mano Blanco (White Hand) Death Squads; a nephew of the deposed dictator; and a plethora of businessmen and ranchers who positively drooled at the prospect of retrieving property expropriated by the Revolution - property they stole in the first place.

They didn't have to wait long. As the previous president Violetta Chamorro had effectively dismantled whatever semblance of the Sandinista-built welfare state was left standing after years of a US embargo and Contra attacks on health centres and schools, it was never quite clear what was left for Aleman to do. The presence of the former Somoza ranchers and businessmen in his campaign hinted at one possibility.

Thus, within five months of acceding to power, Aleman has begun the big handover. In recent days, the Nicaraguan army have `handed back' land on which it had built a base, to its former `owner' Roberto Guillen. Mr Guillen - before a brief sojourn in Miami - was no less a personage than General Roberto Guillen, a key member of the National Guard command staff. The National Guard under Somoza were nothing more than a band of poorly-trained state terrorists.

And Aleman's government have made it clear that this is only the beginning. The same rules will apply to all property currently held by the Nicaraguan army. And just in case the message didn't get through, Aleman himself has said that any members of the Somoza family (the dictator was killed in Paraguay, where he fled after being overthrown) wishing to ``reclaim'' property which had belonged to them, could do so without ``any problem.'' Charging them with `trafficking in stolen goods' might be more appropriate.

The 20th anniversary of the triumph of the Nicaraguan revolution falls in 1999. And the Nicaraguan right seems determined to restore the country to its pre-79 condition by that date.

Already, remarkable progress has been made: Nicaragua today is the second poorest country in the region and the most indebted poor country in the world. Unemployment runs as high as 50%, and the infant mortality rate is among the highest in Latin America. On current form Aleman et al could well come in ahead of target.

US helped death squads

Back in the 1980s, it was fashionable in certain media circles - the US provided the lead - to attribute nothing but good intentions to US policy in Central America. That this feat was successfully accomplished when Ronald Reagan stalked the earth hardly seems credible now. In retrospect, it makes it nothing less than a remarkable propaganda success.

Thus, the US was `there to help the people of El Salvador', as opposed to being there `to help a few of the people of El Salvador prevent the rest of the people of El Salvador establishing a semi-decent society.' So when campesinos (or nuns) were massacred, no fingers pointed at Washington. Instead, news reports relayed faithfully White House `concerns' that `the extremists were gaining the upper hand', to quote one contemporary

favourite. To suggest otherwise was heresy.

In October 1989, Cesar Joya, a deserter from the El Salvadoran army admitted to torturing and murdering two campesinos the previous July. Joya insisted he had not worked alone, but at the behest of and in tandem with two ``US officials.'' According to Joya, one of the officials specialised in compiling ``lists of suspects.''

It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to connect this apparently innocuous activity with that of El Salvador's notoriously proficient and well-informed death squads. But, of course, such a leap of the imagination was never made and Joya was ignored.

However, documents have recently come to light which support Joya's story regarding the US role in El Salvador.

The documents reveal the existence of training manuals given to Salvadoran soldiers by their US military trainers. Numbering seven in all, the manuals recommended: the execution of suspected guerrillas; the kidnapping of family members of known insurgents (execution presumably followed); blackmail; torture and, quite perversely payment of compensation for ``enemy deaths.''

Guess how many lines this story will get in the mainstream press?

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