In Nicaragua, a Return of the CIA/Nazi-Trained Contras?
Contras 2 In Nicaragua, a Return of the CIA/Nazi Trained Contras?Managua, Nicaragua – Hidden somewhere in the rugged mountains of Estelí, in northern Nicaragua, a former contra commando with CIA training says he’s organizing an armed rebellion against President Daniel Ortega.
José Gabriel Garmendia, a former counterrevolutionary special forces commander known by the codename “Comandante Jahob,” is reportedly leading a group of rearmed contras that promise to “remove Ortega from office with bullets” if the president tries to sidestep the constitution to get himself reelected next year.
US-backed counterrevolutionary forces, or “contras,” battled the left-wing Sandinista government in decade-long civil war in the 1980s, which claimed more than 36,000 lives. When Mr. Ortega and the Sandinistas were voted out of office in 1990, tens of thousands of contras – including Jahob – handed in their weapons and tried to return to civilian life.
Ortega returned to power in 2007 in his fourth attempt at reelection – a campaign he ran on promises of “peace and reconciliation.” But three-and-half years into his second term, Nicaraguan society has become increasingly polarized by Ortega’s government, which critics claim is pushing the country back toward dictatorship.
Ortega’s actions have allegedly forced some contras to return to clandestine struggle, according to Jahob. In a rare phone interview with a local newspaper earlier this month, the mysterious comandante said he and his men are looking for weapons and munitions and are prepared to remain in the mountains as long as they feel it’s necessary to ensure Ortega’s ouster.
Military dismisses threat
Nicaraguan authorities are downplaying Jahob’s rebellion. Gen. Julio César Avilés, Nicaragua’s military chief, said the Army has gathered intelligence that Jahob has been crossing into Honduras to make contacts with other “delinquent groups” north of Nicaragua’s border, where the contras created training bases with CIA support in the 1980s. Still, the military brass insists Jahob is nothing more than a common criminal hiding behind a false political cause.
“The war has ended; there are no conditions for armed groups to operate here,” General Avilés told reporters last month.
But former contra leaders and ex-military intelligence warn that it would be a mistake to dismiss Jahob’s incipient uprising.
One ex-contra who says he worked with Jahob in the 1980s says he remembers the former commando leader as being a “specialist in ambush and kidnappings,” and someone who is “very capable of doing convert operations anywhere, anytime.”
Former contra leader Luis Fley, better known as “Comandante Jhonson,” told the Monitor that Jahob is not a common outlaw, but rather a highly trained solider with strong political convictions and lingering resentment toward the Sandinistas, who killed his father – an evangelical preacher – and brothers during the war in the 1980s. Mr. Fley says Jahob – who is now 47 – was trained in covert operations by the Argentines and Americans in the 1980s, and is probably working to “build a social network with collaborators in the mountains.”
Scars of war could reopen
Retired Gen. Hugo Torres, a former Sandinista guerrilla hero who later worked as head of the military’s state intelligence in the mid-1990s, warns that Jahob could find fertile ground to develop a following in the mountains.
“The wounds from the military conflict in the ‘80s still hadn’t finished scarring when Ortega returned to power (in 2007). And instead of working to heal those wounds, Ortega did just the opposite: he is reopening wounds by polarizing and dividing the population,” says Mr. Torres, who is now a member of the left-wing dissident Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).
The former general warns that Jahob’s movement could grow if he proves to be a strong leader and if people think Ortega is repeating the oppressive Sandinista policies of the 1980s.
Though Torres says it’s too soon to predict how Jahob’s adventure will end, at this point it is “important to not magnify this, nor minimize it.”
For many of the older ex-contras who demobilized 21 years ago, returning to armed conflict is unthinkable. Yet many were just teenagers when they handed in their guns. They are now in their 30s or 40s and – in the words of Torres – “still have energy.”
War unwanted among many civilians
But many who experienced the battlefield horrors in the 1980s say a return to armed violence is unacceptable.
Former contra commando “Comandante Jehu,” a close friend of Jahob, says his comrade simply wants to work and live in peace. Jehu, who sits in a wheelchair after being crippled during the war in the 80s, says Jahob has no intention of returning to armed struggle, but was forced to go on the run because he was being “persecuted” by the Army for a murder he insists he didn’t commit.
“Jahob is not rearmed, he’s just hiding because he feels cornered,” Jehu said. “There are no conditions for a guerrilla war here. People don’t even have enough money to buy food, much less guns.”
Jehu says Jahob’s threats have been exaggerated by Managua politicians trying to manipulate the situation for their own benefit. He says Nicaragua’s political right wing fantasizes about a Rambo-like character that declares war on Ortega, while the left wing fantasizes about war as an excuse to crack down harder on society and cancel next year’s elections.
But the majority of Nicaragua’s poor who fought in the civil war – people like Jahob – know that war doesn’t fix anything, Jehu insists.
“War is horrible,” the disabled veteran says. “Those of us who fought for 10 years have no desire to return to war.”
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September 7, 2010 at 6:34 pm
Quite a difficult situation. History of war is also a reason why Chavez’s rhetoric is frowned upon by many in Latin America. To an extent, Ortega’s behaviour is intentional. He seeks to agitate a populist revolution. However, amongst other factors, US cultural imperialism is very strong in the area and the will for a semi-nonviolent or nonviolent populist socialist uprising seems not to be there at the moment.
A mock city roughly the size of downtown San Diego has risen in a remote Southern California desert to train military forces to fight in urban environments. The $170 million urban training center was unveiled Tuesday at the Twentynine Palms military base, about 100 miles northeast of San Diego. The 1,560-building facility will allow troops to practice and refine skills that can be used around the world, the Marine Corps said. The military has been opening mock Afghan villages at bases across the country to prepare troops for battle before they are deployed. The new training center is one of the largest and most elaborate. More than 15,000 Marines and sailors can train simultaneously.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is being asked by an animal advocacy group to support legislation for better animal treatment to make up for fraudulently adopting cats from animal shelters then experimenting on and killing them while he was a medical student.
A Dec. 31 letter from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked Frist to make amends by pressing for reforms that would replace old-style tests where animals are subjected to painful and sometimes deadly procedures with newer, more humane approaches. They also requested that he help fund research to find non-animal alternatives.
Frist acknowledged in a 1989 book that he routinely killed cats while an ambitious medical student at Harvard Medical School in the 1970s. His office said it had no record on how many cats died. Frist disclosed that he went to animal shelters and pretended to adopt the cats, telling shelter personnel he intended to keep them as pets. Instead he used them to sharpen his surgical skills, killing them in the process….
An elderly Cuban exile who once worked for the C.I.A. and has been linked to bombings in Havana and the downing of an airliner in the 1970s is scheduled to go on trial this week in a Texas courtroom — not on terrorism charges, but for perjury.
The exile, Luis Posada Carriles, who as a Central Intelligence Agency operative waged a violent campaign against Fidel Castro’s regime for decades, is accused of lying to an immigration judge about his role in the bombings at Havana tourist spots in 1997. He also faces several charges of immigration fraud and obstruction of a proceeding, stemming from lies he is accused of telling United States officials about how he entered the country in March 2005.
But the trial that is scheduled to begin on Monday in federal court in El Paso will go far beyond questions of Mr. Posada’s mendacity under oath. For the first time, American prosecutors will present evidence in open court that Mr. Posada — a man originally trained in explosives by the C.I.A. — played a major role in carrying out bombings in Cuba.
“The C.I.A. trained and unleashed a Frankenstein,” said Peter Kornbluh, an analyst with the National Security Archive who has studied Mr. Posada’s career. “It is long past time he be identified as a terrorist and be held accountable as a terrorist.”
Mr. Posada’s lawyer, Arturo Hernandez, predicted that his client would be acquitted. “He’s innocent of everything,” Mr. Hernandez said.
Mr. Posada, 82, has been free on bond and living with his family in Miami since 2007 in legal limbo. An immigration judge ordered him deported in 2005, but barred him from being sent to Cuba or Venezuela for fear he might face torture. No other country has agreed to accept him.
He was a target in a 2007 investigation by federal agents in New Jersey who were looking into accusations that he had raised money from Cuban exiles in Union City for terrorist attacks. That investigation never led to an indictment.
Instead, the Obama administration has taken the novel approach of charging Mr. Posada with having lied at a deportation hearing about his involvement in the bombings. Some experts on Cuban history say the approach is not unlike indicting Al Capone on tax evasion charges. The penalty could still be stiff: he faces a maximum sentence of five years for each of 10 counts in the indictment, and 10 years on the last count.
But to convince a court that the self-styled Cuban militant committed perjury, prosecutors must prove he participated in the attacks. In court documents, prosecutors have already signaled that they will call two Cuban police officials and present forensic evidence about the 1997 explosions, in which one Italian tourist died. They will also submit tapes and transcripts of interviews of Mr. Posada by a reporter for The New York Times in 1998. In the interviews, he boasted that he had organized the wave of seven bombings at hotels, restaurants and nightclubs.
The trial will be closely watched by officials in Cuba and Venezuela and may be a turning point in relations between the United States and the leftist governments in those countries.
For years, Cuba and Venezuela had been clamoring for Mr. Posada to be extradited to their countries to stand trial. In Venezuela, he remains a prime suspect in the bombing of a Cubana Airlines flight that crashed off the coast of Barbados on Oct. 6, 1976, killing all 73 people aboard. Though he was never convicted, he was imprisoned for nine years in Caracas on charges of conspiring with the bombers. He escaped by bribing a warden and walking out of prison disguised as a priest.
Cuban officials regard him as a terrorist mastermind and have repeatedly accused the United States of harboring “the bin Laden of this hemisphere.” Not only did he say in interviews with The Times that he had orchestrated the Havana bombings in 1997, but he also was convicted in 2000 in Panama of taking part in a plot to assassinate Mr. Castro at a summit meeting. He served four years in prison there before being pardoned by President Mireya Moscoso in her last week in office.
Mr. Posada has long been entwined with American intelligence services, going back to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. He worked directly for the agency until 1967, spying on Cuban exile groups in Miami and running paramilitary training camps, according to declassified documents. He was also a “paid asset” of the agency in Venezuela from 1968 to 1976, according to declassified documents and an unclassified summary of his career in the court record.
“The C.I.A. taught us everything — everything,” he told The Times in 1998. “They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb trained us in acts of sabotage.”
In 1963, at the C.I.A.’s behest, he enlisted in the United States Army and enrolled in officer school at Fort Benning. He was trained in demolition, propaganda and intelligence, though he quit the military a year later. By March 1965, he was a paid operative for the agency in Miami, making $300 a month, declassified documents show.
He left the United States in 1967 and, with help from the C.I.A., joined the Venezuelan intelligence service, rising quickly to become the chief of operations and proving a ruthless opponent to leftist guerillas. But he fell out with the newly elected President Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1974, and started a private security agency. Two years later, he was arrested after two of his former employees had helped carry out the bombing of the Cuban airliner.
Mr. Posada was never convicted in the case and has steadfastly maintained he had nothing to do with the bombing. “I repudiate that abominable action as a case of terrorism,” he said in 2005.
Declassified F.B.I. documents from 1976, however, place Mr. Posada at two meetings in Santo Domingo in which the bombing of the airliner was planned.
After he escaped from a Venezuelan prison in 1985, Mr. Posada slipped through the hands of the police and border guards, somehow arriving in El Salvador, where he worked covertly for the United States government again. This time he coordinated a rickety fleet of planes that ferried supplies from Ilopango airfield to the Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries known as contras.
Five years later, gunmen ambushed him in Guatemala and shot him 12 times, nearly killing him. He later blamed Cuban intelligence for the attempted assassination, though he had many other enemies.
The fusillade left his health in ruins and crippled his speech but did not curb Mr. Posada’s zeal to hamstring the Cuban government. By 1997, he was recruiting bombers in El Salvador and Guatemala to terrorize Havana, he said in interviews with The Times. The intent, he said, was only to scare away tourists.
But one tourist, Fabio Di Celmo, an 32-year-old Italian who lived in Canada, was killed by a bomb in the lobby of the Copacabana Hotel on Sept. 4, 1997. Mr. Posada said he had a clear conscience about the man’s death. “I sleep like a baby,” he said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 14, 2011
An article on Thursday about the perjury trial of a Cuban exile, Luis Posada Carriles, referred incompletely to the years that he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. Besides working for the C.I.A. in Miami between 1965 and 1967, he was also a “paid asset” of the agency in Venezuela from 1968 to 1976, according to declassified documents and a unclassified summary of his career in the court record.
Jeremy Renner stars as Staff Sergeant William James in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. (Photo courtesy Summit Entertainment.)
In its very invisibility, ideology is here, more than ever: We are there, with our boys, instead of questioning what they are doing at war in the first place.
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When Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker won all the big Oscars over James Cameron’s Avatar, the victory was perceived as a good sign of the state of things in Hollywood: A modest production meant for independent festivals clearly overran a superproduction whose technical brilliance cannot cover up the flat simplicity of its story. Did this mean that Hollywood is not just a blockbuster machine, but still knows how to appreciate marginal creative efforts? Maybe—but that’s a big maybe.
For all its mystifications, Avatar clearly sides with those who oppose the global Military-Industrial Complex, portraying the superpower army as a force of brutal destruction serving big corporate interests. The Hurt Locker, on the other hand, presents the U.S. Army in a way that is much more finely attuned to its own public image in our time of humanitarian interventions and militaristic pacifism.
The film largely ignores the big debate about the U.S. military intervention in Iraq, and instead focuses on the daily ordeals of ordinary soldiers who are forced to deal with danger and destruction. In pseudo-documentary style, it tells the story—or rather, presents a series of vignettes—of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) squad and their potentially deadly work of disarming planted bombs. This choice is deeply symptomatic: Although soldiers, they do not kill, but daily risk their lives dismantling terrorist bombs that are destined to kill civilians. Can there be anything more sympathetic to our liberal sensibilities? Are our armies in the ongoing War on Terror (aka The Long War), even when they bomb and destroy, ultimately not just like EOD squads, patiently dismantling terrorist networks in order to make the lives of civilians safer?
But there is more to the film. The Hurt Locker brought to Hollywood the trend that accounts for the success of two recent Israeli films about the 1982 Lebanon war, Ari Folman’s animated documentary Waltz With Bashir and Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon.
Lebanon draws on Maoz’s own memories as a young soldier, rendering the war’s fear and claustrophobia by shooting most of the action from inside a tank. The movie follows four inexperienced soldiers dispatched in a tank to “mop up” enemies in a Lebanese town that has already been bombarded by the Israeli air force. Interviewed at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, Yoav Donat, the actor who plays the soldier Maoz from a quarter of a century ago, said: “This is not a movie that makes you think ‘I’ve just been to a movie.’ This is a movie that makes you feel like you’ve been to war.” In a similar way, Waltz With Bashir, renders the horrors of the 1982 conflict from the point of view of Israeli soldiers.
Maoz said his film is not a condemnation of Israel’s policies, but a personal account of what he went through. “The mistake I made is to call the film Lebanon because the Lebanon War is no different in its essence from any other war and for me any attempt to be political would have flattened the film.” This is ideology at its purest: The re-focus on the perpetrator’s traumatic experience enables us to obliterate the entire ethico-political background of the conflict: What was the Israeli army doing deep in Lebanon? Such a “humanization” thus serves to obfuscate the key point: the need for a ruthless analysis of what we are doing in our political-military activity and what is at stake. Our political-military struggles are not an opaque history that brutally disrupts our intimate personal lives—they are something in which we fully participate.
More generally, such a “humanization” of the soldier (in the direction of the proverbial wisdom “it is human to err”) is a key constituent of the ideological (self-)presentation of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The Israeli media loves to dwell on the imperfections and psychic traumas of Israeli soldiers, presenting them neither as perfect military machines nor as super-human heroes, but as ordinary people who, caught into the traumas of history and warfare, commit errors and can get lost as all normal people can.
For example, in January 2003, the IDF demolished the house of the family of a suspected terrorist. They did it with accentuated kindness, even helping the family to move the furniture out before destroying the house with a bulldozer. A similar incident was reported a little bit earlier in the Israeli press. When an Israeli soldier was searching a Palestinian house for suspects, the mother of the family called her daughter by her name in order to calm her down, and the surprised soldier learned that the frightened girl’s name was the same as his own daughter’s. In a sentimental upsurge, he pulled out his wallet and showed her picture to the Palestinian mother.
It is easy to discern the falsity of such a gesture of empathy: The notion that, in spite of political differences, we are all human beings with the same loves and worries, neutralizes the impact of what the soldier is effectively doing at that moment. The only proper reply of the mother should be to demand that the soldier address this question: “If you really are human like me, why are you doing what you are doing now?” The soldier can then only take refuge in reified duty: “I don’t like it, but these are my orders,” thus avoiding any responsibility for his actions.
The message of such humanization is to emphasize the gap between the person’s complex reality and the role they are forced—against their true nature—to play. “In my family, the military is not genetic,” says one of the interviewed soldiers who is surprised to find himself a career officer, in Claude Lanzmann’s documentary on the IDF, Tsahal.
And this brings us back to The Hurt Locker. Its depiction of the daily horror and traumatic impact of serving in a war zone seems to put it miles apart from sentimental celebrations of the U.S. Army’s humanitarian role, like in John Wayne’s infamous Green Berets. However, we should always bear in mind that the terse-realistic presentation of the absurdities of war in The Hurt Locker obfuscates and thus renders acceptable the fact that its heroes are doing exactly the same job as the heroes of Green Berets. In its very invisibility, ideology is here, more than ever: We are there, with our boys, identifying with their fears and anguishes instead of questioning what they are doing at war in the first place.
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Slavoj Žižek, a Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, is a senior researcher at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities, in Essen, Germany. He has also been a visiting professor at more than 10 universities around the world. Žižek is the author of many other books, including Living in the End Times, First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, The Fragile Absolute and Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? He lives in London.
A Soft Focus on War
How Hollywood hides the horrors of war.
By Slavoj Žižek