Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer is a professor in Minnesota. These answers were used for my April 2010 article for The Scene.
1. What are your thoughts on Oliver North going free and going on to become a respected news correspondent?
The Iran-Contra Congressional hearings were set up as political theater. They were a sounding board for right-wing ideology rather than an instrument to bring evidence to light or to hold people accountable. As such it was a launching pad for North’s subsequent career. Disgusting but unfortunately predictable.
2. Daniel Ortega was re-elected the president of Nicaragua in 2007. What will this do for US relations with that nation?
Two things. First, it is another thorn in the side of U.S. leaders, part of a deep trend in which US influence is diminished and rejection of US policies the norm. Second, the Ortega of 2007 has almost no resemblance to the Ortega of the revolutionary period. Personal power and service to the Party has unfortunately meant that the Nicaraguan people’s interests are ignored.
3. What is America’s current military presence or influence in Latin America?
If you read School of Assassins: Guns, Greed & Globalization then you are aware that I speak of different stages of US foreign policy from 1946 forward. Economic leverage became the preferred mode of US influence, complementing military repression in the 1980s, and supplementing it in the 1990s. Economic leverage was the preferred means, less controversial but equally deadly. Better to send in IMF bankers than death squads wherever possible. Several problems emerged for the US. First, structural adjustment programs (economic leverage) was resisted in country after country as the social costs rose. It was rejection of this economic model imposed first by violence and later by the IMF, World Bank and through trade agreements that led to electoral victories of more progressive parties in most Latin American countries. Second, this resulted in significantly less US military influence in the region and to a decline in US economic influence. Third, US preoccupation with global domination has overstretched the US military and undermined the US economy. Declining imperial powers are less powerful but dangerous. 4th, the US military influence is being expanded in Colombia and Mexico, especially Colombia and as the weak US response to the coup in Honduras illustrates, former SOA graduates are still threats to democracy in the region and they are likely to be embraced or encouraged by the United States if the circumstances arise.
4. The School of the Americas, under a new name… does it still pose a threat to human rights and democracy?
Yes. First, it is a symbol of impunity. Its very existence is meant to send a message. There is no accountability. Be afraid of what we are capable of. Second, the ongoing role for the school is an opportunity lost. If the US wanted to signal a new relationship with Latin America it would have closed the school and ended the economic sanctions against Cuba. The US makes it clear it doesn’t want a new relationship. Third, by dramatically expanding our military ties in Colombia–using that country as a new forward operating base–we express a commitment to interventionist practices. 4th, as mentioned above, past graduates continue to pose a threat to democracy as we saw in Honduras. Finally, the terror and torture associated with the SOA/WHISC has now spread well beyond Latin America. Impunity means tactics have spread to the heart of US warmaking and “counter-terrorism” strategies.
5. What would the 1980s have been like in El Salvador and Nicaragua without US intervention?
Nicaragua might have succeeded in finding a third pathway–between capitalism and socialism–to address education, healthcare, land reform and other key social needs. US low-intensity warfare defines as victory the destruction of a country. That is success because it destroys the possibility of something different and better than what you are willing to tolerate. El Salvador would have ended a bloody civil war much earlier with much less bloodshed.
6. Was there ever any real threat of Soviet-style communism spreading in Latin America?
No. US leaders have always found it convenient to equate nationalistic aspirations with communism. It is long past time that we recognize the central role of fear and threat-inflation to US policy makers and economic groups whose interests are served by war.
7. Some have described the American-supported militancy in Latin America as a war against the Catholic Church. Is this accurate?
No and Yes. No in the sense that the Catholic Church was generally a bastion of support for elites in Latin America. Absolutely yes after significant segments of the church adopted a “preferential option for the poor.” US leaders described liberation theology as its principle enemy in Latin America. SOA graduates, including Hugo Banzer in Bolivia, set up a hemisphere-wide network of death squads to attack progressive churches. Attacking the church was justified by equating liberation theology with Marxism. The official SOA website shortly before the cosmetic name change bragged about how the U.S. military had helped “to defeat liberation theology–Marxism” in Latin America.
These were follow-up questions sent to Jack, but received no response. In the event he does respond in the future, I will edit this section.
1. You speak of IMF bankers replacing death squads. Is it your view that the IMF and World Bank are fully aware of the outcomes of their actions, or do you think they are simply naive and poverty is the byproduct?
2. For the past decade, roughly, Latin America has been experiencing a “left shift”. Is this going to be a growing trend, or a temporary swing of the ideology pendulum?
3. You ran for Congress. If you ran today, and won, what is the first thing you’d propose regarding our policies in Latin America?