Foreign Relations Committee is right now holding confirmation hearings
on John Negroponte to be U.S.
is here re-releasing its memorandum issued last Thursday on Negroponte’s
controversial stint as ambassador to Honduras, 1981-85.
Embassy, a Rogue for all Seasons
pressed Powell to pressure Chile’s
weak-willed leaders to discharge their U.N. ambassadors over Iraq
has a sordid human rights record in Honduras
Cruel Joke: Negroponte, the arch authoritarian, teaching democracy to
under Saddam somewhat prepares you for the Negroponte era.
Foreign Relations Committee unlikely to closely scrutinize Negroponte
the earlier nominations of Otto Reich, John Bolton and Roger Noriega,
Secretary of State Colin Powell will have no trouble in describing this
villain as an “honorable” man.
Bush confirmed recent rumors by announcing on Monday that John D.
Negroponte was being nominated to become this country’s ambassador to
, a post that he would assume on June 30,
when sovereignty ostensibly will be transferred to Iraqi authorities.
But the Negroponte nomination must be seen as a profoundly
troubling one since the same nagging questions which were present during
the summer of 2001, when Negroponte was
nominated to be
ambassador to the UN, continue to persist.
Enough time apparently has passed since a number of accusations
first surfaced concerning Negroponte’s profound moral derelictions
(which at least date back to the time that he served as
(1981-85)), for these again to be
thoroughly aired. But if
the past is any precedent, Negroponte will sail through the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee and the full Senate as if he was a Happy
Warrior rather than the immoral reprobate that his record undeniably
portrays him as being. Since
’s ability to slip into political amnesia
regarding his reprehensible actions in
will now once again be at play.
The central fact to the Negroponte story is that he misled
Congress when some of its members attempted to question him about his
complicity in helping to cover up his knowledge and direct personal
involvement in the training, equipping and distracting attention from
the heinous acts of Battalion 316, the Honduran death squad which at the
time of Negroponte’s residence in Honduras was responsible for the
murder of almost 200 Honduran dissidents opposed to their country being
used as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” in the U.S.-backed Contra
war against Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinistas.
replaced Jack Binns, who had been President Carter’s ambassador to
during 1980-81, after Binns had spoken out
against mounting evidence of major human rights violations occurring in
that country against political dissidents who dared to speak out against
the growing involvement of
in the secret Contra war against
made references to activities that were being carried out by a shady
operation which came to be known as Battalion 316.
A big part of this story is the flawed annual human rights
reports, prepared every year by U.S. embassies around the world, which
had to be presented to Congress under terms of the Foreign Assistance
Act. When it came to
Honduras, this report was significantly expurgated, first in Tegucigalpa
by Negroponte, and then once again after it reached Washington by then
Assistant Secretary of State for Humanitarian Affairs, the infamous
Elliot Abrams. Abrams, an
obsessive cold warrior, had as little sympathy for human rights issues
as he was in favor of them when it came to
operation subverted the law, and Abrams eventually confessed to his role
in the Iran-Contra war, but was later pardoned by the first President
Bush. This dominated
Honduran realities during the early 1980s, which were to further
deteriorate during Negroponte’s ambassadorial stint.
The new ambassador’s mission was to ensure that the steady
stream of U.S. aid to
, aimed at preventing the spread of
Communism by Sandinista
, was to continue at any cost.
Years later, in 1995, a former junior political officer, who had
worked in the embassy under Negroponte, came forth with serious
accusations concerning the human rights lapses of the Honduran army in
the annual human rights report he was required to draft during the
Negroponte era. This report
was meant to be sent to Congress, but he claimed the charges had been
eliminated or transformed by others by the time that the report had
reached its ultimate destination.
Doctors Human Rights Reports
is no question that Negroponte and the rest of the senior embassy
personnel must have known about the disappearances and tortures of
Honduran leftists since some of the most widely-distributed newspapers
in the country carried at least 318 stories about such military abuses
in 1982 alone. Negroponte
also had direct contact with General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, by then
the chief of the Honduran armed forces and the secret head of Battalion
316. Negroponte himself has
insisted that on occasion he requested the release of a torture victim
when the story was close to breaking in the
This happened in the 1982 case of the arrest and torture of
journalist Oscar Reyes and his wife, Gloria.
Clearly, Negroponte and the embassy knew enough about these cases
to act appropriately on occasion and when compelled by circumstances to
Introduces the Hard Line
replacement of Binns by Negroponte reflected a shifting foreign policy
, witnessed by the introduction of the
Reagan administration’s hard-line policy and its implementation by
Elliot Abrams; regarding
, it was represented by the zealotry of the
, John Negroponte.
was eerily familiar to the Bush
administration’s present goal in
government, again, is attempting to
implement a democratic format in a country that has not yet chosen to do
it on its own, and not necessarily by democratic means.
To implement this complex task will inevitably create a less than
ideal situation for the ambassador to fulfill his instructions.
But given Negroponte’s well-practiced M.O. of dark box
chicanery, the spread of false information and outright lying, it is
doubtful that he will be any less controversial or contrived in his task
of successfully introducing democracy in Iraq than he was in Honduras,
perhaps because “democracy” is not exactly his stigmata.
John Negroponte is preeminently an-ends-justifies-the-means
operator. He repeatedly in
the past has proven that he is willing to employ practices which seem to
be the antitheses of the definition of “democratic”, in
democracy’s good name. Negroponte’s
career has been one where in his professional life he has shown a
willingness to use authoritarian means to professedly advance democracy.
Man is Negroponte?
his admirers, Negroponte is a distinguished career senior foreign
service officer who has served his country well in a number of
important posts. To his
detractors, Negroponte is a blunt, self-serving opportunist who
aggressively (to a point well past overkill) took on what he perceived
as being the ideological ethos of whatever administration he was serving
at the time, even if it meant stretching credulity, ethics and personal
honesty to the breaking point. Perhaps
a more accurate assessment of his performance is that he misused his
authority and egregiously flouted decent standards of professional
behavior, while scarcely looking backwards.
Rather than a paragon of democratic virtues, Negroponte is a man
who has to be seen as the anti-Christ of democracy, repeatedly dragging
its noble cause through offal. Negroponte’s
nomination, along with the earlier appointments of Cold War stalwarts
such as Otto Reich and Elliot Abrams, as well as Senator Helms’ protégé,
Roger Noriega, to key hemispheric posts by President Bush, represents a
throwback to an era when human rights and democratic processes were
routinely suffered in the name of halting purported efforts by Moscow to
expand Communism throughout the hemisphere.
Iraqis used to Saddam Hussein’s inflexible rule, his cynicism and
indifference to the suffering of others, Negroponte’s arrival in
Baghdad will require no prolonged adaptation to the rule or style of
America’s new pro-consul in the country.
They will have exchanged one man on horseback for another.
For those who are familiar with his professional history, it will
take a clothespin on one’s nose for his Iraqi audience to stomach any
speech that he makes touting democracy.
Negroponte had been nominated for the U.N. Ambassadorship, he was
scheduled for a potentially withering cross-examination by his
detractors on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his actions in
, as part of his confirmation hearings that
were being conducted for that post.
But he was spared any further scrutiny by the occurrence of 9/11
and the overpowering feeling in the Senate that the
must quickly fill the existing UN vacancy,
by a peremptory vote. Thus,
rather than be submitted to exacting querying, the process then turned
out to be little better than a pro-forma interrogation.
scenario is sure to be replicated when it comes to the
The nomination is another in a series of disturbing foreign
relations moves by the Bush administration and the Secretary of State,
Colin Powell, which has had its ramifications when it comes to
all, Negroponte played a key role when it came to manipulating a string
of weak leaders in
in order to persuade them to fire their
respective ambassadors to the UN because they opposed Negroponte’s
complicity in efforts to obtain the discharge of Mexico’s ambassador
Adolfo Abullar Zinnser and Chile’s Juan Gabriel Valdes scarcely
differed from his purported perjured testimony in which he covered up
the full extent of his knowledge of the human rights abuses committed by
the Honduran military during his stay in that country, and his testimony
over the details of his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal.
He also admitted to the illicit diversion of
for the Contra forces, which normally
should have disbarred any attempt to let him into a higher posting.
Unfortunately, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and its
chairman can be counted on to do themselves little honor by trivializing
their advice and consent responsibility when it comes to sending off
this appointee to
Luis Alonso Discua Elivir, a former Honduran death squad commander who
claimed that he would “spill the beans” on Negroponte unless his
family was allowed to remain in this country, had his
visa revoked in 2001.
It would be perhaps of interest to hear this man’s testimony
and have Negroponte respond to the huge amount of material implicating
him in playing a sedulously deceitful role after being posted to
an abundance of reporters, scholars and former governmental officials
who have publicly raised questions about Negroponte’s record, no
public witnesses were invited to try to establish before the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee that Negroponte was not qualified for his
appointment to the UN post. Therefore,
what should have been an occasion of close scrutiny over serious charges
of malfeasance in office, will instead be afforded no better than a
cursory screening which will be more of a celebration than an
with Death Squad Leaders
his ambassadorship in
from 1981 to 1985, Negroponte was known to
have close working ties to that nation’s most egregious local abuses
of human rights. One of the
most notable of these unsavory characters was then-Colonel Gustavo
, at the time
’ military chief and the de facto
strongman of the country. Promoted
to general, Alvarez was later assassinated after returning from the
, where he had sought refuge from his
senior military colleagues, who purportedly later had him murdered after
he had refused to share with them the alleged large bribes that he had
received via the
This largesse was a reward for facilitating the conversion of his
country into a base to wage the Contra war against the incumbent leftist
Sandinista government in
was perhaps most infamous for his close connections to the death squad
that became know as Battalion 316.
This Alvarez-created unit, which received training in torture
techniques from Argentine ‘dirty war’ veterans and the CIA
(according to the Pulitzer prize-winning Baltimore
Sun series which in part examined Negroponte’s controversial role
in Honduras), is widely suspected of “disappearing” over 180
suspected “subversives” in the early 1980s.
At the time, any Honduran opposed to that country’s use as a
staging ground for President Reagan’s anti-Sandinista campaign was
generally considered a “subversive.”
Human Rights to Save Face
response to recurrent journalist inquiries, as well as in formal
proceedings, Negroponte repeatedly has denied or minimized any knowledge
of charges that the Honduran military was behind the death squads and
that such a force as Battalion 316 even existed.
Negroponte’s attempts to dismiss the role of death squads have
been undermined by his later boasts that, quite to the contrary, he
personally intervened in a number of instances to secure the release of
politically sensitive detainees being held by Honduran authorities.
Even if one grants this claim, such behavior on Negroponte’s
part was the exception rather than the rule, and perhaps is an
indication of how he could have saved many more lives, if he had used
his plenary position in
to be a true advocate of human rights and
such apparently rare occasion in which he professedly intervened
involved journalist Oscar Reyes, who was abducted after writing numerous
articles critical of the Honduran military.
embassy spokesman Cresencio Arcos has
verified that in July of 1983, Negroponte approached General Alvarez
about his apprehensions over the just “disappeared” Reyes.
It should be recalled that Arcos himself, as the embassy press
officer, has been repeatedly accused by scholars studying Honduras
during that epoch, of knowingly distributing false information to U.S.
journalists stationed in Honduras at the time, and that he had entered
into a familial relationship with a politically important Honduran
family, allegedly not keeping his personal life entirely separate from
his official responsibilities.
by protests from university students and a rash of newspaper publicity
on Reyes at the time, it is unlikely that Negroponte’s request for the
journalist’s release was principally motivated by abiding human rights
concerns. Rather, the
impetus for such singular concern in this case almost certainly was the
fear that widespread coverage of the Reyes kidnapping could eventually
make headlines in U.S. newspapers and bring unwanted publicity to his
ambassadorship and the skullduggery in which it was involved.
released declassified documents that had been requested by the Senate
for the Negroponte hearing were always on Negroponte’s
mind because they repeatedly articulated a concern over any bad
publicity that could becloud his reputation.
An undesirable outcome of this kind would have hardened
opposition to President Reagan’s extremely controversial policy of
trying to suck Honduras into the Contra war in exchange for secret
bribes to a number of that country’s political and military officers,
as well as hundreds of millions in U.S. funds being allocated for
economic and military assistance programs to the Honduran regime.
high-profile case in which Negroponte claims to have intervened was the
disappearance of a suspected leftist, Inés
Murillo. A number of
reports at the time stated that a U.S. Embassy (or perhaps a CIA)
official had visited the Honduran torture facility known as INDUMIL,
where Murillo was being held and tortured.
The daughter of a prominent local family, Murillo’s parents
were relentless in trying to locate their daughter, even taking out a
full-page advertisement in the Honduran newspaper, El
professedly vocalized concern over Murillo’s status, again fearing bad
press coverage, and brought up the matter when meeting with Honduran
officials. Four days later,
Murillo was, in effect, narrowly saved from a certain death when she was
publicly sentenced to two years in prison.
in the early 1980s, Hondurans had become the primary
support base for the Contra war.
The Honduran Army provided facilities and logistical support in a
swath of territory adjacent to
which became known as “Contraland.”
Honduran channels were also used to funnel
funds to the Contras, without disclosing
their source, at a time when such funding to the rebels was prohibited
by Congress, but was still flowing from other
funding sources, including the CIA.
his stint in
, Negroponte expanded the embassy staff’s
size ten-fold and it came to house one of the largest CIA deployments in
same scenario inevitably will be the case in Baghdad once Negroponte
initiates his ambassadorship, and presides over what is being touted as
the largest U.S. overseas diplomatic mission in the world, with anywhere
from one to three thousand personnel being employed there.
Hondurans frequently referred to Negroponte as the U.S.
“proconsul” of the country, as his arrogant and stealthy style of
operating was more like that of an intelligence officer than a
traditional diplomat, redolent of his days as a young agent in Vietnam.
Utilizing this persona, he was able to guarantee the cooperation
of a Honduran base for the Contra rebel army through his domination of
compromised local officials and institutions.
and the Boland Amendment
also played a primary role in organizing such pro-Contra projects as a
counterinsurgency training center at
Puerto Castilla and the construction of the controversial $7.5 million
highway to Puerto Lempira, which passed through a virgin strand of
mahogany trees towards the country’s eastern coast.
Such a road would facilitate the flow of supplies to the
U.S.-directed Nicaraguan right-wing contras.
In spite of U.S. AID regulations stipulating that such a
U.S.-funded project must have an environmental impact study conducted
before construction could commence, Negroponte huffily overruled such
legal niceties and resorting to expletives, ordered the road to be built
in spite of the illegalities involved and the protests of an AID
official who had been sent from Washington to argue his case.
Support of Honduran aid to the Contras at the time also violated
Congressional prohibitions, such as the 1982 Boland amendment, which
banned the use of U.S. funds for “military equipment, military
training or advice, or other support for military activities, to any
group or individual not part of a country’s armed forces, for the
purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua or provoking a
military exchange between Nicaragua and Honduras.”
exchange for General Alvarez’s total collusion in support of Contra
offered full political and economic
support to that country’s corrupt military.
military aid to
swelled from $3.9 million in 1980 to $77.4
million by 1984. Between
1981 and 1986, more than 60,000
soldiers and members of the National Guard
in over 50 military exercises meant not so
much to intimidate the Sandinistas as to covertly transfer arms to the
Contras. Cynically enough,
upon recommendation by Negroponte and others, the Reagan administration
obscenely awarded Alvarez the Legion of Merit in 1983 for “encouraging
Negroponte was sent to
with the mission of keeping
aid flowing into
for the Contras by whatever means
Negroponte’s direct guidance, the U.S. Embassy in
turned a blind eye to glaring evidence of
systematic human rights abuses by Honduran officials.
Recently declassified State Department papers also reveal the
lengths that Negroponte would go to in order to protect the victimizer,
rather than the victims, of human rights abuses.
In 1982 alone, there were over 300 newspaper articles in the
Honduran press reporting the illegal detention of university students
and the abduction of union leaders.
Colonel Leonidas Torres Arias, a disgruntled former intelligence
chief of the Honduran armed forces, stated in a 1982 news conference
that Battalion 316 was indeed a death squad, citing three of its victims
by name. Efrain Diaz
Arrivillaga, a Honduran congressional delegate, also said that when he
spoke about the military’s abuses at the time to Negroponte, he was
met with an “attitude…of tolerance and silence.”
In addition, organizations such as the Committee of the Relatives
of the Disappeared visited the
embassy to complain that the Honduran
military was holding suspected dissidents in clandestine jails such as
INDUMIL, to a totally unmoved Negroponte.
reports have further established that Negroponte was very well aware of
human rights abuses in Honduras, and any doubts he had about individual
cases were politically motivated rather than the product of genuine
caution or any high evidential standard.
In Search of Hidden Truths, co-authored by the Honduran Human
Rights Commissioner, documents recently-declassified reports which
provide solid evidence that the U.S. was minutely aware of human rights
abuses committed by the Honduran military in the 1980s, in spite of
Negroponte’s persistent claims to the contrary.
In addition, declassified State Department documents also
establish that in October of 1984, after General Alvarez had been
deposed by the Honduran armed forces, Negroponte’s embassy was finally
willing to acknowledge that, “responsibility for a number of the
alleged disappearances between 1981 and March 1984 can be assigned
either directly or indirectly to Alvarez himself.”
declassified cable traffic indicates a persistent inclination on
Negroponte’s behalf to wholeheartedly believe rather pitiable excuses
offered by General Alvarez to explain any human rights abuses.
For example, in a 1983 letter, Deputy Assistant Secretary for
Inter-America Affairs Craig Johnstone conveyed to Negroponte that a
number of guerrillas had been captured and executed by elements of the
Honduran armed forces. Negroponte’s
response was to accept General Alvarez’s lame excuse that the six
detainees were shot dead while trying to escape.
However, when dealing with protests coming from human rights
activists and political dissidents, the exact opposite was true when it
came to assessing the quality of the information concerning allegations
by Honduran human rights groups, such as CODEH, on violations by the
armed forces. These were
routinely met with skepticism if not total denial by Negroponte’s
embassy, and often, by the ambassador himself.
discrediting Negroponte’s bona fides on the country’s human rights
situation are statements by Jack Binns, his immediate predecessor as
from 1980 to 1981.
At the time, Binns warned State Department officials of what he
described as “increasing evidence of officially sponsored and/or
sanctioned assassinations of political and criminal targets.”
Binns also has stated that there was no way for Negroponte not to
know the grim facts of life in
Enders, then Binns’ superior as Assistant Secretary of State, has
admitted that he told Binns not to report human rights abuses through
official channels in order to keep U.S. aid flowing in Honduras by any
means. Enders confessed his
transgressions at a later date, something that Negroponte has failed to
do, let alone even consider.
Contradictions in Human Rights Reports
of disappearances, harassment and abductions of political dissidents all
escalated under Negroponte, yet the annual Human Rights Reports prepared
by the ambassadorial staff for the State Department’s Bureau of
Humanitarian Affairs were masterpieces of cunning redaction or
invention, consistently downplaying human rights abuses and denying that
any evidence existed of systematic violations by manipulating language
and statistics. For
example, the 1982 report prepared for the State Department by
Negroponte’s staff asserted, “Legal guarantees exist against
arbitrary arrest or imprisonment, and against torture or degrading
treatment. Habeas Corpus is
guaranteed by the Constitution, Honduran law provides for arraignment
within 24 hours of arrest. This
appears to be the standard practice.”
All of this is absolute rubbish, and is not even true today, let
alone in the early 1980s. In
fact, Honduran judicial procedures are routinely given the worst ratings
by Transparency International. In
reality, extra-legal abductions by the military were rampant at the time
and widely reported as well. In
addition, as was acknowledged in declassified State Department documents
at the time, the judicial system was (and still is) almost entirely
requests for information or visitation rights for imprisoned family
members were met with stonewalling, as court and military officials
asserted that there was no record of the individual being detained, and
thus no assistance was given in locating them.
The U.S. embassy was often asked to help find relatives or use
its influence to gain the individual’s release.
Negroponte’s awareness of at least a substantial number of
these abductions is beyond dispute.
enough, the aforementioned Reyes case did not even deserve any mention
in Negroponte’s 1982 Human Rights Report, despite widespread media
coverage and his self-professed personal involvement.
However, the following was included in the report: “No
incidence of official interference with the media has been recorded for
several years.” It was
difficult even for embassy staff in
to take the human rights reports
seriously, as they appeared to be in such blatant denial of what
officials were witnessing in
on a daily basis.
Rick Chidester, then a
embassy aide in
, has been quoted as jocosely wondering at
the time whether they actually had not just prepared the human rights
Democracy Only When Necessary
being sent to Washington, the embassy’s human rights reports were
being carefully edited to clearly correspond to Negroponte’s own
ideological sentiments and mission rather than to objective facts.
One must realize that Negroponte did not look upon the report as
being routine, but rather as a potentially explosive document whose
revelations must be contained. What
is certain is that Negroponte hypocritically set an incredibly high
standard of proof for the inclusion of evidence of any wrongdoing by
Honduran authorities, but repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of
various human rights leaders in the country, which was certainly not in
conformance with existing State Department practices.
Someone with such a ‘distinguished’ Foreign Service career as
is routinely claimed for Negroponte by those whose capacity for
righteous indignation – such as former Assistant Secretary of State
Bernard Aronson and U.N. ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick – is quite low,
if it existed at all. They
would surely have known that in spite of their fulsome praise for
Negroponte, such embassy reports are not intended to be exclusively
based on facts and be admissible in court, but rather are also meant to
include anecdotal information from ordinary citizens and the media
concerning human rights abuses, which were myriad in Honduras at the
time, and of which Aronson and Kirkpatrick have been aware.
Negroponte broke with this practice by requiring that all
testimonies be in the form of public affidavits.
This criterion could only be met at great risk to the personal
safety of those who wanted to come forward and reveal the truth behind
the human rights violations occurring at the time, but were fearful of
juxtaposition of the Human Rights Reports for
provides a striking contrast of exactly
what purpose the documents served.
While the embassy-produced Human Rights Reports for
were characteristically incredulous over
allegations of abuses by the military, in Sandinista
the reports were manipulated to have the
public believe that atrocities committed
by the Sandinista government were of a gross nature and a daily event,
which was far from the truth. The
Embassy reports provided by Negroponte’s office appeared to state
whatever was necessary in order to assuage the concerns of the
Democratic majority in Congress as to what was happening in the area,
disregarding the murderous realities that average Hondurans confronted
on a daily basis. The
skewering of human rights reports thus appear to have been an
exceedingly serious instrument in the Negroponte
Embassy’s arsenal, aimed at promoting his full-time efforts to abet
the overthrow of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and were not at all
intended to strengthen democratic institutions by actually reporting on
human rights violations, or saving lives in that country.
There is ample reason to believe that charges of complicity in
the murder of a Chilean constitutionalist general,
that were leveled against Henry Kissinger in a
could very well have been duplicated against Negroponte in a civil
proceeding involving his own lawless behavior.
Worst Man for the Job
mental and moral flaws in the area of human rights should be prompting
serious concerns over the disservice that his appointment would do to
the diminished standing of this country’s already tattered reputation
over its troubled Iraq policy. As
a would-be harbinger of democracy to Iraq, it would be little more than
a cruel joke to pretend that this man had a bone of democratic rectitude
to him. Given
Negroponte’s tawdry record in Honduras, some observers contend that
the original Negroponte nomination to the UN offered one more example of
Secretary Powell’s lack of standards when it comes to State Department
policy, and that his testimonials of the honorable nature of such
nominees, as was equally true of his nomination of Otto Reich, John
Bolton and Roger Noriega, whom Colin Powell defended as “honorable
men,” are totally at variance with reality.
The nomination of such a tainted figure as Negroponte to one of
the most prominent posts available today to a U.S. diplomat should
represent an insult to the international community, as well as a hollow
affront to the memory of the victims of the Central American wars of the
1980s, and can only result in a further diminution of the reputation of
this country for civic rectitude at a very difficult moment in its
analysis was prepared by Larry Birns and Jenna Wright, with archival
contributions by Jeremy Gans and Matthew Tschetter
Birns is the director of the Washington based Council on Hemispheric
Affairs, where the other authors are research fellows.
27 April, 2004
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