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Context of '1960s: US Assists Salvadoran Government in Creation of New Security Agencies'

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The United States helps the Salvadoran government organize a rural paramilitary force known as the Democratic Nationalist Organization (ORDEN) and the Salvadoran National Security Agency (ANSESAL) under the auspices of General Jose Alberto “Chele” Medrano, who is a senior officer in the National Guard and Armed Forces High Command of El Salvador. As early as 1963, the Green Berets send over ten counterinsurgency trainers to help Medreno. Both agencies are formed with the stated purpose of combating communism. ORDEN is tasked with “indoctrinat[ing] the peasants regarding the advantages of the democratic system and the disadvantages of the communist system,” but also operates as an intelligence network. Intelligence relating to “subversive” activities will regularly be relayed to ANSESAL and then to the office of the president, who will then take “appropriate action.” ORDEN in particular will be later blamed for numerous human rights abuses, with Amnesty International accusing it of being created with the intention of using “clandestine terror against government opponents.” One of the offshoots of ORDEN, the White Hand (Mano Blanco), is later called “nothing less that the birth of the death squads” by a former US ambassador to El Salvador. [The Progressive, 5/1984; Montgomery, 1995, pp. 55-56]

Entity Tags: Salvadoran National Security Agency, Democratic Nationalist Organization, White Hand, Green Berets, Jose Alberto “Chele” Medrano

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, US-El Salvador (1980-2002)

CIA cargo handler Eugene Hasenfus, in the custody of Nicaraguan officials after his transport plane filled with weapons and supplies for the Contras was shot down (see October 5, 1986), publicly states that he had made ten other trips to ferry arms and supplies to the Contras. Six of those were from the Ilopango airfield in El Salvador (see Mid-September 1985). He also states that he worked closely with two CIA agents, “Max Gomez” and “Ramon Medina.” “Gomez” is actually Felix Rodriguez, who serves as the liaison between the Contras and National Security Council officer Oliver North. “Medina” is another CIA operative, Rafael Quintero. Hasenfus says that Gomez and Medina oversaw the housing for the crews, transportation, refueling, and flight plans. The same day as Hasenfus’s public statement, Nicaraguan officials reveal that one of Hasenfus’s crew members, who died in the crash, carried cards issued by the Salvadoran Air Force identifying them as US advisers. And, the Nicaraguans claim, one of the crew members had a business card identifying him as an official with the US’s Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office (NHAO—see October 1985). [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993; Spartacus Schoolnet, 12/29/2007]

Entity Tags: Felix Rodriguez, Contras, Eugene Hasenfus, Rafael Quintero, Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office, Oliver North

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Newsweek reports that the Pentagon is considering a new approach to dealing with the insurgency in Iraq, one defense officials call the “Salvador Option.” During the 1980s, the US, primarily through the CIA, funded and supported paramilitary units, often called “death squads” by the citizenry and various human rights organizations which monitored their activities, in El Salvador and other Central American nations. These death squads carried out numerous assassinations and kidnappings, including the murder of four American nuns in 1980. Many US conservatives consider the Salvadoran operation a success, though many innocent Salvadorans died, some under torture, and the operation fomented the US government policies that became known collective as “Iran-Contra.” Now the Pentagon is debating whether the same tactics should be used in Iraq. “What everyone agrees is that we can’t just go on as we are,” says a senior military official. “We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing.” Another military source contends that Iraqis who sympathize with the insurgents need to be targeted: “The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists. From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.” One proposal would “send [US] Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria.” Among the proposal’s supporters is Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But other Pentagon officials are shy of running any operation that might contravene the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and prefer the CIA to run the proposed operation. And many lawmakers, Pentagon officials, and military experts are wary of expanding the role of US Special Forces operations in such a legally and morally dubious direction. They also worry about the ramifications of using Iraqi Kurds and Shi’ite militia members against Iraqi Sunnis in potential death squads, characterized by investigative reporter Robert Parry as “a prescription for civil war or genocide.” Some speculate that this operation might be one of the reasons John Negroponte was recently named US ambassador to Iraq. Negroponte served as US ambassador to Honduras during the 1980s, and many feel Negroponte was a key figure in the establishment and operations of the Central American death squads. Other Bush officials active in the Central America program include Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Central American policies at the State Department and who is now a Middle East adviser on Bush’s National Security Council staff, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who was a powerful defender of the Central American policies as a member of the House of Representatives. Negroponte denies any involvement in any such program operating in Iraq. [Newsweek, 1/8/2005; Consortium News, 1/11/2005] Christopher Dickey, a Newsweek reporter with personal experience in El Salvador during the time of the death squads, writes that he is “prepared to admit that building friendly democracies sometimes has to be a cold-blooded business in the shadowland of moral grays that is the real world,” but says that the idea of US-formed death squads in Iraq, and the corollary idea of sending US Special Forces teams into Syria and perhaps other Middle Eastern countries is not only potentially a mistake, but one that is little more than “a formalization of what’s already taking place.” Former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst and Middle East specialist Patrick Lang says, “We are, of course, already targeting enemy cadres for elimination whether by capture or death in various places including Afghanistan and Iraq.” So many Special Forces personnel are already involved in such operations, Lang says, that there is an actual shortage of Green Berets to perform their primary task: training regular Iraqi troops. The operation could benefit the US presence in two ways: helping win the hearts and minds of the ordinary citizenry by successfully eliminating insurgents, or just by making the citizenry “more frightened of [the US] than they are of the insurgents.” [Newsweek, 1/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Robert Parry, Patrick Lang, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Iyad Allawi, Contras, Christopher Dickey, Central Intelligence Agency, John Negroponte, Newsweek, Elliott Abrams, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

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