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Senate sneaks in Negroponte

New U.S. ambassador has death-squad links

By Heather Cottin

While most people here were focused on the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the U.S. Senate on Sept. 14 approved the nomination of John Negroponte to the post of ambassador to the United Nations.

Under cover of the rightward impetus dominating national politics, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the day before had voted 14-to-3 to approve Negroponte. Senators were "anxious to fill the post of United States ambassador to the United Nations," according to Reuters. But they were aware, too, that this nomination was more likely to slip through if it was done quietly, during a time when few were paying attention.

Negroponte's career indicates the strong connection between the U.S. imperialist business, publishing, military and intelligence "communities." The White House, announcing his nomination, boasted that Negroponte "served in a wide variety of Foreign Service posts including ambassador to Honduras from 1981-1985, ambassador to Mexico from 1989-1993 and ambassador to the Philippines from 1993-1996.

"He held the post of deputy assistant secretary of state with the rank of ambassador for oceans and fisheries affairs from 1976-1979 and was then appointed deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs in 1980. From 1985-1987, he was assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environment and scientific affairs. Reagan named him deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs, a post he held until 1989."

But it was Negroponte's role in Central America, in the creation of death squads in Honduras, and as a conspirator in the Iran-Contra scandal that alerted activists to protest his nomination as ambassador to the United Nations.

Negroponte and Honduran
death squads

In April 2001 the Sydney Morning Herald reported, "President George W. Bush's nominee for the post of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations concealed from Congress human rights abuses in Central America carried out by death squads trained and armed by the CIA."

The New York Times credited Negroponte with "carrying out the covert strategy of the Reagan administration to crush the Sandinista government in Nicaragua" during his tenure as U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981-1985. He oversaw the growth of military aid to Honduras from $4 million to $77.4 million a year.

In early 1984, two U.S. mercenaries, Thomas Posey and Dana Parker, contacted Negroponte, stating they wanted to supply arms to the Contra army after the U.S. Congress had banned governmental aid. Documents show that Negroponte connected the two with a contact in the Honduran military. The operation was exposed nine months later, at which point the Reagan administration denied any U.S. government involvement, despite Negroponte's contact earlier that year.

Other documents uncovered a scheme of Negroponte and then-Vice President George Bush to funnel Contra aid money through the Honduran government.

In addition to his work with the Nicaraguan Contra army, Negroponte helped conceal from Congress the murder, kidnapping and torture abuses of a CIA-equipped and -trained Honduran military unit, Battalion 316. No mention of these human rights violations ever appeared in State Department human rights reports for Honduras.

After making a comprehensive study in June 1995 of Negroponte's tenure in Honduras, the Baltimore Sun wrote:

"The intelligence unit, known as Battalion 316, used shock and suffocation devices in interrogations. Prisoners often were kept naked and, when no longer useful, were killed and buried in unmarked graves. Newly declassified documents and other sources show that the CIA and the U.S. Embassy knew of numerous crimes, including murder and torture, committed by Battalion 316, yet continued to collaborate closely with its leaders."

The Sun reported that Efrain Diaz Arrivillaga, then a delegate in the Honduran Congress and a voice of dissent, told the newspaper that he complained to Negroponte on numerous occasions about the Honduran military's human rights abuses. Rick Chidester, a junior embassy official under Negroponte, reported to the Sun that he was forced to omit an exhaustive section on human rights violations from his 1982 State Department report.

Sister Laetitia Bordes went on a fact-finding delegation to Honduras in May 1982 to investigate the whereabouts of 32 Salvadoran nuns and women of faith who fled to Honduras in 1981 after Archbishop Oscar Romero's assassination. Negroponte claimed the embassy knew nothing.

But in 1996 Negroponte's predecessor, Jack Binns, reported that the women had been captured, tortured and then crammed into helicopters, from which they were tossed to their deaths.

He conveniently 'forgot'

According to the Los Angeles Times, shortly after Negroponte's nomination was decided, the U.S. government revoked the visa of Gen. Luis Alonso Discua Elvir, who was Honduras's deputy ambassador to the UN.

General Discua was the commander of Battalion 316 during Negroponte's tenure as ambassador. He has publicly claimed to have information linking Negroponte with the battalion's activities. His testimony would be invaluable in illuminating Negroponte's collusion with Honduran opponents on Capitol Hill. In 1994, the Honduran Human Rights Commission charged Negroponte personally with several human rights abuses.

All this took place while John Negroponte was ambassador. He claimed in a recent hearing in the Senate to have forgotten what happened during his watch in Honduras. Reuters reported on Sept. 15, "Mr. Negroponte, pressed on various human rights cases in Honduras and on what he discussed with the contras, told the Senate committee he could not remember."

The Washington Post on Sept. 15 noted during the nomination hearings, "Committee members questioned whether Negroponte played down or knowingly failed to report government abuses, possibly affecting congressional support for the Reagan administration's plan to build up the military in neighboring Central American nations."

They apparently had no objections when Negroponte replied by asserting he served "honorably and conscientiously in a manner fully consistent with and faithful to applicable laws and policies."

Reuters had written the day before, "Senators said the United States needed an ambassador in New York as soon as possible to mobilize international support for President Bush's campaign against terrorism." No one apparently saw the duplicity or irony of appointing as ambassador to the United Nations a man who was officially responsible for a nefarious episode of U.S. state terrorism.

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