So Trump appointed Elliot Abrams to be in charge of “restoring democracy” in Venezuela. Most Washington Babylon readers probably know that Abrams made his reputation as the state department official in charge of Central American policy in the 1980s, where he presided over mass murder by US-backed Contras in Nicaragua, and US-backed governments and death squads in El Salvador and Nicaragua.
But you might not know that much of the killing involved Manson Family-style butchery. It was like the Tate-LaBianca murders everywhere you looked.
Perhaps the most gruesome true crime book ever published is Noam Chomsky’s Turning the Tide, in which he assembled a sampling of reports by the journalists, church groups, human rights organizations, medical professionals, and others who documented the atrocities in all their gory detail.
What follows are just a few excerpts from the book, chosen virtually at random, as a warning for what might be in store for the already-suffering people of Venezuela.
From Turning the Tide:
Human Rights Secretary Abrams has become particularly notorious for his denials of human rights violations or apologetics for them … and for his attacks, in the familiar style of his Stalinist models, on human rights advocates. In recognition of his achievements in protecting human rights, Abrams was placed in charge of Latin American affairs in the State Department.
As Reagan took over in 1981, the massacres increased both in sadism and scale, with 12,501 cases documented by the Church Legal Aid Service for 1981 along with unknown numbers of others, again, attributed primarily to the various military and police forces. Meanwhile torture reached “extraordinary dimensions,” human rights groups who investigated the matter observed; “Of the many thousands of bodies which have appeared after detentions and abductions of security personnel, a very high proportion show signs of torture including dismemberment, beating, acid burns, flaying, scalping, castration, strangulation, sexual violation, and evisceration.” Churches and Human Rights offices were attacked; the judge investigating the murder of Archbishop Romero was driven from the country by death threats and assassination attempts after the government had ensured that no investigation could proceed; relatives of another judge were murdered, their heads severed and laid at his home, to prevent inquiry into state terror; patients were machine-gunned in hospitals; peasants, teachers, health workers, union leaders, students and others were brutally tortured and murdered with increasing ferocity.
A medical mission of the US National Academy of Sciences and other professional and human rights groups investigated reports of barbarous treatment of health workers in January 1983…They report killing and kidnapping of patients and doctors in hospitals, “sometimes even during surgery”; “since merely notifying the Church and independent human- rights groups of a relative’s disappearance can jeopardize the whole family, statistics on disappearances are minimal.” They were shown “dirty, haggard political prisoners” in “foul, pitch-black steel-barred cells furnished with only a concrete bench and a hole in the floor for a latrine,” but were forbidden to speak with them.
A September 1985 report of a delegation of US health professionals—physicians, nurses, public health professors and others— “painted a grim picture of a war-ravaged country where countryside bombing drives children to autism, where hospitals are so ill-equipped that wounds are sutured with fishing line and where doctors are captured and tortured for treating persons suspected of antigovernment activity.”
The Salvadoran military were trained and advised by Americans, while the security forces were instructed in torture methods by imported Argentine neo-Nazis.
Visiting a refugee camp in Honduras, Elizabeth Hanly reports the testimony of a Salvadoran peasant woman who describes a 1983 massacre, when the National Guard came to her village in US-supplied helicopters, killing her three children among others, chopping the children to pieces and throwing them to the village pigs: “The soldiers laughed all the while,” she said. Like her, other women “still had tears to cry as they told stories of sons, brothers and husbands gathered into a circle and set on fire after their legs had been broken; or of trees heavy with women hanging from their wrists, all with breasts cut off and facial skin peeled back, all slowly bleeding to death.”
In October 1982, Amnesty International reported that in widespread massacres, the government had “destroyed entire villages, tortured and mutilated local people and carried out mass executions.” To cite one example, in one village troops “forced all the inhabitants into the courthouse, raped the women and beheaded the men, and then battered the children to death against rocks in a nearby river.”
A Survival International delegation took depositions from refugees in Mexico, who report massacres in which “pregnant women and children have been killed, women have been raped, and people have been tortured and burned alive,” with the destruction of whole towns and villages, burning of crops and destruction of livestock.
Survivors of the massacre at Finca San Francisco in July 1982 describe how 300 people were killed, the women raped and shot or burned to ashes in houses put to the torch, the old people hacked to pieces with machetes, the children disemboweled:
“Finally they brought out the last child. He was a little one, maybe two or three years old. They stabbed him and cut out his stomach. The little child was screaming, but because he wasn’t dead yet, the soldier grabbed a thick, hard stick and bashed his head. They held his feet together and smashed him against a tree trunk. I saw how they flung him hard and hurt his head. It split open, and they threw him inside the house.”
The 1982 strategy of the Ríos Montt regime, defended by President Reagan and his Human Rights specialist Elliott Abrams, as we shall see, was described at the time by a respected journal:
“The army strategy is to clear the population out of the guerrilla support areas. Troops and militias move into the villages, shoot, burn or behead the inhabitants they catch; the survivors are machine-gunned from helicopters as they flee.”
[In 1984], a British Parliamentary investigation concluded that “if anything, [the situation] has worsened since 1983” in a continuing slaughter that the conservative Bishops’ Conference describes as “genocide.” … Presenting testimony of gruesome torture and murder, the report cites estimates that in the most recent series of state massacres, some 25,000 had been slaughtered, mostly Indians, in three departments where a census was taken; the Roman Catholic Church administrator in the town of Quiché “estimates that in recent years about 20,000 Indians have been killed in Quiché province alone,” the Wall St. Journal reports, quoting another churchman who says: “The roads began to stink, there were so many dead bodies.”
After the disappearance and murder of several USAID employees, Elliott Abrams conceded that some problems had arisen: “It has not gone from white to black . . . But the situation has clearly deteriorated.” The reports sampled above are from the period when the situation was still perfect. In the case of El Salvador, Abrams stated categorically that well- documented massacres, such as the one at Los Llanitos, had never taken place. Referring to this and another massacre by the Atlacatl Battalion at the Gualsinga river, where the toll may have reached several hundred, Abrams stated that “neither of them happened . . . there were no massacres in El Salvador in 1984.”
Another witness describes a contra attack on his cooperative in April 1984:
“They had already destroyed all that was the cooperative; a coffee drying machine, the two dormitories for the coffee cutters, the electricity generators, 7 cows, the plant, the food warehouse. There was one boy about 15 years old, who was retarded and suffered from epilepsy. We had left him in a bomb shelter. When we returned . . . we saw . . . that they had cut his throat, then they cut open his stomach and left his intestines hanging out on the ground like a string. They did the same to Juan Corrales who had already died from a bullet in the fighting. They opened him up and took out his intestines and cut off his testicles.”
A Miskito teacher kidnapped by the contras describes the tortures to which he and eight others were subjected in Honduras:
“In the evening, they tied me up in the water from 7 PM until 1 AM. The next day, at 7 AM they began to make me collect garbage in the creek in my underwear, with the cold. The creek was really icy. I was in the creek for four hours . . . Then they threw me on the ant hill. Tied up, they put me chest-down on the anthill. The ants bit my body. I squirmed to try to get them off my body, but there were too many . . . They would beat me from head to heels. They would give me an injection to calm me a little. Then they would beat me again.”
A French priest who trains nurses in the north testified before the World Court about a handicapped person murdered “for the fun of it,” of women raped, of a body found with the eyes gouged out and a girl of 15 who had been forced into prostitution at a contra camp in Honduras. He accused the contras of creating an atmosphere of terror through kidnappings, rapes, murder and torture.
In the foreign press, we can read of “the contras’ litany of destruction”: the destruction of health and community centers, cooperatives, kindergartens and schools with such methods as these, described by one of the survivors:
“Rosa had her breasts cut off. Then they cut into her chest and took out her heart. The men had their arms broken, their testicles cut off, and their eyes poked out. They were killed by slitting their throats, and pulling the tongue out through the slit.”
And we can learn of a 14-year-old girl who was gang-raped and then decapitated, her head placed on a stake at the entrance to her village as a warning to government supporters; of nurses who were raped, then murdered; a man killed by hanging after his eyes were gouged out and his fingernails pulled out; a man who was stabbed to death after having been beaten, his eyes gouged out and a cross carved in his back after he fled from a hospital attacked by the contras; another tortured then skinned; another cut to pieces with bayonets by contras who then beheaded her 11-month-old baby before his wife’s eyes; others who were raped to a background of religious music; children shot in the back or repeatedly shot “as though she had been used for target practice,” according to a North American priest; along with much similar testimony provided by American priests, nuns, and others working in the border areas where the terrorist forces rampage, attacking from the Honduran bases established by their US advisers, instructors and paymasters.