Latin America,  Terrorism,  The Right

US Conservatives and Central American Terrorists

This is a guest post by Garden Mole

Efrain Rios Montt, the former Guatemalan military dictator, is now on trial in his own country for genocide.

During his 18-month reign of terror, beginning in March 1982, Rios Montt embarked on a scorched earth campaign against communist guerrillas in which tens of thousands of Indians were massacred.

His methods involved army operations such as this one:

One man, Diego Francisco Bartolo, was taken a short distance away, drenched with gasoline, and set on fire. Almost immediately, however, he was doused with water. Still alive, he was hung by his hands from a tree and tortured with red-hot iron rods.

Later, gasoline was poured down his throat and set alight. Still alive (at least, not yet quite dead), he was dragged to the adjoining cemetery and buried.

The procedure was then repeated with 13 other young men – as a warning to the villagers of what lay in store for them should they have any dealings with guerrilla bands.

Other reported atrocities include tales of infants being dropped upon their heads on to concrete while their parents watched, of limbs being amputated one inch at a time, of pregnant women being gutted alive, of villages being strafed at random by helicopters armed with machine guns.

(Oakland Ross, “Tales of Horror Haunt Camps,” The Globe and Mail, August 23, 1982)

Rios Montt’s barbarism was no secret at the time. Wasn’t his regime therefore treated with universal disgust? Surely no-one could find a good word to say for him?

Not so fast. In the United States, he found a group of determined supporters on the Religious Right:

Pat Robertson, head of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Jerry Falwell, founder of Moral Majority, and members of Gospel Outreach, an evangelical sect based in Eureka, Calif., announced plans in early April 1982, to raise between $10 million and $20 million for relief supplies to support Gen. Rios Montt…

Gospel Outreach publications described the Rios Montt Government in glowing terms. A “prayergram” from Mr. Robertson informed church members that “the people of Guatemala are just thrilled that Rios Montt is their leader.”

(Joe Gannon, “Rios Montt Found Friends Among US Evangelicals,” The Globe and Mail, August 9, 1983)

Guatemala was not the only Central American country whose right-wing terrorists won the sympathy of US conservatives. There was also El Salvador, where the killing was masterminded by one Roberto D’Aubuisson:

In 1977, when political violence escalated dramatically, D’Aubuisson, 37, a former intelligence officer in the National Guard, organized the White Warriors Union, a network of death squads drawn from personnel in the National Guard and other security forces. According to documents made public by former Ambassador Robert E. White, the major was implicated in several key political assassinations, including the sniper shooting of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero while he celebrated mass in March 1980 and shortly after he had denounced D’Aubuisson as a “liar, torturer, murderer.”

Shortly after that killing, D’Aubuisson made a speech on video cassette indicating his pleasure at Archbishop Romero’s death and inciting his fellow officers to join him in taking over the Government.

(Paul Heath Hoeffel, “The Eclipse of the Oligarchs,” New York Times, September 6, 1981)

The results of D’Aubuisson’s handiwork were grisly:

Bodies turn up regularly with their heads or limbs severed by machete… Other cadavers have been found charred by a torturer’s blowtorch or with their skin peeled off their faces or with steel spikes driven through their ears.

(Loren Jenkins, “El Salvador: From Conquistadores to Comunistas, Why the Killing Will Never End,” Washington Post Magazine, August 16, 1981)

And for D’Aubuisson, this was just the beginning:

Roberto D’Aubuisson, a former Army major who is the darling of the reactionary right, has openly talked of the need to kill 200,000 to 300,000 people to restore peace to El Salvador.


Now you would expect just about everyone to oppose this individual and everything he stood for. Surely no sane person would approve of such a psychopath?

Think again. Here is a report of D’Aubuisson’s visit to the United States in December 1984:

More than a dozen conservative organizations last night honored Roberto D’Aubuisson, the leader of El Salvador’s extreme right wing, with a plaque and a closed-door dinner for 120 people at the Capitol Hill Club.

The plaque expresses appreciation for D’Aubuisson’s “continuing efforts for freedom in the face of communist aggression which is an inspiration to freedom-loving people everywhere.”

(Joanne Omang, “D’Aubuisson Honored by Conservatives at Capitol Hill Dinner,” Washington Post, December 5, 1984)

The roll call of the man’s conservative admirers was a long one:

Groups that joined in presenting the plaque to D’Aubuisson included the Viguerie Co., Gun Owners of America, the Western Goals Endowment Fund, the Washington Legal Foundation, the United States Defense Committee, the American Foreign Policy Council, the Public Service Research Council, the Moral Majority, The Washington Times, the National Right-to-Work Committee, the National Pro-Life Political Action Committee, Intercessors for America, the Young Americans Foundation and the Young Americans for Freedom. Presidential assistant and former US ambassador Faith Ryan Whittlesey also joined in the presentation, but reportedly did not attend the dinner.

Other hosts for the dinner included the Free Congress Foundation, the Conservative Caucus and the Conservative Alliance, according to Lynn Stoner of the National Council for Better Education, who helped organize the event.


These incidents provoke certain questions.

Did the US conservatives listed above ever give a moment’s thought to the suffering victims of their chosen heroes?

Has any right-wing killer in the Western hemisphere been so odious that US conservatives have not been ready to sing his praises?

And is there any moral difference at all between the US conservatives who glorified these Central American terrorists and the left-wing radicals who admired the Viet Cong and the Khmer Rouge, or the Islamists who celebrate bin Laden?