In June 1988, Bolivia’s then-nascent Chapare coca grower’s union movement suffered its greatest single-day loss of life, the Villa Tunari Massacre. The killings came amid their campaign to oppose the passage of Ley 1008, which would eventually criminalize all coca growing in the Cochabamba valley region. The day forged the union and later political career of Evo Morales, Bolivia’s future president, and set Chapare coca growers and the US-backed Bolivian government on a deadly collision course that would claim scores of lives over the twenty-seven years that followed.
Despite the event’s importance, there have been precious few accounts in English. Jo Ann Kawell’s 1989 article in NACLA Report on the Americas is by the far the most complete I’ve found.
Without a doubt, the post-electoral protests against President Evo Morales, his sudden resignation under pressure from both protesters and the military, and the unexpected succession of Jeanine Áñez (previously, second vice president of the Senate) are the most significant events of Bolivian political life in 2019. The hinge point of these events was the dramatic week stretching from November 8 to 15, during which the police and military joined protesters as central actors; significant transactions occurred behind closed doors; acts of violence and arson targeted politicians on all sides; uncertainty surrounded presidential succession; and finally, a remobilized military killed a shocking number of people in four dramatic days.
I want to offer here some detailed accounts of what happened during that pivotal week and lay out the crucial questions as to whether, when, and how the overthrow of Morales was planned.
Why did an inexperienced junior senator with no mandate get empowered to lead a disastrous coup, unleashing the deadliest month in 15 years in Bolivian politics? How did a military “suggestion” claiming to head off bloodshed so rapidly lead to operations against civilians that cost many more lives than had been lost in the previous three years (let alone the three weeks of protest since the election)? In short, to what extent was a unified planning process (what we might call a coup plot) at the heart of this political transition?
Put differently, do we understand Evo Morales’ overthrow, Jeanine Áñez’s succession, and the military shakeup that followed the result of:
The foresight and planning of a small circle of actors. Did someone in the civic movement set her up? Work out a deal with those in the military who craved a crackdown? There are real signs of premeditation, coordination, and alliances among political forces and people within the military who might have a crackdown as a goal.
A convergence of fearful choices that led to a disastrous transition. Did the military leadership believe a quick transition would de-escalate an increasingly deadly confrontation on November 10? Did multiple actors think confirming someone, any civilian at all, was preferable to prolonging interim military rule and nightly violence on November 12? The real consequences of fear, urgency, distrust, violence, and reactions to violence that led people to act without considering the worst-case scenario that could emerge.
Since plotting is necessarily a closed-door activity, we couldn’t fully know the answers to these questions on November 10 or 15. But since these are matters of public concern and the principal actors are talking to journalists, we are getting more and more details (all possibly filtered through self-justifications and political ambitions) about what exactly happened when. What follows is an evolving list of sources for those of us trying to understand what happened in detail.
November 7–9: Negotiating a Civic-Military alliance
During these days, José Luis Camacho Parada, former head of the CEPB business federation and the father of Santa Cruz civic movement leader Luis Fernando Camacho, acted as a negotiator between that movement and the military. He contacted Fernando López Julio, a former officer who would become Áñez’s Defense Minister, to broker an agreement to keep the military out of the conflict, and it would appear, to consolidate a growing group of hardliners to back a post-Evo era.
Revealing the talks, Luis Fernando Camacho said López “got close with the military. For that reason, the person who when to speak with them and coordinate everything was Fernando López, the present Defense Minister And that is why he is the minister, to carry through with these commitments” (video). López himself has confirmed his role and stated that during the Morales presidency, the Ministers of Defense—all of them civilians—“never understood the Armed Forces, nor comprehended their needs.” He presents himself as “someone from their domain, and who will understand their needs and return to them their dignity” (Correo del Sur).
The night of November 10 saw chaotic property destruction by outraged Morales supporters in El Alto and La Paz. The police were increasingly overwhelmed by crowds whose principal target was police stations, many of which they burned and looted entirely. Two police were fatally wounded in these confrontations, one when his motorcycle crashed while attempting to evade marchers. Meanwhile, the military command resisted getting involved and Armed Forces commander and the head of the Air Force remained in contact with resigned president Evo Morales and Defense Minister Javier Zavaleta.
A complex series of negotiations on presidential succession were brokered by the Catholic Church, the European Union, and others. Former president Tuto Quiroga emerged as the strategist behind the succession of Jeanine Áñez, previously the second vice president of the Senate. This position is not included in the brief section of the 2009 Constitution concerning the line of succession, but justification was found in a 2001 ruling on succession. Senate President Adriana Salvatierra and Chamber of Deputies President Víctor Borda had resigned their leadership posts on November 10.
In behind-the-scenes negotiations, Adriana Salvatierra represented the MAS-IPSP. According to Quiroga and four other parties involved (The New York Times reported), she exchanged permission for Evo Morales and his entourage to exit the country for a relatively uncontested succession. However, Salvatierra may have had personal interests at stake, namely the legal situation of her father who Hugo Salvatierra who is risking prosecution for a possibly corrupt tractor transaction during his time as Rural Development Minister early in the Morales government. Incoming Senate president Eva Copa revealed to the press that:
In her own voice in a meeting of our party delegation, she [Salvatierra] stated that she renounced the presidency, for she ought to have been the transitional president, because the only thing that she has is her father and mother, and that she could not assume the position because they might reactivate the tractors case against her father. That is the decision that she took, and that left us crippled and we have had to take responsible and mature decisions as partisans.
The New York Times reports that the succession agreement was worked out on November 11, but Salvatierra’s assent seemingly did not come on behalf of the larger MAS-IPSP delegation in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly. They did not attend sessions on the afternoon of November 12 meant to swear in Áñez as president. Instead of convening the Assembly to consider Morales’ resignation letter, Áñez invoked the former president’s “abandoning” his post by fleeing the country as the mechanism of succession. Through two successive parliamentary maneuvers, Añez first declared herself president of the Senate then took office as president on the basis of the unavailability of the president and vice president. MAS-IPSP legislators reasonably expected to be able to consider the resignation letters in their first session, and to elect a different senator to replace Salvatierra. There are conflicting accounts about whether they boycotted the session or stayed away out of fear for their own safety.
On the night of November 13, Jeanine Áñez presided over the elevation of a new set of officers to the military High Command, replacing the entire leadership. Handing over his office, outgoing commander Kaliman drew attention to “respect for [human] life” during his term and said, “The direction has been marked out; we leave you armed forces that are cohesive, disciplined, respected and admired by all Bolivians; an armed forces linked to the Bolivian Constitution. Only follow the trail of our work, improve what we have done with more effort, it is your turn to be the protagonists of our institution.” Was this a formality, or a warning of the danges of putting troops back into the streets to engage in crowd control?
What follows is the first in a series of notes that arise from my courses, which during the current semester include Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Contemporary Anthropological Theory. This map, from Robbie Ethridge’s From Chicaza to Chickasaw: The European Invasion and the Transformation of the Mississippian World, 1540-1715, is shocking to the eye. […]
Because the US government lies and journalists often accord those lies respect, because this country has more official secrets than it can keep track of, we live in a country where the term “secret war” is neither an impossibility nor an oxymoron.
In 1996, Gary Webb, a journalist with the San José Mercury News, broke a story of the interconnections between one secret American war, the funding and arming of the right-wing Contra rebels in Nicaragua, and the spiraling traffic in crack cocaine to the United States in the 1980s. Webb’s exposé broke new ground for newspaper-online collaboration and cast the contradictory politics of the US-backed drug wars at home and abroad into sharp, public relief.
Webb had found flesh and blood individuals to be the face of an already-uncovered pattern of facts. A 1989 Senate investigation had found:
On the basis of this evidence, it is clear that individuals who provided support for the Contras were involved in drug trafficking, the supply network of the Contras was used by drug trafficking organizations, and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers. In each case, one or another agency of the U.S. government had information regarding the involvement either while it was occurring, or immediately thereafter.
With the issue of Contra backers running drugs into the US out in the open, major US newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post turned their investigative energies on… discrediting Gary Webb’s reporting. The CIA looked on, relieved. Exiled to a suburban desk at the San Jose Mercury News, Webb was unable to find a full-time investigative reporting position, and took his own life in 2004. (A motion picture adaptation of his life, Kill the Messenger, opens Friday.)
Fred Branfman, exposed the secret, massive bombing of Laos by interviewing refugees as a educational adviser in the country in the 1960s. Beginning in December 1964, US bombers ran over a half-million flights to drop bombs on Laos, but the war remained “secret,” that is out of the American press, until 1969. (The New York Times maintained its silence until December 1968, then failed to discuss any bombing of northern Laos while reporting the false US government line that bombing in the country was solely to attack supply routes to South Vietnam.)
Coverage elsewhere in the West came first. French journalist Jacques Decornoy offered a lengthy on-site report in Le Monde in July 1968. (Decornoy later authored .) Two years later, thanks to Branfman and the anti-war movement, his writing appeared in American wire services, like this one published in the Harvard Crimson:
On a “usual” morning . . . at 7 o’clock and AD-6 plane prowls overhead. It circles for about ten minutes, then leaves. At 7:30 the plane returns, makes a pass and drops three loads several kilometers from the “hotel.” At 8 o’clock there is a flight of jets. At 8:30, new jets and bombs. The same operation at 9 o’clock.
One of the officials of the Sam Neua district told us that during the first three years of bombing alone, sixty-five villages were destroyed. This is a figure impossible to verify for a short report, but it is a fact that between Sam Neua and a place about thirty kilometers away, not a single house in the villages and hamlets had been spared. Bridges have been destroyed, and fields riddled with bomb craters.
At the other end of Sam Neua the sight is even more painful. Enormous craters are everywhere. Churches and many houses are demolished. In order to be sure of hitting anyone who might be living there, the Americans dropped their all-too-familiar fragmentation bombs. Here by the side of the road lies a disembowelled “mother bomb.” All around for tens of meters, the earth is covered with unexploded “daughter bombs” containing hundreds of steel pellets, little weapons that the Vietnamese know so well. One of them had rolled into a shelter, under a mat, mortally wounding three people who had taken refuge there.
SINCE the bombing of Laos began some five years ago, F-4 Phantom and F105 Thunderchief fighter bombers which carry 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of bombs, and B-52s which carry four to six times that bomb load, have made daily runs. This past year they are reported to have flown over 20,000 sorties a month. This is over Sam Neua and the Plain of Jars area alone, which does not include the saturation bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail in Southern Laos. The result, as U. S. Ambassador to Laos G. McMurtire Godley testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is that almost one third of Laos’ population of three million has been made into homeless refugees.
Retaliating, the US Embassy pressured Laos to expel Branfman from the country in 1971. Writing in the New York Times soon after, he reported on thousands of interviews, “Each, without exception, said that his village had been totally leveled by bombing. Each, without exception, said that he had spent months or even years on end hiding in holes or trenches dug into foothills.” Branfman died of natural causes this week, at age 72.
Of course, no war is secret to its victims. And few targets of a war can fail to imagine who is behind them.
But in a country like ours, we need people to work diligently to end the secrecy that surrounds wars. To even make the possibility of democratic decision, public reparations, and even honest history, thinkable.
The United States Air Force has a drone base in Niger from which it flied unmanned aircraft into Mali to provide military intelligence for the French military involved in Mali’s civil war. The United States State Department orchestrated the denial of European countries’ airspace to the presidential plane of Evo Morales on July 2.
These are now former secrets, documented in the mainstream press of the United States. Neither lasted very long. Surely the Malian rebels saw drones flying above them and guessed the US military was taking sides against them. And even more surely, Evo Morales knew that the US was behind his plane’s emergency diversion to Vienna. Yet these acts were classified; the US role in blocking the Bolivian presidential plane was publicly denied. What can we learn about United States state secrecy from them?
This is a time of highly controversial disclosures of government secrets. It’s also a time of unprecedented classification of government documents as secret: a US government audit found 3,507,782 people hold security clearance to access Confidential/Secret documents, and 1,409,969 hold Top Secret security clearances as of October 2012. In Fiscal Year 2012, the US government classified 95,180,243 documents, declaring 23 million of them top secret (ISOO annual report). The government spends $8 to $12 billion per year on keeping these documents secret.
Within this mountain of so-called secrets live millions of banal pieces of data: personnel files of agency employees, details of weapons systems, operational details of military deployments. While it’s reasonable to debate how much of this material truly needs to be secured in this way, that’s not the material people are willing to risk their freedom to bring to the world. Instead, the real state secrets are government actions that are carried out covertly. Recently whistleblowers have shown us that the military kept records of killed civilians in the Iraq War, that the US illegally spies on diplomats at the United Nations, that the United Kingdom violated the Land Mine Ban treaty, that the US could document massive government corruption in Tunisia (helping to spark revolt there) and that the NSA spied on the electronic communication of people around the world [some of these revelations are described here]. Every day, diligent work by journalists exposes other secrets to the people whose governments try to keep them.
The drone base in Niger is an example of quasi-secrecy. About 100 Air Force troops deployed in February and set up a base. On February 22, the Washington Post described the operation, which was mentioned in a vaguely worded letter to Congress under the War Powers Act. While the paper reported on the troops, their mission and even the type of drones used, it had to resort to anonymous sources to provide these details. It also noted “Obama did not explicitly reveal the drone base in his letter to Congress.” The President of Niger has been more forthcoming, providing the basis for further reporting in March. Even in February, the Malian rebels targeted by these aircraft were already well aware of the US aircraft, “The Associated Press reported finding an al-Qaeda document in Timbuktu, Mali, that listed 22 tips for avoiding drones.”
The only ones left in the dark by this policy of secrecy are the people of the United States. When the press asks questions about drones, US officials try to avoid the word, and give pseudo-answers like this one: “What the President indicated is we’re going to continue to provide the support that we’ve been investing in this operation. And what we’ve provided is, for instance, logistical support and other types of backing for those nations that are putting peacekeepers into Mali” (Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, June 27). For four years, the Obama administration directed its press secretary to talk like this: “When I went through the process of becoming press secretary, one of the first things they told me was, ‘You’re not even to acknowledge the drone program. You’re not even to discuss that it exists'” (Robert Gibbs). In effect, the United States is supplying targeting information for a war in Mali, and actually killing people in half a dozen other countries, but refusing to talk about it.
The case of the Morales plane diversion went beyond secrecy to lies. Days before the operation, President Obama responded to a question explicitly raising this possibility: “Mr. President, will you use U.S. military assets to in any way intercept Mr. Snowden should he at some point in the future leave Russia to try to find safe passage in another country?” The President’s answer was unequivocal: “No, I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker” (transcript). On July 2, Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane was denied entry into French, Spanish, and Italian airspace and its landing to refuel in Portugal was cancelled. As reflected by the emergency gathering of the Union of South American Nations in response, this was a major violation of diplomatic protocol. It rapidly became clear that the diversion was the use of state power (backed by the possibility of force—i.e., the scrambling of jets) in an attempt to intercept Mr. Snowden.
From the beginning, the Bolivian government identified the United States as the evident cause of the incident. With Morales still on the ground in the Vienna airport, Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra stated:
“This was orchestrated, rigged, by the US Department of State which has provoked this situation utilizing certain European countries, under the suspicion that Mr. Snowden was onboard the presidential plane.”
“Esto fue orquestado, amañado por el departamento de Estado de Estados Unidos, que utilizando algunos países europeos ha provocado esta situación, con la sospecha de que en el avión presidencial estuviera el señor Snowden.” (EFE, 2 July)
This narrative is not only the most plausible one, it is backed up by Austrian press reports that the country’s Foreign Office received a late-night call from US Ambassador Ambassador William Eacho alerting them to Snowden’s presence on President Morales’ plane. It is also suggested by the Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo’s statement that “They told us that [Snowden] was onboard,” and further describing the source of the communication as a diplomatic secret.
Meanwhile, the US State Department was busy issuing a cascade of non-statements.
July 3: At the State Department, a spokeswoman, Jennifer Psaki, declined to say whether American authorities had asked other countries to deny airspace to the Bolivian plane. “I would point you to them to describe why they made decisions if they made decisions,” Ms. Psaki told reporters. (NYTimes)
July 8: Journalist: And just to follow up, does – is there any more information on where the original information or the leak came from that Snowden was on that plane? Does the U.S. have any more idea –MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on that, no. (State Department briefing)
July 9:QUESTION: Earlier today at the OAS, a French diplomat – a very young French diplomat, I might say —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — said that the French Government had, in fact, revoked permission for President Morales’ plane to go, but he said that it was a technical error based on a misunderstanding. Do you and the United States have any idea what that technical error – that technical reason that was based on a misunderstanding or an incorrect assumption might have been?
In an interview with Spanish-language CNN, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen* (R-FL) was more direct in admitting US responsibility:
And so, for us, there was a great concern that these countries could give him sanctuary. Therefore, the United States sent that quite severe, quite direct message to—this time it was to Evo Morales, it could have been to other people. We are saying to all countries in a very open manner that this man [has] felonies against him. That he should come to the United States if he is a man of honor…
Así que para nosotros, este gran preocupación que estos países le pudieran dar santuario. Por eso los Estados Unidos envió esa mensaje bien duro, bien directo a … en esta vez fue a Evo Morales, hubiera sido a otras personas. Le estamos diciendo a todos los países de una manera bien abiertamente que este señor [tiene] felonías americanas en su contra. Que venga a los Estados Unidos si es un hombre de valor… (CNN Video posted by Ros-Lehtinen’s office [at 7:30])
So, Bolivia knew of US involvement. Other countries knew of US involvement. A senior legislator claims that the act was designed to send a message of the position of the US government. But the US government formally claims to have no idea how this action happened. The only possible target for these denials is the US public. We are meant to pretend that our government was not involved in this international incident, that such involvement is a product of Evo Morales’ paranoia rather than an obvious and widely discussed pattern of US behavior. (And so, the New York Times will continue to publish sentences full of hypotheticals like this one: “Latin American leaders condemn refusal to let plane carrying Bolivia’s Pres Evo Morales fly over European nations because of what Bolivian officials say were suspicions that Edward J Snowden was on board.”) Given the standards of American journalism, we—and we alone—will have to wait for an actual leaked document from the State Department before our press takes seriously what the rest of the world confidently knows.
Like these two examples, many state secrets are not about protecting complex operations or securing the lives of operatives. They are about keeping the public out of decisionmaking. They are about reducing accountability. They are about subverting democracy. Alongside making a mockery of such basic principles, they make dangerous, unpopular, and/or immoral behavior by government officials easier.
Fortunately, part of that dynamic is beginning to weaken.
Government without Secrecy
The publication of logs of the Iraq War and diplomatic cables by Wikileaks has raised the prospect of the US government being denied the prerogative of secret wars, secret foreign policies, secret decisions, and secret outcomes. The Snowden disclosures and the avalanche of additional investigative reporting that has followed in their wake have done the same for the surveillance state. (It’s worth noting that every single one of these disclosures have exposed wars, policies and outcomes, rather than the operational security that enables them to be carried out.) Snowden, Bradley Manning, Thomas Drake, and William Binney are all examples of government officials who allowed their conscience to override the classification of information.
In a discussion on Talking Points Memo, a reader (“MB”) suggests that these disclosures are just the beginning of a tidal wave. MB points to a post-Cold War generational value shift “toward a greater emphasis on issues that assumed global cooperation, such as environmentalism and humanitarianism, and … significant value on cross-cultural exchange.” Polling data backs this up: “Just 32% of Millennials believe the U.S. is the greatest country in the world” compared with 48 to 64 percent of older generations. On foreign policy, Millennials value listening to allies more, favor diplomacy over military force more strongly, believe that excessive military force causes more terrorism, and believe it is morally acceptable to refuse to fight in a war you don’t believe in—all by 2-to-1 margins. MB observes:
The national security apparatus is designed to defend itself against Cold War threats: agents who commit espionage in the service of a foreign power for ideological reasons, or for personal gain. It seems that it is not at all prepared to defend itself against espionage committed for personal, ethical reasons, done at one’s own detriment. It may not ever be possible to do so. On some level, this line of business requires that all those involved completely accept the utility and purpose of the mission, and accept that international relations are a zero-sum game. Otherwise, anyone could walk out of their office with a thumb drive and publish the contents online.
What does the world with thousands of thumb drives look like? (Other than a half-dozen presidents of Obama’s generation ordering international manhunts to track them down.) In evaluating the impact, value, and morality of these disclosures, our focus should be on the incentives created by transparency on war, foreign policy, and surveillance. How do diplomats, warriors, and spies change their behavior when they know their deeds will be exposed? (Especially when those disclosures are more likely when the acts are morally objectionable.) There are grounds for hope that “opened governments” will be more cautious and less destructive because they have more reason to fear public awareness of their actions.
* Ros-Lehtinen is former chair and a continuing member of House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and thereby has clearance to be briefed on this kind of diplomatic activity.
The following is my translation of the official statement by the UNASUR leaders made yesterday, in response to the diversion of Bolivian President Evo Morales’s airplane during his return from Moscow to La Paz, Bolivia.
Cochabamba Declaration — July 4, 2013
Before the situation to which the President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Evo Morales, was submitted by the governments of France, Portugal, Italy, and Spain, we [declare and] denounce to the international community and the various multilateral organizations the following:
The flagrant violation of International Treaties that govern peaceful coexistence, solidarity, and cooperation among states, which constitutes an extraordinary, unfriendly, and hostile act, forming an illicit act that affects the freedom of transit and movement of of a Head of State and his official delegation.
The abuse and neocolonial practices that still subsist on our planet in the twenty-first century.
The absence of transparency with regard to the political decisions that impeding the aerial transit of the Bolivian presidential plane and of the country’s president.
The offense suffered by President Evo Morales, which did not only offend the Bolivian people, but rather all of our nations.
The illegal practices of espionage that put at risk the rights of citizens and the friendly coexistence between nations.
Given these denunciations, we are convinced that the process of building a Greater Homeland [of South America], to which we are committed, should be consolidated based on upon the full respect for the sovereignty and independence of our peoples, with the interference of the world’s hegemonic centers, overcoming the old practices through which some sought to impose [a system of] first-class and second-class nations.
The Heads of State and of Government of countries of the Union of South American Nations UNASUR, gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia on July 4, 2013,
1. Declare that the unacceptable restriction of the liberty of President Evo Morales Ayma, turning him into a virtual hostage, constitutes a violation of the rights not just of the Bolivian people, but rather of all the countries and peoples of Latin America, and sets a dangerous precedent with regard to effective international law.
2. Reject these actions that clearly violate the basic norms and principles of international law, such as the inviolability of Heads of State.
3. Demand that the governments of France, Portugal, Italy, and Spain explain the basis for the decision to deny overflight acess to their airspace to the presidential aircraft of the Plurinational State of Bolivia.
4. Equally demand that the governments of France, Portugal, Italy, and Spain offer public apologies in relation to the grave matters that have occurred.
5. Stand behind the Denunciation presented by the Plurinational State of Bolivia before the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for the grave violation of human rights and concrete danger to life to which President Evo Morales Ayma was subjected. Equally, we back the right of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to carry out all actions it considers necessary before competent Tribunals and [other] instances [of law].
6. Agree to form a Follow-Up Committee, assigning our Chancellors [i.e., Foreign Ministers] the task of carrying out the necessary actions to clarify the facts.
Finally, in the spirit of the principles established in the Founding Treaty of UNASUR [the Union of South American Nations], we exhort the full body of Chiefs of State of the Union to stand by this Declaration. Equally, we call on the United Nations, and regional organizations that have not yet done so, to speak out on this unjustifiable and arbitrary act.
The State Department (@StateDept) reminds us that the United States Agency for International Development has it’s 50th anniversary today. Somehow, the United States had the bright idea to place its international aid agency within the national security apparutus right from the start. John F. Kennedy and his top global policy planners saw USAID, the Alliance for Progress in Latin America, and other friendlier faces of the US government as working hand-in-glove with the planners of military maneuvers, trainers of military and para-military forces, and plotters of coups.
Not only was Kennedy into such soft power–hard power collaboration, but he was personally fascinated by counter-insurgency (a word that would later become so common, it lost its hyphen). John F. Kennedy, a man with a political halo is most American circles, brought about the Green Berets and the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In March 1961, just as US AID was getting its commission publicly, a committee of the National Security Council (later the Special Group – Counter Insurgency) was commissioned to report on “U.S. Strategy To Deal With Wars of National Liberation,” as put in the title of the report they issued in December.
This report did not remain in a file, but instead drove new concepts like “counter-insurgency” and “internal defense” into the heart of US foreign policy for a generation. In Latin America, where I am now, “internal defense” became “internal security” or the “national security state,” the key American vision for reorienting Latin American militaries towards a new enemy: internal leftist parties and social movements.
Here’s a breakdown of the worldview behind this (all quotes are from the Overseas Internal Defense Policy written for the National Security Council in 1962; I swear no critic of the government was involved in making any of this up!):
Communism was the global enemy, but the most serious losses to it had come in China, Vietnam, Cuba, and Algeria, where local leftists were almost entirely responsible. This is called internal agression.
“Communists often infiltrate nationalist and reform movements.” So they might be a problem too.
Everyone’s a target: “The vital sectors within modernizing societies include the rural sector; the labor front; students and youth organizations; the intelligentsia; the educational systems; internal communications and informational media; the military and police; religious groups; the civil bureaucracy; the various middle-class elites; ethnic minorities; and the political parties, sometimes including a legal communist party but invariably an illegal communist apparatus operating underground or through various fronts.”
This matters to the USA because (1) We like freedom; (2) For military reasons, “strategic areas and the manpower and natural resources of developing nations” must not fall under communist control; (3) For economic reasons, “resources and markets of the less developed world [must] remain available to us.”
The USA can get involved everywhere: to “immunize” countries where there is no insurgency, to “defeat the threat” where “subversive insurgency is latent or incipient,” and to train countries for and get involved in fights against insurgents.
We need to get local governments to sign on to this policy. “To persuade these leaders to act in the interests of their society is often a complex and subtle task. … It is therefore essential that U.S. Country Teams know where the points of strength and vulnerability lie. This done, they can determine how to strengthen those elements which most effectively support U.S. objectives.”
The US is okay with revolution: “The U.S. does not wish to assume a stance against revolution, per se, as an historical means of change. … A change brought about through force by noncommunist elements may be preferable to prolonged deterioration of governmental effectiveness or to a continuation of a situation where increasing discontent and repression interact, thus building toward a more dangerous climax.”
However, the US will act against any revolution still in its early stages: “Where subversive insurgency is latent or incipient, U.S. strategy will be directed toward its elimination, lest it provide a communist foothold and escalate into active insurgency.”
All hands on deck! “Anticipating, preventing and defeating communist-directed insurgency requires a blend of civil and military capabilities and actions”
Okay, so what does this have to do with USAID? Well, guess who was on the Special Group – Counter Insurgency:
Military Representative of the President, Chairman
The Attorney General
Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
Deputy Secretary of Defense
Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Director of Central Intelligence
Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
Further, the AID has a strategic role in “immunizing” countries against uprisings, in making the existing social order more palatable, and in training militaries and paramilitaries. Or as the NSC put it:
Where subversive insurgency is virtually non-existent, or incipient (PHASE I), the objective is to support the development of an adequate counter-insurgency capability in indigenous military forces through the Military Assistance Program, and to complement the nation-building programs of AID with military civic action.* The same means, in collaboration with AID and CIA, will be employed to develop a similar capability in indigenous para-military forces.
*[From the glossary]: The use of preponderantly indigenous military forces on projects useful to the local population at all levels in such fields as education, training, public works, agriculture, transportation, communications, health, sanitation and others contributing to economic and social development, which would also serve to improve the standing of the military forces with the population.
“The large numbers of foreign service nationals that make up the professional cadre of field staff provide a unique understanding of the local situation, while the range of sectors and levels of activity allow USAID great operational flexibility and agility to both implement and track the effectiveness of COIN operations.” (Appendix: US Government Roles in COIN [Counterinsurgency], p. 51)
So, happy birthday, USAID! And remember, if anyone confuses you with an organized attempt to thwart radical social change, it’s just because they’ve figured out your mission statement.
Bibliographic note: The Overseas Internal Defense Policy is just one of many declassified documents now freely available. Many subsequent implementation decisions on counter-insurgency issues are part of the Presidential Decision Directives archive by the Federation of American Scientists.
As someone who was watching the US government march to invade Iraq from the streets of San Francisco, and from countless antiwar events, giving more of an insider’s view has been both chilling and darkly fascinating. A big help is last summer’s PBS documentary, No End in Sight.
Strangely for me after watching the film last night, this morning’s New York Timescovers one of the main hidden histories exposed by the documentary. Early on in the occupation, sometime in the month of May 2003, a few highly placed Defense Department officials decided to disband the Iraqi army, without so much as asking Secretary of State Powell, National Security Adviser Rice, or the U.S. Army.Plans to screen and reconstitute the force were pushed aside, and Iraqi officers offering help had to be ignored. The Army’s head of policy in Baghdad, John Hughes remebers:
Later, a battalion commander from the 101st Airborne came in—to see me, and he said, “Hey, sir, I’ve gotta talk to somebody, I’ve got a group of Iraqi generals and colonels that want to talk to somebody from ORHA.”
And they—over the course of the war, even before the war, had been removing computers and software —of personnel lists from the Ministry of Defense and storing them at their home, because they knew they were not going to win this war.
And they wanted to help reestablish the Iraqi military with the Americans.
Absolutely. And I took intelligence officials with me to meet with these men. And these guys were willing to—to explain or provide information on anything that they could.
They were saying to me, “Colonel Paul, Baghdad’s burning. You tell me, and I can have 10,000 military police ready for you next week.”
I took that back, nothing ever became of it.
We were also going to—take some Iraqi units and let them become the labor force for reconstructing Iraq. If you needed the rubble from a bridge cleared, they would do that. And there on the news one morning was the announcement that the Iraqi army had been disbanded and abolished by—Ambassador Bremer.
You want to talk about feeling like the ugly American, that’s what I was. You know, here I was, trying to work with these men, to help them rebuild their country, to—to bring their soldiers under some semblance of control. And instead, they’re told they’re not worth the time.
Just two months later, lines had been drawn, and another reality began to unfold:
Hussein Saber shook with fury as he lay on a dirty hospital bed last night and told the story of another day in Baghdad, a city torn apart by killings, misunderstanding and the startling failures of America’s military occupation.
Yesterday Hussein, 33, should have collected a $50 (£30) emergency payment which all Iraq’s now unemployed soldiers are due to receive. The money did not arrive and so he and hundreds of other frustrated young men poured towards the gates of the US-led authority to protest.
Within minutes he was shot in his right side by a young, nervous American soldier. Hussein survived but two other Iraqis standing next to him in the crowd were killed.
“I hoped and I wished that when the American forces came they would bring us democracy and freedom but unfortunately we have seen the opposite,” said Hussein, a non-commissioned officer in the air force for the past 18 years. “The Americans are going to get hurt if the situation remains as it is.” (Rory McCarthy, “Just another day in Baghdad,” The Guardian, June 19, 2003)
Normally, I’m cautious about getting too deep into debates among war planners. The argument usually turns into some idea that if only more competent people were in charge, everything would go smoothly. In the context of one country ruling over another country, such an outcome seems extraordinarily unlikely. However, it is people who strive to do their very best under whatever circumstances that leave behind the archive and their regrets, both of which help us understand how an enterprise like our new colonialism could ever have happened.
This news and a lot of details in the film raise a deeper question. Aside from proving that a high tech, high corporate profit, but smaller military without the bother of too many actual American citizens on the ground, did Rumsfeld and Bremer have plans of their own? Was leaving Iraq in chaos, whatever the motive, something they were consciously pushing their colleagues and superiors aside to do?