Monday Morning Skeptic: NY Times Buries CIA Facts Re Latin American Deaths

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The New York Times has a venerable history of eliding references to any US role in overthrowing governments or murdering foreign leaders. But an article in Thursday’s edition by Times reporter Simon Romero (“Latin America Brings Up Its Dead, Seeking Truth to Help Settle the Past”) raises the censorship bar.

Running at over 1200 words, the article describes the exhumation of the remains of the likes of leftist Chilean poet and Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda, deposed leftist Brazilian Presidents Joao Goulart and Juscelino Kubitschek, ousted Chilean President Salvador Allende Gossens and his predecessor Eduardo Frei Montalva—all of whose deaths are viewed with suspicion by Latin Americans. Yet Romero manages to mention a possible US role only once, and then only indirectly and with reference to a half-century old case —when he notes that Brazil’s elected President Goulart had been ousted from office in a 1964 military coup “supported by the United States.”

That is the only reference to the US in the entire article.

Quite remarkably, given the amount that has been exposed over the years about it, Romero mentions the role of a Latin America-wide assassination program called Operation Condor—without once noting that the whole thing was orchestrated or at least encouraged and enabled by the US.

Condor’s Wingmen

Condor was a vast conspiracy that involved the cooperative efforts of the intelligence agencies of all the military dictatorships in the region which, during the 1970s and 1980s, killed as many as 35,000-50,000 people, mostly leftist leaders, labor activists, and opponents of those dictatorships.

This lapse is particularly outrageous given that in years past, even the New York Times itself reported on the intimate role of the US in the creation and operation of Operation Condor.

For example, in a March 6, 2001 article, the NY Times reported on a “recently declassified” US State Department document. It revealed that the US had facilitated communications among South American intelligence agency heads who were busy trying to eliminate left-wing opposition groups in their respective countries.  Part of the program involved going after opposition leaders who had fled coups and were living in neighboring South American countries.

The document in question, a 1978 cable to then US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance from the US ambassador to Paraguay, Robert E. White, was unearthed by Professor J. Patrice McSherry of Long Island University, who called it “another piece of increasingly weighty evidence suggesting that U.S. military and intelligence officials supported and collaborated with Condor as a secret partner or sponsor.”

In this cable, Ambassador White reports on a conversation he had with the chief of staff of Paraguay’s military, General Alejandro Fretes Davalos, who he says informed him that the South American intelligence agencies involved in Operation Condor “keep in touch with one another through a U.S. communications installation in the Panama Canal Zone which covers all of Latin America.”  That communications station, he wrote, was “employed to coordinate intelligence information among the southern cone countries.”

White, in this memo to Vance, expresses a fear that the U.S. role in Operation Condor might be revealed during a then active criminal investigation into the assassination of former Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier and an American colleague, Ronni Moffitt—both of whom were killed by an explosive device placed in their vehicle in Washington, D.C.  “It would seem advisable,” writes White, “to review this arrangement to insure that its continuation is in U.S. interest.”

Another document discovered at the same time, this one a CIA cable concerning the Brazilian junta’s role in Operation Condor, refers to “Condor-Tel,”  described as the “communications network established by the Condor countries.” It also refers to “European operations” of the Condor countries, which likely involved assassination plots against ousted leaders and activists currently living in asylum there after fleeing their martial-law homelands in Latin America.

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