US Media Ignore Rumsfeld's 'Dirty Wars' Talk
three, five, or 10 years from now, Latin America returns to the
military dictatorships and "dirty wars" of its all-too-recent
past, analysts may point to the past week's conference in Quito
of the hemisphere's defense ministers and particularly Pentagon
chief Donald Rumsfeld's role in it as a milestone in that
they did, however, their assessment would surely draw a blank among
the readers of U.S. newspapers or viewers of its television. For
the vast majority of them, the conference was the equivalent of
the proverbial tree toppling unheard and unseen in some vast, unobserved
the major media were filled with speculation about Rumsfeld's future
in President George W. Bush's second term, his contribution to the
meeting was entirely ignored by the electronic media and major newspapers
with just a handful of exceptions.
was unfortunate because, in many ways, the Quito meeting confirmed
an evolution in U.S. policy that has been underway since Bush declared
his "war on terrorism" after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist
attacks on New York and the Pentagon itself. Indeed, the purpose
of the gathering was to erect a "new architecture" for
continental security in which the armed forces, in Washington's
view, would play a central role.
almost two decades, the United States has urged Latin American militaries
to move away from the Cold War "national-security" doctrines
that resulted in so many abuses in the region. But last week, Rumsfeld
appeared to be preaching the virtues of reviving such an approach,
perhaps under a new name, like "national sovereignty."
in remarks to his fellow-defense ministers, Rumsfeld even suggested
that, given the challenges posed by 21st-century threats, it was
time to rethink the separation of the armed forces from the police
a major reform pursued by U.S. and Latin American human-rights
organizations as a way of asserting civilian control over the military
and reducing abuses.
Sept. 11, 2001, we have had to conduct an essential reexamination
of the relationships between our military and our law enforcement
responsibilities in the U.S.," asserted Rumsfeld, who never
let the phrase "human rights" pass his lips. "The
complex challenges of this new era and the asymmetric threats we
face require that all elements of state and society work together."
the Pentagon chief included under the rubric of "enemies"
faced by the region's armed forces a number of actors who normally
would come under the jurisdiction of the civilian authorities. "Terrorists,
drug traffickers, hostage takers, and criminal gangs form an antisocial
combination that increasingly seeks to destabilize civil societies,"
he declared, further blurring the line between the roles of the
military and the police.
during the drafting of the final communiqué, Rumsfeld's delegation
resisted a Canadian move, backed by Brazil and Chile, to balance
its anti-terrorism provisions with explicit references to international
human rights and humanitarian law, according to Gaston Chillier,
an Argentine lawyer from the Washington Office on Latin America
(WOLA) who observed the conference.
were essentially saying, 'terrorism is the priority for the region,
and international human rights law is not a requirement in combating
terrorism,'" he told IPS. "This is exactly the wrong message
in a region where militaries used this philosophy during the dirty
wars to commit gross human rights violations."
another update of the national-security doctrine of the 1960s and
1970s, Rumsfeld also pushed for greater cooperation among the region's
militaries, particularly in border regions where "enemies often
sovereignty, and ensuring effective sovereignty over our national
territories must be a fundamental goal," he said. "There
is no one nation that can meet these challenges by itself; it is
simply not going to be possible," he added twice for emphasis.
the obvious implications of Rumsfeld's remarks for Latin America
and the future of U.S.-Latin American relations, however, the mainstream
U.S. media did not see fit to give them or the strong resistance
to them on the part of most of the defense secretary's Latin American
counterparts much attention.
the major wire services, Associated Press and Reuters, carried some
reports from Quito, only a few newspapers published them, usually
in a much-abbreviated form.
conference was ignored by the Washington Post and noted in
a relatively brief item in the New York Times that focused
on Rumsfeld's contention that routes used by smugglers to move undocumented
foreigners into the United States could be used as easily by terrorist
articles appeared only in The Miami Herald, the Denver
Post, the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, the San Jose
Mercury News, and the Los Angeles Times. But in almost
all of these accounts, Rumsfeld and senior officials are virtually
the only quoted sources, according to a search of the Nexis-Lexis
the only instances when Latin American officials were quoted were
in relation to the badly lagging deployment of troops to the Brazilian-led
United Nations peacekeeping operation in Haiti and to the willingness
of the region's military to cooperate more closely against drug
trafficking. Latin American troops make up by far the largest component
of the peacekeeping force in Haiti.
the newspapers that covered the conference, only the Miami Herald
stressed Rumsfeld's recommendations on expanding the role of the
military in dealing with the region's security problems and quoted
Jose Pampurro, the Argentine defense minister, and his Brazilian
counterpart, Jose Alencar, on the subject.
article published in both the Denver and Akron newspapers was the
only one that did not quote Rumsfeld at length and that stressed
that Latin Americans saw the question of security in a much different
light than the one cast by the Pentagon chief.
by Denver Post correspondent Bruce Finley and entitled "Latin
America Wary of Calls for Help in Anti-Terror Effort," it was
also the only one that cited non-governmental sources, including
several people who had participated in a rally near the conference
site to call attention to the plight of children in Latin America.
also quoted retired Gen. Rene Vargas, the former head of Ecuador's
military, as raising questions about U.S. intentions in his country
and the disconnect between U.S. strategy and Latin American priorities.
Latin America, there are no terrorists only hunger and unemployment
and delinquents who turn to crime," he was quoted as saying.
"What are we going to do, hit you with a banana?"
same article quoted Brazil's Alencar as calling for global disarmament,
and insisting, "the cause of terrorism is not just fundamentalism,
but misery and hunger."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service