Chapter 2: The “Crimes” of the Poor

War Against the Poor: Low-Intensity Conflict and Christian Faith
by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer

Chapter 2: The “Crimes” of the Poor

U.S. foreign policy must begin to counter . . . liberation theology as it is utilized in Latin America by the "liberation theology" clergy. . . Unfortunately, Marxist-Leninist forces have utilized the church as a political weapon against private property and productive capitalism by infiltrating the religious community with ideas that are less Christian than communist.

-- Santa Fe Report

By a miracle I am able to tell you the story of my grand crime for which they threatened me with death. They took my son who was 18 years old, shot him, peeled off his skin and cut him into pieces. Then they hung him from a cross in a tree. They cut his testicles off and put them in his mouth. They did this to warn me because I was a celebrator of the word of God. That was my crime. . . . We had to leave because they persecuted the whole land.

Our crime is to be poor and ask for bread. Here the laws only favor the rich. However, the great majority of people are poor. Those who have jobs are exploited daily in the factories and on the farms. Without land we cannot plant. There is no work. This brings more hunger, more misery. We are without clothes, schools or jobs. And so we demonstrate. But to speak of justice is to be called a communist, to ask for bread is subversive. It is a war of extermination. . . . It is a crime to be a Christian and to demand justice.

-- Salvadoran Campesino and Delegate of the Word, April 1988


On a hot, steamy day in June 1987 I made my way to the office of El Salvador’s Non-Governmental Human Rights Commission. The air was choked with smog from an endless stream of cars, buses, and burning garbage. San Salvador was still cluttered with rubble from October’s earthquake, leaving the impression of a city under siege.

The political atmosphere was equally disquieting. The United States had spent several billion dollars since 1980 on its low-intensity-conflict project for El Salvador. The project had a wide range of components, which corresponded to the needs of each political moment. These components included the use of massive or selective terror, brutal bombing of civilians followed by military involvement in distribution of aid, and the election of a president from the Christian Democratic Party. U.S.-sponsored elections had provided a democratic façade designed to cover up major injustices.

The veneer of democracy in El Salvador was unraveling at the time of my June visit. In May the Lutheran church, which is doing important work with both war and earthquake victims, was taken over by armed gunmen. The intruders took lists of names of church members and donors. The same month the offices of the Mothers of the Disappeared were bombed and several members of the Non-Governmental Human Rights Commission received death threats. The atmosphere was tense as growing numbers of Salvadorans defied the subtle and not so subtle repression and took to the streets demanding deeper economic reforms, authentic democracy, and an end to the U.S-backed war. Government security forces regularly video-taped these demonstrations. In a country where, despite U.S. rhetoric to the contrary, the death squads had never been dismantled, such actions were meant to intimidate and to sow terror.

A modest middle-class home had been converted for use as offices for the Human Rights Commission. There were no outside markings to identify the commission. This was a reminder of the daily yet unreported terror that shapes life in El Salvador. Sign or no sign, the feared Cherokee jeeps that are identified with death squads and disappearances patrolled the streets in front of the offices.

I entered the office through the kitchen where a few dirty coffee cups sat in the sink. A series of photographs looked out from the walls of the hallway leading to a living room. Other photographs lined the living-room wall itself. Photo albums sat on a coffee table in the center of the room. It was a welcoming scene that would have been familiar in many U.S. homes, except that the pictures were not of smiling family members but of mutilated corpses and tortured bodies of men, women, and children. The pictures nauseated me and yet they were similar to scenes I had witnessed while living in Nicaragua where the U.S-backed contras terrorized civilians.

The photos in the Human Rights office reminded me of personal testimonies I had heard from dozens of mothers who, like many hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans, had been brutalized and displaced in the U.S. backed war. Many described how government security forces had come to their villages, ripped babies from their mother’s wombs or arms and used them for target practice. Their experiences and my own in Nicaragua had taught me that low-intensity conflict was capable of inflicting high-intensity emotional and physical pain.

The anguished photographs and personal stories reminded me of the New Testament image of the body of Christ and how, as members of one body, we are to rejoice or suffer together. I thought too of my wife, Sara, at the time pregnant with our daughter, Hannah. In God’s eyes, I reminded myself, the death of each of these nameless people is no less important than my own death or those of my loved ones, or the death of Jesus.

Christians who live in the United States are intimately tied to the hope and pain of the Salvadoran people. Our common faith should require us to understand and enter into their crucifixion. This is particularly true because we are bound together not only through faith but through our tax dollars that pay for their suffering. Congress provided more than $1.5 million daily in FY 1987 to bankroll the U.S. war against the poor in El Salvador. The U.S. low-intensity-conflict project in El Salvador received widespread support from both Republicans and Democrats, who described a country at war against its own people as an exemplary democracy.

El Salvador is a tiny country far from the consciousness of most U.S. citizens. It, along with Nicaragua, is considered "an idea! testing ground" for low-intensity-conflict doctrine.1 The "crimes of the poor" manifest themselves clearly here, and the U.S. judges them harshly.

Herbert Anaya, president of the Non-Governmental Human Rights Commission, spoke to me that June day about the U.S. war against the poor in his country, about low-intensity conflict, human rights, and human hope. He spoke with the passion of one who loved his people to the point of giving his life. As I listened and felt the power of his words I scribbled into the margin of my notebook, "I am talking to a dead man." His words, quoted extensively below, offer clues for an understanding of the "crimes of the poor" and low-intensity conflict’s response to those "crimes."

The Living Words of a Martyr

On Monday, October 27, 1987, Herbert Ernesto Anaya was killed by two men firing handguns with silencers as he left his home to drive two of his six children to school. The words I had written anticipating his death convicted and haunted me. When I awoke to hear the news of his death, I knew that I had killed him. I, along with many others, had failed to reach the conscience of the U.S. people. Most U.S. citizens had never heard the term "low-intensity conflict." They remained indifferent to U.S. policies that impose suffering on the people of El Salvador, Nicaragua, and throughout much of the third world.

Herbert Anaya’s courageous words, now sealed with blood, continue to convict us and to offer us hope:

The social reality of El Salvador is complicated. Human rights are part of that social reality. It is the lack of basic needs that most violates human rights. It is this lack that has generated discontent and given rise to war. Our organization like others searches for peace by seeking to eliminate the causes that perpetuate war in El Salvador. . . .

The basic question in El Salvador today is whether or not the human rights situation is improving. The situation of human rights . . . corresponds to the historical development of popular movements. As hunger intensifies and housing deteriorates the people make organized demands and these demands are met with repression. In other words, repression grows in response to the strength of popular organizations. Whatever changes in El Salvador’s human rights situation must be understood in social terms as part of [the U.S.] counterinsurgency strategy. Human rights are weighed in light of political gains.

There is talk of democracy in El Salvador, but the government’s "respect for human rights" is a tactic to deepen the war. When they [the U.S. embassy and El Salvadoran government] speak of peace they mean war; when they speak of respect for human rights they mean violation of human rights. They talk about the "reappearance" of the death squads, but the death squads never disappeared. Shifting patterns of human rights violations respond to the needs of the psychological war.

The intelligence services of the army are death squads. They operate in civilian clothes. Now the popular organizations are increasing and so the groundwork is being laid to justify a new wave of repression. The government says it’s not involved with death squads, but they are from within the security system. They say behind all the problems there is communism. People are accused in this way and they are disappeared, killed, and tortured.

It doesn’t cost anything for them to talk of democracy. They speak of freedom and arrest the people; they speak of the rights of workers while persecuting them; they talk about "humanizing the conflict" while inflicting more and more suffering. You have to know and feel it. Low-intensity conflict brings misery and suffering. The period coming will be accompanied by enormous repression. We are not prophets but the repression caused by the social situation is already in motion. . . .

We are persecuted in an effort to prevent us from documenting cases [of human rights abuses] and speaking out. They justify our persecution by saying we are collaborators with the guerrillas. The goal is to discredit all independent organizations. . . . The U.S. embassy doesn’t talk to us anymore. The U.S. embassy is in agreement with our destruction. We are a thorn to be eliminated. This month two pickup trucks with armed civilians have come to our offices. Today, we have received anonymous calls threatening us with death. . . .

The Salvadoran government and the U.S. embassy speak about quantitative improvements in human rights. They see reductions in numbers as progress. However, repression is part of a political moment. Through past repression they cut off the head of the popular movements. In 1983, for example, they decided to achieve their goal and the massive terror had its effect. After destroying the popular movements they began talking about "respecting human rights." The psychological terror is repression with a purpose. It is part of a political tactic, part of counterinsurgency. Today poverty and injustice are giving rise once again to the people’s movements and so now we are moving from selective repression back to massive terror. It is considered time to "turn the screws." The security forces are being given a freer hand. The present moment is very dangerous.

The only solution to El Salvador’s problems is economic and social change that eliminates the causes of the war. In the military there are 65,000 soldiers. More than 35,000 civilians must participate in civil defense. Through the government’s counterinsurgency campaign "United to Reconstruct," the people are given a few things and then told to fight the guerrillas. Our external debt is enormous, as is our governmental budget deficit. The economic crisis is worsening with talk of another devaluation coming as a condition of continued U.S. aid. Inflation and hunger both grow. . . .

We experience constant persecution. Whatever political space we have has been achieved with our blood. The same is true for unions and cooperatives. If we live, we live with the clear understanding that many of us have the possibility of disappearance and death hanging over our heads. They can’t tear out our convictions. They can’t bribe us with money or guarantees of personal security, which they offered to us in prison.

Military uniforms involved in civic actions are stained with the people’s blood. Hunger will not be solved through handouts but through social transformation. Repression will prolong not resolve the crisis. Whatever germ of inequality is planted also nourishes the seed of social injustice and the determination to transform the society. With our final breath we will continue our work. This isn’t heroism, It is simply doing what we have to do. [At this point in my notes is etched: "I am talking to a dead man."]

Poor people are dying. The government doesn’t care about poor people. . . . People don’t want war, but war is the reality here. War will not be humanized. If the war goes on, the death will go on. The war will never bring about the triumph of one force over another. That is why dialogue is so important.

Lessons from Anaya

In chapter 3, below, I will examine more fully the actual means by which the United States wages war in response to the "crimes of the poor." Here I want to consider several observations about the nature of these "crimes" and the U.S. response to them in light of Anaya’s analysis.

First, the poor become criminals if they speak out and organize to change the causes of their poverty. Receiving handouts is acceptable; social transformation is not. Poor people and poor nations who passively accept their situation are not guilty of any crime.

Second, it is a crime to be an independent person, organization, or nation.

Third, it is a crime to defend fundamental human rights, including the right to food, work, shelter, land, health care, and other basic needs.

Fourth, it is a crime to seek a negotiated settlement to the political and economic crisis that would include sharing power with the poor.

Fifth, it is a crime to raise questions about or seek alternatives to capitalism even though there is abundant evidence of the misery caused by the present order. Any alternative is seen as part of a communist conspiracy.

Sixth, U.S. and Salvadoran policies treat poor people as criminals while minimizing the problem of poverty. The goal of such policies is to control the poor, not to overcome the structural causes of poverty, which in fact low-intensity-conflict strategy seeks to maintain.

Seventh, the U.S. embassy and the Salvadoran government manage repression. The goal is to use the appropriate amount of physical and psychological terror necessary to maintain control and intimidate the poor.

Eighth, the United States punishes the "crimes of the poor" by waging a criminal war against the poor. The U.S. low-intensity-conflict project utilizes a variety of means to maintain control and discourage or punish the "crimes of the poor." These methods include severe or targeted repression, imprisonment or disappearance of wrongdoers, bribes or offers of personal security, death threats and actual assassinations, massive bombing of civilians, handouts of food and other goods in exchange for participation in civil defense programs, campaigns to discredit independent organizations, red-baiting, and conditioning aid to the Salvadoran government on policies desired by the United States such as devaluation of the Salvadoran currency.

Ninth, U.S. policies create and manage images in order to obscure reality. Elections are held and democracy is talked about, but power remains in the hands of the U.S. embassy and Salvadoran elites. Human rights violations measured as a body count are fewer, but intimidation remains constant and the structures of repression are maintained. Death squads "disappear" without ever having left the scene. Just as the enemy is defined as poor people and not poverty, so too images and not reality are altered.

Offending the Empire

The U.S. war against the poor is a war against hope. Hope is the enemy of empires because it is hope that gives rise to alternative futures. Desperation in the form of hunger and poverty is more likely to crush people’s spirits than to give rise to resistance. A desperate or near desperate situation injected with hope, on the other hand, makes empires nervous. Nicaraguan poet Edwin Castro was killed in 1960 in a jail of the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship. His poem "Tomorrow," written from his cell, captured and fueled the hope of the Nicaraguan people whose revolution was born out of the capacity to envision an alternative future:

The daughter of the worker, the daughter of the peasant, won’t have to prostitute herself -- bread and work will come from her honorable labor.

No more tears in the homes of workers. You’ll stroll happily over the laughter of paved roads, bridges, country lanes. . . .

Tomorrow, my son, everything will be different; no whips, jails, bullets, rifles will repress ideas. You’ll stroll through the streets of all the cities with the hands of your children in your hands -- as I cannot do with you.

Jail will not shut in your young years as it does mine; and you will not die in exile with your eyes trembling, longing for the landscape of your homeland, like my father died. Tomorrow, my son, everything will be different.

I had many conversations with poor campesinos in Central America which reinforce how the U.S. war against the poor is fundamentally a war to destroy the capacity to hope, envision, and work for an alternative future. When I questioned campesinos in Mexico and Honduras many would stare at their feet in silence. After several moments they would respond without confidence. Their answers would often be prefaced with degrading phrases such as "We are stupid, ignorant people who know nothing" or "We are like oxen who know nothing."

The internalization of oppression and poverty is encouraged and welcomed by empires. It is the product of centuries of economic exploitation coupled with a degrading theology that stresses poverty as God’s will, obedience to church and secular authority, and heavenly rewards.

Organized campesinos in El Salvador and Nicaragua, by way of contrast, generally spoke with clarity, dignity, and hope. In El Salvador, despite repression and the formidable power of the United States, they believed they could alter their history of landlessness and oppression through organization and struggle. In Nicaragua the people had begun living a different future when they made the decision to participate actively in the movement to overthrow the U.S-backed Somoza dictatorship. They had tasted the fruit of their hope, the promise of Edwin Castro’s "Tomorrow," after the triumph of their revolution in 1979.

The United States escalated its war against hope in response to the success of the Nicaraguan revolution. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, in a speech on the fifth anniversary of the triumph of the Nicaraguan people, offers this poetic description of how hope kindled the wrath of the U.S. empire:

Five years ago the song of the roosters and birds heralded the triumph of the reign of dreams and of hope. Five years ago the church bells and rifle and machine gunfire resounded announcing the news: the birth of the free people of Nicaragua. And all of Nicaragua began to write the most beautiful poem. . . .

But these verses disturbed the snoring of Goliath, Goliath who had stolen our voice and shackled our country. These verses annoyed Goliath as he saw David standing tall, since he thought he had killed him when he killed Sandino. Then Goliath hurled himself once again at David, that is, against the workers, the peasants, against the young people and women, against children, against the heroic people of Nicaragua.2

Ortega’s use of biblical imagery to describe U.S. attacks against his people illustrates why the Santa Fe Report targets liberation theology as enemy. Liberation theology grows out of the experiences of oppressed peoples. Common people, as well as trained theologians, reflect upon the meaning of Scripture in light of the oppression of the poor and their longing for freedom. In both El Salvador and Nicaragua, liberation theology has been instrumental in awakening people’s hope. The crime of the Delegate of the Word quoted at the beginning of this chapter is that he celebrated faith in a God who proclaims "good news to the poor," "freedom to the captives" and "liberation to the oppressed." Celebrating this God is a "criminal activity" because it shatters centuries of psychological and physical oppression by offering to the poor hope for a better future. God takes sides with the poor in their struggle for liberation.

A liberating God is upsetting to the traditional gods called upon by empires, autocrats, and oligarchs to justify unjust privileges and to stifle the hopes of the poor. Jeane Kirkpatrick, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, offers this defense of U.S. support for regimes that victimize the poor:

Traditional autocrats leave in place existing allocations of wealth, power, status, and other resources which in most traditional societies favor an affluent few and maintain masses in poverty. But they worship traditional gods and observe traditional taboos. They do not disturb the habitual rhythms of work and leisure, habitual places of residence, habitual patterns of family and personal relations. Because the miseries of traditional life are familiar, they are bearable to ordinary people who, growing up in the society, learn to cope. 3

Liberation theology is part of a "criminal conspiracy" because it doesn’t help poor people cope with inhuman conditions and social systems that "favor an affluent few and maintain masses in poverty." It calls both rich and poor people to a faithful response to the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel challenges the structures of death and calls people to new life. The traditional gods of oligarchy and empire have, in the words of Walter Brueggemann, a "royal consciousness [which] leads to numbness, especially to numbness about death. It is the task of prophetic ministry and imagination to bring people to engage their experiences of suffering to death."4

The Santa Fe Report targets liberation theology as a major challenge to U.S. foreign policy because it refuses to be silent about death or about the possibilities for new life. Liberation theology challenges the gods of the empire and the empire itself. It provides the spiritual food for communities of exploited people who examine "their experiences of suffering to death" in light of structural causes and the liberating example of Jesus Christ.

Poverty, far from being sanctioned by God, is a scandalous affront to a loving God. It is a consequence of human injustice built into unjust social structures. The poor will not be judged by their obedience to authority and their quiet endurance of earthly misery but are free to be faithful to a God that works for liberation within history, as the Pharaoh unhappily discovered. The rich are not wealthy because they are blessed by God but because they exploit the poor. The poor are not oxen-like workers ordained to be subservient to the rich but dignified human beings created in the image of God. Politics and economics do not lie outside the parameters of faith but are arenas in which Christians seek to live out their faith in a God that works for the redemption of all creation. The fruit of faith is not the pacifying promise of heavenly streets paved with gold but partial realizations of God’s kingdom here and now through struggle and community. Jesus is not a passive victim who died as part of a preordained plan of God to overcome abstract sin, but an example of a faithful follower of a liberating God who challenged the empire of his time and lived out his faith and convictions to the ultimate consequence.5

The hope that springs from a theology of liberation encourages the "crimes of the poor." Hope is dangerous and the empire in self-defense lashes out against it. Positive examples that might inspire hope in others are also enemies to be pressured, co-opted and, if necessary, destroyed.

The "Crimes" of Nicaragua

Miguel D’Escoto, Maryknoll priest and foreign minister of Nicaragua, in February 1986 began a 200-mile nonviolent march from the Honduran border to Nicaragua’s capital city. The fifteen-day walk was a religious commemoration of the passion of Jesus and a reenactment of the traditional stations of the cross within Catholicism. It was also a prayerful attempt by D’Escoto, who earlier had fasted for more than thirty days, to call on religious people throughout the world to protest the crucifixion of the Nicaraguan people at the hands of the U.S. empire.

I walked with D’Escoto and many thousands of other Nicaraguans for some of those fifteen days. We walked, sang, prayed, and talked. I heard hundreds of personal stories of passion and crucifixion from people who had experienced in the flesh of their own families and communities the terror, torture, rape, and murder that accompanied attacks by U.S.-backed contras. Each day of the march D’Escoto’s words became more prophetic. Speaking in front of the earthquake-damaged cathedral in Managua on the final day of the march, he spoke of the "crimes" of the Nicaraguan people, which had provoked the criminal wrath of the empire:

The Lord wants it to be absolutely clear that if we are attacked, if we have provoked the criminal and bloody wrath of the Empire, it is for exactly the same reason that Jesus provoked that wrath. And it was for the same reason that so many innocents were killed when Christ was born, and that later Christ was taken to the cross. . . . It is not that we Nicaraguans are perfect but we have taken on the obligation as Christians to make a new society. We have worked for the advent of the kingdom, and this necessarily and inevitably raises the ire, the hate, the reprisals of those with established interests in maintaining the old order.

The Nicaraguan revolution is not perfect, but its imperfections had little or nothing to do with the U.S. low-intensity-conflict project to destroy this tiny nation. Most of the common charges leveled against the Nicaraguan revolution (it is totalitarian, it exports arms to foment revolution in neighboring countries, it is a Soviet/Cuban puppet state, it will allow Soviet military bases on its soil, it represses the church, it persecutes Jews, it commits genocide against its native peoples, etc.) are easily refutable. It is likely that these charges, which conform to the worldview described in the previous chapter, are sincerely believed by some U.S. low-intensity-conflict planners. However, it is equally likely that these charges are intentionally used by others who understand that they are clearly distorted but useful. They provide a smokescreen that obscures the real reasons for U.S. hostility toward Nicaragua: the poor cannot be allowed to break away from U.S. control and take charge of their own resources and destiny.

Readers wanting a more detailed refutation of these charges or a more in-depth description of the Nicaraguan revolution can look elsewhere.6 Here I will limit myself to a brief description of key philosophical and practical components of the Nicaraguan revolution in order to explain why Nicaragua is in fact dangerous to elite U.S. interests. This will pave the way for chapter 3, below, where I will examine how low-intensity-conflict strategy has been implemented in Central America as part of the U.S. war against the poor.

The Nicaraguan revolution grew out of a long history of oppression and U.S. domination. The fabric of the revolution is creatively woven together using threads of nationalism, Christianity, and Marxist analysis. Its philosophical base includes commitments to nonalignment, political pluralism, a mixed economy, and popular participation.

Nicaragua’s strategy of nonalignment and mixed economy is based on a belief that greater independence is possible to the degree that Nicaragua is able to diversify its economic and political relationships. It has actively sought close ties to third-world nations, Western Europe and Canada, and the socialist bloc countries -- and it would like normalized relations with the United States. Its mixed economy involves a conscious effort to diversify sources of trade and aid. It also guarantees within its constitution a role for cooperatives; joint state and private enterprises; small, medium, and large private farms and businesses; indigenous communal ownership; and a state sector. Numerous parties vie for political power in Nicaragua’s elections. The revolution also encourages the people to organize themselves to shape the society and to improve living standards through participation in vaccination campaigns, adult education programs, harvesting brigades, and other neighborhood organizations.

These philosophical principles obviously collide with the worldview of low-intensity-conflict planners for whom nonalignment is a contradiction in terms, and a mixed economy is an attack against corporate capitalism. Nicaragua’s greatest "crime," however, is that it redistributes wealth from the rich to the poor. It seeks to reorder society in order to reflect the interests and needs of the poor majority.

The Nicaraguan revolution’s fundamental concern for the long-exploited poor was demonstrated through priority programs that improved literacy, education, and health care. In the first few years of the revolution, illiteracy was reduced from more than 50 percent to approximately 12 percent, successful preventive health programs including vaccinations led the World Health Organization to select Nicaragua as one of five model countries for primary health care, and infant mortality was reduced by one-third.

These social improvements were coupled with and ultimately dependent upon a restructuring of the economy to reflect the needs of the majorities. Steps were taken to redistribute wealth and wealth-producing resources from elites to the poor. Agrarian reform programs distributed land to campesinos free of charge and banks were nationalized so that credit could be widely distributed. In order to counter the common third-world problem of tax evasion by the rich, the Nicaraguan government nationalized the export-import trade, which gave it control of a large share of foreign-exchange earnings that traditionally had been used by the rich for luxury consumption. By requiring producers of agricultural export crops to sell to the government and paying them primarily with local currency, the government gained access to crucial dollars that could be used to finance development.

These mechanisms through which the Nicaraguan government worked to overcome a long legacy of poverty and exploitation offended the empire and its allies within Nicaragua, who immediately launched their war against the poor. Brazilian Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga, who joined Miguel D’Escoto during part of his lengthy fast, writes:

I can understand how the revolution cannot be very pleasing to the landholders since it took away the land they had piled up. Just as it can’t be very pleasant for the gringos, since the revolution messed up their fat profiteering. . . . Spanish greed, English greed, American greed, one after another -- always oligarchical greed. It’s about time that the rivers of Latin America, the peoples of Latin America, be freed of these greeds.7

The problem Nicaragua poses for the United States goes well beyond the limited resources at stake in a tiny, impoverished country of 3 million people. The "crimes of Nicaragua" have global implications. Ironically, the fact that Nicaragua is a poor, impoverished country makes it a greater danger to U.S. security interests. If a tiny, resource-poor country like Nicaragua is able to make significant improvements in the living standards of its people after partially freeing itself from the clutches of an empire, then this will undoubtedly fill others with hope. Impoverished people living in countries where far greater resources are now at the disposal of the empire are likely to be encouraged by Nicaragua’s example. This is the context in which the quotation from George Shultz’s speech to a Pentagon conference on low-intensity conflict, cited in chapter 1, above, can be understood:

Americans must understand . . . that a number of small challenges, year after year, can add up to a more serious challenge to our interests. . . . We must be prepared to commit our political, economic, and, if necessary, military power when the threat is still manageable and when its prudent use can prevent the threat from growing.8

The final words in this chapter are from Herbert Anaya. His words to the U.S. people about their country’s policies in El Salvador are equally relevant for Nicaragua:

We feel you should know that each bomb ripping into our mountains and plains, destroying ranches, fields and human bodies, comes from your Army, sent as "aid" to the Salvadoran government. Our country has been converted into a proving ground for experimental political, military, economic and ideological projects developed in the White House and the Pentagon. Your government has become the center of domination and subjugation of poor peoples of the world: peoples with a unsatisfied hunger for justice, a deep thirst for a better and more humane future, and an unquenchable yearning for life. In each heart lies the certain hope, growing like a baby giant, of building peace with justice.



1. Reagan administration ambassador to Costa Rica, Lewis A. Tambs, and Lieutenant Commander Frank Aker, "Shattering the Vietnam Syndrome: A Scenario for Success in El Salvador" (unpublished manuscript). See Michael I. Klare and Peter Kornbluh, eds., Low Intensity Warfare. Counterinsurgency. Proinsurgency, and Antiterrorism in the Eighties (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988), p. 112.

2. William I. Robinson and Kent Norsworthy, David and Goliath. The US. War against Nicaragua (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1987), p. 9.

3. Jeane Kirkpatrick, "Dictatorships and Double Standards," Commentary, November, 1979, p. 44.

4. Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978), p. 46.

5. For a more detailed examination of liberation theology, see Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, The Politics of Compassion (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1987), or Phillip Berryman, Liberation Theology: The Essential Facts about the Revolutionary Movement in Latin America and Beyond (New York, Pantheon Books, 1987).

6. There are many excellent books and other resources on Nicaragua. See, for example, William I. Robinson and Kent Norsworthy, David and Goliath; Joseph Collins, What Difference Could a Revolution Make? (San Francisco: Institute for Food and Development Policy, 1986); and an Americas Watch Report (July 1985) entitled "Human Rights in Nicaragua: Reagan, Rhetoric and Reality."

7. Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga, Prophets in Combat (Oak Park, Ill.: Meyer Stone Books, 1986), pp. 46-47.

8. Department of Defense, Proceedings of the Low-Intensity Warfare Conference, January 14-15,1986, p. 10.