Back to the Future

September 25, 2007

Although the former Texas governor promised to forge a new and special relationship with Latin America during his presidential campaign, Bush hijo has named a slate of dedicated Cold Warriors to fill many of his government’s most senior policy positions that affect Latin America. The appointments may derail what little progress was made under the Clinton administration to move beyond the hardline policies of the past, and now threaten to revive the poisoned and polarized atmosphere of the Reagan era.

Elliott Abrams National Security Council (NSC), Special Advisor on Democracy, Human Rights and International Operations:

Like Dracula, Abrams has risen from the political grave to which he was consigned after his 1991 conviction on charges of lying to Congress to occupy the top position on the National Security Council for democracy and human rights. Through both terms of the Reagan administration, Abrams served as the leading shill for Latin America’s most brutal authoritarian regimes, while helping hide their worst excesses. As Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs he covered up the human rights crimes of the Guatemalan military in an effort to convince Congress to approve aid to that government. He went on to become the State Department’s most senior Latin America official and was embroiled in the Iran-Contra scandal when he traveled to London in disguise in order to solicit a $10 million contribution for the Nicaraguan Contras from the Sultan of Brunei. Congress had previously barred such aid to the Contras then trying to topple Nicaragua’s left-wing Sandinista government. Abrams subsequent guilty plea to two misdemeanor counts for having illegally withheld information from lawmakers was nullified when Bush I pardoned him just before leaving office, in December 1992.[1]

John Maisto NSC, Special Advisor on Latin America:

A professional foreign service officer, Maisto has a record of crisis management in a career spent largely in Latin America. He was deputy chief of mission in the U.S. embassy in Panama during the 1989 invasion to topple Manuel Noriega, ambassador to Nicaragua at the time of the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas, and a former ambassador to Venezuela. Most recently, under Clinton, Maisto served as political adviser to the U.S. Southern Command on Colombia policy, and he brings to the National Security Council a dedication to Washington’s war on drugs in the region—a dedication that bodes poorly for alternative strategies.[2]

John Negroponte Ambassador to the United Nations:

A career diplomat with 37 years in the foreign service, Negroponte served as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. As ambassador, Negroponte dedicated himself to Reagan’s anti-Communist drive in the region, overseeing the extensive military build-up in Honduras, the Big Pine II joint military exercises that deployed thousands of U.S. troops in the country from 1983 to 1984, and the training of Contra forces on Honduran bases by CIA and Argentine advisors. During his ambassadorship, U.S. support for the Contras led Washington to invest tens of millions of dollars in aid to Hondura’s military—then involved in a clandestine campaign to detain, torture and murder suspected subversives. According to the National Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras, dozens of Hondurans died or disappeared during the early 1980s at the hands of the CIA-trained intelligence unit Battalion 316, a death squad run by then-army chief and graduate of the U.S. School of the Americas, Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martínez. Human rights groups charge Negroponte with turning a blind eye to the political killings, and with purging information from embassy human rights reports that implicated the military in the disappearances. But despite the evidence against him, Negroponte was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as the new U.S. envoy to the United Nations, in a hearing held just two days after the terrorist attacks in the United States. Even the three senators voting against Negroponte declared that they did not question his qualifications, and would not block his nomination given the pressing need for the post to be filled.[3]

Kate Doyle is a senior analyst of U.S. policy in Latin America for the National Security Archive. She lives and works in Mexico City.

1. Christopher Marquis, “Bush’s Latin America Nominations Reopen Wounds,” The New York Times, August 1, 2001.
2. Arms Trade Resource Center,“Current Update,” January 31, 2001,
3. Associated Press, “Senate Panel OKs U.N. Nominee,” September 13, 2001; Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson, 4-part series in The Baltimore Sun on June 11, 13, 15 and 18, 1995; Leo Valladares Lanza and Susan Peacock, In Search of Hidden Truths: An Interim Report on Declassification by the National Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras (Honduras: 1998); Center for Justice and Human Rights Law (CEJIL) and Human Rights Watch/Americas, The Facts Speak for Themselves: The Preliminary Report on Disappearances for the National Commissioner for the Protection of Human Rights in Honduras (Washington, D.C.1995); Central Intelligence Agency, “Selected Issues Relating to CIA Activities in Honduras in the 1980s” (CIA Office of the Inspector General, August 27, 1997), posted on the Web-site of the National Security Archive at

Tags: US foreign policy, Cold War, Eliott Abrams, Roger Noriega, George W Bush

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