Articles by: Pablo Morales
The U.S. government and its right-wing allies are using human rights as a political weapon to discredit those governments in the region that have most aggressively undermined U.S. hegemony. This article was originally published as the introduction to the September/October 2011 issue of the NACLA Report on the Americas.
The Venezuelan opposition faced a difficult question in February, as the country prepared to vote in a national referendum on abolishing term limits. Would participating in the vote mean conceding an institutional victory to the government of President Hugo Chávez? This was a burning question for the fractious Venezuelan right, whose past anti-electoral tactics—a coup in 2002, an oil strike in 2002–03, a boycott of parliamentary elections in 2005—have only backfired.
Perhaps the most poignant moment in John Pilger’s latest documentary, The War on Democracy, comes during an interview with Sister Dianna Ortiz, the U.S. nun tortured by Guatemalan security forces in 1989. “I’ve heard people say that what happened in Abu Ghraib is an isolated incident,” she says, with a mix of outrage and disbelief. “And I just shake my head and say: Are we on the same planet? Aren’t you aware of our history? Isn’t history taught in the classroom about the role of the U.S. government in human rights violations?”
Pinochet may have reached the apex of corrupt government arms trafficking in Latin America, but he was by no means unique. At lower levels, civilians and military officials alike have often turned a quick peso by engaging in small-arms “diversion,” meaning the shifting of arms from legal to illegal markets. The phenomenon is frequent in the region—a “recurrent Latin American nightmare,” as the arms analyst Pablo Dreyfus recently called it. Two hot spots drive much of the small-arms diversion in Latin America: the Colombian conflict and the Brazilian street wars.
Gun violence has plagued Latin America since the early days of the colonial era. In June, archaeologists excavating an old Inca cemetery near Lima found a skull marred by a pair of small, round holes—evidence of the oldest gunshot victim in the Americas yet discovered. The musket, in this case likely fired during the final battle for the Incan empire in 1536, was brought over by the Spaniards, and in a sense, the invasion of gun technology continues.