I am tempted to use the word “serendipitous” to describe the fact that within a matter of days, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on the investigation of the use of torture by the Bush/Cheney administration, Brazil’s National Truth Commission released its report on the activities of its brutal military dictatorship, and President Obama announced the normalization of our relationship with Cuba.
Here’s how Greg Grandin brought two of those events together back in 2007 when we were first learning about the extent to which torture had been used in the “global war on terrorism.”
In fact, it was in Latin America that the CIA and U.S. military intelligence agents, working closely with local allies, first helped put into place the unholy trinity of government-sponsored terrorism now on display in Iraq and elsewhere: death squads, disappearances and torture.
Countries all over South and Central America (as well as Africa) have held truth commissions to document the atrocities committed in their countries as they attempted to throw off the weight of colonialism and reach for independence. Throughout that process, we’ve been reminded of the role the United States played as a “silent partner” in those atrocities. Brazil is simply the latest.
The final report confirms that the U.S. played a direct role in encouraging state sponsored torture in Brazil. According to the 2,000 page document — and backed by extensive historiography -, over 300 members of the Brazilian military spent time at the School of the Americas, run out of Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia, where they had “theoretical and practical lessons on torture, which would later be replicated in Brazil,” the report notes.
The school was one of the main tools used by the U.S. government to deter perceived communist threats in Latin America, and gave instruction to dictatorial militaries across the continent. A Pentagon manual released in 1996 details the curriculum, which encourages the use of torture, blackmail, and arresting the families of those being questioned.
This is not some ancient history. Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff was unable to hold back tears at the announcement of this report because she had been one of those people subjected to torture during her three year imprisonment by the military dictatorship (the one the U.S. had helped place in power by supporting a coup in 1964).
Initially these U.S. interventions in Latin America were blatantly justified by the interests of corporate America that were operating in these countries. But when the Cold War began, the threat of communism was used as the excuse.
So it should come as no surprise to anyone that removing the last vestige of the Cold War in Cuba is welcome news to the leaders of South and Central America (many of whom were their freedom fighters in the 80’s and 90’s). President Rousseff called the deal with Cuba, “a moment which marks a change in civilization.” Former President of Columbia Andres Pastrana summed it up this way:
There will be radical and fundamental change. I think that to a large extent the anti-imperialist discourse that we have had in the region has ended. The Cold War is over.
Many Americans credit President Ronald Reagan with ending the Cold War. For others, it ended when the Berlin Wall crumbled during the administration of President George H.W. Bush. For the people of Latin America, it happened on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 with this announcement by President Barack Obama.
Finally, our shift in policy towards Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas. This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas. But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.
And I call on all my fellow leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the inter- American charter. Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections.
A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible, if we work together, not to maintain power, not to secure vested interests, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens…
Todos somos Americanos.