Like spooks from an abandoned B-Movie graveyard, officials of the
Reagan-Bush era are emerging from the dirt and showing up inside
the George W. Bush administration. The latest resurrection is John
Negroponte, whom Bush recently nominated as ambassador to the United
As U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, Negroponte abetted
and covered up human rights crimes. He was a zealous anti-Communist
crusader in America's covert wars against the leftist Sandinista
government in Nicaragua and the FMLN rebels in El Salvador. The
high-level planning, money and arms for those wars flowed from Washington,
but much of the on-the-ground logistics for the deployment of intelligence,
arms and soldiers was run out of Honduras. U.S. military aid to
Honduras jumped from $3.9 million in 1980 to $77.4 million by 1984.
So crammed was the tiny country with U.S. bases and weapons that
it was dubbed the USS Honduras, as if it were simply an off-shore
The captain of this ship, Negroponte was in charge of the U.S.
according to a 1995 four-part series in the Baltimore Sun,
hundreds of Hondurans were kidnapped, tortured and killed by Battalion
316, a secret army intelligence unit trained and supported by the
Central Intelligence Agency. As Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson wrote
in the series, Battalion 316 used "shock and suffocation devices in
interrogations. Prisoners often were kept naked and, when no longer
useful, killed and buried in unmarked graves." Members of Battalion
316 were trained in surveillance and interrogation at a secret location
in the United States and by the CIA at bases in Honduras. Gen. Gustavo
Alvarez Martinez, the chief of the Honduran armed forces who personally
directed Battalion 316, also trained in the United States at the School
of the Americas.
John Negroponte on
CNN's Cold War.
Negroponte tried to distance himself from the pattern of abuses,
even after a flood of declassified documents exposed the extent
of U.S. involvement with Battalion 316. In a segment of the 1998
CNN mini-series Cold War, Negroponte said that "some of the
retrospective effort to try and suggest that we were supportive
of, or condoned the actions of, human rights violators is really
By the time Negroponte was appointed ambassador by President Reagan
in 1981, human rights activists in Honduras were vocally denouncing
abuses. Former Honduran congressman Efrain Diaz Arrivillaga pleaded
with Negroponte and other U.S. officials to stop the abuses committed
by the U.S.-controlled military. "Their attitude was one of tolerance
and silence," Diaz told the Sun. "They needed Honduras to
loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent
people being killed."
Negroponte ignored such protests, and annually filed State Department
reports from Honduras that gave the impression that the Honduran
military respected human rights. But in an interview with In
These Times, Negroponte's predecessor as ambassador, Carter
appointee Jack Binns, tells a different story: "Negroponte would
have had to be deliberately blind not to know about human rights
violations. ... One of the things a departing ambassador does is
prepare a briefing book, and one of those issues we included [in
our briefing book] was how to deal with the escalation of human
Binns considered the U.S. support for Alvarez and Battalion 316
"counterproductive" to the declared objective of "establishing a
rule of law." This lack of enthusiasm, Binns says, led to "my being
cut out of the loop" by the Reagan administration, which he served
for several months before Negroponte took over. In the summer of
1981, Binns recalls, "I was called unexpectedly to Washington by
Tom Enders, the assistant secretary of state. He asked me to stop
reporting human rights violations through official State Department
channels and to use back channels because they were afraid of leaks."
As Binns explains, back-channel messages "don't officially exist.
The message is translated over CIA channels, decrypted and hand-carried
from Langley, one copy only. No record."
Binns did not agree to use back channels and when he returned to
Honduras, he received no further reports of human rights violations
from the CIA. "I was deliberately lied to," says Binns, who later
found out that Reagan administration had been working behind his
Honduras was only one of many hot spots where Negroponte served.
He spent four years as a political officer in the U.S. Embassy in
Saigon during the height of the Vietnam War. As an aide to then
National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger at the Paris Peace Talks,
he fell out of favor with his boss, wrote Mark Matthews in a 1997
article in the Sun, "by arguing that the chief U.S. negotiator
was making too many concessions to the North Vietnamese." Negroponte
also served in the Philippines, Panama and Mexico, where he was
a strong booster for NAFTA.
Rumored to have been Colin Powell's pick for the job of U.N. ambassador,
Negroponte has a reputation as a loyal bureaucrat and efficient
fixer. He also has a Cold War mentality characteristic of many of
the old Reagan-Bush people surrounding the new president.
The lessons Negroponte has learned from the past may shed light
on what kind of U.N. ambassador he will be if his nomination is
approved by the Senate. When he appeared in 1981 before a Senate
committee for confirmation as envoy to Honduras, he said, "I believe
we must do our best not to allow the tragic outcome of Indochina
to be repeated in Central America."
The tragedy to which he referred, of course, was the defeat of
the United States, not the devastation and death caused by U.S.