Apr 26, 2005

Mom’s last wish for Pinochet | By Jerry Meldon | published in The Tufts Daily

When a Santiago judge in mid-December indicted former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet for one murder among the thousands he allegedly ordered, I imagined how the glimmer of vindication would have delighted my mother who had passed away 10 days earlier in a Miami Beach hospital. Few acts of political violence had troubled Mom more than another one of those murders, the 1976 assassination of former Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier in broad daylight on the streets of Washington, DC.

I thought as well, how ironic it was that she had lived so close to the erstwhile epicenter of anti-Castro extremism, “Little Havana,” the preferred watering hole of CIA-trained Cuban exile terrorists – three of whom Pinochet bankrolled to bomb Letelier’s car. Mom died convinced the truth would never come out, and she was not without reason for believing so. Then CIA director George H. W. Bush had stonewalled the initial FBI investigation, leaving it dead in the water for years.

Americans have long since lost interest in terrorism – unless, of course, we’re the targets. And why not? Thanks to the Elian Gonzalez affair and, before that, Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” rhetoric, the anti-Castro brigadistas are no longer recalled as “terrorists” but as “freedom fighters.” This is the opposite of present day Washington D.C.’s regard for Osama bin Laden and his Islamic extremist cohorts, whom Reagan hailed as freedom fighters when the CIA was paying them billions to kill Russians in Afghanistan.

Throw in talk radio, “embeds,” and a stenographic White House press corps, and it’s easy to understand why Americans asked “why us?” on Sept. 11. To resume contact with reality we need to confront Washington’s primary role in Latin America’s decades-long nightmare of military dictatorship. We need to acknowledge that the “post-factual era” began with the first inauguration of Ronald Reagan, not George W. Bush.

Notwithstanding the media hagiography upon his death, Reagan was the master of flipping reality on its head. He not only heaped praise upon bin Laden’s minions, but also the nun-raping Salvadoran death squads and the hospital-bombing Nicaraguan contras. He even deemed these contras as being “the moral equivalent of our founding fathers.” When even the hyperbole fell short of its goals, the Reagan team manufactured front groups to manipulate public opinion.

They created the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) to marshal support for the contras, who had been assembled by the CIA from the remnants of deposed dictator Somoza’s secret police to oppose Nicaragua’s leftist government. A grateful Reagan invited CANF director Jorge Mas Canosa, a successful exile businessman and inveterate Castro-hater, to the White House.

As a sideline, Mas Canosa used his deep pockets to play “sugar daddy” to some of the more notorious Cuban extremists. When a technicality voided Guillermo Novo’s prison sentence for the Letelier assassination, Mas Canosa found the anti-Castro bomber and drug trafficker a job as an information officer for the CANF.

When the CIA sought a demolitions expert to train the contras, it sent out a call to the legendary anti-Castro bomber and long-time agency operative Luis Posada Carriles. However, Posada was languishing in a Venezuelan jail on charges of masterminding the decimation of a Cuban airliner two weeks after the Letelier murder. Posada magically got hold of $25,000 to bribe his way out of prison and join the contras in Nicaragua. In his memoirs he names Mas Canosa as his benefactor.

Mom would have gagged in the ambulance taking her home from the Miami Beach rehab hospital had she noticed that part of Biscayne Boulevard had been renamed “Jorge Mas Canosa Boulevard.” However, she noticed little and suffered a second stroke before peacefully passing away. Shortly thereafter, on the eve of a Chilean judge’s determination of his fitness to stand trial, Gen. Pinochet had another of his own remarkably well-timed strokes. Mom would have wished him the health he will need to face his accusers.