Amidst reports that Mitt Romney launched Bain Capital with funds from investors tied to 1980s Salvadoran death squads, his new running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is getting foreign policy briefings from a man who actively covered-up some of the worst atrocities committed by those same death squads. The GOP’s vice-presidential candidate also earned his political stripes working under neoconservative Republicans who funneled billions in U.S. aid to those military hitmen. Though the war in El Salvador was just one chapter in history, Romney and Ryan’s relationship with that war may provide a snapshot into their worldview.
Between 1979 and 1992, an estimated 75,000 people were killed in the conflict in El Salvador and countless others were “disappeared” or displaced, an astonishing number for a country the size of Massachusetts. A United Nations Truth Commission estimated that the right-wing, military-led government was responsible for 85 percent of the violence while the left-wing insurgency fighting against vast economic and political inequality, including farmers, teachers, priests and union activists, was responsible for only 5 percent. Much of the violence was attributable to clandestine military or paramilitary death squads, which committed countless assassinations and acts of brutal violence against suspected political dissidents.
Recent reports suggest that some of the same members of the Salvadoran oligarchy that backed the death squads gave Romney the startup funds for Bain Capital.
Romney’s Early Bain Capital Funders Tied to Salvadoran Death Squads
Last week, the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim and Cole Stangler reported on how Romney went to Miami in 1983, at the height of El Salvador’s civil war, to raise $9 million from Salvadoran expatriate families to start Bain Capital. This seed money amounted to 40 percent of Bain’s startup funds. Although Romney claimed that he had vetted the backgrounds of the investors, some of their families had been identified by the U.S. ambassador and others as closely tied to either death squads or death squad leader and ARENA Party founder Roberto d’Aubuisson (known as “Blowtorch Bob” for his use of blowtorches to torture political prisoners).
D’Aubuisson was later found responsible for ordering the assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, a prominent advocate for the poor and critic of the Salvadoran government (who the Vatican has now placed in the process of canonization to become a saint). In the United States, though, the Reagan administration foreign policy team would actively deny d’Aubuisson’s involvement in the assassination, as well as the Salvadoran government’s involvement in other human rights atrocities, so as to justify a heavy flow of military aid to the country’s government as part of Reagan’s Cold War-era policy to suppress any chance of another Cuba emerging in Latin America. A key player in those official denials was Elliot Abrams, an Assistant Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan who still boasts that he “supervised U.S. policy in Latin America and the Caribbean.”
In recent months, Abrams has been advising Romney’s Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan on foreign policy.
Abrams Key Denier of Human Rights Abuses by Salvadoran Government
Of the Romero assassination, Abrams told the Washington Post in 1993 that “anybody who thinks you’re going to find a cable that says that Roberto d’Aubuisson murdered the archbishop is a fool.” But as the Post noted in that same article, the U.S. Embassy sent at least two such cables to Washington fingering d’Aubuisson — the December 21, 1981 cable, for example, describes: “A meeting, chaired by Maj. Roberto d’Aubuisson, during which the murder of Archbishop Romero was planned. During the meeting, some of the participants drew lots for the privilege of killing the archbishop.
But Abrams is perhaps best known for denying one of the worst atrocities of the war, the massacre at El Mozote, where in December 1981 U.S-trained government soldiers marched into a village and murdered around 800 civilians, many of whom were women and children. The men were tortured before being shot, and girls as young as 10 were raped before having their throats slit. Abrams, who at the time was Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, dismissed reports published in the New York Times and Washington Post about the massacre, telling a Senate committee tasked with certifying the Salvadoran government’s human rights record that the reports of deaths “were not credible” and suggesting the guerrillas had “significantly misused” the stories for propaganda. The U.N. Truth Commission later confirmed the newspapers’ reports on the massacre, and the Salvadoran government (which elected its first left-wing president ever in 2009) officially apologized for the event in December of last year.
These and other denials helped justify another ten years of United States funding for the Salvadoran military and its death squads. The tiny country would receive $6 billion from the U.S. over the course of its civil war, making it the second-highest recipient of U.S. aid behind Israel during that period, despite mounting death tolls and continued atrocities.
Abrams has remained unrepentant about U.S. policy in El Salvador, calling it “one of fabulous achievement.” He was convicted in 1991 of two misdemeanors for unlawfully withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal but was pardoned by the first President Bush.
Abrams, Neocons Passing the Torch to VP Pick Ryan
This week,The Daily Beast first reported that Abrams’ latest act is advising Republican GOP candidate Ryan on foreign policy. Abrams told the website Ryan “knows more about foreign policy than people may think, in view of his concentration on the economy.” Other right-wing foreign policy experts told The Daily Beast that despite Ryan’s professed fiscal conservatism, he, like Reagan, supports spending billions or trillions to preserve U.S. military power and international influence.
Ryan has long been mentored by neoconservative Republican leaders who advanced U.S. policy in El Salvador. His first job in D.C. was as an aide to Sen. Bob Kasten of Wisconsin, a cheerleader for sending billions to El Salvador’s brutal military government and who in the 1980s chaired the Senate foreign operations appropriations subcommittee responsible for approving those funds.
After Kasten lost his seat to Russ Feingold in 1992, Ryan became a speechwriter for the right-wing think tank Empower America, which was founded by Jeane Kirkpatrick and Jack Kemp. As a foreign policy adviser to Reagan in 1980 Kirkpatrick famously defended the rape, murder, and torture of four American Catholic missionaries (three of whom were nuns and one a lay missionary) at the hands of El Salvador’s government forces, claiming “the nuns were not just nuns. The nuns were also political activists.” Kirkpatrick went on to become Reagan’s UN Ambassador. Kemp, who Ryan recently identified as a key mentor, was also a major supporter of U.S. funding to El Salvador’s military government.
Even if Romney can distance himself from the death squad-linked Salvadoran investors that provided the seed money for his vast wealth, Ryan’s political upbringing and his being mentored by a man of Abrams’ pedigree makes it clear that the tragedies of El Salvador’s civil war and this dark chapter in U.S. history will continue to cast a shadow over the Romney – Ryan campaign.