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Sat Jul 12, 2014, 11:36 AM

Reagan vs Maryknoll

“The story of sanctuary is hardly remembered and is therefore a missing piece of the Reagan puzzle.” -- James Carroll; House of War


Thirty years ago, the United States was faced with the question of what to do with hundreds of thousands of refugees from Central America. These people were fleeing their war-torn nations: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. It was part of an important era in the struggle for human rights, and involved significant changes in the manner in which “middle America” viewed the government.

For many decades, US policy towards Central America was shameful. US corporations such as United Fruit and Domino Sugar (and multinationals such as Gulf & Western) had installed oligarchs to insure that those nations’ natural resources were accessible. This created a huge economic imbalance between the 1% and the 99% in those countries, not unlike the direction our society is heading in today.

When the people rebelled, the oligarchs responded with horrible violence. If the “threat” continued, the US military was sent in. A pattern was set: anyone who opposed the oligarchs was called a “communist,” which justified the swift and repeated use of US military force.

In the mid-1970s, two dynamics changed: in Central America, the synergy of Native thought and Catholic practice resulted in “liberation theology”; and in the USA, the experience of the Vietnam war had opened the public’s mind to the reality that many of the civil wars around the globe had more to do with nationalism, than a centralized communist threat.

In 1979, a group known as the Sandinistas overthrew Somoza in Nicaragua. The eight-member leadership council included one Marxist, three Catholic priests, and four left-wing nationalists. President Carter, who was preoccupied with other domestic and international events, did not seem concerned by the Sandinistas coming to power.

However, in 1980, a failed, B-grade actor was elected president, and Ronald Reagan suffered from extremely concrete, paranoid thinking. He viewed Nicaragua as a “second Cuba” in the Western Hemisphere, and was intent upon destroying the red menace. Thus, US advisors and “contractors” began “assisting” the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras -- and the “Contras” in Nicaragua -- in warfare against those seeking liberation.

On March 23, 1980, archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador pleaded with the soldiers to refuse to kill citizens, and to end the repression in their nation. The next day, he was shot dead while saying mass. During his funeral, the military again attacked, killing 40 people. However, two US bishops were among the crowd, and when they returned home, they began addressing the US-backed violence.

Later that year, four American women (three nuns and a lay person) were kidnapped, raped, and murdered by the same group of thugs who murdered Romero. Their leader had been trained in the School of the Americas at Fort Benning. Reagan’s UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick told Congress that the women were “not real nuns.”

However, the Speaker of the House knew better. Tip O’Neill’s aunt was a Maryknoll nun, which taught and practiced liberation theology. He was also influenced by the Jesuits from Boston College. O’Neill, although he had a good personal relationship with Reagan, knew that the president lacked the intellectual ability to view Central America in anything but the starkest black-and-white context. And so he began lobbying others in the legislative branch to handcuff the Reagan administration’s drive to involve the US military in a regional conflict.

Another powerful force that was organizing in the US was the Democratic Left. In 1980, for example, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador was formed. Headquartered in Washington, DC, CISPES had chapters across the country. (CISPES still exists today: http://www.cispes.org/ )

The Reagan administration would target American citizens belonging to, or supportive of, CISPES. I could tell some stories. However, the Democratic Left had matured over the years, and was able to coordinate efforts with both liberal church groups, and several members of Congress. Perhaps the most significant focus, in my opinion, as it relates to today, would be the pressure to have refugees from the Central American countries to be recognized for exactly what they were.

The Reagan administration fought this tooth-and-nail. If these human beings were given political refugee status, it would put attention on the administration’s Central American war policies. Thus, the Reaganoids insisted upon labeling them “illegal aliens,” and attempting to deport them.

Churches across the nation would provide sanctuary to the refugees -- openly violating the law. Transporting the refugees could be risky, and hence much of this was done by members of the Democratic Left who had backgrounds with the “underground.” It was absolutely the modern version of the “Underground Railroad” from the pre-Civil War era. And there were several thousand depots across America.

Eventually, because of Tip O’Neill and others in Congress, the Boland Amendment was passed. This put the Reagan war effort in check, legally speaking. However, as we know, the Gipper and crew created a pipeline, which included selling weapons to Iran; funding the Contras; and, of course, dumping tons of cocaine onto the streets of American cities, primarily in minority neighborhoods.

The rule of law worked, to an extent, and ended much of the US government’s direct involvement in such schemes ….at least briefly. Reagan clearly faced impeachment, and VP Bush really should have faced criminal prosecution. It never got to that point, but that is a long story in and of itself. “Private” interests in the US would continue the drug and weapons trade -- it wasn’t high school and college students flying cocaine into the country. And the combination of gangs and military in Central America were their partners, at least for a time.

Between 1982 and ‘84, over half a million refugees from Central America fled to the USA. Our nation was not “harmed” by them. Quite the opposite, they added to the fabric of our culture. It was the Reagan-Bush forces that posed a threat to America.

I believe that the Sanctuary Movement of the early 1980s provides us with an important model. It illustrates the root causes of the crisis the refugees face today. And it provides us with lessons on how we, as human beings, need to organize and respond.

In closing, I want to stress one point: the citizens who struggled for social justice thirty years ago were not “supermen and women.” They were ordinary people, no different than you and I. And if “they” could do it then, we can do it now.

Peace,
H2O Man

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Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 23 replies Author Time Post
Reply Reagan vs Maryknoll (Original post)
H2O Man Jul 2014 OP
ms liberty Jul 2014 #1
H2O Man Jul 2014 #3
scarletwoman Jul 2014 #2
H2O Man Jul 2014 #6
roody Jul 2014 #12
bigtree Jul 2014 #4
H2O Man Jul 2014 #13
broiles Jul 2014 #5
H2O Man Jul 2014 #14
Half-Century Man Jul 2014 #7
H2O Man Jul 2014 #15
malaise Jul 2014 #8
H2O Man Jul 2014 #16
malaise Jul 2014 #19
H2O Man Jul 2014 #22
malaise Jul 2014 #23
rickyhall Jul 2014 #9
H2O Man Jul 2014 #17
toby jo Jul 2014 #10
malaise Jul 2014 #20
Enthusiast Jul 2014 #11
rustydog Jul 2014 #18
Gormy Cuss Jul 2014 #21

Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 11:48 AM

1. K&R - I had forgotten some of this...

Of course I was a teenager then, and wasn't as politically informed as I am now. Thanks, H20Man!

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Response to ms liberty (Reply #1)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 11:58 AM

3. Thanks.

It was a strange time. I felt worse about Reagan getting elected, than I had with Nixon. (I thought nothing could be worse, until 2000.)

Sometimes I think of how handy it would have been to have the internet and cell phones back in the '80s (or 70s-60s). But it was important that people did more than sit in front of a screen.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 11:56 AM

2. K&R for an excellent history lesson! Thank you!

the citizens who struggled for social justice thirty years ago were not “supermen and women.” They were ordinary people, no different than you and I. And if “they” could do it then, we can do it now.


The question is, are there enough people anymore willing to make that kind of committment? It seems to me that there's been a huge fading away of social consciousness in the general population over the intervening 30 years. And is there even such a thing as a "Democratic Left" anymore?

That's not to say that we could not "do it now" - it's just hard to envision it in this era of toxic Christianity and rampant political ignorance, in a population consumed by its own economic struggles.

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Response to scarletwoman (Reply #2)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 12:28 PM

6. Thanks.

I read an article earlier this week, about a woman who was protesting against hydrofracking. Although all of her actions were nonviolent, she was sentenced to a year in jail. She is a close associate of some of the people that I coordinate with.

No one in their right mind wants to sign up for a year in jail. But she accepts it for exactly what it is.

There were more people willing to do that in the 1980s. And not because jail was more fun at that time. I think that we will reach that point again in the near future.

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Response to scarletwoman (Reply #2)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 03:33 PM

12. Yes. You can plug into

http://soaw.org/ - School of the Americas Watch.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 12:01 PM

4. nice summary

. . . reminds me of this report I saw the other day:

American Quakers (Friends) are Running an 'Underground Railroad' to Help LGBT Ugandans Flee
http://www.newsweek.com/american-quakers-are-running-underground-railroad-help-lgbt-ugandans-flee-258363

Providing sanctuary in another land . . . you'd think we'd be a virtual bastion of protection here in the U.S for these refugees. Instead, politicians are letting America's worst instincts lead their thinking and actions; perhaps mindful of their own dirty hands, they wish these refugees from the effects of our own mindless exploitation and mischief in these lands would just disappear after they evict them from the country.

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Response to bigtree (Reply #4)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 03:47 PM

13. Very good!

I have attended a local Quaker church a few times over the decades. All good and decent folks, with solid social consciences.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 12:08 PM

5. Great, thanks.

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Response to broiles (Reply #5)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 03:47 PM

14. Thanks!

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 02:11 PM

7. And thus the tone was set for the next 34 years.

It is time this stopped.

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Response to Half-Century Man (Reply #7)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 03:48 PM

15. I agree.

It needs to stop.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 02:31 PM

8. Excellent post

My favorite cousin was a liberation theology man - he was executed in front of the Jamaica Council of Churches (linked to the World Council of Churches) at the height of the RW excesses in Jamaica in 1983. Yep Reagan and his goons were intent on destroying the people's struggle in our hemisphere.

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Response to malaise (Reply #8)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 06:08 PM

16. I'm sorry to hear that.

I think that perhaps the best liberation theology song is "Get Up/ Stand Up" (lyrics by Peter Tosh, music by Bob Marley). We've discussed that powerful song before, and how too many people are unaware of Tosh's contribution.

It's a type of thinking that, sadly, can put a woman or man's life at risk. It must have been very painful for you and your family to lose your cousin that way.

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Response to H2O Man (Reply #16)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 06:21 PM

19. His loss still hurts a lot of folks 31 years later

He left his wife, two wonderful sons and four siblings. His sister and I talk about him all the time. She adored her big brother and he was that link with the entire family across the globe because he traveled a lot.

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Response to malaise (Reply #19)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 07:18 PM

22. That's terrible.

I had a cousin murdered in the early 80s. He was an ex-Marine. who was killed over a $10 bag of weed. I think about him frequently.

He didn't have the extensive family that your cousin did. (His father was murdered over a card game in 1969; I didn't see much of him or his brother for years, until he got out of the service.)

I am so sorry to hear about the pain that Reaganite thugs caused and causes your family.

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Response to H2O Man (Reply #22)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 07:21 PM

23. We had home grown thugs as well

the lackeys who did the dirty work for a few crumbs or for power. We all know them and they are ubiquitous.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 02:48 PM

9. When I was college

I majored in English and got accepted in a Creative Writing course taught by Carolyn Forche'. Until then I knew nothing about what was happening in South America until Ms. Forche' told us about her travels in El Salvador. Until then I didn't know, even after Watergate, how evil our government could be. So really, nothing I've read since would surprise me. Waterboarding was nothing compared to the thought of living the rest your life in a tigercage.

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Response to rickyhall (Reply #9)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 06:13 PM

17. I was lucky

in growing up, that my older siblings were interested in politics. My father was, too, but he was a conservative democrat.

So I grew up identifying with the Democratic Left. I do remember, with a smile, when my father reached out to me once in the 1980s ......he was Irish-Catholic, and a priest who had been elected to the NYS Assembly was coming to Dad's church to speak on jail reform. I was happy to meet my father at the church, and attend mass with him.

Afterward, my Dad was surprised to learn that the priest and myself already knew each other, from working on the jail reform movement.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 03:05 PM

10. Great stuff.

 

I wasn't aware of some of the details here. Good book recommendation?

Excellent post.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 03:10 PM

11. Kicked and recommended! Where are the recommendations?

I guess some DUers believe this did not happen. The President wouldn't admire Ronald Reagan as he does if Reagan had engaged in such a horrible foreign policy.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 06:17 PM

18. Kick!

Very well said H2O Man. This brought back some bad memories of the Reagan years.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Sat Jul 12, 2014, 07:01 PM

21. I knew people who were involved in that underground railroad through their church.

Also knew people who went to El Salvador to be American eyes on the ground and to identify and source aid for the people. Most Americans had no idea how messed up that country was. I thank my lucky stars to have been informed by these activists.

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