Saturday, October 25, 2008

Latin American Dictators, Counterrevolutionary Groups, and John McCain in the 1980s

It's no secret by now that John McCain has kept and still keeps company with unsavory characters, to put it mildly. Additionally, by now, it's highly unlikely that anybody who hasn't made up their mind about the election yet will be persuaded by any of this. Still, this month has seen a few stories come up with a couple of damning stories involving McCain and Latin America in the 1980s.

First, there was a report on McCain's role with the U.S. Council for World Freedom. The USCWF was a direct offshoot of the World Anti-Communist League, the latter of which "had ties to ultra-right figures and Latin American death squads" and that was charged with, among other things, anti-Semitism. As the article states, although the USCWF claimed to purge these elements from their own organization, it still "claimed to support "pro-Democratic resistance movements fighting communist totalitarianism." And during the 1980s it became a vehicle for the Reagan administration to prop up some of the more totalitarian, anti-communist efforts in Central America," most notably in financially aiding the Contras to the tune of more than $5 million. The USCWF became one of the main means for the Reagan administration to illegally fund the Contras, circumventing Congress. That McCain was involved with this board is thus problematic not only because he, as a member of Congress at the time, was involved with a group that was directly helping Reagan to violate the Constitution; it's also troubling because, as Stein says, "it firmly associates him with a foreign policy that was, at the time and still, controversial." And this is all involving a man who's claiming to be better prepared and on the moral high ground over his opponent in terms of foreign policy.

Additionally, the story about McCain's 1985 "friendly meeting" with Pinochet, revealed in declassified embassy records has been making the rounds this week. As Boz points out, that McCain met with Pinochet in and of itself isn't necessarily an issue today; many politicians met with Pinochet. But there are problems that Boz raises:

First and foremost, McCain disagrees with the view I set in the above paragraph. He's made his disagreement with Obama's willingness to meet with "dictators without preconditions" a major part of his foreign policy. Has his policy changed since the time he met Pinochet, did he believe Pinochet to be a US ally in 1985 (by '85, even most Republican leaders had turned against Pinochet), or was there some sort of precondition to this meeting that we remain unaware of?

Second, additional documents indicate McCain and his wife stayed on the farm of a Pinochet ally for three days prior to the meeting, vacationing and fishing. That's not exactly an ideal circumstance to then meet with a dictator and demand better human rights or the release of political prisoners.

Finally, no attempt to publicly call for democracy? No public repudiation of Pinochet's human rights record? No meetings with pro-democracy opposition leaders (like Ted Kennedy did around the same time McCain met with Pinochet)? Why did McCain stay so quiet back then? [Answer: because Pinochet fought the "communists." - Mr. Trend.]
Certainly, neither of these stories will change much in the election, nor should they necessarily - there are manifold reasons why not to vote for McCain besides these. Still, they do reveal a really troubling side to his past activities that do give an important insight into how he might potentially deal with Latin America and in his foreign policy relations more generally.