This article may contain text depicting the reality and horror of war/violence and should only be read by a mature audience.
Among the numerous conditions afflicting Third World people today are starvation, disease, war and injurious devices or substances left behind by invading armies like land mines, cluster bombs, Agent Orange and depleted uranium. A little discussed occurrence, which makes life extremely miserable for many people, is a tactic of counterinsurgency and intimidation called low intensity warfare. It depends for its success on torture, mutilation, disappearances and other methods designed to shock and reduce the civilian population to docility and acceptance of the conditions imposed on them. These conditions often have much to do with facilitating the extraction of wealth from these Third World countries by multinational corporations, i.e., sweatshops, structural adjustments and so-called free trade.
Many people who depend on corporate news lack an understanding of the difference between violence committed by leftist guerrillas and violence committed by right-wing paramilitary armies and government troops, armed by a technologically advanced superpower like the United States. Corporate media either portray the violence as equivalent in degree or maintain the guerrillas are even worse in their depravity. In the case of the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador, the corporate media even denied for many years that this right-wing atrocity had occurred, until forensic scientists dug up the bones and noticed the machete marks and bullet holes in the skulls.
A guerrilla army can’t be indiscriminate in its violence because it is confronting a government army which often has helicopter gunships, jets and the most modern weapons available, provided by the United States. The major factor working in the guerrillas’ favor is popular support by the people. They depend on them for food, shelter, hiding places, knowledge of the terrain and intelligence reports on troop movements of opposing forces. The quickest way to lose that popular support and the struggle is to commit atrocities. In addition, the leftist guerrillas build popular support among the peasants by land reform and establishing schools and health clinics. Right-wing paramilitaries have no such means of influencing peasants. After all, are they going to say they are bringing in a large foreign corporation to privatize the water and charge the peasants a fortune for it? Their methods of influence necessarily involve the most shocking forms of terror imaginable and burning the schools and health clinics established by the guerrillas. Leftist guerrillas are more selective in their violence, killing tax collectors or brutal landlords who are hated by the people. When an independent UN commission investigated the crimes committed during the several decades of guerrilla war in Guatemala, they found that over 90% of the atrocities had been done by government soldiers or right-wing death squads.
This finding is entirely consistent with the doctrine of low intensity warfare. An example of the application of low intensity warfare was the Phoenix Program instituted by the CIA in Vietnam. After massive force had failed, they decided to eliminate popular support for the Viet Cong by shocking intimidation. Death squads were sent to assassinate suspected Viet Cong leaders, prisoners were pushed out of helicopters, mutilation of corpses occurred and painful and terrifying methods of torture were invented. Although not winning the war, this tactic proved successful enough that it was transferred to Latin America.
During the dirty war against leftists in Argentina, thousands of people simply disappeared. Leftists were horribly tortured, drugged and pushed out of airplanes over the Atlantic ocean. Pregnant women leftists were allowed to give birth, then killed and the babies given to police and military families. The mothers of the disappeared demonstrated constantly at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires.
In Guatemala a favorite tactic was to sever the heads of guerrillas and union leaders and place them on pikes to horrify and intimidate passersby. Sister Diana Ortiz was tortured in Guatemala by being lowered into a pit of dead and dying people covered with rats and forcibly being made to wound another person. She has testified that an American was present at her torture. Another appalling method was to torture children in front of parents and loved ones. In her book Bridge of Courage, Jennifer Harbury relates the story of a mother and child who were tortured to death and the baby was found with his fingernails ripped out.
Not long ago in Colombia a death squad massacred a whole village by a supremely intimidating method-the use of chain saws to slowly dismember people. The use of poisonous defoliants, ostensibly against the coca crop in Colombia, is really an example of low intensity warfare. People are being sickened, their food crops destroyed, and their land rendered infertile. This is a method of reducing popular support for the guerrillas.
In his book The Sword and the Dollar, Michael Parenti has a whole section on these despicable methods of torture used in Latin America. Although very disturbing, it is important to know the depths of depravity the rich and powerful are willing to sink to in order to preserve their access to wealth.
The School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia has trained a great number of these practitioners of low intensity warfare. The list of death squad leaders and brutal generals who are graduates of this school goes on and on. The tactic of low intensity warfare is very logical and often successful for imperialists. It has created in Guatemala and other countries what Noam Chomsky calls a culture of despair. The people have been subjected to so many years of constant horror that most have given up hope. This situation is ideal for multinational corporations to move in and build sweatshops. No need to worry about union organizers. The IMF can privatize and deregulate public services without opposition and big agribusiness can take land from the peasants. Health and education budgets can be cut and the money saved used to repay debts to foreign banks. It is very, very evil, but logical if one is a large capitalist intent on maximizing profit margins.