Accountability... And Where Did We learn Native American Lives Are Worth Less?
Recently I finished a book, The Last Circle, that ties together arms dealers, an organized drug operation run by rogue elements of the U.S. government, covert operations, technology theft, murder, the Reagan Administration, MCA, native American exploitation, biological weapons and so much other dark stuff that it's hard to even say what the book was about. Towards the end, there's a detailed tangent about the case of an evangelical minister in Honduras who is a self-admitted former Mafia hit man, Jimmy Hughes.
Rachel Begley was 13 years old when her father, Ralph Boger, and his friends were murdered. She never gave up hope that the killers would be prosecuted, and consistently prodded local jurisdictions over a span of years to get the case re-opened. Her efforts were rewarded when Detective John Powers at the Riverside Sheriff’s department was assigned to the cold-case file in 2007.
Their respective findings resemble the stuff of spy novels, comprised of all the malevolent dynamics of clandestine government agents and organized crime figures involved in murder, money laundering and covert arms deals while exploiting Indian sovereignty (independent of most U.S. laws) at the Cabazon reservation.
...The public background to the story began with the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, located 25 miles east of Palm Springs, California. According to public historical data, on May 15, 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant issued an executive order which officially created the Cabazon Reservation, consisting of 2,400 acres over three parcels of desert (later reduced to 1,700 acres).
After more than a century in the desert, the tribal nation began blazing the path for Native American gaming in California... According to a San Francisco Chronicle article entitled, “Tiny California Tribe’s Huge Clout,” dated September 4, 1991, in 1980 a rundown warehouse was transformed into the “Cabazon Indian Casino,” the first Indian card room in the nation. Tommy Marson, described in congressional hearings as a known associate of the Gambino crime family, “lent the Cabazon tribal administrator, John Philip Nichols, $50,000 to start the casino, according to Nichols’ son, John Paul. The manager of the casino was Rocco Zangari, a former bookie later indicted on racketeering charges.”
...Fred Alvarez, vice-chairman of the Cabazon Indian Tribal Council, wrote a letter to Ronald Reagan [in 1980] outlining criminal enterprises that he had uncovered at the reservation. This was one month prior to the Presidential election. It is unknown why Fred wrote to Reagan during a time when Reagan held no political position. All copies of the letter disappeared after Fred’s murder, but a response, signed personally by Ronald Reagan, dated October 6, 1980 was subsequently found in which Reagan said he found Alvarez’s comments to be “very interesting.”
Authorities explain that the cash nature of Indian gaming made it an ideal business to launder money. That same lack of accountability made it easy for an outside management company to skim the vast majority of an operation’s income. “Someone will come in and manage the operation, when in fact the purpose is to skim the profits,” said one FBI supervisor.
Reagan was elected president of the United States in November 1980, and took office in January 1981, almost six months before the Alvarez, Boger, Castro triple homicide occurred. With all resistance eliminated at the Cabazon reservation, it marked the beginning of government exploitation of the tiny band of Indians when “outside management” in the form of Cabazon tribal administrator John Philip Nichols formed a joint venture with Wackenhut International, a Florida-based security firm run by former FBI, CIA, NSA and military officials.
...In 1991 a series of events, including the death of Washington D.C. investigative journalist Danny Casolaro on August 10, brought the Cabazon-related triple homicide back into national scrutiny. Casolaro had been preparing to visit Indio to investigate the Cabazon/Wackenhut connections to a cabal of spooks, arms dealers, drugs and organized crime figures which he dubbed “The Octopus.”
In July 1991, one month prior to Danny Casolaro’s death, Anson Ng, a reporter for the Financial Times of London, was shot and killed in Guatemala, according to a 1991 TC Technical Consultant story. “He [Ng] had reportedly been trying to interview an American there named Jimmy Hughes, a one-time director of security for the Cabazon Indian Reservation secret projects.”
A San Francisco Chronicle article entitled, “Tiny California Tribe’s Huge Clout,” dated September 4, 1991, best summarized the failure of the justice system at every level to unlock the mystery of Cabazon’s forbidden secrets. Reporter Jonathan Littman mused:
“In all, federal and state agencies [have helped] to finance nearly $250 million worth of projects on the 1,700-acre reservation. That is particularly impressive in light of the tribe’s size-– the entire Cabazon population numbers no more than 30.
To observers in and out of government, these undertakings pose an obvious question: How did a tiny band of Indians, one of the smallest in the nation, give rise to a multimillion-dollar network whose influence reaches into all quarters of the U.S. government?
The answer lies in a maze of politicians, military officers, organized-crime figures, intelligence agents, foreign officials ranging from Saudi sheiks to Nicaraguan Contras-- and John Philip Nichols, a globe-trotting evangelical social worker with an uncanny ability to win federal grants, who once served 18 months in state prison for solicitation to commit murder.
...[In 2009] Rachel Begley called the California Attorney General’s office to learn the status of the arrest warrants. She had learned that FGBMFI [Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International] of which Jimmy Hughes was a high-standing member, would be holding a convention in Florida during the upcoming 4th of July weekend. She believed Hughes would be attending this convention and she wanted the arrest warrant implemented before Hughes departed Florida and returned to Honduras.
With no positive response from the DOJ, Rachel launched a desperate campaign with media, Internet websites, and political figures, including California Attorney General Jerry Brown, to motivate the DOJ to move forward with the warrant immediately. Rachel’s campaign, along with some prodding from John Powers, got the ball rolling on the warrant. However, it turned out that Jimmy Hughes never attended the FGBMFI conference in Florida after all. Possibly because his friends in the military and FGBMFI co-member, Gen. Daniel López Carballo, were busy designing a coup that very same weekend in Honduras. Jimmy Hughes Ministries (FGBMFI) is located in the village of Zambrano, north of Tegucigalpa, where Hughes ministered to the military and trained military personnel as well.
On June 28, 2009, the president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was rousted from his home in Tegucigalpa and exiled at gunpoint to Costa Rica. The Wall Street Journal reported on June 29 in an article titled, “Coup Rocks Honduras” by Paul Kiernan, Jose De Cordoba and Jay Solomon, that Honduras’s Supreme Court gave the order for the military to detain the president. Later, Honduras’s Congress formally removed Mr. Zelaya from the presidency and named congressional leader Roberto Micheletti as his successor until the end of Mr. Zelaya’s term in January.
Mr. Zelaya called the action a kidnapping, and said he was still president. The U.S. and other countries condemned the coup. President Barack Obama said he was “deeply concerned” and called on all political actors in Honduras to “respect democratic norms.” Venezuela President Hugo Chávez, a close ally of Mr. Zelaya and nemesis of the U.S., said he would consider it an "act of war” if there were hostilities against his diplomats. “I have put the armed forces of Venezuela on alert,” Mr. Chávez said.
“Retired Honduran Gen. Daniel López Carballo justified the move against the president, telling CNN that if the military hadn’t acted, Mr. Chávez would eventually be running Honduras by proxy...” President Chávez had close ties to Iran and reportedly offered to commit his Venezuelan troops to Iran if war broke out between Iran and the United States.
...Finally, on September 26, 2009 self-described Mafia hit-man James “Jimmy” Hughes, 52, was arrested as he boarded a plane destined for Honduras at Miami-Dade International Airport. The fugitive warrant from the California DOJ listed three counts of murder and conspiracy to commit a crime for the 1981 execution-style murder of Cabazon Tribal Council Vice-Chairman Fred Alvarez, his friend Ralph Boger, and Patricia Castro in Rancho Mirage, California.
Last year Andrew Rice covered part of this story for Wired Magazine, particularly the Begley-Hughes part.
Hughes, a stocky 51-year-old with a graying buzz cut and raspy voice, bounded around, bellowing tales of his past brutality. Begley, nervous and bleary-eyed from a sleepless cross-country flight, exchanged incredulous text messages with an accomplice who had come along as backup: Mikel Alvarez, Fred’s son. When Hughes finished his performance, Begley and Alvarez came forward with a rush of adrenaline, introducing themselves to the sweat-soaked evangelist as the children of the murder victims.
“Can’t say nothing about that,” Hughes stammered. “It’s a long time ago-- it’s in the past.”
“Not for us,” Begley said, insistently. “We’re trying to get resolution.”
“I don’t care who got killed,” Hughes shouted, attracting the bewildered attention of others at the banquet. “I was trained in the military. I killed people all over the world, right or wrong, because the government ordered me to.”
Hughes stalked off, fuming, and Begley began to cry. That seemed to bother the minister, because he came back, speaking in a tone that was softer but full of veiled menace. Apparently, he had seen her web videos. “Are you aware that that goes all over the world? Are you a crazy lady?” Hughes said. “Think about your children. They need a mother.” He told Begley and Alvarez that the murder was a “mafia hit,” and though he didn’t explicitly admit to carrying it out, he intimated that he knew much more.
“Your parents were involved in some very dangerous things,” Hughes said. “It’s a lot bigger than just the murder of this guy or the murder of that guy. You’re talking political people. You’ve got babies to take care of, mama. Go home tonight and be at peace.”
...On the afternoon of July 1, the 29th anniversary of the murders, a grim-faced Begley walked into a courtroom in Indio, California, for an important hearing. The chamber was packed with an expectant crowd of reporters, members of Hughes’ family, and a few supporters from the Octopus community, including Cheri Seymour. Hughes was ushered in, wearing chains and an orange jumpsuit.
Then Michael Murphy, a dapper prosecutor from the attorney general’s office, rose and delivered a shocking blow. “We have lost confidence in our ability to proceed with the prosecution,” he said. Begley closed her eyes tightly as the prosecutor gave a vague reason for his sudden about-face, something about “new information” and a reassessment of the evidence. Begley was allowed to address the court. “How many people must die or suffer at the hands of Jimmy Hughes,” she asked, “before he is brought to justice?” But the judge dismissed the charges anyway. It was enough to make you wonder, if you were of a certain mindset, whether the fix was in.
Up top is a recording I listened to Saturday afternoon that was put together by Ira Glass' This American Life radio show. What struck me about it-- aside from the cold blooded and horrific murders of all the women and children (not unlike this week's mass murder of women and children by the ruling elites of Syria)-- was the impetus to "let bygones be bygones" and just move on. Oligarchs and ruling elites across the world have seen to it that social orders are organized by, of and for the one percent. Under those circumstances accountability is almost nonexistent. The U.S. has no moral standing to complain about Syria until Bush and his cronies are hanging or rotting in prison cells. Our entire society is rotting from inside because there is no accountability at the top.
Reagan ally and mass murderer, former Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt, now 85, has finally been arrested. Since he was responsible for the brutal deaths of between a hundred and two hundred thousand innocent Mayan Indians, it's nice he's been indicted and is languishing in his mansion under house arrest. But the drumbeat to let bygones be bygones is already sounding and the current fascist in control of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, is carefully weighing his options.
For those not familiar with Ríos Montt, here's the briefest of summaries: In 1951 he attended the U.S. terrorism school in Georgia, School of the Americas, which indoctrinates budding young Latin American fascists and trains them to
As he said, Jimmy Hughes, ultimately, was working for Ed Meese and Ronald Reagan. This week Dana Frank has a story in The Nation about Hughes' adopted country-- and Guatemala's next door neighbor, Honduras-- and the role the U.S. is playing there-- still playing here. Now the U.S. is helping the current fascist regime target civilians in the name of the War on Drugs.
The United States has, in fact, been quietly escalating its military presence in Honduras, pouring police and military funding into the regime of President Porfirio Lobo in the name of fighting drugs. The DEA is using counterinsurgency methods developed in Iraq against drug traffickers in Honduras, deploying squads of commandos with US military Special Forces backgrounds to work closely with the Honduran police and military. The US ambassador to Honduras, Lisa Kubiske, recently said, “We have an opportunity now, because the military is no longer at war in Iraq. Using the military funding that won’t be spent, we should be able to have resources to be able to work here.”
Missing from the official story-- never mentioned by US officials, and left out of mainstream news coverage-- is that the US government’s ally in this campaign, the Lobo regime, is the illegitimate progeny of the military coup that deposed democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at first criticized the coup government, led initially by Roberto Micheletti, but then legitimated it. After almost all the opposition candidates (as well as international observers) boycotted the post-coup election that brought Lobo to power, heads of state throughout the region refused to recognize his presidency; but the United States hailed him for “restoring democracy” and promoting “national reconciliation.” The State Department and Clinton continue to repeat both fictions, as did President Obama when he welcomed Lobo to the White House in October.
Meanwhile, US officials blame drug trafficking for almost all the country’s problems. “It may be gratifying to attribute Honduras’s problems to generals with sunglasses or to rigged elections,” former US ambassador to Honduras James Creagan insisted in a February 5 letter to the New York Times. “But it is not true. This is not the 1970s with Central American coups, contras and revolutionaries.” Rather, he asserted, the violence in Honduras “is caused by drugs, gangs and corruption…all driven by the market for coca leaf products.”
Only in the post-coup context, however, can we understand the very real crisis of drug trafficking in Honduras. A vicious drug culture already existed before the coup, along with gangs and corrupt officials. But the thoroughgoing criminality of the coup regime opened the door for it to flourish on an unprecedented scale. Drug trafficking is now embedded in the state itself—from the cop in the neighborhood all the way up to the very top of the government, according to high-level sources. Prominent critics and even government officials, including Marlon Pascua, the defense minister, talk of “narco-judges” who block prosecutions and “narco-congressmen” who run cartels. Alfredo Landaverde, a former congressman and police commissioner in charge of drug investigations, declared that one out of every ten members of Congress is a drug trafficker and that he had evidence proving “major national and political figures” were involved in drug trafficking. He was assassinated on December 7.
Far more than criminal gangs in the streets and drug traffickers acting independently, it is the Honduran state itself that has made Honduras, according to the Associated Press, “among the most dangerous places on earth.”
The administration argues that it is helping Honduras clean up its police by providing additional funding for “training.” But as former President Zelaya underscored in a conversation with me on May Day, “The police are the drug traffickers. If you fund the police, you’re funding the drug traffickers.”
When Lobo took office in January 2010, he reappointed to top positions the same military figures (sunglasses and all) who had managed the coup, including its leader, Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, as head of Hondutel, the state-owned telephone company. Last summer, Manuel Enrique Cáceres, a high-ranking minister in the cabinet of Micheletti’s post-coup government, was made director of the aviation authority.
The coup, in turn, unleashed a wave of violence by state security forces that continues unabated. On October 22, an enormous scandal broke when the Tegucigalpa police killed the son of Julieta Castellanos, rector of the country’s largest university and a member of the government’s Truth Commission, along with a friend of his. Top law enforcement officials admitted that the police were responsible for the killings but allowed the suspects to disappear, precipitating an enormous crisis of legitimacy, as prominent figures such as Landaverde stepped forward throughout the autumn to denounce the massive police corruption. The police department, they charged, is riddled with death squads and drug traffickers up to the very highest levels.
...Campesino activists have paid the highest price. In the lower Aguán Valley, at least 46 campesinos struggling over land rights have been killed since the coup, most of them allegedly by a combination of police, military and the private army of Miguel Facussé, the richest, most powerful man in the country and a key backer of the coup. The perpetrators enjoy near-complete impunity. On June 24, 2011, for example, seventy-five policemen destroyed the entire campesino community of Rigores, burning down more than 100 houses and bulldozing three churches and a seven-room schoolhouse; not one has been charged. At least ten security guards and others have died in the conflict as well. In an e-mailed response to questions for this article, Facussé admitted that in one incident four campesinos were killed in what he described as a “gun battle” with his security guards.
Overall, a Honduran man, woman or child is killed every seventy-four minutes. According to the UN, in 2011, the country had the highest murder rate in the world. Some of these killings are the kind that happen in a bar fight or domestic disagreement, when someone pulls out a gun or machete because they know nothing will happen to them in the dysfunctional Honduran judicial system. In February, the UN found “pervasive impunity” in Honduras. According to Human Rights Watch, women and LGBTI people have been particularly targeted for murder, including by police. In this free-for-all, gangs control whole neighborhoods in the capital, where they charge taxes on businesses and vehicles.
What difference does a coup make? Add up the rampant corruption of the Honduran state, the crime it unleashed and perpetrates, and its ruthless repression of the opposition, and it’s impossible to blame the crisis merely on drug trafficking and gangs; nor can organized crime and drug trafficking be separated from the criminal regime of Porfirio Lobo and the Honduran oligarchs.
The propriety of a US alliance with such a brutal and undemocratic government is finally being challenged in Washington. On November 28, Howard Berman, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, sent a letter to Secretary Clinton asking whether the United States was in fact arming a dangerous regime. Ninety-four members of the House, including many in the Democratic leadership, signed a March 9 letter sponsored by Representative Jan Schakowsky calling for the suspension of police and military aid, especially in light of the situation in the Aguán Valley. On March 5, seven senators signed a letter sponsored by Barbara Mikulski expressing concern over “the increasing number of human rights violations” in Honduras.
...The United States has long regarded Honduras, its most captive client state in Latin America, as strategically important. As in the 1980s, when Honduras served as the US base for the contra war against Nicaragua, the country is the regional hub for US military operations in Central America. It received more than $50 million in Pentagon contracts last year, including $24 million to make the barracks at the Soto Cano Air Base permanent for the first time since 1954. Soto Cano has great strategic significance as the only US air base between the United States and South America. Sixty-two percent of all Defense Department funds for Central America in 2011 went to Honduras.
Moreover, US corporate interests in Honduras are enormous, including mining and hydroelectric investments, Dole’s and Chiquita’s expansive banana operations (employing 11,000 people), and apparel, auto parts and other manufacturers that employ more than 110,000, including 3,000 at a Lear Corporation factory in San Pedro Sula that makes electrical distribution systems.
The military coup made possible what Hondurans call the “second coup”: the deeper economic agenda of transnational investors and Honduran elites, now given almost free rein to use the state as they choose. At the top of their list is privatization of basic state functions. Laws are moving through Congress privatizing the country’s electrical systems, water systems and ports. In an overt attack on Honduras’s powerful and militant teachers unions, Congress in March 2011 passed a law opening the door to privatization of the entire country’s schools.
Labor rights are under intense assault as part of this economic agenda. In November 2010 a law went into effect encouraging employers to convert permanent, full-time jobs into part-time and temporary employment—under which workers will no longer be eligible for healthcare and will lose the right to organize a union. A complaint to the US Labor Department filed by the AFL-CIO under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) this past March documents a sea of systematic violations of the most basic labor rights since the coup, including the firing of hundreds of workers for attempting to organize unions, failure of employers to pay the minimum wage and failure to pay workers altogether. Honduran workers “have seen little meaningful enforcement of their labor rights, as national labor laws are ineffective and violated with impunity,” the filing concludes.
Perhaps most extreme is a new “Model Cities” law, passed in July, which allows for autonomous economic zones in which the Honduran Constitution, legal code and most basic democratic governance structures won’t apply, and where transnational investors will be free to invent their own entire society.
Within the State Department, the policy train is being driven by Bush-era experts on Latin America, still in power, working hand in glove with the Cuban-American right, whose leaders have celebrated the Honduran coup as a successful pushback against the democratically elected left and center-left governments that have come to power all over Latin America in the past fifteen years. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, echoing their arguments, attacked Obama in December for allegedly supporting Zelaya during the coup: “When Honduras wanted to toss out their pro-Marxist president, our president stood with him.”
The ultimate responsibility, though, lies with President Obama and Secretary Clinton, who are using Honduras to reassert US power in the hemisphere.
Accountability? Sure, Obama should be replaced... with Mitt Romney? How about John Galt? Is he available? Dagny Taggart? Just wait a little. They've already picked out Paul Ryan for the job. But that's another day. If you made it through this whole Memorial Day post, you've earned this: