Yo Soy Centroamericano

Why vote Kerry? Exhibit No. 1: George W. Bush has shamelessly hired the dangerous figures behind the Iran-Contra Affair into senior diplomatic posts.

And when it comes to the issue of the role of 527 groups and the soft money they funnel, there are plenty of opinionated punches one could throw -- or pull.

But like the aforementioned Election Protection volunteers, I have my own reasons for believing -- passionately -- that it is important that John Kerry win the presidency. I would urge San Franciscans to do everything they can to work toward that end, even if I didn't know Becky Bond, former online editor of SF Weekly.

Judging from the hoopla surrounding the Swift Boat Veterans nonsense and George Bush's questionable service in the National Guard, it would be easy to imagine that the Vietnam War still forms the axis around which of-age Americans' political sensibilities turn. But for people like me who came to political maturity during the 1980s -- along with the tens of millions of Chicagoans; New Yorkers; Houstonians; Los Angelenos; San Franciscans; residents of the Sacramento, San Joaquin, Yakima, Rio Grande, and other agricultural valleys who emigrated from Mexico and Central America during the past decade -- a different dirty war looms over our understanding of America and the world. For us, the significant divide in American politics exists between what was dishonest, wasteful, immoral, and futile about the Central American wars, and the moments of hope, honesty, and progress that certain opponents of those wars managed to create out of a tragic time.

There could be no clearer symbol of this cleavage than the difference between the presidential administration of George W. Bush and the Senate career of John Kerry.

Though U.S. officials had trained and funded allies who tortured and killed thousands of civilians, including priests and nuns, who razed villages, who terrorized the citizenry and who then lied to the public about the details of the wars, during the mid-1980s, these actions managed to pass muster with portions of the American public as heroic. In the manner of prosecutors who jailed Al Capone on tax charges, however, John Kerry helped undermine the Reagan administration's Central American wars by unearthing a seemingly arcane violation of an obscure law called the Boland Amendment, which prohibited the U.S. government from financing the Nicaraguan rebels, known as the Contras.

In fact, Kerry and his staff launched a process that turned some of these bogus "heroes" into convicted felons.

In his first year in Congress, Kerry got wind that a mysterious Marine officer detailed to the National Security Council was illegally arranging money transfers for former members of the National Guard of ex-dictator Anastasio Somoza who were trying to overthrow the left-wing Nicaraguan government. Kerry used his personal staff to conduct an ad hoc investigation into what eventually became the Iran-Contra scandal. At the time, some thought the scandal, and questions raised by special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh about what then-Vice President George H.W. Bush knew about the affair, ruined the first Bush administration's chance at a second term.

Kerry didn't stop there. He was seen as too zealous to join the Senate Select Committee investigation that created a chain of events leading to the report by Walsh. Kerry had been ridiculed as an abettor of communists by then-Secretary of State George Schultz, the S.F. Republican wise man who is said to have been among those recommending George W. Bush as the party's 2000 candidate for president.

But Kerry was given a consolation prize that he made the most of: a panel investigating the link between CIA operations and drug trafficking. Kerry zeroed in on CIA activities connected with drug-money laundering, and that investigation eventually led to a probe into the shady Bank of Credit and Commerce International. Kerry's final report provided some of the earliest evidence on networks that linked U.S. politicos, oil, global money laundering, illicit arms deals, and terrorism.

Despite the sordid history of America's CIA wars south of Mexico, shortly after assuming the presidency George W. Bush went about hiring figures behind the United States' 1980s Central American wars to senior diplomatic posts.

John Negroponte, ambassador to Honduras while the ex-Somoza guard members were illegally being given aid through that country, was made ambassador to the United Nations.

In 1986, Kerry questioned Elliot Abrams, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, about illegal funding for the Contras; Abrams' answers denying such funding led to felony convictions on charges of misleading Congress. The first President Bush later pardoned Abrams.

George W. Bush made Abrams special assistant to the president and senior director for Near East and North African affairs on the National Security Council. Abrams prepares policy papers and advice for NSC Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

John Poindexter, also convicted of lying to Congress about the Contras, was made head of a Pentagon project -- Total Information Awareness -- designed to collect data on Americans to better identify terrorists.

During the 1980s, Otto J. Reich ran an illegal propaganda campaign on behalf of the Contras from his post as Ronald Reagan's director of public diplomacy at the State Department, misleading U.S. newspaper editors into believing U.S. government-produced editorials were written by Contras themselves.

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