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David Corn: Reagan Supported Dictators ... As Long as They Said They Opposed Communists

David Corn, in tompaine.com (June 9, 2004):

Aren't we mature enough as a democracy to memorialize our leaders with clear eyes? While the nation mourns one of its most popular presidents, it must be truthful in assessing his leadership. The very resolve being celebrated on op-ed pages across the country also led Reagan to ignore and sometimes sanction the brutality being committed in the name of fighting the "evil empire."

I have a vision. On the day that the remains of Ronald Reagan are transported from the US Capitol to the National Cathedral for the funeral services, the hearse will pass 800 black crosses.

Each cross will represent one of the men, women and children who were killed by the Salvadoran military in the village of El Mozote in December 1981. Each would be a reminder that the dead man now celebrated in the media as a lover of freedom and democracy oversaw a foreign policy that empowered and enabled murderous brutes and thugs in the name of anti-Sovietism. Many innocents in other lands paid dearly for Reagan's crusade.

Throughout his presidency, Reagan made nice with dictators - no matter how nefarious - as long as they parroted his opposition to communism. As soon as he entered the White House, his administration tried to normalize relations with Augosto Pinochet, the dictator of Chile, who was responsible for a bloody coup that overthrew a democratically elected (but socialist) government. The Reaganites also cozied up to the fascistic and anti-Semitic junta of Argentina, which tortured, slaughtered and disappeared its political opponents. And don't forget Reagan's attempt to woo Saddam Hussein, even after it was known that Hussein had used chemical weapons. (Reagan assigned this task to Donald Rumsfeld.)

Reagan may have pushed for democracy and human rights in the Soviet bloc, but he cared little for these values elsewhere. He dramatically urged the destruction of the Berlin Wall and supported the Solidarity movement in Poland. But he sent money and assistance to regimes that repressed and murdered their people. While visiting Ferdinand Marcos, the Filipino dictator, Reagan's vice president, George H.W. Bush, toasted Marcos' "adherence to democratic principles." People lost their freedom or died because Reagan and his lieutenants could not see beyond their ideological blinders and cut deals with miscreants who shared their anti-Moscow mantra. Not only did Reagan embolden torturers and murders, the CIA, following his order to support the contra rebels in Nicaragua (who were trying to oust the socialist Sandinistas), worked with suspected drug traffickers. Who said so? Not conspiracy-theory nuts, but the inspector general of the CIA. Years after the contra war, the agency's IG produced two reports that conceded the CIA had enlisted the assistance of alleged drug-runners. At the same time Nancy Reagan was preaching "Just Say No" to drugs. ...