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The Maintenance and Expansion of Empire in Latin America

By Ward Churchill

From: “Genocide in the Americas”, Since Predator Came, 1995

“This man born in degradation, this stranger brought by slavery into our midst, is hardly recognized as sharing the common features of humanity. His face appears to us hideous, his intelligence limited, and his tastes low; we almost take him to be some intermediary between man and beast.” - Alexis de Tocqueville

As the native populations under Iberian sway eroded like snow beneath an August sun, the intensity of killing necessarily abated. By and large, colonial regimes throughout South and Central America, as well as Mexico and the southwestern portion of the present-day United States, settled in to consolidating the New Order within their domains in accordance with rigid and often elaborate racial codes.

Every mixture possible, starting from the three pure original racial types [ostensibly Caucasian, Black African, and Indian], received its individual name. The terms mestizo, mulato, and zambo were of long standing, and need no further clarification. Terceron, cuarteron (quadroon), and quinteron (quintroon) are self-explanatory. Peru­vian Spanish still retains the terms cholo and chino. But who nowadays re significance of such names as castizo, morisco, lobo, jibaro, albarazado, cambujo, barcino, puchel, coy­ote, chamiso, gdlfarro, genizaro, grifo, jarocho, and sambiago, or the more picturesque salta atrds, tente en aire, no te entiendo, ahi estes, and so forth?59

The point is amplified by a portion of one such code, effective in eighteenth-century New Spain, which is illustrative of all such lists compiled in Iberian-occupied America:

1.Spaniard and Indian beget mestizo

2.Mestizo and Spanish woman beget castizo

3.Castizo woman and Spaniard beget Spaniard

4.Spanish woman and Negro beget mulatto.

5.Spaniard and mulatto woman beget morisco

6.Morisco woman and Spaniard beget albino

7.Spaniard and albino woman beget torna atras

8.Indian and torna atras woman beget lobo

9.Lobo and Indian woman beget zambiago

10.Zambiago and Indian woman beget cambujo

11.Cambujo and mulatto woman beget albarazado

12.Albarazdo and mulatto woman beget barcino

13.Barcino and mulatto beget coyote

14.Coyote woman and Indian beget chamiso

15.Chamiso woman and mestizo beget coyote mestizo

16.Coyote mestiso and mulatto woman beget ahf te estas 60

Indians were placed on the very bottom rung of these hierarchies, and were in many cases defined virtually out of existence.61 Hence, the race codes were coupled directly to an ongoing process of dispossessing native people of their residual land base, a matter more often accomplished throughout the eighteenth century by legalistic sleight of hand than by armed assault and physical eradication. 62 The two were never mutually exclusive propositions, however.

A prime example is that of the reduccione program inaugurated by the Chilean government in 1866, designed to constrict the Mapuche people of that country’s southern region to certain specified tracts while opening up the remainder of their holdings to acquisition by members of the ruling Latino oligarchy. This led to the hard-fought Mapuche Revolt of 1880-1882, quelled by Chilean troops with such extreme violence that rebellion has never again been attempted.

After the final defeat of the Mapuches, the reducciones indigena ... were further reduced in size, the expropriated land being used to expand the haciendas. The Mapuches ... retained less than 500,000 hectares of the 10 million hectares they had held before.... Unable to support themselves on their now diminished lands, the Mapuches became a migrant labor force on the haciendas; the reservations became a reservoir of land and labor for the great landowners.64

There were, of course, occasional requirements to put down other native insurrections—for instance, the Mayas in Guatemala during the 1630s and 1640s, the 1680 Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico, the insurgency led by the Manau leader in Ajuricaba in Brazil during the mid-1700s, another headed by Tupac Amaru II in Peru in 1780, and several others—but these were mostly transient phenomena, quickly and bloodily suppressed. Mexico also continued right into the twentieth century with its harsh campaigns to subdue the Yaquis and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the Apaches, but these concerned areas considered to be of such marginal value by ruling elites that, while ferocious in their own right they were not pursued with the vigor marking the Conquest proper.66

Sometimes, however, it was deemed important to expand the reach of empire into localities which had been previously ignored altogether. Then, the genocidal fury that had marked the performances of conquistadors like Cortes and Alvardo was again unleashed in full force, albeit on a smaller scale. Such was the case in Argentina when, in 1879, General Julio Roca set out to seize the sprawling pampas south of Buenos Aires, and eventually all of Patagonia below the Rio Negro.67 The idea was to incorporate territory, much of it ideal for ranching, into the country's dominant estanchieros system, controlled by a handful of caudillos to whom Roca owed his position. The only obstacle was the existence of the Araucano Indians, perhaps one-half million of them, who occupied the coveted terrain.68

Roca's campaign, he said, was a civilizing mission, intended to bring scientists and engineers to the frontier. Indeed, Roca's army of 6,000 troops was to have the most modern technology available, including four pieces of heavy artillery. In addition, Roca ordered the construction of the first telegraph lines into the countryside, so that his orders could be carried immediately to the front.... [Then he directed] lightening raids against unsuspecting villages, killing or imprisoning the inhabitants, seeking to sow terror through the tribes of the pampas. The battles were bloody. Often the Indians realized that their lances were no match for the soldiers' rifles and "they threw their lances to the ground and began to fight with us hand-to-hand, to grab the rifles out of our grasp." Many of the hand-to-hand battles ended with soldiers on horseback trampling fleeing Indians.... Roca systematically exterminated the Indians. Vast estancias were established on what novelist V. S. Naipal has called the "stolen, bloody land." Many of the estancias were allotted to the victorious generals. Roca himself was rewarded with the presidency.69

In the aftermath, surviving Araucanos were interned in concentration camps where many thousands more died of a measles epidemic. What remained was then placed on tiny colonias where starvation and disease continued to take a huge toll. In less than a generation these tiny reserves of Indian land were also dissolved, the pitifully small numbers by the Araucanos—fewer than 25,000 by some estimates—dispersed as subsistence labor in urban sweatshops or on the estancias? As Naipal has observed, although Argentines tend to be pompous in their pride over an imagined martial prowess, theirs is really only "a simple history of Indian genocide and European takeover."71 Thus, the Iberian tradition of inflicting the utmost lethal savagery upon the indigenous peoples of America has been maintained up until the present era.

Contemporary Latino Savagery

I didn't know. But is it only an excuse? I can't think of any other. I didn't know that this evil was going on—was still going on. I didn't know that thirty years after the collapse of the Nazi regime, men and women were still living under its inhuman spell in a so-called free country.... I am compelled to make this comparison, even though reluctantly. It is because, until now, I always forbade myself to compare the Holocaust of European Judaism to events which are foreign to it.... There are here indications, facts which cannot be denied: it is indeed a matter of a Final Solution. - ElieWiesel, 1976

These words were written by one of the best-known philosophers of the Nazi-induced holocaust during World War II, a long-time proponent of the "uniqueness of the Jewish experience" of genocide, after he finally consented to review documents concerning the ongoing extermination of the Ache Indians in Paraguay during the 1960s and 1970s. After reviewing irrefutable evidence (hat perhaps 85 percent of the estimated 25,000 Aches still alive in 1959 had been systematically hunted down and killed by teams of executioners operating under the sanction of Paraguayan President Alfredo Stroessner—often dis­patched with machetes to "save the expense of bullets"—Wiesel was moved to write that he "read and reread these documents, these testimonies, with a mixed feeling of horror, disgust, and shame."72

These men, hunted, humiliated, murdered for the sake of pleasure; these young girls, raped and sold; these children, killed in front of their parents reduced to silence by pain.... [The killers] aim at exterminating this tribe. Morally and physically. So that nothing will remain, not even a cry or a tear. Efficient technique, tested elsewhere. The individual is dragged away from his tribe, from his family, from his past. He is deprived of his strength, his dignity. And of his memory, too. He is diminished. He is forced to look at himself through the eyes of his enemy in order to become his own enemy, and thus wish his own death.... Deculturation, ghettos, collective murders, and agonies: that in a country so near ours humans can still be locked with impunity inside stifling camps, can still be tracked down like wild beasts before being reduced to slavery, that husbands can be separated from their wives, children from their mothers, individuals from their language, their religion, their rituals, their songs and litanies, their tales, and their speech, that such torments can be inflicted on a free [people] which thirsts for poetry, torments which, in the past, were inflicted upon another people, this ought to baffle anyone who still believes in Man, in his conscience, and his possibility of survival.73

Unfortunately, the commentator, for all his eloquence of outrage, understated the reality almost entirely. Not only did he overlook the entire genocidal sweep of history in Ibero-America—a process of which the Ache slaughter is only the tiniest of recent parts—he managed to miss many contemporaneous examples as well. In 1979, the Fourth International Russell Tribunal was convened in Rotterdam to consider State crimes committed against the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere. It concluded that in Columbia, for example, genocide was proceeding inexorably as the government, representing the perceived interests of 23 million Spanish-speaking citizens, sought to clear the country's remaining 179,000 Indians from what was left of their territory in the area of the Amazon headwaters.74

The Russell Tribunal found the Columbian government guilty of violating international and [its] own laws in the expropriation of Purace land, and they found the multinational mining company Ceanese and its subsidiary Industrias Purace guilty of violating trade union, pollution, and safety agreements which they had signed in their occupation and exploitation of Purace land. The Tribunal collected evidence of forty-five resistance leaders murdered since 1971 in the Purace area alone. These crimes, however, were only indicative of a much larger government program to "de-indianize" Colombia.75

The residue of Columbia's native population was being "virtually exterminated," as evidenced in the actions of both the public and private sectors of the dominant Latino society. The former is implicated by repeated reports of "Columbian navy riverboats [which] cruise the rivers, machine-gunning Indians on the bank."76 As concerns the private sector, one illustration is that of Anselmo Aguirre and Marcelino Jiminez, a pair of white ranchers, who, in concert with a local policeman named Luis Enrique Morin, invited a group of Cuibas Indians to a "Christmas Feast" in 1967. They then used guns, machetes, clubs, and hatchets to slaughter 16 of the 19 Indians present, including an infant and five small children. In this case, there was actually a trial, at which it was admitted that the mass murder had occurred because the perpetrators desired their victims' land. The judge then ordered charges dismissed against the accused because "they did not know it was wrong to kill Indians" in Colum­bia.77

The systematic extermination of indigenous populations in Colum­bia has [also] paralleled, predictably, the development plans of energy corporations and other corporate interests in the area. In 1960, a Texaco-Gulf oil consortium began exploration in southern Columbia; by 1968 they operated forty-seven productive wells and a 193-mile pipeline from the region to an oil terminal on the Pacific Coast. In 1970 the World Bank began a loan program to Columbia for development of the remote Amazon region. In March of 1979 the Columbian government under Julio Cesar Tabay signed a $500 million contract with the National Uranium Company of Spain for the exploration of uranium in the southeastern province of Vaupes where the Guahibo Indians had been continuously hunted and slaughtered. In the southern province of Cauca, home of the Purace Indians ... 51,000 acres of the Indians subsistence bean crop was reduced to 7,200 acres in the 1960s. During that same time, the multi-billion-dollar international farm feeding company, Ralston Purina, had gained control of some 200,000 acres in the province for the production of chicken feed.78

In Brazil's Amazon Basin—where a 1972 U.S. News and World Report outline of development opportunities listed "soil deficiencies, tropical diseases, insects, and hostile Indian tribes" as being the major barriers to "progress"—the Russell Tribunal found solid evidence of ongoing genocide.7 Spurred on by the profit incentives embodied in the region's deposits of uranium, bauxite, oil, gold, zinc, copper, nickel, titanium, coal, tin, and other minerals, as well as lush umber potentials, the government had entered into "development" relationships " with a host of transnational corporations, including Bethlehem Steel, Georgia Pacific, Royal Dutch Shell, Texaco, Gulf Oil, Cominco, Litton Industries, U.S. Steel, Komatsu, Caterpillar, Alcan, Rio Tinto Zinc, Westinghouse, Gulf & Western, and the W. R. Grace Company. The upshot was the beginning of a serious onslaught against the vast Amazon rainforest, vital to planetary ecology, and systematic eradication of the area's 100,000 remaining Indians.

The most isolated of the Amazon indigenous nations had been the Yanomami Indians until gold, diamonds, and uranium were discov­ered in their land in 1974. The Yanomami had already been pushed north by early [Portuguese] settlement and the rubber industry, and had established their home in the Branco River Valley, a remote Amazon tributary in the northernmost Brazilian province of Roriama. After the discovery of uranium in the area, the Brazilian government began cutting a road through 225 kilometers of Yanomami land. Fourteen of the southern villages were soon deci­mated by highway workers, vigilante raids, and disease. Population in the villages was reduced from 400 to 79 by 1975. In 1975 Fernando Ramos Periera, governor of Roraima Province, told the press that the area "is not able to afford the luxury of conserving a half-a-dozen Indian tribes who are holding back development." A 1972 report from the Reuter news service detailed the existence of hunting parties in the Amazon jungles which "murdered and raided the peaceful Indian tribes".... "On other occasions," reported Reuter, "planes bombarded the Indian villages with dynamite or dropped poisoned food into the villages."81

Even as the Yanomami, Jivaro, and other Amazonian peoples were being butchered or shunted into tiny reservations or "parks" as they are called in Brazil, Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet was completing the reduccione process imposed upon the Mapuches by his predecessors. On September 12, 1978, he announced "the promulgation in the near future of an act relating to indigenous property. This act ... will enable those descendants [of the Mapuche "race"] voluntarily and freely to opt for private land ownership in those cases where they prefer this formula to the present system of community ownership."82

In 1979 Pinochet's government introduced a law designed to divide the Mapuches' communally-held lands and turn them into small holdings. The law facilitated the breakup by providing that any one member of an Indian community could require that the land be divided.... The draft version of the 1979 law provided that once the land was divided among the Indians, the Indian landholders would no longer be considered to be Indians.... Today, only twenty Mapuche reservations remain intact. The new civilian government has agreed to enact a law to stop further division, but given the drastic loss of land already incurred, this is more symbolism than anything else.83

In 1977, Antonio Millape, a Mapuche, testified before the United Nations on the methods by which the regime's objectives were already being achieved: "Go to any Mapuche home today, and you will find the dog outside will not bark, because it is too weak. If you go inside you will find one or more children lying sick, dying of starvation. There may be more children outside, and they will tell you their parents are not at home. Do not believe them. If you go inside you will find them, too, dying of starvation and extreme malnutrition. This is the form of extermination today, under Pinochet."84 Millape also spoke of "torture, murder and the terror of... military death squads. Juan Condori Urichi, Minkafa Indian from Bolivia, spoke of similar atrocities against his people."85 Delegates representing various indigenous peoples of South America have been testifying to the same effect—and usually providing extensive documentation to substantiate their statements—before the UN's Working Group on Indige­nous Populations every year since.86

The stories of other Latin American Indian populations are similar, with local variations. Argentina, like Paraguay, has been ruled by the military, and has systematically exterminated most of the indigenous population; 200,000 survive in a population of 23 million. Uruguay has virtually eliminated all Indians within its borders.... In Peru, Quechua-Aymara Andean Indians make up about half of the 11 million population; their land has been continually eroded by forest, oil, and mining industries. Development pressures in Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, and Surinam have, likewise, driven the indigenous populations from their traditional lands. The same is true in Central America, from Panama to Mexico.87

Actually, in Central America, things may be even worse. It has been 'reliably estimated that, since the overthrow of democratic President Jacobo Arbenz in a CIA-backed coup in 1954, a succession of military governments headed by men like Fernando Lucas Garcia, Efrain Rios Mott, and Mejia Vlctores have slaughtered somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 highland Mayas in the country's northern provinces. Another quarter-million have been driven into exile in southern Mexico and Belize.88 Although the slaughter began it the wake of the coup—about 8,000 Indians being killed over a two-year period—and was sustained during much of the 1960s, the process began in earnest in 1976, when "the Guatemalan army occupied El Quiche province; a wave of terror followed. Indians were kidnapped, tortured, assassinated, raped and burned out of their homes and fields."89

In northern Guatemala, a development corridor, the Franja Trans­versal del Norte, was carved out of an isolated territory that is the homeland of the Kekchi and Ixil Indians. Many of the agribusinesses along the corridor are owned by senior members of the armed forces; these estates together are known as the "Zone of the Generals." In May 1978, the Indians who were displaced by the generals staged a march on the city of Panzos.... As they reached the town square government forces and local vigilantes, positioned on the roofs of buildings around the square fired into the throng. More than a hundred Indians were killed within minutes and more died trying to escape the massacre. Their bodies were buried in mass graves that had been prepared by bulldozers the day before.90

From there, the military essentially went berserk, butchering Indians with a bestial fury reminiscent of the worst the conquistadors—or the SS—had to offer: "The [soldiers] searched the houses and pulled people out and took us to a churchyard. The Lieutenant walked up and down, pointing at people, saying, These will go to hell, these will go to heaven'. The ones he said would go to hell he took ... to the cemetery with their hands tied behind their backs. They 32g a big ditch and lined them up at the edge. We all had to come and watch.... They shot each one with a bullet in the face from about a meter away."91

The people were surrounded and could not leave the church. Then the soldiers called out people's names, including children, and took them to the clinic nearby. All the names were of people who had learned to read and write.... The women were raped before the eyes of the men and the children in the clinic. The men and the boys had their testicles cut off. Everybody's tongues were cut out. Their eyes were gouged out with nails. Their arms were twisted off. Their legs were cut off. The little girls were raped and tortured. The women had their breasts cut off.92

In nearby El Salvador, dispossession of indigenous people by the ruling Latino elite—the so-called Fourteen Families (actually, about 200)—has followed a comparable trajectory.93 In 1961, the number of landless Indians in the country came to 12 percent of the native population. By 1971, the figure had risen to 30 percent; by 1975, 41 percent; in 1980 it was estimated that two-thirds of El Salvador's Indians had been rendered landless as the oligarchy consolidated its latifundia system.94 Those who were evicted were thrown into total destitution and increasingly constricted upon tiny infertile plots.

Predictably, these expropriations were accomplished through the wholesale application of violence from both the Salvadoran army and "private civic organizations" like ORDEN.95 The following account of a November 29, 1974, massacre in the hamlet of La Cayetana in San Vicente Province, carried out jointly by ORDEN and the army, is indicative:

I saw the plaza covered with people's hair. The National Guard had cut off their hair with machetes, taking part of the skin with it.... The National Guard arrived in Cayetana with 60 machine guns, tear gas, a cannon.... When the [Indians] came, they grabbed their machine guns and sprayed them with gunfire.... Those they killed, they cut their faces in pieces and chopped up the bodies with machetes. If you like, I will show you where they buried the brains.96

Specially trained and equipped "counterinsurgency units," such as the Atlacatl Battalion, were also raised during the late 1970s to work in conjunction with the Salvadoran air force in driving Indians from preferred areas. White phosphorous, napalm, and fragmentation ordnance were specifically aimed at native villages during air strikes, driving into the open those who were not killed outright.97 Concomitantly, the Atlacatl, ORDEN, and cooperation forces would comb targeted areas on foot, often killing whomever they encountered, driving the population before them.

In the Guazapa area ... regular air attacks against civilian targets continued [into the mid-80s]. The scattered remnants of the population hid from ground sweeps following the shelling and bombardment by helicopters and jet aircraft, watching their children die of starvation and thirst.... "If they find somebody, they kill, they even kill the poor dogs and other animals," [a] refugee testified, reporting night bombing and ambushing of people fleeing in October 1984. The soldiers also destroyed crops and houses, "even pans one uses to cook in... in order to leave one without anything." Fleeing women and children were killed by bullets and grenades, or sliced to pieces and decapitated with machetes.98

By 1980, at least 30,000 Indians had been exterminated, another 600,000—13 percent of El Salvador's total population—made refugees." Thousands of people, many of them defined as "opposition leaders," were being killed more "surgically" by ORDEN death squads, their bodies dumped at night at locations such as El Playon.100 Large-scale massacres were also occurring At places like Los Llanitos, the Rio Gualsinga, Las Vueltas, and El Mozote.101

The first major massacre was at the Rio Sampul on May 14 [1980], when thousands of peasants fled to Honduras to escape a military operation. As they were crossing the river, they were attacked by helicopters, members of ORDEN and troops. According to eyewit­ness testimony reported by Amnesty International and the Honduran clergy, women were tortured, nursing babies were thrown into the air for target practice, children were drowned by soldiers or decapitated or slashed to death with machetes, pieces of their bodies were thrown to dogs.... At least 600 unburied corpses were prey for dogs and buzzards while others were lost in the waters of the river, which was contaminated by their dead bodies.102

In all of Central America today, only Costa Rica is reputedly free of such treatment of indigenous people. Like Uruguay on the southern continent, however, Costa Rica also claims at this point to have no surviving native population to exterminate.103 This perhaps is the key to an understanding of the entire phenomenon of genocide in Ibero-America: left to run its course, the process of liquidating American Indians, begun the moment the first Spaniard set foot in this hemisphere, will end only when there are no more Indians left to kill. The question thus becomes how to prevent it from running its course.

Denying the Holocaust

The truth is a weapon more potent than any rifle or bomb. - John Trudell, National Chair, American Indian Movement, 1979

For constructive alteration of any process to occur, it is plainly essential that it be recognized for what it is. As concerns the continuing genocide of the indigenous people of South and Central America, denial rather than recognition has been the norm almost from the moment of inception. As early as the sixteenth century, the Spanish began an endless series of attempts to pass off accounts of their anti-Indian atrocities submitted by their own officials and historians as no more than a "Black Legend," a smear campaign mounted by their Protestant European enemies to discredit them. Despite its patent falsity— comparable to assertions by a certain school of "historical revisionism" that depicts the Nazi extermination of the Jews as merely "Zionist propaganda"—the Black Legend theme persists through the present day, especially among self-described "Hispanic" polemicists, and is afforded much currency in the mass media.104

Closely tied to such outright denial has been the efforts of "minimizers," usually "responsible scholars," who have sought to diminish the magnitude of genocide in America by making it appear that the native population at the outset of the invasion was vastly smaller than it actually was. Preeminent in this regard was the "Dean of American Anthropology" Alfred L. Kroeber, who in 1939 established as canonical "truth" the proposition that the hemispheric total of American Indians in 1492—which may have been as high as 125 million—was actually only 8.4 million.105 Instructively, the technique is identical to that deployed by those who would rehabilitate the reputation of Nazism; it would appear they learned the method from "reputable" types like Kroeber rather than the other way around.106

In any event, having scaled the American genocide down to more or less manageable proportions, deniers have consistently moved to dismiss its significance altogether, conceding that the conquistadors were "perhaps not saints" before arguing that their victims were "as bad or worse," therefore "deserved what they got," and that the "world is a better place" for their demise. A salient theme in this respect, first advanced by Cortes himself in 1522, and established as another modern academic Truth despite a complete absence of tangible evidence to support it, is the myth that the Mexicas—described in every standard text as having been a "warlike" and "bloodthirsty" people—were given to ritually sacrificing as many as 20,000 human beings each year.108 The fact is, as Peter Hassler has explained:

Bernal Diaz del Castillo is the classic source of information about mass sacrifice by the Aztecs. A literate soldier in Cortes' company, Diaz claimed to have witnessed such a ritual.... The observers, however, were watching from their camp... three or four miles away. From that point, Diaz could neither have seen nor heard anything.... The only concrete evidence comes to us not from the Aztecs but from the Mayan civilization of the Yucatan. These depictions are found in the records of trials conducted during the Inquisition, between 1561 and 1565. These supposed testimonies about human sacrifice, however, were coerced from the Indians under torture and have been judged worthless as ethnographic evidence.... After careful and systematic study of the sources, I find no evidence of institutional­ized mass human sacrifice among the Aztecs.109

Although one might well be reminded of certain Germanic fables about "Jewish ritual murder" offered as justification of the Nazis' treatment of Semitic untermensch during the 1930s and 1940s,110 such tales of "Aztec sacrifice" are seldom treated with skepticism by the scholarly community, much less classified as being among the rationalizations of mass murderers. To the contrary, such contrived denigration of American Indians—and there are a multitude of variations on the theme111—are typically embraced in such a way as to culminate in a note of hearty self-congratulations among the heirs of those who came along to end such savagery once and for all: "[Euroamericans] might as a veil celebrate the mammoth achievement of the past five centuries.... Let's hear it for Columbus."112

On balance, Eurocentrism and its counterpart, Eurosupremacism—the racist fundaments which have always fueled the genocidal process in America—have proven themselves ideologically transcendent among Euroamericans. The preceding mythologies are as rampant in radical dissident circles as they are among conservatives: the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, has been just as prone to accept Kroeber' s low-counting of pre-Columbian indigenous populations as the Smithsonian Institution ever was;113 a leftist like Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz has been as quick to repeat the conquistadors' propaganda about human sacrifice in Mesoamerica as any court historian;114  self-proclaimed "eco-anarchists" such as George Weurthner can hold their own with the most arcane and reactionary anthropologist in decrying imagined "ravages" inflicted by native people upon the environment long before Colum­bus;115 Christopher Hitchens has shown himself as apt to applaud the Columbian legacy in the pages of The Nation as Jeffrey Hart has been in the rages of National Review. 16

In Peru, the Quechua leader Hugo Blanco, once a hero of the Left, learned such lessons well: "When he turned his support towards Quechua land rights, the Communist Party of Peru dropped him. The rightist government already had a price on his head, so he became a hunted, isolated [indigenist] roaming the hills with three hundred Quechua guerrillas."117 Today in Peru, a far more extreme leftist formation, the Sendero Luminoso ("Shining Path"), conducts a new requerimiento, methodically murdering Andean Quechuas in a grotesque effort to compel them to adopt its peculiar "principles of revolutionary Marxism."118 In the revolutionary Nicaragua of the 1980s, the Marxian Sandinista regime employed somewhat gentler methods to the same end, selectively imprisoning and imposing mass relocation upon the Sumu, Miskito, and Rama Indians of the country' s Atlantic Coast region to facilitate incorporation of these reluctant people into its Latino-oriented statist structure.119 In Mexico and other Latin American countries, "indigenista" is a term surpassing even "capitalist" as an expression of revulsion and contempt among Marxists.

Even among intellectuals who have devoted themselves explicitly to the "ask of apprehending the implications of the Nazi extermination of the Jews— Lid of rejoining neo-Nazi attempts to deny, minimize, or negate the meaning of that holocaust—there has been a thundering silence with regard to the genocide, both historical and contemporary, of American Indians. Not only Elie Weisel, but figures as prominent as Hannah Arendt and Irving Louis Horowitz have consistently turned a blind eye, refusing to address the matter when it has been laid squarely before them.121 Most recently, holocaust scholars like Deborah Lipstadt and Pierre Vidal-Naquet have come forth with entire books dissecting and refuting in great detail the arguments of "the Holocaust didn't happen school of historical revision"; Lipstadt closes with a survey of other genocidal processes—apparently offered only as "proof that her own people had it worse than any people ever had it—without so much as mentioning the fate of the indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere.122

The place of figures like Lipstadt and Vidal-Naquet among the ranks of those denying the historical genocide of American Indians, and its contemporary implication of ongoing holocaust, demonstrates as perhaps nothing else can the degree to which the denial in which they participate is more entrenched, insidious, and effective than the peculiar and virulent form of neo-Nazi apologetics they have elected to confront. Indeed, it appears that there is so pervasive a confluence of interest, both real and perceived, underlying denial of the American Holocaust that it has assumed the posture of Truth, transcending all ideological boundaries defining Left and Right within the presently dominant society.

On balance, the performance of those American institutions devoted to conditioning public consciousness with regard to American Indians—these extend from academia through the mass media to popular literature and the entertainment industry—is about the same as might have been expected of their German counterparts with regard to Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, and others in the aftermath of a Nazi victory in World War II. The overall intent of this establishmentarian endeavor is plainly to put a lid on the possibility of any genuinely popular consideration of the genocidal dimensions of the post-1492 "American Experience," thus precluding the emergence of the sort of broad cognitive dissonance which might serve eventually to undermine the smooth functioning of business as usual.

Out of the Maze

Our sense of history works this way: everything is connected. In order to understand where you're going and how to get there, you must know where you are now; in order to understand that, you must know where it is that you've been.  - Matthew King, Oglala Lakota elder, 1981

Certainly, there have been Euro-American scholars, intellectuals, are activists who have deviated from the mainstream in these respects. Some, like Woodrow Borah, Sherburn Cook, Henry Dobyns, and Carl O. Sauer, seem to have been motivated by the more or less "pure" academic desire to see the record at last set straight on questions such as the size of pre-Columbian native populations in America and the manner in which it was reduced.124 Others, such as David Stannard, Kirkpatrick Sale, and Eduardo Galeano, have evidenced a more consciously political agenda, seeking to use honest depictions of the extermination of American Indians as a lever with which to uncover in is entirety the euro-supremacist hegemony necessary to sustain the ordained order of things in "the modern world."12

In this, they have at least figuratively joined hands with a growing number of indigenous scholars, like Vine Deloria, Jr., Don Grinde, and Robert A. Williams, Jr.,126 who have begun the laborious task of reinterpreting the record of interaction between natives and invaders in such a way as to conform to reality rather than the ideological prescriptions of domination.' In the case of the indigenous scholars, the motivation is one undoubtedly born of an emic knowledge (i.e., knowledge from within a group's cultural context) of their people's victimization and marginalization. For the Euro-Americans, the process is to borrow from Edward Said, more one of achieving a hermeneutic under­standing of the circumstances experienced by the indigenous, and then acting in ways which at once reveal an unqualified commitment to the pursuit of truth and a bona fide solidarity with the oppressed embodied in that truth.128 This, in turn, and taken in combination with similar undertakings in related spheres,129 creates the basis for what may ultimately prove to be a general supplanting of the prevailing hegemony in favor of a new and liberatory one.130

This places us at something of a socio-political and cultural/intellectual crossroads. As material offering a more accurate and insightful appreciation of the actual process by which the Americas were taken from the conditions which prevailed before the Columbian landfall to the point at which we find ourselves today becomes increasingly available, those purporting to desire fundamental change in the way in which our lives have been orchestrated confront, many for the first time, the alternative of opting out of euro-supremacist orthodoxy altogether. Therein lie the intellectual tools for creating not only a whole new vision of our collective past, present, and future, but a practical means of implementing it.

The status quo has been quick to recognize the subversive nature of this project, particularly as regards individuals like Stannard and Sale.131 Efforts by the champions of orthodoxy to "debunk" their work—mainly by way of personal attacks designed to discredit them as being no more than "academically irresponsible purveyors of political correctitude"—have been widespread.132 Meanwhile, hack historians like James Axtell, whose self-assigned task appears primarily to be a repackaging of the usual mythology in somewhat more sophisticated wrapping advanced as being the new luminaries of responsible" scholarship.133

The choice, ultimately, is ours. If we elect, sheep-like, to accept the definitions of entities like Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institution, and Newsweek as to what comprises "proper" or "appropriate" recounting of historical fact and meaning, we will merely have consigned ourselves to more of what has already transpired. If, on the other hand, we move to embrace, absorb, and extend the kind of work pioneered by Deloria, Grinde, Williams, Stannard, and Sale, we equip ourselves to change it in a profoundly positive fashion.

It is of course true that nothing can undo what has been done. Coming to grips with the significance of the relentless butchery marking the European conquest of America no more changes its nature than does recognition of the horror that was embodied in Auschwitz and the operations of the einsatzgruppen in the western USSR serve to alter what transpired during the Nazi perpetration of genocide. The point in either case, however, is not to try and make the past go away—that undertaking may be left to the Axtells of the world—but to utilize the insights gained from it in such a way as to intervene constructively in its outcomes, to put an end to the ongoing slaughter of indigenous people in Guatemala, for example, or the obliteration of native environments in Amazonia.

In the end it is a matter of redefining our understandings in such a way as to rearrange our values and priorities. This allows for a thoroughgoing and vitally necessary reconstitution of the relationship between ourselves as individuals, as peoples, and, in the aggregate, as human beings. In its turn, any such reconstitution sets the stage for the forging of a future which is radically different from our past and present. Together, we have the self-evident capacity to accomplish this. And we have the obligation to do so, not only for ourselves and one another, but for our children, our children's children, and their children on through the coming generations.


59. Nicolas Sanchez-Alboronoz, The Population of Latin America: A History (Berkeley: diversity of California Press, 1974), pp. 129-30.1 say "ostensibly" in connection with the three "pure" racial classifications because many of the supposed Caucasians from Iberia actually weren't. Of the 200,000-odd "Spaniards" arriving in Mexico by 1570, for example, it has been estimated that about a third were actually of Moorish descent, another third Sefardic Jews who had converted to Catholicism ("conversos"); Peter Boyd-Bowman, Patterns of Spanish Immigration to the New World, 1493-1580 (Buffalo: State University of New York Council on the Humanities, 1973).

60.Magnus Morner, Race Mixture in the History of Latin America (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1967), p. 58.

61.Again, the process is comparable to that later implemented in the United States for the same purpose; see Ward Churchill, "Nobody's Pet Poodle: Jimmie Durham, an Artist for Native America," in Ward Churchill, Indians Are Us ? Genocide and Colonization in Native North America (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1994).

62.Interestingly, although it was a U.S. jurist, John Marshall, who originally articulated the legal doctrine through which such maneuverings transpired, many South American govern­ments seem to have implemented it in wholesale fashion well before the United States; on Marshall, see, e.g., Ward Churchill, "Perversions of Justice: Examining the Doctrine of U.S. Rights to Occupancy in North America," in Struggle for the Land, op. cit., pp. 33-83; on Latino precursors to U.S. implementation in 1887, see Thomas Berger, op. cit, pp. 106-07: on U.S. implementation, see, e.g., Janet A. McDowell, The Dispossession of the American Indian, 1887-1934 (Bloomington: University Press of Indiana, 1991).

63.Bernardo Berdichewsky, The Araucanian Indian in Chile (Copenhagen: IWGIA Doc. No. 20, 1975).

64.Thomas Berger, op. cit., p. 107.

65.On the Mayas, see Grant D. Jones, Maya Resistance, op. cit; on the Pueblo Revolt, see Oakah L. Jones, Jr., Pueblo Warriors and the Spanish Conquest (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966); on the Manaus, see John Hemming, Red Gold, op. cit; and Amazon Frontier, op. cit; on Peru, see the collected volume, editors, Tupac Amaru II (Lima: n. p.. 1976).

66. On the Yaquis, see Evelyn Hu-DeHart, Yaqui Resistance and Survival (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984); on the Apaches, see Frank C. Lockwood, The Apache Indians (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1938).

67. An earlier campaign to clear the Araucanos from the pampas, undertaken by President Juan Manuel Rosas in 1833, was unsuccessful; David Rock, Argentina, 1516-198' (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).

68. Juan Carlos Walther, La Conquista del Desierto (Buenos Aires: Editorial Universitoric Buenos Aires, 1971).

69. Thomas Berger, op. cit., pp. 96-97; his first quote is of Julio Roca, in David Rock, op cit; his second is from V. S. Naipal, The Return of Eva Peron (New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1980).

70.David Rock, op. cit.

71.V. S. Naipal, op. cit, p. 149.

72.On the Ache extermination, see Richard Arens, ed., Genocide in Paraguay (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1976); Elie Wiesel is quoted from the first page of his epilogue to this volume, "Now We Know," pp. 165-67.

73.Elie Wiesel, op. cit, pp. 167-68.

74.Report of the Fourth Russell Tribunal on the Rights of the Indians of the Americas (Nottingham, United Kingdom: Bertrand Russell Foundation, 1980), p. 25.

75.Rex Weyler, Blood of the Land: The U.S. Government and Corporate War Against the American Indian Movement (New York: Everest House, 1982), p. 221.

76.New York Times News Service, 6 Jan. 1973.

77. Rex Weyler, op. cit, p. 221

78. Ibid., p. 222; the author is relying on Robert L. Ledogar, Hungry for Profits (New York: International Documentation, 1975).

79. Reported in Akwesasne Notes, Spring (1972), p. 29.

80. Report of the Fourth Russell Tribunal, op. cit., p. 97; on the ecological issues involved, see Susanna Hecht and Alexander Cockburn, The Fate of the Forest: Developers, Destroyers and Defenders of the Amazon (London: Verso Books, 1989).

81.Rex Weyler, op. cit, p. 224; he is relying on Brazilian Information Bulletin (Berkeley: American Friends of Brazil, 1973) and The Yanomami Indian Park (Boston: Anthropology Resource Center, 1981).

82.Quoted in Thomas Berger, op. cit., p. 107.

83.Ibid., pp. 107-08.

84.Quoted in Rex Weyler, op. cit., p. 229.

85.Ibid., p. 215.

86. For an overview of the Working Group process, see S. James Anaya, "The Rights of Indigenous People and International Law in Historical and Contemporary Perspective," in American Indian Law: Cases and Material, Robert N. Clinton, Nell Jessup Newton, and Monroe E. Price, eds. (Charlottesville, Virginia: Michie Co., Law Publishers, 1991), pp. 1257-276.

87. Rex Weyler, op. cit, p. 229.

88. Noam Chomsky, "Introduction," in Bridge of Courage: Life Storie of the Guatemalan Compaheros and Compaheras, Jennifer Harbury, ed. (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1994), p. 17. For background on the 1954 coup, see Bryce Wood, The Dismantling of the Good Neighbor Policy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985); Robert M. Carmack, ed., Harvest of Violence: The Maya Indians and the Guatemala Crisis (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988); Piero Gleijeses, Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, 1944-1954 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1991).

89. Rex Weyler, op. cit, p. 219. For further background, see Julie Hodson, Witness to Political Violence in Guatemala (New York: Oxfam America, 1982); Rigoberta Menchu, /, Rigoberta Menchu (London: Verso Press, 1983); James Painter, Guatemala: False Hope, False Freedom (London: Catholic Institute for International Relations, 1987); Jean-Marie Simon, Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny (New York: W. W. Norton, 1987); Edward R. F. Sheehan, Agony in the Garden: A Stranger in Guatemala (New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1989).

90. Thomas Berger, op. cit, p. 119.

91. Anonymous Indian, quoted in ibid., p. 114.

92. Anonymous Indian, quoted in Ronald Wright, Time Among the Maya: Travels in Belize, Guatemala and Mexico (New York: Viking Press, 1989), p. 220.

93. The families had come to power in 1932, following the "Matanza," a series of massacres resulting in the deaths of about 30,000 Indians; Thomas P. Anderson, Matanza: El Salva­dor's Communist Revolt of 1932 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971); Philip Russell, El Salvador in Crisis (Denver: Colorado River Press, 1984).

94. Jenny Pearce, Under the Eagle: U.S. Intervention in Central America and the Caribbean Boston: South End Press, 1981), p. 209.

95."From 1963 to 1970 General 'Chele' Medrano was the closest collaborator of the U.S. military agencies in El Salvador and the main liaison with the CIA. He had a record of extreme brutality and had been responsible for torturing political prisoners and common criminals. In 1967 he became head of the National Guard. It was Medrano, with CIA help, who founded ORDEN in 1968. A US Office of Public Safety (OPS) programme was started in El Salvador in 1967 and an OPS adviser was involved in working with Medrano to establish a special intelligence unit in the National Guard and, to work with it, what was described as a 30,000 man informant network—this was to become known as "ORDEN"; ibid., p. 214. On OPS overall, see A. J. Langguth, Hidden Terrors: The Truth About U.S. Police Operations in Latin America (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978).

96.Anonymous Salvadoran priest, quoted in El Salvador—A Revolution Brews (New York: NACLA, 1980).

97.El Salvador's Other Victims: The War on the Displaced (New York: Americas Watch/Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights, Aug. 1984).

98.Noam Chomsky, Turning the Tide: U.S. Intervention in Central America and the Struggle for Peace (Boston: South End Press, 1985), p. 25; he is relying on two reports by Americas Watch: Free Fire (Aug. 1984) and Draining the Sea... (March 1985).

99.Cynthia Arnson, El Salvador: A Revolution Confronts the United States (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Policy Studies, 1982), pp. 84-85.

100.Ray Bonner, Weakness and Deceit (New York: Times Books, 1984), pp. 325-26.

101.On the Los Llanitos massacre, perpetrated by the Atlacatl Battalion in July 1984 (68 dead), as well as the Rio Gualsinga Massacre committed by the same unit the same month, see James LeMoyne's article in the New York Times, 9 Sept. 1984; on the Las Vueltas Massacre, perpetrated by the Atlacatl Battalion on August 30, 1984 ("several dozen" dead), see Washington Report on the Hemisphere, 30 Oct. 1984.

102.Noam Chomsky, Turning the Tide, op. cit., p. 105; he is relying on testimony by U.S. State Department officials before the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Report on Human Rights in El Salvador (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1983), pp. 57, 168-69.

103.The claim, however, is not entirely true, as it is not in other supposedly "Indian Free Zones" like Cuba and Puerto Rico. In 1986, Colorado AIM leader Glenn Morris and others had occasion to visit a native village in Costa Rica, located in a remote area near the Panamanian border. There are others.

104.See, e.g., Gregory Cerio, "The Black Legend: Were the Spaniards That Cruel?" Newsweek: Columbus Special Issue, FallAVinter (1992); for a good survey of the related brand of "revisionism," see Deborah E. Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (New York: Free Press, 1993).

105.For analysis, see Russell Thornton, op. cit., pp. 20-25; a particularly useful overview of how Rroeber and others "cooked the books" on estimates of precolumbian native population may be found in Francis Jennings, The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism and the Cant of Conquest (New York: W. W. Norton, 1976), esp. the chapter entitled "The Widowed Land."

106.The classic articulation among nazi apologists is Paul Rassinier's Debunking the Genocide Myth: A Study of the Nazi Concentration Camps and the Alleged Extermination of European Jewry (Torrance, California: Institute for Historical Review, 1978), New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1976) or Taking Lives: Genocide and State Power (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1982).

122.Deborah E. Lipstadt, op. cit.; Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Assassins of Memory: Essays on Denial of the Holocaust (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992).

123.A good example of the "reasoning" Lipstadt and Vidal-Naquet incite may be found in Arthur D. Butz, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry (Torrance, California: Institute for Historical Review, 1977).

124.Sherburn F. Cook and Woodrow Borah, op. cit.; Woodrow Borah and Sherburn F. Cook, op. cit.; Henry F. Dobyns, op. cit.; Carl O. Sauer, Selected Essays, 1963-1975 (Berkeley: Turtle Island Foundation, 1981).

125.David E. Stannard, op. cit.; Kirkpatrick Sale, The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990); Eduardo Galeano, The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973), and Memory of Fire: Genesis (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985).

126.See, e.g., Vine Deloria, Jr., God Is Red (Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Press [2d ed.]: 1992); Donald A. Grinde, Jr., and Bruce Johansen, Exemplar of Liberty (Los Angeles: UCLA American Indian Studies Center, 1991); and Robert A. Williams, Jr., The American Indian in Western Legal Thought: The Discourses of Conquest (London/New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

127.Aside from the recent work of various American Indians of both continents, illustrations should include that of indigenous Hawaiians. See, e.g., Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, Native Lands and Foreign Desires (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1992); Haunani-Kay Trask, From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai'i (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1993).

128.Edward Said, The Pen and the Sword: Conversations with David Barsamian (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1994). See also John D. Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics: Repetition, Deconstruction, and the Hermeneutic Project (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987).

129.See, e.g., Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Random House, 1978). See also Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Vol. 1: The Fabrica­tion of Ancient Greece, 1785-1985 (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1987).

130.This is intended in the Gramscian sense. For elaboration, see Walter L. Adamson, Hegemony and Revolution: A Study of Antonio Gramsci's Political and Cultural Theory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).

131.The demographers, to be sure, have come in for their fair share of criticism; see, e.g., David Henige, "Their Number Become Thick: Native American Historical Demography as Expiation," in The Invented Indian: Cultural Fictions and Government Policies, James Clifford, ed. (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1990).

132. See, e.g., the review of David E. Stannard by J. H. Elliott in the New York Review of Books, 24 June 1993; see also Stannard's reply, published in the New York Review on October 21. The nature of the contended issues is revealed more broadly in Paul Berman, ed., Debating P.C.: The Controversy Over Political Correctness on College Campuses (New York: Laurel Books, 1992). The ideological framework employed by Elliot and others of his persuasion is articulated succinctly in an essay by Wilcomb E. Washburn, alleged "Dean"  of American Indianist historians, entitled "Distinguishing History for Moral Philosophy and Public Advocacy"; see Calvin Martin, ed., The American Indian and the Problem of History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 91-97.

133. James Axtell, The European and the Indian: Essays in the Ethnohistory of North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), and Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial North America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).


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