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Herb Rothschild Jr.: A really nice guy

Under every President since the end of World War II, the CIA and its corporate beneficiaries have meddled unscrupulously in the affairs of Second and Third World nations. George H. W. Bush, however, was the only president who was personally engaged. And his engagement didn’t begin when Gerald Ford appointed him to head the CIA, although at the time Bush claimed that he had had no prior connection with the agency. He almost certainly was recruited no later than when he was an undergraduate at Yale.

Bush founded his first business, Zapata Oil, in 1953. Its co-founder was Thomas J. Devine, who supposedly resigned from the CIA at that time (he officially went back to work for it in 1963). Bush traveled abroad extensively during those years, and Zapata’s annual reports display activities in the Middle East, Asia and the Caribbean, which seems odd for a Midland, Texas-based wildcatting company and an offshore subsidiary with only a handful of rigs. To the end, Bush was a careful keeper of the secrets of the powerful, both private and public. So, unless the CIA files from the ’50s and early ’60s are opened, we won’t know the extent and nature of Bush’s work in those years. But enough documents have surfaced to leave little doubt of his connection.

Bush served as CIA director from Jan. 30, 1976, to Jan. 20, 1977. The agency recently had been discredited by revelations of its spying on U.S. citizens and repeated assassination attempts against Castro. Bush is often praised for restoring CIA credibility, but he didn’t do that by ending its nefarious covert operations, especially in Latin America, where the U.S. habitually intervened to protect U.S. corporate and financial interests.

During Bush’s tenure and until 1985, state oppression and terror was at fever pitch in the Southern Cone nations whose tyrannies we had helped install or at least assisted subsequently. The situations in Pinochet’s Chile and the generals’ Argentina were especially gruesome, but also in Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil. In 1975, the military intelligence chiefs of all but Brazil (which joined later) launched Operation Condor, a coordinated campaign to eliminate all opponents of their regimes. The CIA was thoroughly informed and supportive of Operation Condor and its widespread use of torture and murder. A declassified CIA document dated June 23, 1976, reports that “in early 1974, security officials from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia met in Buenos Aires to prepare coordinated actions against subversive targets.” Actually, Operation Condor was the fruition of plans developed in the 1960s and early 1970s among international security officials at the U.S. Army School of the Americas, then in Panama, and the Conference of American Armies to deal with perceived threats in South America from political dissidents.

Given his experience, it’s difficult not to believe that Bush, when he was Reagan’s vice president, was involved in U.S. military support of the bloody repression in El Salvador and Guatemala, or Reagan’s efforts to overthrow the Nicaraguan government by funding the Contra terror campaign based in Honduras. During the Congressional investigations into Iran-Contra, Bush claimed ignorance, and no finger was ever pointed at him. On Dec. 24, 1992, shortly after failing to win a second term, he pardoned those convicted of perjuring themselves during the Iran-Contra investigations, including Caspar Weinberger, Elliott Abrams and Robert McFarlane.

What people who knew Bush invariably say about him is that he was a really nice guy. Who am I to dispute it?

Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Daily Tidings every Saturday.

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