Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Guatemala Dateline: Iraq war news filters down to the villages of Guatemala

by Father David Baronti, for the Inland Register

(From the May 1, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

But Father, if you can bomb Libyan children because of a bad leader there, then you can bomb our children because of a bad leader here.
– A Maya woman, responding to an American priest’s rhetoric supporting the U.S. bombing of 1986.


On Sunday, March 23, a photo of the agency AFP, was seen in many places in the world. It was … of a little one, girl or boy, perhaps five or six years old. His or her head, covered with white bandages, shows the profile of a face upon which rolls a huge tear.

The study captures the image but it cannot capture the sound. Nevertheless, the gesture in the likeness, and, especially, in the mouth, does not leave any doubt: the little one is crying out. Is it a cry of loneliness? Is it a cry of terror? Is it a cry of physical or emotional torture? One cannot know…

Like this little one, perhaps hundreds of thousands more are crying… Their life has been war. Their life has been the body- rending shout of the antiaircraft alarms… announcing new waves of ´´intelligent´´ bombs. These boys and girls do not know the reasons and justifications that Bush, Blair and Aznar have given… in launching this war for petroleum.

Covered with power and arrogance, they announce a short war, clean, and without complications. They forget that this is not a Nintendo game… They forget that in front of their tanks or under their planes they are going to encounter human beings. They are going to encounter persons who will bleed for having been hit by their projectiles. This war without stain and of a short duration has turned, like all wars, into a bloody battle, with wounded, deaths, prisoners of wars, refugees and cities destroyed....

Saddam Hussein, the alleged motive of the aggression, is a genocidal murderer, and repugnant dictator… Nevertheless, it is a utter lie to suggest that the Iraqi population will be liberated by …shedding blood, destroying towns, killing children. The leaders of the invading armies will hide this… and assure us that they seek to liberate Iraq. This discourse of the aggressors is similar to what other messianic leaders here in Guatemala inflicted on us when they declared that they were defending the homeland against internal enemies. These military chiefs, at whose head was an old man, also messianic, fanatical, and genocidal, still refuse to believe that they stained their hands with defenseless civilians. They still have the temerity to affirm that their crimes were just and for a noble cause…(but) it was not for a noble cause in Guatemala during the violence and it is not today in the Mid-East…
– Iduvina Hernandez, Prensa Libre, March 30, 2003

Two weeks ago, at the beginning of one of our weeklong “courses” promoting rosary devotion, a young man approached me with a tape recorder and asked me to explain “Iraq.”

The peoples of our “mountains and valleys,” he said, are obsessed with the far-off occurrences. Will this event precipitate a World War III, as the local Radio Sonora speculates — the station to which everyone here listens and to which most of them nod their heads? Is it true that the war started because the U.S. wants Iraqi oil? Is that the reason why the price of diesel fuel has practically doubled in the past year — why the prices of the bus tickets on which so many of our people’s livlihoods depend., will soon accelerate into another land?

So there, at 8 p.m,. in a church two hours walk away from my home and bed, only a few meters from the mud-floored adobe homes in which most of our people live, and trying to make my voice heard over the joyous din of 500 people singing Marian hymns, I talked to the inhabitants of our “mountains and plains” via the mission radio station.

If my final answer cited the Holy Father’s recent emphatic rejection of the “logic of terrorism and war,” my first comments generally dovetailed with what the Wharton economist Jeremony Rifkin (author of the best-seller The End of Work), in a discussion touching on the waxing of the world’s cheap oil economy, the imminent museumization of all internal combustion engines, and the new joystick-driven Hywire automobile propelled by hydrogen, stated in the nation’s leading newspaper, the Prensa Libre, April 2.


Before the petroleum embargo of the ’70s, the Third World countries were sold the idea that they could develop with cheap petroleum. But today they are using 83 cents of every dollar that they receive in payment of that debt. The Third World countries today are poorer than 10 years ago, the rift between the poor countries and the wealthier countries is increasing …in Mexico (the turning point) will arrive in 2010 … and (that country) will become an (oil) importer in 2030 … and then there is the Middle East. That is where most of the reserves exist, so that the world will be depending more and more on this oil. If you think that today there are problems in the Middle East, imagine in 20 years.

Interviewer: Then you believe that petroleum is what is behind the war with Iraq?

Rifklin: I believe that President Bush is sincere when he says that Saddam has massive arms of destruction, but it is ingenuous to think that there is not a second agenda… to attempt to make us believe that he has absolutely not taken petroleum into account in the making of decisions. That is absurd, because this is the most petroleum-connected government that the United States has had.


Such articles suggest that the people’s approach to the war seem to be filtering down from more sophisticated sources than Radio Sonora.

Even though it is impossible here as in the U.S. to access the now blocked site of Al Jazira (the Arab equivalent of CNN) these days on the Internet (the site was showing pictures of maimed women and children in the first days of the conflict) and even though the editorial staff of the same Prensa Libre have written articles supporting the war, they, different from the print and electronic services in the States, freely allow stories or editorials that contradict their opinions. The lead article in the same March 26 edition, for example, begins with the following narration:

The televisions of the United States have access to pictures like in no other conflict, but they carefully choose which to show and not to show, so that the war “is seen” in that country differently from the rest of the world … very rarely have images been allowed of dead U.S. soldiers, of wounded civilians, and of the destruction consequent upon U.S. air attacks, and in this selection (Brookings Institute media expert Stephen Hess) sees the hand of private interests, not military censure. Hess believes that the channels have “sterilized the battlefield” in order “not to show the horrors and massacres of the war.” The expert opines that the decision comes from ... “cultural orientation” … in spite of the fact that Hollywood has accustomed Americans to violent actions … Hess added that a similar filter curtailed images of the Vietnam War.

Don Oberdorfer, who covered that conflict … suggested more tangible motives: "None of the channels wish to be seen as unpatriotic: they are businesses when all is said and done … Television will not present things that anger their viewers,” says the University of Texas’ Mark Tremasyne, an ex-director of a television station.


One wonders whether these answers are not themselves disingenuous. If the AFP source contradicts Hess in this column’s last section one could question Tresmasyne’s implicit suggestion that the media’s refusal to report on the many hundreds of thousands killed in the secret war in Cambodia in the early ’70s derived from a fear of public opinion even at a time when the nation was turning against the South East Asia holocaust! One wonders whether the reasons for the press bias found in Manufacturing Consent are not more accurate: apart from the media’s own status as the designated hitter in an interdependent team of clearly-positioned players in a multinational corporate conglomerate, the authors cite advertisor’s pressures, the fear of exclusion from official sources of information and institutional flak.

In Guatemala, there seems to be less dissimulation. A Prensa that I once thought puerile in comparison to the Review and the Times has continued to allow editorials as diverse as those of Maite Ricco, who wonders why the pacifists do not protest the actions of a Hussein as vigorously as they do a Bush, to those of Caroline Vasquez Araya, who, in considering why the war became more complicates than anticipated for generals who thought it would all be a “piece of cake” suggested that it never interested them to consider the “scene of a people who did not wish to be colonized” fighting – for their own “dignity´” against an invader who brought them “more death and destruction than they had ever imagined.”


In this context, the Araya kind of editorials predominate.

In the same paper in which appeared Iduvina Hernandez’s impassioned article, cited earlier, appeared also one written by Haroldo Shetemjul:

The market place of Al Nasa …was full Friday. The sellers and the buyers saw an allied plane pass overhead, and a bomb exploded … After that there was only debris and a huge crater, and bloody shoes of children. More than 50 civilians were dismembered. … The bodies of 15 children were piled up close to the central park…

In the face of that scene of destruction has come to my mind the words of …Gunter Grass, who asked "Is this still the United States of America of whom for many reasons we maintain such good memories …The country that, in another time, helped the process of European enlightenment in overcoming colonialism, that gave the world a constitution and considered the liberty of expression to be a human right without qualification?”

And it is this last right that has most suffered in…Iraq. Americans are far from knowing the truth of the war…( According to the AFP) “the images…presented in the United States have nothing to do with what one sees in… European television,…. The adventure in Iraq resembles video games, which one likes to do with in bathrobes, slippers, and a cold beer in hand. Is there press liberty in the country of greatest liberties…and which is the model for all failed democracies like Guatemala’s? Suffice one example: the 500 journalists covering the troops in Iraq,are subject to 12 pages of rules imposed by the Pentagon. The AFP says that the ´diffusion of images …are permitted when the authorities consider them adequate.”


(Father Baronti, a priest of the Diocese of Spokane, has been a missioner in Guatemala for nearly three decades.)

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