As a background to the actions of the three members of ANZAC Ploughshares arrested on April 30 for puncturing the cover of one of the satellite dishes on the Waihopai spy base, Forrest Chambers looks to the United States and its actions in Central America during the 1980s.
In El Salvador, on March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot dead while celebrating Mass. This was a priest who spoke out against the grinding poverty of the Salvadorean people, and against violence and the murder of people by the military dictatorship.
After the Anzac Ploughshares activists had deflated the spydish cover at Waihopai early on the morning of April 30, they erected a small shrine to pray before being arrested.
Beside a picture of Jesus at their shrine was a picture of Oscar Romero.
What does Oscar Romero have to do with Waihopai? This is the key question, the answer to which should frame all our discussion about the rights and wrongs of the protest action, and the continued presence of the spybase in New Zealand.
It turns out that the story of Romero and El Salvador is not just about a corrupt military dictatorship, a hapless people and a good priest turned martyr.
The man who shot Oscar Romero was trained by the US Military in the School of the Americas in the US state of Georgia. The history of El Salvador, like that of the rest of Central America, is a history of United States companies operating with minimum restrictions to extract resources and money from the country with the cooperation of the Salvadorean military government. The military government was supported by the US in a range of ways, including direct funding, military advisers, training for assassins and ‘death squads’, supply of military equipment and, as a last resort, supply of US soldiers. Of course, the assistance also included intelligence.
The story of El Salvador and Central America is just one chapter in that of US interventions in smaller states around the world. In his book Killing Hope: US military and CIA interventions since WWII, former State Department employee William Blum lists the countries where the story is repeated:
Iran, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Haiti, The Congo, Ghana, Dominican Republic, Angola, Zaire, Bulgaria, Greece, Iraq, Jamaica, Seychelles, Grenada, Suriname, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay. Time and again, the efforts of each small state to gain independence, non-alignment, and control of their own resources has been knee-capped by US interventions.
The dark side of empire
The United States is a global empire in which US corporations, government and military work together to consolidate the empire. Just like the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus, empires operate on fixed laws, namely:
• consolidate power by any necessary means;
• extract resources from other countries;
• insist on loyalty from subjects and (try to) eliminate non-aligned states or force them to become subjects.
Despite the ideals of both the Roman and the American empires and their great civilising achievements, there is a dark side to empire. Just like the Roman atrocities committed during, for example, the razing of Jerusalem in 70 CE (common era) in retaliation for Jewish resistance, we can find numerous examples of US atrocities against small states that tried to resist.
It must be stressed here that in listing the ‘evils of empire’, this is not to despise America as a country, or the American people. It would be necessary to criticise a Chinese or a Russian Empire just as much as it is necessary to confront a US Empire. The fact is that the US Empire is the most powerful and is the one that we are subjects of—as evidenced by the spybase at Waihopai.
As thoroughly documented by Nicky Hager in his book Secret Power: NZ’s role in the international spy networks, the Waihopai spybase is one of a global network of similar bases that eavesdrop on satellite communications. Thus all government, corporate and personal communications from our part of the world can be heard, and this information is relayed back to the US as part of their global surveillance, for military, corporate and political advantage. Total information is total power. US employees and advisers were present when the facility was being built, and our prime minister of the day, David Lange, was not informed of its true operational purpose.
So, although the Waihopai base is paid for and operated by the Government Communications and Security Bureau, it passes on the intelligence it gathers to the US. We have no say over how this information is used.
It is claimed that Waihopai is useful because it contributes to the ‘War on Terror’. However, the operations in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay show that this ‘War on Terror’ is morally dubious, if not outright evil. The ‘War on Terror’ is in truth the ‘War of Terror’. A Christian response to terrorism could be more solidly based on the Northern Ireland solution using reconciliation and justice, rather than torture and military strikes.
Divination and secret power
Before the Anzac Ploughshares action at Waihopai an all-night prayer vigil was held at the gates of the base.
During this vigil the spirit of divination was named as present over the facility – and prayed against. Divination is a source of secret knowledge/power that is not from God, used for evil purposes. With divine confirmation, at the dawn Mass which ended the vigil, a reading from the book of Acts (16:16-18) featured the girl with the spirit of divination, who performed acts of divination for the profit of her ‘owners’.
Is this not what is happening at Waihopai?
Engaging the powers
Despite the many good things about America as a country, its performance in the war on terror embodies the spirit of empire, which entails power over the weak, perpetuating misery among the poor.
As Christ showed, we are to engage the powers, not bow down as subjects. This involves three levels of engagement: prayer, wisdom (becoming informed and informing others), and creative non-violent action.
The action taken at Waihopai created a symbol: deflation of a mighty dome with a primitive agricultural tool against the most sophisticated technology of war.
Not everyone agrees with the action taken by the Anzac Ploughshares group, but now that the cover has been lifted, let us take this opportunity to discuss and decide what we think about the presence of this spybase.
Jesus came offering salvation and peace. It is up to us to decide if we believe that the Waihopai base contributes to peace, or whether it represents the dues we pay to empire as submissive subjects.
The regime that trained the killer of Archbishop Romero is the same regime that receives intelligence from the Waihopai satellite spybase. Do we wish this base to stay on our soil?
Pictures: Above: The Waihopai spy base after the ANZAC Ploughshares had deflated one of tte satellite dishes’ balloon covers with a sickle.Derek Flynn, Marlborough Express .
Top: ANZAC Ploughshares group keeps vigil outside the spy base near Blenheim.