The Guerrilla Wars of Central America
By Saul Landau
St. Martin’s Press

Upon reading this excellent new book on Central America, it’s easy to see why Saul Landau is one of the nation’s veteran foreign policy analysts. A senior fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC, Landau is the author of six previous books, including 1988’s The Dangerous Doctrine: National Security and US Foreign Policy.

His new book The Guerrilla Wars of Central America, has obviously been painstakingly researched and what’s more, it goes way beyond the call of fact-finding duty. It’s a book of anguish, a book of clarification. It’s also a book of cleansing, of events recorded so that others may understand and perhaps, eventually come to terms with clandestine genocide in Central America; the sort perpetuated by men in suits wearing sickly smiles and spouting forth even sicker – and shamefully paranoid – rhetoric.

If you’ve ever wondered about Ronald Reagan’s obsession with Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, this book will tell you everything you need to know. Not that Reagan was the originator of the region’s problems. As the author makes clear: ‘’From 1800 until the 1930s, according to the State Department, the President dispatched armed forces on more than seventy occasions to Latin America and the Caribbean.’’

The juggernaut of US diplomacy (in the name of self-interest) was set in motion by many a President on both sides of the political divide. From Woodrow Wilson to John F. Kennedy, most at one stage or another meddled in the affairs of the region. Landau details why, when and how, and to what degree those involvements perpetuated ongoing dynasties of misery – from Nicaragua’s brutal dictator Anastasio Somoza, to the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, to the Guatemalan death squads who killed 200 ‘subversives’ a month during 1983.

There are no half measures, no half truths, and certainly no glib declarations. What Guerrilla Wars does is awaken the reader into understanding the significance of what really happened.

Landau sheds much light on the Reagan doctrine of the eighties: ‘’House Speaker Top O’Neill said that for Reagan ‘it is more important to pay Nicaraguans to kill that to pay Americans to work.’ Those priorities continued to prevail – six years later it was revealed that the Bush administration had placed Nicaragua at the head of one of the summit agendas, before the question of German unification or arms control.’’

Whether it’s the Iran-Contra scandal, the slaying of American nuns or the slaughter of Jesuits in El Salvador, Guerrilla Wars simply tells it how it was, and to a certain degree, still is.