Radical, Pragmatic And Successful

Van Gosse analyzes the reasons for CISPES’ success in developing a fresh and tenacious approach to solidarity work.

Why should I or anyone else write about CISPES? As a national organization, it was neither famous nor large, the usual criteria for organizational significance in this country. Compared to the NAACP or NOW, with their hundreds of thousands of members and name-recognition among the general public, CISPES was an obscure, fringe group. It is unlikely if as many as 2,000 people considered themselves active members at any single point in its history, except perhaps in 1981, when hundreds attended start-up meetings in cities as different as Boulder, New York and San Francisco. And while it certainly got into the news in the late ’80s as the target of the decade’s largest FBI “investigation,” the mainstream press never paid much attention to the organization itself.

For that matter, the larger Central America movement, in which CISPES sometimes played a leading role, was always quite small, with only a vague public persona — the archetypal nun who’d been to Nicaragua and got on the local op-ed page. At its peak in April 1987, with substantial union support and important allies from the anti-apartheid movement, the combined forces of solidarity barely managed to mobilize 100,000 people onto Washington’s streets for a joint Central America-South Africa rally, a fraction of the crowds regularly turned out by the decade’s big pro-choice, gay or Black-led marches. Even the disarmament or “peace” movement within which solidarity usually operated (and into which it was often inaccurately subsumed by observers) had much greater recognition and numbers in the heyday of the Nuclear Freeze.

Nonetheless, the Central America movement was the major expression of U.S. radical politics during the ’80s, the only explicitly “left” current that operated consistently all across the country (in all 50 states, not just a few big cities), with a practical commitment to revolutionary change — if not in this country, then close enough to matter. And within that extremely diverse movement, encompassing solidarity with several countries by many different sectors of U.S. society, CISPES played a unique role. To reach and service the up to 2,000 mostly autonomous local committees, other groups of organizers assembled supple but porous networks, and set up various national campaigns, coalitions, task forces, projects and foundations. GOAL-SPECIFIC PROGRAM

Eschewing the decentralized “network” model from the very beginning, CISPES gradually — in fits and starts over time — built a cohesive nationwide organization, with a stable grassroots volunteer base, local, regional and national staff, extensive training and evaluation processes and, most important, a time- and goal-specific national program.

It is this last element that made all the rest possible. Without a concrete program that is debated, planned, implemented and then assessed before starting all over again, a political organization is mostly a fiction, something waiting to happen (as opposed to a network, which typically exists for sharing of resources and information rather than implementation of a common program).

Unfortunately, too many left groups in the past generation never really had a program to which the entire organization held itself accountable through a voluntary discipline. SDS, for instance, in its period of mass growth after 1965, rarely had any national program worth the name. That CISPES members had one, and knew it, was the source of their strength.

CISPES’ main virtue, perhaps even its sole distinction, was tenacity. Given that that particular, old-fashioned character trait has been so lacking on the U.S. left since 1945, this alone caused it to stand out. As I write, CISPES has just passed its thirteenth anniversary, and with the war in El Salvador finally ended, it can at least claim it went the distance, a singular feat in itself. Most of the prominent 1960s New Left organizations fell apart long before hitting a decade, despite the much greater space for activism at one time. Indeed, it could be argued that one reason CISPES has lasted so long is the “empty space” it inhabits — a backhanded advantage at best.

Developing a national program and cohering as an organization was not an easy or immediate process. Simply to get to where it was possible for CISPES’ leadership to consciously shape their infrastructure, moving activists around the country to plug gaps and constantly levying new “cadre” from the strongest committees, took years of hit-or- miss efforts, and much internal dissension lasting through the first half of the ’80s. But instead of fading away or falling apart, CISPES hung on. And in the later 1980s — when El Salvador largely dropped out of the public eye except as a moral eyesore — it came into its own as a genuinely consequential organization, both “large” and “well-known” in terms of left-liberal interest-group politics. It had enough staff (about 100 paid and unpaid fulltime organizers at peak 1988-89), enough donors (72,000 at one time or another, unfortunately never converted into formal, card-carrying “members”) and dozens of highly visible chapters in nearly all of the major cities and key college towns in the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast.

What did all this infrastructure mean in terms of program? At the beginning of the ’80s, before any of the above had yet been put in place, CISPES embodied a wave of militant anti-Reaganism that sent an unmistakable message to the administration that re-fighting Vietnam in El Salvador would carry a definite cost in terms of radical mobilization here. In the decade’s latter half, CISPES kept El Salvador’s civil war alive in the conscience of liberal and radical America. Besides a steadily rising tide of protest actions from 1988 on which were quite explicitly tied to the FMLN’s offensive strategy, it developed (or borrowed, really) techniques of constructing “people-to-people” bridges between concerned citizens in this country and the reviving “popular movement” in El Salvador of unarmed civilian organizers: walk-a-thons and “work-a-days” raising millions of dollars in humanitarian aid in small donations; telex banks to respond instantly to arrests and disappearances; constant delegations of grassroots activists that in El Salvador assumed considerable public importance. In fact, the greatest paradox of CISPES’ history as a U.S. radical organization is that in the U.S. itself it was condemned to marginal visibility by the national media’s conviction that it would not repeat the mistakes of the ’60s by giving “undue” attention to leftists; in El Salvador, on the other hand, CISPES became famous, or infamous, depending on your point of view. It was regularly denounced by Salvadoran officials, including President Alfredo Cristiani, and many CISPES activists accustomed to laboring in obscurity found it a heady experience to be introduced before large popular assemblies of trade unionists or students and cheered to the rafters. RADICAL AND PRAGMATIC

What made all this organizational and programmatic expansion possible, besides sheer stubbornness, was that CISPES defined a new model for what a single-issue left organization can be — both very radical and very pragmatic. CISPES emphatically was not just another liberal lobby, yet it could not be marginalized by either aboveground political actors or the moderate forces in the “anti-intervention” wing of the solidarity movement. Why? Because its immediate goals were always eminently reasonable in the terms of radicalized post-Vietnam liberalism: cutting off all U.S. funding of a government responsible for massive state terror; pursuing a negotiated end to the civil war; sending humanitarian aid to desperate peasant communities for their clinics and schools; instituting a human rights “rapid response network” to save the lives of trade unionists, student leaders and shantytown organizers. Instead of spurning mainstream politics (you know: the two parties are exactly the same, you’ll get dragged to the center, you’ll be forced to sell-out and compromise, you’ll get used, and so on), CISPES embraced the rough-and-tumble of this country’s political system. On occasion, it was the proverbial skunk at the garden party. But more often it worked to reward its friends and punish its enemies like any other competent single-issue organization.

It’s important to be clear about what CISPES was, and what it was not. Its claim to be on the leading edge of what’s left of the U.S. left is based on purely operational criteria rather than any ideological cohesion, other than explicit “solidarity”: anyone looking for the words “capitalist,” “socialist” or “imperialist” in its direct- mail appeals, its newspaper Alert! Focus on Central America, or its voluminous internal program mailings, would be severely disappointed. CISPES was not some miraculously red- flag-waving, Leninist embryo that prevailed despite its time and place.

In fact, it struggled very hard to avoid becoming a place of regroupment for the stray fractions of the U.S. socialist tradition. As anyone familiar with the past 30 or more years well knows, to become that common ground is to invite sectarian “interventions,” infighting and paralysis. It would be more accurate to say that CISPES was an escape or even an end-run around the dead end that U.S. socialism had sadly become. With no pretence to any more generalized leftist — let alone Marxist-Leninist — politics among its volunteers and staff, it built its donor-base among liberals and appealed to many new campus activists in the late Reagan years precisely because of its lack of ideological specificity.

The exception to this get-the-job-done, number- crunching instrumentalism was CISPES’ unequivocal but usually reasoned, non-dogmatic public support for the FMLN. This stance, often criticized as an unnecessary deterrent to potential supporters or allies outside the left, was a crucial element in the organization’s success. It provided CISPES with an unequivocal benchmark against which to measure itself, and great internal elan; it also required that people think about the ethical and moral implications of their solidarity. The short-term costs were real, but the longer-term gains were profound in establishing that it was possible to be both unflinching supporters of a group deemed “terrorist” by the U.S. government, and at the same time, familiar and accepted faces within liberalism’s various enclaves of power, from Congress to many city halls. Distinctive proof of this special role came on March 18, 1989, the night before the Salvadoran presidential elections and near the civil war’s climax, when ABC News Nightline had CISPES Organizational Director Michael Lent go mano a mano with arch-Reaganite Elliot Abrams. LEARNED LESSONS

The distinctly pragmatic orientation of CISPES, based in its self-definition as the “North American front of the Salvadoran revolution” rather than the “Central American wing of the U.S. left” (to repeat a formulation from its 1985 National Convention where these two options fought it out, with the former scoring a decisive victory), points towards the original source of CISPES’ political direction and organizing methodology: the Salvadorans themselves. CISPES came out of a particular historical conjuncture, and a series of powerful lessons about U.S. politics that had been learned during the 1960s and ’70s. It may be ironic or hard for some to accept that those lessons were best learned by people outside the U.S., and then “imported” back in via small groups of exiles, but there it is.

It should be evident to all North American activists that U.S. politics in the past 20 years have been, in a deep sense, post-Vietnam politics. Yet we have often failed to appreciate the depth of opportunity this presents. If during these two decades anyone among us had described the U.S. as a rich and fertile terrain for anti-imperialist solidarity, he or she would have been derided as a dreamer, so great was the legacy of alienation following the war visited upon the peoples of Indochina and assorted other imperial debacles.

Certain Salvadorans did not see the U.S. in the same way. They looked at the example of the antiwar movement crippling this world-hegemonic power at home, and made a strategic decision long ago that the U.S. was not only their natural antagonist, but also the best possible “rearguard.” If hindsight is correct, as long ago as 1976 activists in the Bloque Popular Revolucionario, linked to the Fuerzas Populares de Liberacion (one of the five political-military organizations that in 1980 formed the FMLN) began their patient work here, not only in the expanding refugee communities in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Washington D.C., but also focusing on the recruitment of unaffiliated young North Americans to their cause.

Key to the development of everything that came later, from CISPES’ founding in the same week as the FMLN in October 1980 through the Peace Accords of January 1992, was the political milieu within which these Salvadoran exiles — some few dozen people spread around the country, many of them still hard at work — found themselves. A self-named “Latin American solidarity movement” had slowly began to gel in the late 1960s out of militant New Left anti-imperialism and the return of many radicalized ex-missionaries from all over the hemisphere. In the ’70s this movement, focused on Chile and Puerto Rico but encompassing much of the Southern Cone and the Caribbean, was both quite successful and seriously crippled by sectarian intrigues. These rivalries stemmed from the open disunity of most of Latin America’s left movements, at home and in exile, which combined with the factionalism endemic to the “party building” phase of the post-New Left.

The Salvadorans who initiated CISPES and continued to work closely with it and related organizations over the next 13 years (and who were the main, though not the only, FMLN tendency among the Salvadoran exile community throughout) drew clear lessons from the political conditions of the 1970s. They did not accept at all the then widely-held proposition that the first task of “solidarity” was to construct internationalist links and a common struggle between the oppressed in the U.S. and other countries. They did not believe that building a revolutionary movement in the U.S. was any of their business, nor did they care to have U.S. political organizations, “revolutionary” or otherwise, involved in their business. To put it bluntly, they wanted to keep the organized sectors of the U.S. left out of El Salvador solidarity work, because they had little confidence in the political maturity or the organizing capacity of that left. Who can blame them?

Did these Salvadorans exclude and marginalize some U.S. activists because of their politics? Yes.

Was this a “narrow” conception of what solidarity could be? Yes.

Was it, to use one of the old epithets, “opportunistic?” Undoubtedly.

Were the Salvadorans and the North Americans in CISPES who were their close collaborators arrogant towards much of the U.S. left and peace movement on occasion? Absolutely.

But consider it from another point of view: Was there any current example of a cohesive, united solidarity movement built by U.S. left organizations? No.

Did Marxist-Leninist “parties” in the U.S. try, once again, to take over CISPES as part of their never-ending war of position? Of course; an undercover volunteer from a Trotskyist organization helped set up the first CISPES National Office in 1980 before being discovered.

Would any organized group on the U.S. left have been willing to put the extreme and immediate needs of the Salvadoran revolution first, not just for a month or two, but for as long as it took? Never.

At root was the view, which I share, that it was their revolution and they had the right and responsibility to determine the most appropriate forms of solidarity. The ’70s post-Vietnam phenomenon of North American leftists evaluating and adopting various stances of “critical solidarity” towards this or that revolutionary movement, offering approval and aid as a bargaining chip, was to virtually everyone in CISPES a repellent memory — or more often, a distinct shock if and when they heard about it. Indeed, it is safe to say that to a considerable extent CISPES embodied a rejection of much of the recent New Leftist past, especially for the ex-adherents of various Marxist tendencies who were drawn in one-by-one and, so to speak, unlearned old habits.

To at least a few “CISPESistas,” its organizing practice resembles much more the mass organizations of the 1930s and ’40s Popular Front left, with the obvious difference that there was no party integrating this particular struggle into a more universal vision of social transformation in this country. TRIAL AND ERROR

The bulk of this essay has been devoted to explaining the success of CISPES’ aggressive, flexible and “presentist” strategy, with the implication that this history should be seriously considered in planning the future renaissance of U.S. radicalism. I will stand by that conclusion, but I would not want to leave the reader with the impression that this was a flawless trajectory, moving steadily from one success to another over the years of Reagan and Bush; far from it, CISPES typically learned how to do things well by doing them badly at first, sometimes more than once. How could it be otherwise, given where it came from and its attempt to break new ground with a new methodology? To put it another way, to the extent that CISPES embodied a vanguardist approach, these were the flaws in any emphasis on voluntarism and what a leader of NISGUA, the Guatemala solidarity network, once described as CISPES’ intense reliance on the “subjective factor,” on organizing and motivating itself.

What this meant in practice was that CISPES’ mainly young, inexperienced activists often remained ignorant to the point of disrespect concerning other radical traditions, whether Christian or Communist — theirs was a pragmatic, nonideological species of sectarianism — and had considerable difficulty appreciating the diversity of the greater Central America movement, and the success of other organizing models like the faith-based networks.

The organization as a whole never developed a comprehensive approach to working in coalition, and at its otherwise dynamic national conventions was usually reduced to juggling laundry-lists of all the different “sectors” it would work with at some future unspecified date.

In the late 1980s CISPES Executive Director Angela Sanbrano became a recognized leader of the mainstream “peace and justice movement” as Co-Chair of the largest U.S. peace organization, SANE/FREEZE and a confidante of Jesse Jackson, culminating in her acting as emcee for the main Washington DC protest against the Gulf War in January 1991. Unfortunately, her experience was never incorporated into the training regime at the base level.  Certainly, most CISPES chapters around the country built their own coalitions and alliances, but in this one area they were more like than unlike the rest of the decentralized, pluralist solidarity movement. In one city, CISPESistas might have excellent relations with City Hall and various Members of Congress; in some other cases, they boasted of their prowess at street-fighting, though the latter was hardly the norm.

A certain arrogance and disinterest in everything that came before, and an enthusiasm for one’s own special newness, are deeply rooted cultural traits in this country, hardly unique to CISPES. The above critique, or self- critique, reflects some distance from the post-student milieu that has always characterized CISPES, and should be understood as such. Its weaknesses were inseparable from the strengths I have attempted to describe — the energy, tenacity and discipline that allowed this particular organization of North Americans, along with others, to make a distinct contribution to the liberation of the Salvadoran people from a regime of feudal barbarism.

The FBI Probe of CISPES

from http://www.publiceye.org/huntred/Hunt_For_Red_Menace-12.html

The genesis of the FBI probe of CISPES was a complex network of groups and indviduals with a common counter-subversive worldview: · The underlying theories which prompted the FBI investigation of CISPES were developed at the start of the Cold War, and reflect the same discredited view of subversion that the American public finally rejected to end the McCarthy period. · Individual and groups who hold this discredited view of subversion played influential roles in shaping the policies of the Reagan Administration in this area, and then in some cases moved on to become consultants and staff members in Administration and Congressional posts. · These same groups and individuals then set out to rebuild a private counter-subversion network among conservative and rightist groups with the goal of assisting the government, and specifically the FBI, in investigating subversion. The results of their investigations were published in a range of newsletters and journals in articles which frequently cross-cited each other and often traced back to unsubstantiated charges of communist subversion made by persons testifying before congressional witch-hunting committees. · Young conservatives from colleges and universities were recruited and trained to participate in monitoring and analyzing the activities of alleged subversive groups through a network of interlocking conservative institutions based in Washington, D.C. · Information and documents collected by private right-wing groups were provided to government law-enforcement agencies that would otherwise be prevented from obtaining the information by constitutional and legislative restrictions. This biased and unverified information was then used to justify criminal investigations of dissidents in general and the anti-interventionist CISPES in particular.

Many activists involved in Central America issues became aware of ham-handed snooping by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in the early 1980’s. In 1986 the Center for Investigative Reporting in California used the federal Freedom of Information Act to obtain FBI files which suggested a large-scale probe into CISPES. In 1987 testimony by a former FBI informant Frank Varelli also suggested a broad attack on CISPES by the FBI. Varelli later told reporters of the involvement of other governmental and private right-wing groups in targetting CISPES.

Some 1300 pages of additional FBI files released in 1988 by New York’s Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), on behalf of CISPES, reveal in sharp detail the extent and nature of the FBI probe into CISPES. More importantly, the files show that the FBI, to justify its actions, accepted as fact a right-wing conspiratorial world-view which sees dissent as treason and resistance to oppression as terrorism.

The first FBI investigation of CISPES was launched in September of 1981 to determine if CISPES should be forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Among the documents used by the FBI to justify this CISPES probe, according to Congressional testimony by FBI official Oliver “Buck” Revell, was a 1981 article by a former FBI informant and ongoing right-wing private spy-John Rees. The Rees article appeared in Review of the News a magazine published by the paranoid ultra-right John Birch Society. This FBI investigation was terminated without indictments in December of 1981.

A second FBI investigation of CISPES began in March of 1983. It was premised on the right-wing conspiracy theory that CISPES was a cover for “terrorist” activity. To justify this view, the FBI relied not only on reports from its informant Varelli, but also in part on a conspiratorial analysis contained in a report written by Michael Boos, a staffer at the right-wing Young Americas Foundation. This FBI “counter-terrorism” investigation was terminated without indictments in 1985.

The FBI relying on the malicious musings of paranoid right-wing ideologues to justify probes of the anti-Administration CISPES is rather like the IRS assigning Jerry Falwell to audit the financial records of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Terrorist-Baiting of CISPES

The June 1984 report on CISPES by Michael Boos, the staff member at the Young Americas Foundation, was titled: “Group in Nation’s Capitol to Aid Left-Wing Terrorists.” In the report Boos wrote that the D.C. Chapter of CISPES would “soon launch a fundraising campaign to provide direct military assistance to the Soviet supported Marxist terrorists seeking to overthrow the recently elected government in El Salvador.” This conclusion was reached when Boos made the Kierkegaardian assumption that the shoe factory CISPES planned to help build in El Salvador would not really benefit civilians, but would secretly make and repair boots for rebel soldiers-and thus constituted military aid for “Soviet supported Marxist terrorists.”

Boos wrote his report after attending a public CISPES meeting in Washington, D.C. According to a spokesperson at the Young Americas Foundation, Boos was apparently engaging in a freelance information-gathering activity not directly connected with his staff position. Boos filed his report with the right-wing newsletter American Sentinel, and sent an unsolicited copy to the FBI. The FBI promptly distributed it to 32 of its field offices and apparently sent it to other federal agencies as well.

It is ironic that the Boos report on CISPES for American Sentinel was revealed in the FBI documents on CISPES since the Young Americas Foundation is only a minor player in the right-wing information network. The Foundation primarily is involved in recruiting college students into the conservative anti-communist movement. Boos, while at Young Americas Foundation, circulated a newsletter reporting on campus activists, but it too is not influential in right-wing circles.

The Young Americas Foundation is a haven for aging former members of the right-wing campus-based Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). While it was started by a former YAF staffer, the Foundation is not formally tied to that group. They are certainly right-wing ideological soul-mates, however, and they cooperate closely. The Foundation once sent out a fundraising mailing calling former Senator George McGovern “anti-American,” and claimed “our classrooms are full of teachers and textbooks that tear down our system of republican government and free enterprise while glorifying communism and socialism.”

The American Sentinel, the newsletter which published the Boos report on CISPES (without attribution) is, however, one of the core right-wing outlets for red menace diatribes. The Sentinel frequently touts its relationship to law enforcement. The Sentinel raised funds to send its blacklist-style report to “723 FBI offices and local police departments,” pledging to keep track of “the liberals, the left-wingers, the radicals and the Communists.”

Paranoid Theories and the FBI Probe of CISPES

That the views of the paranoid right wing find safe harbor at the FBI is supported by the documents they released under the FOIA concerning the probe of CISPES. As Alicia Fernandez of the Center for Constitutional Rights explained in an article appearing in the Movement Support Network News:

=== “In order to justify its investigation, the FBI utilized two rationales: it posited the existence of a covert program and it resurrected a 1950’s favorite, the concept of a `front group.’ These two notions were extremely useful. By positing a covert program, FBI headquarters was able to reason away the lack of findings in investigations conducted by the field offices. === “When a field office reported that assiduous investigation had revealed that a local CISPES chapter pursued only such projects as teach-ins, slide shows, and pickets, headquarters would remind the field office of the `covert program’ This, headquarters explained, was known to only a few CISPES members, but represented CISPES’ true intentions and activities. Thus headquarters would caution the field office not to be deceived and urge it to dig deeper. The deeper the field office dug, with no results, then clearly, reasoned the FBI, the deeper they needed to dig. === “When field offices cabled headquarters to inform it that they had located no CISPES chapter but had found a Central American solidarity committee, or a Latin American human rights group, or a sanctuary church, headquarters would recommend aggressive investigation and explain that CISPES operated through `fronts,’ in which respectable people were duped for its `terrorist purposes.’

In this way, any group which ever worked with CISPES or shared members became a potential `front.’ “The very logic of these rationales increased the pressure to expand the hunt for fronts and intensify the search for covert activities,” Fernandez points out.

The FBI probe of CISPES involved 52 of the 59 Field Offices of the FBI. Dossiers were compiled on hundreds of other organizations which intersected in some vague way with CISPES during the course of the investigation.

Margaret Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights called the FBI probe of CISPES a “sweeping and intrusive investigation. . .the FBI utilized wiretaps, undercover agents, and informants in addition to the type of intensive physical surveillance that is normally reserved for investigation of serious crimes.” According to Ratner:

=== “The investigation, which was begun in 1981 to determine if a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act existed, was quickly turned into a `Foreign Intelligence/Terrorism’ inquiry, even though no basis for such existed. The new category, however, allowed the FBI to utilize `special techniques,’ that are considered illegal when applied to domestic investigations. It allowed the FBI to avoid strictures developed to remedy the abuses that came to light in the post-Vietnam protest era.”

Ratner charges that “the investigation was used as one of the pretexts for the harassment and surveillance” being reported by those who oppose the Reagan administration’s foreign policy.

FBI director William Sessions, however, defended the CISPES investigation as a legitimate probe into criminal activity. But one FBI agent assumed a more sinister motive for the CISPES investigation in a memo which warned:

=== “It is imperative at this time to formulate some plan of action against CISPES and, specifically, against individuals [deletion] who defiantly display their contempt for the US government by making speeches and propagandizing their cause while asking for political asylum. === “New Orleans is of the opinion that the Departments of Justice and State should be consulted to explore the possibility of deporting these individuals or at best denying them re-entry after they leave.

Among the many groups named in the CISPES FBI files were: Central American Solidarity Committee, Clergy and Laity Concerned, Church of the Brothers, Chicago Interreligious Task Force, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Friends Religious Society, Maryknoll Sisters, National Education Association, Southern Christian Leaderhip Conference, United Steel Workers Union, and the United Auto Workers union. Also named in the files were a number of individual churches, colleges, religious orders, community organizations, women’s groups and political groups.

The following excerpt from the Pittsburgh FBI field office file on the local CISPES affiliate, the Central American Mobilization Committee (CAMC), showed the ideological framework which forms the basis of the FBI investigation:

=== “The membership of the CAMC and its affiliated groups appears generally to be of two type groups: the `core’ membership and the `affiliate’ membership. The `core’ membership consists of individuals with strong Communist or Socialist beliefs who have a history of being active in Communist or Socialist political organizations, some since the Vietnam War era. The `affiliate’ membership, on the other hand, consists in large part of local college students relatively new to the political scene. It has at least one female high school student member. Some of these younger `affiliate’ members appear to be politically unsophisticated in that they know little of current international events save what they read or hear at their political meetings. Pittsburgh has noted at least two of these members or affiliates both were young females.”

The CISPES FOIA revelations came on the heels of charges by former FBI informant Frank Varelli that he was pressured into inventing information to show that CISPES was tied to terrorists. Varelli told a Congressional subcommittee in 1987 that his reports were designed to provide an excuse for the FBI to intimidate critics of Reagan’s Central America policies.

According to Varelli:

=== “The FBI led me to believe that CISPES was a radical `terrorist’ organization. . . .Ironically, never once during the next three years of my association with CISPES did I encounter anything even close to the picture painted by the FBI. The CISPES organization was peaceful, nonviolent, and devoted to changing the policies of the United States towards Central America by persuasion and education.

Varelli sued the FBI, alleging they refused to pay him $65,000 in back pay. Varelli was terminated as an informant when the FBI agent controlling him carelessly lost in a car burglary files containing secret information that might have blown Varelli’s cover.

1,000 Protest Role Of U.S. in El Salvador; 215 Arrested in Blockade at Pentagon

From the Washington Post, October 18, 1988

At least 1,000 rowdy but mostly peaceful protesters of U.S. involvement in El Salvador blockaded the south entrances to the Pentagon early yesterday, sitting in front of moving cars and buses and creating a sea of bodies at the building’s doorsteps.

At least 215 demonstrators were arrested, most of them charged with obstructing a passageway, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and one year in jail. Only minor injuries were reported.

Pentagon employees arriving for work found themselves engulfed in swaying human waves. Some workers broke through with help of helmeted police, while others retreated to the unblocked entrances.

By sunrise, the protesters had managed to close the 3,700-space south parking lot, causing major commuting delays on all roads around the complex and halting bus service to the Pentagon, a major bus-subway transfer point, between 6:30 and 9 a.m.

A Pentagon spokesman said it was business as usual inside.

The mood and tactics of the protest were reminiscent of the 1960s, although many of those arrested yesterday were not yet born in 1967, when 35,000 demonstrators converged on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War.

Yesterday’s demonstration united the two generations-veteran dissidents Daniel Ellsberg and David Dellinger representing the older side, and 18-year-old Len Riccio of Connecticut the new generation.

“I object to everything the United States is doing in El Salvador,” said Riccio, who was in handcuffs even before the sun came up. “If it’s got to be done, it’s got to be done,” he said of his arrest.

Peace activist Ellsberg, who in 1967 was a Pentagon employee working on what became known as the Pentagon Papers, said there was a major difference between the anti-Vietnam message and the one protesters were trying to make yesterday about El Salvador.

“We are telling the administration and the people in this building that they can’t do what they’re doing to America without arresting America,” Ellsberg said. “This is different than Vietnam. We’re acting before American combat troops are sent . . . . For every person willing to get arrested now, a hundred or thousand are willing to get arrested if they escalate this war.”

The coalition behind yesterday’s demonstration, part of a campaign called “El Salvador: Steps to Freedom,” is seeking an end to U.S. military aid, including advisers, to the government of El Salvador, which has been waging a war with leftist guerrillas for eight years. More than 65,000 people have been killed in the war and related political violence, according to media accounts.

The coalition, which includes CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador), the Winning Democracy Campaign and the Pledge of Resistance, has charged that U.S. involvement in the Central American country has prolonged and aggravated the war.

The Salvadoran government of President Jose Napoleon Duarte receives nearly $100 million a year in U.S. military aid.

State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck said yesterday that the U.S. assistance “has helped {El Salvador} push back the threat of communist revolution and move . . . toward a stable democracy.”

Yesterday’s demonstration at times resembled a nine-ring circus, with large knots of protesters moving from barricade to barricade to fill in cracks in the human fortress.

Although the demonstration was largely peaceful, some protesters threw red paint at passing buses, set trash cans afire, burned an effigy and tussled with police officers wielding riot clubs. Protest organizers blamed those incidents on the militant May Day Anarchist Network, whose members said they were not opposed to using violence.

At least four police officers received minor injuries, some from thrown objects and others the result of carrying protesters who went limp during their arrests.

On her way to the Pentagon Metro stop, commuter Mary Beth Greenleaf was punched in the mouth by a protester, she said as she stood by an ambulance, her mouth bleeding. Four protesters were sprayed with Mace by a Defense Protective Service officer. The officer, whose badge identified him as H.G. Meyer Jr., would not explain his actions when asked by a reporter, saying only: “I had a good reason.”

Most police maintained a low-key attitude and went out of their way to avoid arrests, a tactic that frustrated many of the protesters and resulted in a cat-and-mouse game in which the demonstrators barricaded the entrances and the police carried some of them a few feet away to clear passageways and then allowed them to move back in.

Try as he did, Bill Hawkins had a hard time getting arrested. A mathematician from the 25-member “Orioles Against Death Squads” unit from Baltimore, Hawkins helped block the Pentagon’s southeast entrance. Police picked him up by the arms and legs and gently threw his ample frame into the bushes at least three times. Each time he got up and headed back for more.

Finally, police subdued him with plastic handcuffs. “I had to very insistently position myself in front of the stairway, to make sure I was obstructing something,” he said after his arrest.

There were moments of drama and of humor.

Before dawn, angry confrontations sprouted between Pentagon employees determined to park in the south lot and protesters determined not to let them.

“I’m not going to back up, I’ll go through them,” shouted a Navy officer as a dozen people dropped to their knees in front of his van.

“If you move forward, they’re going to get hurt and it may be terrible,” pleaded Guy Burton, a CISPES “peace keeper.”

“I don’t care, I want to park my car,” the officer shouted back.

“Don’t hurt people . . . . We all have different opinions about it,” said Burton, his face inches away from the officer’s. “People are going to get hurt.”

“This is causing stupidity for you all,” the officer shot back.

A police officer stepped in, urging restraint. The Navy officer put his van in reverse.

“Thank you, sir,” said Burton. “We hope you resign.”

Reaction to the protest varied among Pentagon employees. “Obviously they’re making their point,” said Army Col. Herb Williams as he walked past demonstrators. “I’m just glad we’re living in a country where they can do what they’re doing.”

Yvette Boyd of the Army Corps of Engineers was more critical. “I don’t think it’s fair for people to have to rassle and scuffle to get to work.”

About 7:30 a.m., two teen-age girls from the District pounded a wooden cross into a mock graveyard of at least 100 crosses, each bearing the name of a victim of the Salvadoran strife. Nearby, police officers knocked over crosses.

Officer V.E. Starks approached the girls, pleading in a quiet voice: “Please, I don’t want to arrest you.”

“Are you volunteering to be arrested?” Starks asked.

After the other crosses had been knocked down, the sisters slowly walked off, with Clarity Haynes, 17, clasping a cross to her chest an looking straight ahead.

An hour later, the sisters returned, erecting that cross and many others. This time, they stayed up.