Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016

Today in History


Silvio Berlusconi bows out after Italian MPs vote for savage cuts


PM hands in resignation at presidential palace in Rome, bringing to an end his 17-year domination of Italian politics

Silvio Berlusconi's scandal-ridden premiership ended in ignominy as he was forced to hide from a jeering crowd in Rome after handing in his resignation at a late-night meeting with President Giorgio Napolitano. His departure followed a historic vote in parliament that paved the way for a new government tasked with shoring up the ailing economy.

Berlusconi was forced to leave the presidential residence through a side entrance, to chants of "buffoon, buffoon" from thousands of demonstrators outside. The news agency Ansa reported that he told aides: "This is something that deeply saddens me." The protesters, including a choir singing the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah, rejoiced at his departure.

The 75-year-old billionaire brought down the curtain on a government that has become plagued by scandals and seemed increasingly helpless in the face of the economic storm that has taken his country and the euro to the brink of catastrophe. The dramatic end of his 17-year domination of Italian politics came as the lower house of parliament approved a package of savage cuts and stimulus measures demanded by the European Union to trim Italy's massive €1.9 trillion debt.

After losing his majority in the house, a weakened Berlusconi had pledged to resign as soon as he had pushed the reform package through parliament. The reforms were passed by 380 votes to 26. Opposition parties did not participate.

The package was passed as José Manuel Barroso, president of the European commission, issued a sharp rebuke to Eurosceptics in the UK who want to use the crisis to disengage from the European Union. Writing in the Observer, he said all members of the EU need to unite and "advance together".

Despite support eroding within his own ranks, Berlusconi was greeted by cheers of "Silvio, Silvio", and given a standing ovation by his party as he took his seat in the chamber. Fabrizio Cicchitto, a member of his Freedom People party, told MPs: "We express all our solidarity to him for the attacks he has suffered." Berlusconi stood to give a slight bow to the chamber.

Italy's longest serving postwar prime minister raised a toast with ministers at a final cabinet meeting after the vote, only for his car to be chased by protesters shouting "Go, go,...

Silvio Berlusconi Steps Down: Protesters Celebrate in Front of His Home


Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s 17-year stint in Italian politics, which began with hope and optimism, ended in embarrassing shame on Saturday night.

After losing his majority in Parliament last Tuesday, he promised Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, that he would resign once the two houses of Parliament passed a key austerity bill. Napolitano urged Italy’s top political officials not to delay in passing the bill, which moved through Parliament in record time, passing both houses by Saturday afternoon.

Growing concern on Friday that Berlusconi would somehow squeak out another month or two at the helm was replaced on Saturday by what seemed like an epiphany as the country realized he might finally be gone for good. Outside Rome’s Parliament, as the House of Deputies swiftly passed the bill, a crowd of revelers gathered, carrying signs touting Nov. 12, 2011, as Italy’s liberation day from Berlusconi’s hold. When the bill passed, the crowd erupted in celebration.  Berlusconi was the last to leave Parliament Hall, prompting some observers to wonder if he was planning to put off the inevitable. He then held his last cabinet meeting before heading to the Grazioli Palace, his personal residence in the center of Rome.

By the time he arrived at his home, the crowd had made their way down Rome’s busy Via Del Corso to greet him, waving Italy’s tricolor flag and shouting, “Resign, resign!” Meanwhile, an even larger crowd began gathering in front of the Quirnale Palace, where President Napolitano waited for the embattled prime minister. There a professional choir had assembled, repeatedly singing the hymn “Hallelujah” a cappella. Berlusconi was expected to arrive at 8:30, but he was nearly a half hour late. In the meantime, the crowd sang partisan songs and shouted “Mafioso,” “buffoon,” and “Berlusconi is a piece of shit.” At times the scene felt like a sporting event, with the crowd resorting to chants normally reserved for out-of-favor soccer fans.

By the time he arrived at his home, the crowd had made their way down Rome’s busy Via Del Corso to greet him, waving Italy’s tricolor flag and shouting, “Resign, resign!”

When Berlusconi’s motorcade finally arrived at the Quirnale Palace, fronted by an armored police riot van, the crowd went wild, screaming insults and spitting on the car. He was in the...


Reagan declares 'War on Drugs'


On October 10, 1982...

On this day in 1982, President Ronald Reagan declared illicit drugs to be a threat to U.S. national security.

Richard M. Nixon, the president who popularized the term “war on drugs,” first used the words in 1971. However, the policies that his administration implemented as part of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 dated to Woodrow Wilson’s presidency and the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914. This was followed by the creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930.

Speaking at the Justice Department, Reagan likened his administration’s determination to discourage the flow and use of banned substances to the obstinacy of the French army at the Battle of Verdun in World War I — with a literal spin on the “war on drugs.” The president quoted a French soldier who said, “There are no impossible situations. There are only people who think they’re impossible.”

Spreading the anti-drug message, first lady Nancy Reagan toured elementary schools, warning students about the danger of illicit drugs. When a fourth grader at Longfellow Elementary School in Oakland, Calif., asked her what to do if approached by someone offering drugs, the first lady responded: “Just say no.”

In 1988, Reagan created the Office of National Drug Control Policy to coordinate drug-related legislative, security, diplomatic, research and health policy throughout the government. Successive agency directors were dubbed “drug czars” by the media. In 1993, President Bill Clinton raised the post to Cabinet-level status.

On May 13, 2009, R. Gil Kerlikowske, the current director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, signaled that though the Obama administration did not plan to significantly alter drug enforcement policies, it would not use the term “war on drugs,” saying it was “counterproductive.”

Report suggests US ready to end war on drugs

...and on April 2, 2014

Views on drugs and drug policy in the United States have shifted significantly in the last few years, as Americans become more amicable to the idea of lenient punishment for drug users than ever before, according to a new survey.

The poll, Pew Research Center’s first comprehensive look at drug policy since 2001, suggests that Americans are not only supportive of less harsh laws for marijuana, but also for hard drugs like cocaine and heroin.  

Drug reform advocates say the survey shows the public has had a harsh reaction to the expensive and largely ineffective policies of the war on drugs. But they also say the survey only tells half the story: while public perception may have shifted, many policies that people seem to disagree with remain in place, with few signs from politicians that they are willing to reverse course anytime soon.

“The public is definitely pretty far ahead of politicians,” said Jag Davies of the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization that promotes alternatives to current drug policy. “Elected officials have been so scared for so long, but they’re starting to realize it’s to their benefit to reevaluate [their policies].”

The survey, conducted in February and released on Wednesday, finds that 67 percent of Americans think the government should focus less on punishment and more on treatment for drug users, including users of heroin and cocaine.

It also notes that people are supportive of abolishing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences. In 2001, about half of those polled favored mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, but Pew’s most recent survey found that 63 percent of people thought states moving away from the minimums was a “good thing.”

Pew also finds that by overwhelming majorities, people think alcohol is more harmful to individual and societal health than marijuana. And perhaps most tellingly for the immediate future of drug policy in America, 75 percent of respondents say that regardless of their views on marijuana, they believe that full legalization is inevitable.

Drug policy watchers say the trends highlighted by the survey aren’t particularly surprising – perceptions of drug use have been shifting in a more lenient direction for years. But they say the sheer size of the shift shows how ready Americans are to move beyond the era of the war on drugs.

“The U.S. has pushed the war to such an extreme level –...


El Salvador 12 Years of Civil War


Over 75,000 civilians died at the hands of government forces during the civil war in El Salvador (1980-1992). These 12 years of violence were punctuated by three well known atrocities: the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero that sparked the conflict, the rape and murder of four U.S. churchwomen that caused international outrage and the 1989 Jesuits Massacre that finally compelled the international community to intervene.


Since the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, a single resource has dominated El Salvador:land. Like its Central American neighbors, El Salvador was organized into a giant plantation for luxury commodities: cocoa, indigo and in the 1800s, coffee. Independence only shifted control from the Spanish to Salvadorans of European ancestry. Indigenous peoples and mestizos, comprising 95% percent of the population, were reduced to virtual serfdom, while a small minority of landholders called the “Fourteen Families” ruled through a long series of military dictatorships.  It is along these fault lines – between peasant and planter, European and native – that cycles of violence have erupted throughout El Salvador’s troubled history. [1]

PRELUDE TO A WAR: 1932-1980

“To be Salvadoran,” wrote historian Héctor Lindo-Fuentes, “means knowing that something tremendous happened in late January 1932.” [2]  In the western part of the country, labor leader Agustin Farabundo Marti led a peasant revolt against the ruling dictatorship and the Fourteen Families. Within a few weeks, the revolt was crushed in a massive military reprisal called la matanza: the slaughter. An estimated 30,000 civilians were massacred, the majority of whom were indigenous people whose traditional dress and languages marked them for death. The Salvadoran military would dominate the government for decades to come. [2]

In a sense, the conflict between left and right wings never ended. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary death squads engaged in a deadly spiral of political violence.  On October 15, 1979, a group of moderate officers ousted the dictator Carlos Humberto Romero and formed the Revolutionary Government Junta (JRG).  In January 1980, right-wing violence broke out against the JRG, including bombings against government newspapers, kidnappings and murder. All of the JRG’s civilian leaders resigned. At the same time, the U.S. State Department received warnings that right-wing death squads were allying with the military against the government. [1]

The JRG's main opponent on the Right was a Salvadoran army officer named Roberto D’Aubuisson—also known under the sinister nickname “Blowtorch Bob”. D’Aubuisson was the mastermind behind an attempted coup against the JRG and the assassination of...

El Salvador's brutal civil war: What we still don't know


Twenty years after peace accords were signed, many aspects of El Salvador's long civil war remain murky.

Scranton, PA - From 1980 to 1992, civil war ravaged the Central American state of El Salvador, claiming the lives of approximately 75,000 Salvadorans.

For three days this February, scholars from around the world gathered in El Salvador to assess the state of our knowledge of that country's civil war, 20 years after peace accords were signed that ended the conflict.

 President marks Salvadoran civil war with apology

The seminar - "History, Society and Memories: the armed conflict on the 20th anniversary of the Peace Accords" - was organised by the Unit of Investigations about the Salvadoran Civil War (UIGCS) of the Universidad de El Salvador. In the largest meeting of researchers on the civil war in El Salvador, participants from Spain, Costa Rica, Mexico, France, Germany, Holland and the United States joined local academics in sharing what we have learned about the 12-year-long war.

According to Jorge Juárez of UIGCS, the seminar's goal was to "make known to the public a version [of the war's history] without passions, without ideology, that presents the simple truth of the facts".

What happened?

The two primary actors in the El Salvador civil war were a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group, called the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), and the government of El Salvador. However, like most civil wars, the conflict was much more complicated than this.

The FMLN was supported by the Nicaraguan, Cuban, and Soviet governments. Most people who have studied the conflict in El Salvador would argue that the Soviets did not provide much direct support to the guerrillas. I agree - but Nicaragua and Cuba would not have been able to provide support to the guerrillas had the Soviets not been supporting them. It's also true that the FMLN did not get as much military and financial support from these two governments as the Salvadoran government received from the United States.

However, the FMLN benefited tremendously from the opportunity to use Managua and Havana for meetings of its General Command. The FMLN was able to move weapons and personnel in and out of the country undetected via the Gulf of Fonseca and Nicaragua. Soldiers trained and received medical care in Nicaragua and Cuba. Many family members sought sanctuary abroad for the duration of the conflict to avoid falling victim to the government's death squads.

Members of the ERP making grenades [GALLO/GETTY]



Nixon Offers Cease-Fire In Indochina Peace Move

In a nationally broadcast speech last night, President Nixon proposed an immediate standstill cease-fire in Indochina as a "major new initiative for peace."

Declaring that "an unconventional war may require an unconventional truce," Nixon announced that he was prepared to negotiate a timetable for the complete withdrawal of North Vietnamese and American troops from the war zone.

"The time has come for the government of North Vietnam to join its neighbors in a proposal to quit making war and to start making peace," he said.

Proudly citing "the remarkable success of the Vietnamization program," Nixon reiterated his previous pledge of removing more than 260,000 men by next spring.


In what had been billed as the "most comprehensive statement ever made" by an American President on the Indochina war, Nixon called for:

an immediate standstill cease-fire in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, "effectively supervised by international observers";

a mutual withdrawal of military forces over a 12-month period;

"the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners-of-war held by both sides";

an Indochina peace conference similar to the Geneva Conference of 1954 which would bring together all involved parties.

"The United States has never sought to widen the war," said Nixon. "What we seek is to widen the peace."

"It is always easier to make war than make a truce," he added.

Although the proposal came less than three weeks before major Congressional elections, a White House spokesman said that the Administration does not treat Vietnam as a political matter and that Nixon put forward his ideas at the earliest moment when, in his best judgment, he felt he could do so reasonably.

Many members of Congress, however, including Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott (R-Penn.) have said privately that the President would time any announcement on Vietnam to coincide with the November elections. Scott, like his colleagues, applauded the moves, calling it "a new chapter in the diplomatic history of the United States."

A fifth point of the Nixon plan calls on North Vietnam to recognize that there are two sides to the conflict in the South and that any meaningful settlement must satisfy both.

"We stand firm for the right of all the South Vietnamese people to determine for themselves the kind of government they want," said Nixon.

"We will abide by the...

Nixon's Peace Plan

In these cheerless times, we search with special diligence for any scrap of good news. So we study the President's latest plan for peace in Indochina, and the background briefing, hoping to find something that justifies the extravagant claims (new, sweeping, comprehensive) made for it. We're still searching. As a domestic political document, it is compelling. As a negotiating document it is not, being a collection of old ideas, retouched a bit, superadvertised and packaged for sale not in Paris France, but in Paris Maine, Paris Arkansas, and Paris Illinois.

Greatest attention has been given to the proposal for a standstill cease-fire. Except that Mr. Nixon would now extend it to all Indochina (since he himself took military action that widened the war), the idea is a rerun. In May last year, the President called for "an international supervisory body [to] participate in arranging supervised cease-fires." This past December, he again "proposed a ceasefire under international supervision." The "other side" was not interested then; it is likely to be even less interested now. The reason for that can be found in the White House statement that the ceasefire idea was put forward again, and with more fanfare, only after an extensive review of the military situation had convinced the President that stopping the shooting would be militarily safe for us. The spokesman stopped just short of admitting it would be to our advantage, but the clear implication that it would be to the disadvantage of Hanoi and the Vietcong diminishes any chance it may have of acceptance. A year ago in these pages, it was pointed out that a standstill ceasefire, in advance of a political agreement, "would lose for the Vietcong and their allies in the North everything for which they have fought during the past 25 years; namely, political control of Vietnam." Today, it would ratify the balance of terror in South Vietnam in our favor, for American and South Vietnamese government forces now command key population centers by weight of sheer numbers. As the White House knows, the North Vietnamese are returning to a tactic which may tip this balance—concentrated guerrilla warfare. The President would require them to abandon this strategy; a cease-fire should cause "all kinds of warfare to stop… including bombing and acts of terror." That is a one-sided call for surrender. Mr. Nixon said nothing last week about abandoning our...