Diary - Bianca Jagger
As a teenager in Nicaragua, I witnessed the terror unleashed by the US-backed president, Anastasio S
It has been another week of anxious battling with my mobile phone. For months, I have been waiting for Orange to send me a long-overdue upgrade phone - my original one is so old that I need to keep it together with a rubber band. I wait and wait, like in some long-running saga (but one that is a lot less entertaining than EastEnders). On Tuesday, armed with the bandaged mobile and some luggage, I left for Hamburg to open the Special Olympic Games. It was my second visit to this beautiful city in less than ten days. The week before, I was there to pick up the World Achievement Award at the Women's World Awards. At the ceremony, I met Agnes Wessalowski, who was named Woman of the Year. Agnes, who was born with Down's syndrome, won a gold medal in the swimming competition. She is full of life and enormous courage, and is truly representative of the spirit of the Special Olympics: an outstanding programme that allows more than one million people with disabilities to celebrate their physical skills. Praise for this unique programme must go to Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder, and Timothy Shriver, her son, who is chairman and CEO.
I am surprised to read, in a newspaper, that I am considering running for president of Nicaragua. This is news to me. As is the other claim made by the article, that I was a beauty queen. Not quite. Instead of running for Miss Nicaragua, I left the country armed with a French scholarship to study political science in Paris. I am still concerned about the political situation in my homeland, but I believe that I should continue in my role as a human rights campaigner. That is not to say that I will never contemplate running for office. But at a time when most politicians are distrusted by people throughout the world (witness the low turnout in the recent European elections), I don't believe this is the moment to embark on a political career.
Which brings me to the cabal of George W Bush and Tony Blair, who continue to repeat their discredited mantra regarding weapons of mass destruction and the link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. This, despite the irrefutable evidence that there were no WMDs and no link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, as the independent US 9/11 commission report confirmed recently. Yet Blair insists that Saddam created "a permissive environment" for terrorists and al-Qaeda in Iraq. In fact, Bush and Blair, with their illegal war, have turned Iraq into a recruiting ground for terrorists. Perhaps they hope they will succeed in rewriting history by repeating their lies, again and again.
As a teenager, I witnessed the terror that the US-backed president, Anastasio "Tachito" Somoza, unleashed upon Nicaraguans. I took part in student demonstrations and saw with horror fellow students being shot at by Somoza's National Guard. I was one of the lucky ones: my scholarship allowed me an escape. During the 1980s, President Reagan's administration supported a series of repressive regimes in Latin America, including in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Thousands of innocent people were killed by armies and death squads supported and trained by the Reagan administration in central America. Furthermore, in 1982, he began funding the Contra war, violating international law and circumventing the US Congress. In the Iran-Contra scandal, 11 administration officials were convicted on criminal charges, and the special prosecutor's report concluded that arms sales to Iran had been carried out with the knowledge of, among others, President Reagan. Yet last week, when Reagan died, most of the American media and, to my great surprise, the BBC were suffering what to me seemed like serious amnesia.
I'm often asked about the turning point in my life. It was in 1981, when I travelled to Honduras as part of a US congressional fact-finding mission. I visited a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) refugee camp for Salvadoreans who were crossing the border to escape persecution from their government. During my visit, an armed death squad of about 35 men marched across the border from El Salvador and entered the camp. They rounded up about 40 refugees, tied their thumbs behind their backs and proceeded to take them back to El Salvador - with the Honduran army's blessing. The relief workers and our delegation decided to chase after them.
We had no weapons - only cameras. This was a time when the Salvadorean army and its death squads were killing more than 1,000 people a month. We ran behind them for about 20 minutes, along a dry riverbed, accompanied by the captives' mothers, wives and children. During the chase, we screamed: "We will denounce this atrocity to the world." As we neared the border, the death squad came within earshot. They turned, pointed their M16s at us and yelled in Spanish: "These sons of bitches have caught up with us." We screamed back: "You'll have to kill us all!" There was a long silence. Then, without explanation, they let the refugees, and us, go free.
Last week, I read an exceptional book by Helena Kennedy, Just Law: the changing face of justice - and why it matters to us all. Perhaps I should send copies to Blair and Bush.