Romney’s Bain Capital connected to Salvador death squads?

A new dimension of the story of Mitt Romney’s connections to Bain Capital has now emerged, namely the possible connection of Bain, and Romney, to violent ultra-right-wing political circles in Latin America.

When Romney was, in the early 1980s, spinning off Bain Capital from its parent company Bain and Company, he was told that he had to find new people to put up the initial capital. So he made a connection with some members of the elite “14 families” that have historically run El Salvador, many of whom were living in Miami at that time because of the civil war raging in their homeland. Early contributors of a total of $9 million to Bain’s startup were members of the de Sola, Poma, Dueñas and Salaverria families. The facilitator for this hookup seems to have been Panamanian-born banker Frank Kardonski, who died earlier this year.

Romney later claimed that he was nervous about dealing with some of these people for fear that the money they would put into Bain Capital might be tainted by drug trafficking or human rights violations. So he had them vetted as individuals (he says) but did not check out there relatives. But for of Latin American oligarchs, everything is “family business.”

These Salvadoran families were involved in coffee and cotton production and other enterprises, and had kept control of the country through dictatorial governments. In 1979 the dictator of the moment, Carlos Humberto Romero, was overthrown and replaced by a progressive military-civilian “Junta”, which tried to initiate land reform and the nationalization of the banking and coffee industries. This greatly threatened the interests of the oligarchy, which responded violently.

During this period and subsequently, also, the Salvadoran oligarchs were interested in diversifying their investments, so the Bain opportunity was in line with their priorities.

They have continued to invest in Bain.

The money was channeled through shell companies and banks in Panama. This was in the early 1980s, when Panama was run by strongman Manuel Noriega, and when the Panamanian banking system was notorious for its secrecy and therefore its use for money laundering by drug traffickers and other criminals, including the CIA.

Another Bain investor was Robert Maxwell, a corrupt British press lord who had deep ties to both the CIA and the Israeli Mossad, and after whose very suspicious drowning death was discovered to have been looting his employees’ pension fund. Another British financier who put up initial money for Bain Capital was Sir Jack Lyons, who later was convicted of unrelated corrupt practices.

Many of the Salvadoran families who pitched in for the start-up of Bain Capital were also contributors to the ferociously right wing political party ARENA (National Republican Alliance). ARENA’s leading light was a former military officer, Roberto D’Aubuisson, who is considered to have been the godfather of the death squads in El Salvador. D’Aubuisson, who died of cancer in 1992, is known to have ordered the March, 1980 assassination of the Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, because the prelate had been denouncing military violence against the Salvadoran people. Seventy-five thousand people were killed in the Salvadoran Civil War, the vast majority by the death squads and the military. The Reagan administration gave full support to all this violence, which, in the “Contra Wars”, eventually enveloped Nicaragua and Honduras also.

The networks of reactionary forces that were brought together by the activities of the Salvadoran elites, often working with the CIA and criminal elements, continue to be a destabilizing element all over the Western Hemisphere. The Salvadoran ultra-right was involved in efforts to start a terrorism campaign in Cuba in the late 1990s. Several bombs set off in Havana, one of them killing an Italian tourist, Fabio de Celmo.

The networks which link Central and South American reactionaries with right wing politicians in the United States have their fingerprints on the coups in Honduras and Paraguay, and are deeply involved in efforts to destabilize the progressive governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Their activities are integrated with those of the right wing Cuban exile elite in South Florida and elsewhere.

Many progressives here and abroad are disappointed by the Obama administration’s Latin America policy. The Cuba blockade is still on, and our money continues to be poured into the “drug wars” in Colombia and Mexico. The Clinton State Department connived at legitimizing the results of the 2009 coup in Honduras.

However, a victory for Romney and his Republicans in November would greatly worsen the situation. It would mean that the kind of right wing extremists who helped Romney establish Bain Capital in the 1980s and whom he still calls his friends would be partners in setting U.S. policy toward the entire region. U.S. harassment of Cuba, Venezuela and other countries with progressive governments would sharply increase. Reactionary Republican Latin America policy figures Ollie North, Otto Reich, Roger Noriega and John Negroponte, all of them major figures in the “Contra Wars” but still politically active, as well as Cuban exile politicians like Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen would be the people Mitt Romney would probably turn to in developing Latin America policy for the United States.

We can’t let that happen by default.

Photo: Statue of Archbishop Óscar Romero, who was murdered by a right-wing death squad. Amber // CC 2.0


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.