Communist Workers of Iran

Just another WordPress site

San Juan Copala, SIL International and the CIA

By • Dec 18th, 2009 • Category: Commentaries

Source: OSAG, Charles Downes

In a recent OSAG posting Sam Cantera posed the question of whether the
autonomy of San Juan Copala is being threatened by a dynamic similar to
the Bowman project. I had initially dismissed the idea as I knew the
Bowman mapping project had been carried out only in the Sierra Juarez
and in San Luis Potosi. However a few recent posts on OSAG have caused
me to look a little furthur into a response to Sam’s question. I now
think he was on the right track.

What first joggled my mind was the suggestion by an Allan Lee that OSAG
readers might be interested in the website
Further investigation led me to the information that “Allan Lee” is
really Allan Lee Barber, a missionary associated with the Summer
Institute of Linguistics, now called SIL International. SIL
International is an extension of the Wycliffe Bible Translators. The SIL
are active in San Juan Copala as well as other Triqui pueblos and
throughout Mexico.

The SIL missionaries establish themselves within an indigenous community
such as San Juan Copala and then, while presenting themselves as
linguists working on translating the local language, they gather
anthropological information to reveal behavioral patterns among Indian
peoples in everything from socialization (including aggressive
tendencies) and personality traits, drives, emotions, and language
structure, to political intrigue, kinship ties, traditional authority,
mineral resources, exploitation, and labor relations. They are accused
of then passing this information to local gov’t agencies and the CIA. An
activity which might be considered parallel to what the Bowman project
was doing.

The following book review by Bill Weinberg provides some background on
SIL International activities. It appeared in The Nation, March 4, 1996.
The Conquest of the Amazon:
Nelson Rockefeller & Evangelism in the Age of Oil
by Gerard Colby with Charlotte Dennett
Harper Collins, New York, 1995

A century ago, the first John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil completed
the conquest of the American west. After the Cavalry had pacified the
Plains and Rockies, the missionaries had brought the light of
civilization–and a new Indian that understood the values of private
property, buying and selling. It was thanks to the groundwork laid by
the missionaries that the Rockefeller empire had a domesticated
leadership to deal with as railroads penetrated Indian territory and
vast mineral resources were discovered.

Ironically, Christian fundamentalists saw the Rockefellers, who were
sinking money into universities and “modernizing” Protestant
institutions, as a sinister force of liberal, urban ways. Even today,
the family is thought by many on the radical right to be at the center
of the Eastern Liberal conspiracy.

But in THY WILL BE DONE, The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller
& Evangelism in the Age of Oil, spanning a century in 960 pages,
co-authors Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett present the case for the
existence of a de facto cooperative arrangement between the Rockefeller
empire and the most effective, ambitious and zealous fundamentalist
missionary group. The common challenge was the post-World War II
pacification of the new frontiers of the developing world–especially
the Amazon rainforest.

THY WILL BE DONE charts the interaction of two men: Nelson Rockefeller,
John D.’s politically ambitious grandson, and William Cameron (Cam)
Townsend, founder and mastermind of America’s biggest fundamentalist
missionary group, Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Wycliffe, with its affiliated Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) and
Jungle Aviation & Radio Service (JAARS), maintains globe-spanning
operations and develops the foremost scholars of indigenous languages.
In the Amazon and elsewhere, Wycliffe missionaries are sometimes the
first to contact remote indigenous peoplesÑeven before the local
national government. With cutting-edge linguistic and anthropological
work fueled by a millennial vision of having translated the Bible into
every tribal tongue on earth by the year 2000, Wycliffe is uniquely
skilled in cracking native languages. Ostensibly funded by small
donations from supporters, Wycliffe in fact receives grants from private
foundations, government agencies, corporations and universities.

The overlapping worlds of government, industry and religion follow each
other across the globe as the needs of counterinsurgency, development
and saving souls demand: Wycliffe entered the Philippines in the 1950s
as the CIA combatted the peasant Huk rebellion, then moved to South
Vietnam in the ’60s, where the Rockefellers planned a massive
development effort around a series of Mekong River hydrodams. But the
greatest prize was the vast resources in the continental interior of the
traditional US influence sphere, Latin America.

Cam Townsend began as a missionary among the Maya Indians of the
Guatemalan highlands in the 1920s, while Rockefeller was directing
private disease-eradication efforts in the region. In the 1930s,
Townsend launched his own operation and won the heart of Mexican
President Lazaro Cardenas, then seeking to break the grip of the
Catholic Church over Mexico’s Indians. SIL and Wycliffe gained a first
Latin beachhead in the revolutionary nationalist Mexico of Cardenas,
ironically. But the Mexico operations were only a training ground for
Townsend’s real destiny–to bring light to the “green hell” of the
Amazon, where whole peoples had yet to be “contacted.”

Nelson Rockefeller also charted his course to global power through Latin
America. In World War II, President Roosevelt appointed him chief of his
own office, the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA). After a
turf war with Bill Donovan’s Office of Strategic Services, Nelson’s CIAA
won exclusive rights to anti-Axis propaganda and espionage–as well as
mapping and securing of vital resources for the war effort–in Latin
America. CIAA disease-eradication and education projects were directed
to those regions where oil, minerals, rubber and other resources needed
to be exploited. But a compliant labor source also needed to be secured.
Perhaps underestimating the actual degree of Axis intrigue in Latin
America, the authors portray a CIAA that merely used anti-fascism as a
cover for suppression of indigenous and labor struggles. Clearly there
were such instances–as when striking Indian miners in Bolivia were
brutally put down in 1942, at a cost of hundreds of lives.

Nelson also saw his operations in these years as a mere prelude to
post-war ambitions. Beyond the mines and oilfields of Mexico and the
Andes lay the untapped riches of South America’s remote interior–the

From these beginnings emerged a web of powerful men moving back and
forth from the worlds of Rockefeller foundations and the top levels of
government power. Rockefeller companies and ranches penetrated the
Amazon as Wycliffe began operations there. Through tortuous routes of
universities and foundations, Rockefeller money found its way into
Wycliffe operations. So did money from US aid and intelligence agencies.

Rockefeller Brothers Fund analysts would find themselves in the Cabinet
and CIA (successor to the wartime OSS) of even such postwar presidents
as Kennedy, an open Rockefeller rival. One such analyst and close Nelson
crony, Adolf Berle, was ambassador to Brazil during what Colby and
Dennett call America’s “first Cold War coup”–in October of 1945 against
President Getulio Vargas, who sought to nationalize the country’s oil.
Vargas resurrected the dream upon returning to power in 1950. Four years
later, after founding the state oil company Petrobras, he shot himself
in the head, leaving behind a suicide note accusing “international
economic and financial groups” of undermining his nationalist regime.

Vargas’ labor boss, protege and eventual successor Joao Goulart picked
up the torch. In the early 1960s, as the US corporate presence in the
Amazon burgeoned, Goulart eyed nationalization of Brazil’s mineral
resources. CIAA veteran-turned-high-level CIA spook JC King was the
agency’s pointman for the coup against Goulart–launched in 1964, after
Nelson’s friend Lyndon Johnson had assumed the throne from the dead
Kennedy. This second coup ushered in two decades of brutal military
dictatorship in Brazil–and made the industrial opening of the Amazon
national policy.

As the mines and ranches ate into the jungle, the suddenly-threatened
biodiversity itself became an exploited and coveted resource. JC King, a
former Johnson & Johnson VP, scoured the rainforest on behalf of his
Amazon Natural Drug Company, collecting samples of poisons and
hallucinogenic flora and fauna used by Indian hunters and shamans which
might have a profitable application in the medical, pharmaceutical or
agricultural industries. Secretly, he remained in the pay of the CIA,
who received his specimens for their MK-ULTRA mind-control experiments.
Contemporary ethnobotany actually owes much to King’s efforts and CIA

Colby and Dennett document the co-optation of academia in the interests
of pacification of native peoples resisting industrial encroachment.
King was on the scene when the government of Peru, under CIA direction,
launched a counter-insurgency drive against the Indian peasants of the
Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) in the 1960s, just as the
Rockefellers’ Standard Oil was moving into the country. Dr. James
Perkins, president of New York’s Cornell University, was also a director
of the Rockefellers’ Chase Manhattan Bank and Nelson’s International
Basic Economy Corporation (IBEC). Under his leadership, Cornell received
CIA funds for anthropological and linguistic field programs among Peru’s
Indians. We can be certain these programs were closely monitored by the
agency to streamline the counter-insurgency effort. Cam Townsend’s
domain was also part of the academia-intelligence network. One Cornell
graduate in those years, Donald Burns, would go on to become Wycliffe’s
top Quechua translator.

The Rockefeller family’s own youthful academic indulgences followed the
industrial empire’s nose. Nelson’s son Michael was dispatched to Dutch
New Guinea in 1960, ostensibly to collect “primitive art” from the
indigenous peoples of the remote rainforest region; simultaneously
Standard Oil of New Jersey (later Exxon) won joint mineral exploration
rights there with Royal Dutch Shell. Michael was killed by headhunters:
by offering a high price for painted human skulls he was encouraging
internal warfare, and this was realized by tribal leaders who apparently
ordered that his own skull be stripped and painted. But neither
Michael’s death nor the subsequent annexation of Dutch New Guinea by
Indonesia slowed the corporate exploitation of the region. The native
peoples there, having lost most of their land, are still fighting the
international oil and mineral interests today–including Chevron,
western wing of the Rockefeller Chase Manhattan investment empire.

Nelson Rockefeller’s IBEC investment network in ranching, oil and
minerals fueled the destruction of the Amazon in the 1960s. Colby and
Dennett document the massacres, forced relocations and atrocities
committed against native peoples in the Amazon by goons in the pay of
ranchers and industrial interests in this period. The Brazilian
dictatorship’s Indian agency was itself coopted into an instrument of
counter-insurgency, even firing on Indians.

The backlash finally emerged in the late 1960s and ’70s, as urban
guerilla movements were spreading from Guatemala to Buenos Aires.
Nelson, on a 1969 tour of Latin America on behalf of President Richard
Nixon, was met with violent protests in almost every city. Wycliffe,
meanwhile, faced accusations of complicity in genocide and CIA
intrigues, and was even kicked out of Mexico. Wycliffe’s doctrine of
hard work, individual salvation and obedience to authority itself came
to be seen as a tool of pacification. With its own airfleet and radio
network, Wycliffe had virtual autonomy over the remote Indian villages
it colonized. Latin Catholic leaders of the emergent Liberation Theology
current as well as progressive anthropologists protested Wycliffe’s
degree of social control in Indian communities–and the organization’s
silence in the face of atrocities against its flock. At a 1971
hemispheric World Council of Churches conference in Barbados,
anthropologists warned that the age of genocide may be just beginning.

Cam Townsend and Nelson Rockefeller are both gone, but Wycliffe carries
on its global work, while Nelson’s younger brother David of Chase
Manhattan is a global advocate of free trade. The embattled Amazon
rainforest is but a fourth its former size, and the destruction
continues. Democracy has been restored to Brazil, but free trade dogma
reigns throughout the hemisphere (save a particular Caribbean island).
Everywhere, resources are being privatized. The revolutionary movements
of Central America have been beaten back. Satellites scan the jungle
floors for mineral deposits.

The final paragraphs of THY WILL BE DONE note the emergence of the
Zapatista rebel movement in the Mexican state of Chiapas, where the
Wycliffe whiz-kids had cut their teeth in the 1930s. The Lacandon
rainforest of Chiapas is where Townsend established a “jungle camp” to
train his missionaries for the adventure that lay ahead in the Amazon.
This wild frontier–now ravaged by peasant relocation programs, cattle
ranches and military and oil operations–is today the stronghold of the
Maya Indian guerillas.

Among the most challenging obstacles the Zapatistas faced in forging
their movement was the fundamentalist obedience ethic which had taken
hold among many Indian families–the legacy of Wycliffe and their
cohorts. The divisions between Catholics and evangelical converts has
recently been a source of internecine violence among the Maya of
Chiapas–which the Zapatistas have condemned.

NAFTA, and the envisioned subsequent carving of the entire hemisphere
into interlocking free trade zones, is the final legacy of the
Rockefeller project. But the official free trade utopianism that reigned
in Washington and Mexico’s Federal District was dealt a blow on New
Years morning of 1994 as NAFTA took effect. The Zapatistas
simultaneously launched their revolt, unequivocally demonstrating that,
despite the dismantling of nationalist state structures, despite the
fall of Communism, despite the lure of Coca-Cola and MTV, and despite
the most desperate of odds–resistance would continue.

As the last barriers between resources and corporate power go down from
Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, the indigenous peoples who have always stood
to lose the most from the relentless march of development continue to
find ways to fight back. From the Amazon to Indonesia, indigenous
peoples have been reduced from self-sufficiency in their forest homeland
to ostracized and despised shanty-town dwellers in the space of a few
years. Whole languages and peoples have disappeared. Those which have
survived battle hunger, prostitution and disease. Like the Chiapas Maya,
Indians in the Amazon are now saying that enough is enough, and
organizing against the industrial rape of their lands. The question
remains of whether they will find effective allies among those of us who
dwell within the industrial system. In one short paragraph in a book
overwhelmingly laden with facts, Colby and Dennett conclude by asking
whether future generations will accept the destruction of indigenous
peoples as God’s will–reminding us of our responsibility not to be
complicit with genocide through our silence.


Email this author | All posts by

4 Responses »

  1. From: Allan Lee
    Date: Thu, Dec 17, 2009 at 7:53 PM
    Subject: Re: Triquis
    To: Nancy Davies (OSAG Coordinator)


    Hi. I was very saddened to see such a negative and false post about me from
    Charles Downes on the OSAG site in response to your passing on the word
    about the website.

    First of all, Allan Lee is my name in the American system of naming, while
    Allan Lee Barber is my name according to the Mexican system using one’s
    mother’s surname too. So there is no deception or anything there.

    I am not a member of SIL nor Wycliffe nor do I have any formal association
    with them, though I do have a friendly relationship with them.

    SIL personnel have not lived among the Copala Triquis in Copala or anywhere
    else since the 70’s.

    People shouldn’t be so alarmist.

    I would like to request that that post be removed from your site.

    So much for complementing you on your insightful articles about the Triquis!

    Allan Lee

  2. The following data was compiled from the Summer Institute of Linguistics
    website and is contrary to Allan Lee Barber’s claim that SIL personnel
    have not lived among the Copala Triquis in Copala or anywhere else since
    the 70’s. I am curious as to why Allan Lee Barber can speak so
    authoritatively for where SIL personnel live or have not lived.

    Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca and surrounding Triqui villages including San Juan
    Copala and Magdalena Peñasco
    Barbara and Bruce Hollenbach have been collecting data from the Triqui
    area under the auspices of SIL from 1996 to the present.

    Tezoatlan de Segura y Luna, Huajuapam
    and San Andrés Yutatío, Silacayoapam, Oaxaca
    Judith Williams and husband John L.Williams have been collecting data in
    Tezoatlan and San Andrés Yutatío under the auspices of SIL from
    1986 to the present.

    San Vicente Coatlán, Miahuatlan
    W. John Wagner and his wife have been collecting data in San Vicente
    Coatlán under the auspices of SIL from 1996 to the present.

    San Agustín Loxicha, Pochutla
    Daniel G. Birtles and his wife Evangeline have been collecting data in
    San Agustín Loxicha under the auspices of SIL from 2000 to the

  3. What Allan means is that the Hollenbachs have not lived in the Copala area Triqui villages for a very long time, since either 1979 or 1980. Allan knows this because he works closely with the Hollenbachs as a result of his work with the Triquis living in Baja California. The Hollenbachs continued to do linguist and translation work in Trique, while basing away from the area. They then worked with Mixtecs not too far from Tlaxiaco, and have now been retired for over a year.
    This type of information is easily accessed at the website, where Barbara Hollenbach has sites about both the Triqui and Mixtec people.
    I, John Williams, as one mentioned above, have worked in the Tezoatlan area since 1986, and this is also noted on the site.
    There are many people with SIL working in Mexico, as the site clearly states, and SIL has strict policies about having the proper visas to live and work in the country.
    SIL International is a faith-based nonprofit organization committed to serving language communities worldwide as they build capacity for sustainable language development. SIL does this primarily through research, translation, training and materials development. There are around 2,590 languages spoken by over 1.7 billion people in nearly 100 countries. SIL makes its services available to all, without regard to religious belief, political ideology, gender, race or ethnolinguistic background. Of particular interest to me and most others in SIL is that SIL facilitates the translation of Scripture in contexts where such activity is within the scope of SIL’s working agreements and where translation of Scripture texts has been identified as a needed resource for spiritual development. None of us has any other motive to be here besides these things. I believe every person needs to hear the Scriptures in their heart language. I believe God wants people to understand His message. That’s why I have given my life to this task.

  4. I should make a correction of what I said above. I stated: “There are around 2,590 languages spoken by over 1.7 billion people in nearly 100 countries.” I failed to clarify that this number only reflects the number of languages SIL works with. There are close to 7,000 languages in the world. It might also be noted that SIL has a staff of over 5,500 coming from over 60 countries.

Leave a Reply